Writer and director Keith Miller, right, and actors James "Primo" Grant and John Diaz, talk about "Five Star," playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Miles Dixon/Metro
Blending fiction and reality, a feature at the Tribeca Film Festival explores Brooklyn's gang culture with a lead actor who knows his character best.
In "Five Star," Bloods gang member James "Primo" Grant portrays himself schooling fatherless John, played by John Diaz, through life on the streets of Fort Greene.
Metro sat down with Grant, Diaz and writer and director Keith Miller to talk about the coming-of-age film.
Metro: Why do this movie?
Grant: You've never seen a film where the chemistry is so real that you feel like -- you have no choice -- that you're in this film. You normally see the films, the shootings, the drive-bys, someone getting beat up, there's a crack head here, there's a crack head there -- you never get a one-on-one with someone and how life is really for them. You never see the bad guy or the supposedly said 'bad guy' in the good guy role. You never see the inner life and how s -- really goes. That beyond this tough enforcer is a loving guy. This is a guy that made some choices in life and as a man he's sticking to it, he's riding it out. You've never seen a film like this.
How did you happen to play a version of yourself -- Primo -- in the film?
Grant: Me and Keith actually shot a documentary on gang-banging and we just kept in contact after that. We talked, shared stories. He had the idea for the film and he asked me if I wanted to be involved and I was like, hell yeah.
How did the two of you collaborate on the film?
Miller: We just had conversations, we just hung out and then I wrote the structure, the skeleton of it.
In the opening scene, Primo describes missing his son's birth. Why start with that?
Miller: The movie is a lot about fatherhood, sons, manhood. … When we were in the car, I said, tell that story. A lot of what would seem like rehearsal is just kind of challenging Primo or John…to get to the emotional place where the reality of the story just comes out.
Bloods gang member James "Primo" Grant portrays himself in "Five Star." Credit: Miles Dixon/Metro
Was that a difficult story to tell?
Grant: As stated in the film: one small mistake can get you a large sentence. It was very emotional for me.
Playing Primo's protege as an actor, was it difficult to work alongside someone more connected to the film?
Diaz: I got a sense from Primo right off the bat that this is something that he was coming from really, really emotionally and it was going to be hard to do this. … I wanted to try my best to give my all to them.
Why were Primo's girlfriend and children also featured in the film?
Miller: I very actively try to get as much reality as I can. It is a narrative film -- it's not a documentary. But I want the viewer not to know where the line between fact and fiction is. I knew that a big part of the story that was important to me was Primo's tenderness towards his family and I didn't want him to act tender towards stage kids.
Do you ever see using the film as a way to explain your past to your children?
Grant: No. … I'm hoping that choices that I'm making now for the future, as my children are young, that I won't have to explain it to them, that this can be something of a fairy tale to them. I don't ever want them to know that their dad was a monster, that daddy used to be the bad guy, even though it's the truth. … I'll show it to them. But, is it something that I want to do? No. As a parent, sometimes you have to hide certain truths from your children.
Why was the movie set in the summer?
Miller: I really wanted the vivacity of the street. When John walks through the projects, everybody's hanging out. Those were all people we got as extras, but they were just there, hanging out.
How accurate do you think the film was?
The specifics of the day to day life…I think it's pretty safe to say none of them would happen the way they were depicted but I needed to depict them in a certain way to make clear a certain point. I don't think bricks are being handed off like wily nilly in the street. … Someone early on said to me, in one of the rough cuts, 'Oh, the projects don't seem scary enough.' And I'm like, 'Oh, so you've never been to the projects.'
Were you satisfied with the ending?
Miller: Yeah. The goal of the movie is to upset conventions and expectations and prejudices. … I know there's a potential for dissatisfaction.
How to see "Five Star"
Visit the Tribeca Film Festival website for ticket information. The last screening is Saturday.