JEYMES SAMUEL is the kind of guy you can’t believe exists. Dubbed a “metamedia” storyteller by Wired magazine, Samuel is a busy guy. For one, he makes music with his band, The Bullitts. Also, he recently worked on Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby as the film’s executive music consultant — collaborating on the soundtrack with none other than Mr. Jay Z himself.
Most recently, Samuel wrote and directed the film “They Die by Dawn,” which is not just a new American western, but is the first entirely African-American western, and he based his characters on the lives of actual African American outlaws. To round up his cast, Samuel basically door-to-door, meeting personally with his favorite actors to ask them to star in the film — and they said, “Yes.” ”They Die by Dawn” stars megawatts Rosario Dawson, Jesse Williams, Michael Kenneth Williams, Isaiah Washington, Harry Lennix, Bokeem Woodbine, Denzel Whitaker, Clifton Powell, Nate Parker, and Erykah Badu (as the saloon dame).
The producer, singer, songwriter and filmmaker talked to TSJ at the SXSW opening of his film, “They Die by Dawn.”
Note to readers: Samuel conducted the interview while wrapped in a midnight blue Louis Vuitton scarf, claiming he was more of a ‘fro dude than a twists dude, and he didn’t want anyone to see his bad ‘do.
“THEY DIE BY DAWN” TRAILER
The Smoking Jacket: What was it like to screen “They Die by Dawn” with the SXSW audience?
Jeymes Samuel: It was a labor of love, so it was really fun to watch it with people’s reactions and stuff.
TSJ: The audience was super game — they were cheering and hooting and hollering whenever someone new came out or got shot at.
JS: Yeah, yeah! It was real fun watching people’s reactions.
TSJ: This is the first all African-American cast outlaw movie. It’s a big deal. It’s really awesome to be here and watch this happen. The movie itself is historically important, but it’s also really fun.
JS: Yeah, absolutely, man, it’s so fun to see all these people come together and take on something of tremendous historical significance but just swag out!
TSJ: So what do you think the ripple effect of this — what’s your biggest hope?
JS: My biggest hope is that from now on, when directors and filmmakers make westerns, they will show the Chinese people and the Mexicans and they’ll put Black people in it and not give them a reason for them being there. They earned that place! This country was built on people of various colors and various races. So you don’t just thave to make us some servant all the time or a slave –
TSJ: — or the wise old lady –
JS: Because that’s just not how things were.
TSJ: The way we learn history is pretty messed up.
TSJ: Now what’s interesting here is that you’re not actually from America. So how come this interest in the American western genre?
JS: I just love westerns! I love cinema, I love film.
TSJ: How come? Do you think it’s because you’re not from here that you can look at it from the outside? Does it seem more special, or foreign?
JS: No, because I don’t necessarily see the westerns as American — even though they are. But they’re just like when you watch a martial arts movie — you don’t necessarily see it as Asia. It’s just some cool swag, that kung fun. It’s like another world.
TSJ: Did you ever think you would make a western?
JS: I knew I was always going to make a western. But I didn’t know I was going to make one this soon. What happens is I shoot first and ask questions later. For the western I thought — how I’d do it I knew not. It’s like I can drive I don’t know how I drive, I just know that I do. So for me, that was the process, and that was the gearing to dream.
TSJ: How long did it take to film the movie?
JS: I shot they “Die by Dawn” in four days.
TSJ: I think you’ve blown everyone away with your energy and your excitement — I keep thinking, watching you interact with the audience, with the media — your mom must love you a lot! Where does all this drive come from?
JS: I think my mum loves me, and also my mum’s a film buff. She’s fanatical about films, so I think that’s where my energy comes from. I hardly sleep! I’m just trying to like it’s just amazing. I honestly don’t know where my energy comes from. It’s just there at all times, and it never stops. It’s just full on.
TSJ: How did this all — when you were young, how did you know that you would harness all this into this musical and film projects that you have? How did all those balls get rolling?
JS: I was always doing them. It’s just who I am. I was always doing music, I’m always writing, I’m always directing. But I didn’t know it was going to be the way it was. I didn’t know I was going to be doing the [soundtrack] to “The Great Gatsby” with Jay Z.
TSJ: That’s awesome.
JS: It’s super cool, man. I didn’t know I’d be working with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tori Amos, Lana del Rey, writing and producing for all these people. You know, Jay Z has a line, “I drove by a fork in the road and went straight.” There were many forks in the road but I just kept driving straight. I just knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be doing anything else. I suppose if I’m going to make a western I’m going make a western movie, and that was just my M.O.
TSJ: Well congratulations. It’s so great, and I’m so excited to have seen this happen.
JS: Thank you.