Superfly's Trevor Jackson on Updating a Blaxploitation Classic, And Finding His Joe Pesci

The rising star says this new take is equal parts '70s swagger and 2018 Atlanta with a Martin Scorsese flair.

by | June 12, 2018 | Comments

(Photo by © Columbia)

Blaxploitation films had a healthy run at the box office in the 1970s. As they earned cash and sometimes acclaim, films like Blacula, Coffy, Foxy Brown, Dolemite, and The Mack gave us some of the first cinematic examples of black characters taking center stage. Filmmakers like Ossie Davis and Melvin Van Peebles took the urban landscape and molded it into a new genre of filmmaking. They also inspired generations to come as they did. This year, Director X revamps the formula for his feature debut, a remake of 1972’s critically lauded Blaxploitation film, Superfly. Harkening back to urban classics like Belly and Paid in Full — while also paying homage to Scorsese mob hits like Goodfellas and Casino — Director X’s new Superfly pulls from many quarters, even as it marches to a very 2018 hip-hop beat.

In this reimagining, we move from Harlem to Atlanta, and the world of pimps is switched out for a cryptocurrency-fueled drug trade where we follow Priest, a streetwise hustler who has a mind for the game but too big a heart to stay in it. Played by Trevor Jackson, Priest keeps things clean and has amassed a quiet empire outside of law enforcement and other dealers’ crosshairs, but when a rival gang attempts to take control from him out of spite, he resolves to pull one last job and sail off into the sunset with his crew. Backing him is his mentor Scatter (Michael K. Williams), his two loves Georgia (Lex Scott Davis) and Cynthia (Andrea Londo), and his right-hand man, Eddie (Jason Mitchell). With a southern rap-laced soundtrack and music-video stylings, Superfly is unapologetically ATL, and Jackson and Mitchell give Pesci and De Niro a run for their money in the chemistry stakes. We sat down with star Jackson, who some might recognize from TV’s Certified Fresh grown-ish. He broke down the fight sequences, talked about shooting in Atlanta, and revealed why he is still heartbroken that he’s not on the movie’s soundtrack.

Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: There is a ton of action and fight choreography in this – walk us through the process of getting ready for all of that.

Trevor Jackson: Well, I’ve been doing martial arts since I was about 11 years old, a martial art called Capoeira. That definitely helped. And beforehand I had to train, for about two weeks, with amazing trainers. Our stunt coordinator is amazing. He worked on James Bond and Iron Man. He’s incredible.

RT: I figured it was your Broadway dancing experience that gave you expertise! I’m guessing you had some input on the fight sequences.

Jackson: Definitely. The stuff that made more sense for my body type and just the way I would move, being in those situations. If I wasn’t as good with my left hand, we’d change it to my right. [Each time] I was able to find the best-looking moves for sure.

RT: The Blaxploitation influence is clearly here in Priest, but the film has definitely been updated for modern audiences. Can you talk to us about how you guys worked on updating the character? 

Jackson: When I was creating the character, even when auditioning, I did this accent and I didn’t even really know what it was. I asked before we started filming… I was like, “Do you guys like the accent?” They were like, “Whatever you did, do that.” I wanted him to obviously be from the South. He didn’t necessarily have to be from Atlanta, maybe from Louisiana or St. Louis. I just wanted to give him that essence. I was trying to find the balance between somebody I was afraid of, and also someone that I wanted to be friends with. Priest is that perfect balance. You don’t want to really cross him, but you also think he’s a cool guy and you understand his heart. Character-wise, I tried to bring myself into it. Obviously, I’m in this generation, so I carry myself that way to keep him relevant. Then everything that happened, it just worked. It wasn’t over-planned. We just went into it, and it made sense. And those are the best projects to work on.

RT: Did you watch the original?

Jackson: I had seen the original when I was younger, and then I rewatched it. I only watched half of it when I was auditioning, only because I didn’t want to redo anything that Ron O’Neal did. He’s such a legend, and I wanted to leave this performance untouched and not try and mimic that at all. And the nature of this whole film was preaching love for his counterparts — for Georgia, for Cynthia, even for Eddie. These people that made him who he was. They were his driving force throughout the whole movie.

(Photo by © Columbia)

RT: I’m glad you brought up Eddie because Jason Mitchell – I love everything he was doing. I mean, he’s your Joe Pesci!

Jackson: Absolutely. We talked about that every day on set; we’re like, “That’s what this is, man.” Definitely Goodfellas. Definitely Casino. And you need to balance that. You need the guy that’s ready to go gung-ho and kill everybody, and you need the guy that says, “Calm down.” And the balance of that is the perfect way to handle any situation. The best part about it is that we didn’t have to try and develop a relationship. It literally just happened. The first day we were reading each other and the second day we were closest of friends. I felt like I’ve known him forever. Just the way that we’ve been able to communicate and agree on so many different levels. And Michael K. Williams is similar to Jason and I. We’re just real people. Nobody’s egotistical. Nobody’s trying to outdo anybody. We just want to do great work, and I think that’s what we did.

RT: Moving onto your two love interests… This is one of the first urban polyamorous relationships I’ve seen on the big screen.

Jackson: In today’s day and age, everybody’s doing everything, right? But it was just a cool way to show how this relationship works — how any relationship could work — with communication. You could see that these three people have that communication and they understand each other, they need each other. That’s what makes them work or makes them click. It shows that side of it. And it’s also very sexy.

RT: The movie really just drips with the city of Atlanta, where you shot. Tell us about what you pulled from being down there.

Jackson: I think the elements of fashion. The clothes, the cars, even my hair is very Atlanta.

RT: I’m glad you mentioned the hair because we’ve gotta talk about this hair. Was it a blessing or a curse? I’ve talked to a lot of actors who say when they’ve got really stylized hair for a role that it’s sometimes a little bit of both. How did you feel about it?

Jackson: It’s a blessing. Me and X went back and forth on the hair, asking, were we gonna do straight hair, or braided, do curly? I kept really pulling for the straight hair because I was like, “I hate to see any remake without some sort of resemblance to the old movie.” And I think that this had a perfect balance. It didn’t go all the way retro with the long hair but kept it straight and tried to modernize it a little bit.

(Photo by © Columbia)

RT: Not giving anything away, the film centers on your character’s ‘one last job.’ If you were pulling your last job, what’s your dream getaway location? Where are you going with your big payday once you’ve pulled it off?

Jackson: Go to Hawaii. That’s my dream place. Fly to Hawaii. Get a house. Surf every day until I die.

RT: You are going to premiere at the African Black Film Festival in Miami. Which scene are you most excited to see with that audience’s reaction? This is a film that begs the audience to shout things like, “No, don’t go there!”

Jackson: I really look forward to all the fight scenes. Those are definitely my favorite. But I think the most exciting thing will be the cop beat down. I can’t wait for everyone to see that, and it’s just an empowering thing. It’s just, we’ve never seen that because anybody that tries to do that, or does that, is gonna get murdered. Right? So it’s just nice to see that on screen, and it’s what everybody sometimes wants to do.

RT: You’re also a recording artist. They didn’t manage to rope you into doing the soundtrack?

Jackson: I was so mad about that. Don’t even get me started. I was so mad about that! Before we even started filming, I wanted to do it, and then it just didn’t happen. I was like, “All right, cool.” But I made a record for the movie that didn’t get on to the soundtrack. So in rebellion, I’m making a music video for it. (Laughs)

Superfly is in theaters June 15

Tag Cloud

boxoffice Crackle series nfl transformers asian-american concert Music Sundance TV 007 comic books documentaries social media Film Festival fast and furious Rocketman Tarantino BET Awards ghosts directors classics Broadway war saw game show genre medical drama batman Sundance twilight kids richard e. Grant ID VOD 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Pop TV Valentine's Day NYCC Fargo black comedy monster movies Lucasfilm MSNBC Hear Us Out discovery doctor who gangster laika Grammys Masterpiece composers award winner adventure psycho new york boxing Infographic A24 HBO natural history Tags: Comedy El Rey jurassic park robots what to watch LGBTQ best ViacomCBS Disney royal family Oscar TV One Warner Bros. Anna Paquin Crunchyroll werewolf golden globes spanish quibi TV Musical Vudu razzies king kong tv talk blockbusters worst Rock cancelled broadcast Paramount Amazon Amazon Prime Netflix Christmas movies Black History Month Lifetime Christmas movies BAFTA teaser Teen 1990s mcc Focus Features scene in color FX documentary Shudder Cartoon Network Bravo First Reviews RT21 halloween tv international USA Network Box Office vs. Countdown romantic comedy YouTube 2017 APB streaming movies king arthur Star Trek cancelled television movies crime thriller Cannes The CW Comics on TV Stephen King TNT Best Picture SXSW crime drama hollywood Hallmark new star wars movies spider-man Dark Horse Comics Television Academy ITV superman The Walt Disney Company Academy Awards Opinion summer TV foreign FXX joker Fox News First Look crossover The Purge Superheroe worst movies Acorn TV die hard aapi Film Women's History Month rom-coms CBS All Access movie BBC America black Extras AMC Plus Thanksgiving live action Reality Competition prank Trophy Talk Syfy DC Comics emmy awards leaderboard OneApp dramedy MTV rt labs FX on Hulu NBA screen actors guild Apple TV+ mockumentary cats WarnerMedia Exclusive Video renewed TV shows Best and Worst See It Skip It scary japan American Society of Cinematographers obituary canceled halloween Horror marvel comics Red Carpet blockbuster Paramount Plus know your critic Marathons spinoff Spectrum Originals Set visit President TCA Awards Cosplay cars Turner 72 Emmy Awards psychological thriller BET Discovery Channel streaming Amazon Prime Video A&E Calendar Creative Arts Emmys Drama sopranos BBC One Tomatazos Country Tumblr Tubi name the review casting latino The Witch unscripted Mary Tyler Moore indiana jones independent cinemax marvel cinematic universe Food Network Spring TV golden globe awards free movies diversity trophy Nickelodeon rt labs critics edition summer preview Fox Searchlight Toys Netflix Fantasy Oscars spider-verse supernatural Interview fresh obi wan anime child's play Mystery Esquire TruTV suspense telelvision deadpool CMT Disney Plus comic book movies Pride Month cops toronto Premiere Dates Sci-Fi blaxploitation hist DirecTV women Elton John dogs aliens Alien Brie Larson Universal young adult MCU superhero Ovation Awards crime DC streaming service Starz critics ESPN 20th Century Fox legend olympics Lionsgate Heroines Walt Disney Pictures Neflix E! wonder woman Arrowverse comedies political drama period drama TCA 2017 Rom-Com Rocky lord of the rings GIFs Super Bowl Superheroes target 2015 VH1 TCA Winter 2020 Marvel Television HBO Max sitcom History ABC Family Marvel LGBT Trailer scary movies Photos green book IFC YouTube Premium science fiction GLAAD DGA 2016 south america Avengers TIFF YA a nightmare on elm street Instagram Live versus Ghostbusters HBO Go Year in Review Sony Pictures comiccon zero dark thirty japanese Emmys Image Comics 79th Golden Globes Awards game of thrones television TCM Comedy 90s trailers archives Holidays Mary Poppins Returns Paramount Network Turner Classic Movies festival comics Polls and Games AMC Black Mirror kaiju DC Universe Travel Channel Binge Guide 4/20 biography 2021 Trivia South by Southwest Film Festival Biopics TLC Lifetime 71st Emmy Awards Freeform ABC 21st Century Fox zombie 93rd Oscars 24 frames Fall TV Character Guide Endgame travel Captain marvel Certified Fresh adaptation CBS singing competition ratings Pirates Logo Nat Geo Christmas TBS Amazon Studios OWN WGN PlayStation Family canceled TV shows films San Diego Comic-Con new zealand 2018 witnail Quiz Best Director jamie lee curtis sports Writers Guild of America Emmy Nominations dceu cancelled TV shows The Academy slashers Pop Comic-Con@Home 2021 hispanic dexter feel good high school thriller Schedule Musicals rt archives Star Wars rotten movies we love Mary poppins action-comedy The Arrangement biopic Wes Anderson pirates of the caribbean FOX YouTube Red Paramount Pictures art house posters dreamworks Funimation dragons true crime Holiday NBC Martial Arts finale mob mission: impossible IMDb TV Action cults Columbia Pictures RT History Comic Book festivals police drama Western Marvel Studios news spain space Disney+ Disney Plus adenture cancelled TV series children's TV Chernobyl BBC Mudbound Sneak Peek talk show comic book movie Nominations nature Pixar ABC Signature debate Spike australia italian all-time streamig spanish language french mutant The Walking Dead SDCC HFPA Song of Ice and Fire anthology strong female leads harry potter historical drama Universal Pictures animated National Geographic New York Comic Con 2020 politics cooking binge basketball Disney streaming service Epix spy thriller zombies disaster vampires Video Games Best Actor dc christmas movies elevated horror VICE Television Critics Association Winter TV godzilla Pet Sematary IFC Films hispanic heritage month summer TV preview SXSW 2022 book 94th Oscars revenge video E3 kong Legendary miniseries comic critic resources stoner live event heist movie facebook technology based on movie Kids & Family Mindy Kaling reviews Best Actress rotten Classic Film 73rd Emmy Awards Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt PBS football CNN theme song Hulu satire james bond Apple TV Plus X-Men Chilling Adventures of Sabrina cartoon dark CW Seed Reality Animation Summer breaking bad Comedy Central justice league book adaptation Election TCA Baby Yoda Disney Channel Peacock Podcast PaleyFest Sundance Now 2019 99% USA SundanceTV docuseries franchise Awards Tour 45 TV Land stand-up comedy TV movies toy story Britbox sequel screenings Prime Video hidden camera romance Hollywood Foreign Press Association Tokyo Olympics Pacific Islander nbcuniversal scorecard Shondaland reboot remakes venice video on demand Watching Series universal monsters Ellie Kemper Showtime criterion Adult Swim Apple stop motion serial killer sequels indie TV renewals parents docudrama MGM slasher Winners Hallmark Christmas movies GoT chucky sag awards popular