THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY
Feels So Good: The Cast Is Reunited
In 1999, when The Best Man topped the box office on its opening weekend, audiences fell hard for a group of college friends named Harper, Lance, Mia, Shelby, Murch, Robyn, Jordan, Quentin and Candy. Writer/director/producer Malcolm D. Lee explains that when he created these roles, he wasn't thinking about a renaissance of African-American cinema, he simply wanted to watch his world represented on the big screen. He says: "The impetus of making the first movie was that I didn't see myself or people I knew represented on screen. I wanted to write characters who spoke to the people that I could relate to. We all know somebody who is a Harper, Quentin, Lance, Shelby or a Mia; that's what's great about the relatability of the characters."
As moviegoers grew attached to The Best Man during its theatrical run and subsequent life in home entertainment, Lee grew to understand just how identifiable and beloved the characters he dreamt up were becoming. The filmmaker admits that he thinks of these friends as an amalgam of archetypes that he's encountered, not specific persons whom he's met. "I know these people, and I love these people," he says. "They're certainly influenced by friends I went to college with and people who I grew up with, but they take on a life of their own."
Harold Perrineau, who plays Julian (better known to his friends as Murch), discusses why the film struck such a nerve among audiences and grew to become such a classic: "It resonated with the African-American community because it feels real. The characters and circumstances all feel relatable and genuine, and they hit home with the audience."
Morris Chestnut, who portrays Lance, was not surprised that the relatively small comedy has grown in popularity over the years -- adopted by audiences who viewed the players as both relatable and aspirational. He reflects: "Malcolm wrote some great characters, and he directed one hell of a movie. It's a film that people can watch over and over again and see characters with the same issues that they are dealing with in their own lives. There's a lot of heart to it."
While audiences were entertained by the college friends' romantic escapades, the strong bonds that held this group together are what endure. Regina Hall, who plays Candy, reflects: "One of the greatest things that the movie talks about is friendship. Friends sustain, and they support you through the most joyous and most difficult times. True friendships hold you up when you want to fall."
In the almost 15 years since the comedy was shot and released, the nine principal performers have gone on to build enviable careers, yet there has long been talk of returning to these beloved characters for a sequel. Taye Diggs, who plays Harper, shares why they all felt so passionate about the film: "What we did was different at the time, and people were hungry for that."
The discussions began in earnest four years ago, when Diggs and Lee were on a flight from New York to California. During the trip, Lee revealed that he wanted to revisit the story. Although the performer was receptive to the idea, at the time it was just a conversation between two old friends. Still, the spark was lit.
Fast forward a few years, and Lee reached out to his former collaborators with a concrete proposition. "I called everybody up in late 2011 and said, 'I've got an idea for a sequel to The Best Man, but I want us all to get in the same room again. It's been a long time," Lee recollects. "I told them, 'If you like it, great, and if you don't, then at least we will have seen each other and caught up.' So we all got together, and they were all excited about the idea."
Diggs was happy he'd been paying attention: "Now, 15 years later, we were attracted to Malcolm's idea of these characters simply experiencing life. They are all adults, and the idea of family has entered the picture. I thought Malcolm had an interesting take on the material, as opposed to some crazy, zany events that happen -- like a road trip or a caper."
After years of honing his craft as a comic writer and director, working on films like Undercover Brother, Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins and Soul Men, Lee was ready to revisit this world, but he knew that a sequel would work only if the entire original cast agreed to return. He explains his rationale for waiting for more than a decade to create the second chapter: "I always meant to return to these characters, but first I wanted them -- and me -- to gain some life experience."
Sanaa Lathan, who plays Robyn, recalls that night: "Malcolm wanted to know we were all on board before he did all the work. The pitch had us riveted, and by the end, we said: 'We're on board. Write it!'"
The cast was eager for an on-screen reunion, and Lee set to work on a draft script. Still, he needed a commitment from Universal Pictures to greenlight the film. Therefore, he rallied the troupe once again with an odd request. "I told Universal, 'Let me get my cast together and do a read-through for you,'" Lee remembers. "I told the actors, 'Guys, this movie is going to sink or swim based on what you do in the room that day.' They took me very seriously and came to perform, and we sold it as a unit. Once the studio saw these great actors performing, they immediately understood what the movie was."
Nerves aside, The Best Man cast knew that it was showtime. Lathan discusses the pivotal day: "We did a table read in person for all the studio executives. By the time we got to our cars, we knew they would sign on -- that's how well it went. It was thrilling."
The cast's confidence in its read-through performance was well-placed. Universal signed on and immediately set to work assembling the behind-the-scenes team to bring Lee's story to the big screen, including Lee's new production partner, Sean Daniel, who has had a long relationship with the studio. In fact, in 1985, Daniel became its youngest president of production. The films he supervised for Universal include Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, Do the Right Thing and Field of Dreams.
Now an independent producer with an impressive list of films to his credit -- from comedy favorites such as Dazed and Confused, Michael, Rat Race and CB4 to blockbusters including The Mummy trilogy and Tombstone -- Daniel was quick to accept the offer to work with Lee. He enthuses: "I loved the first movie. It was a wonderful film full of heart and character and great values, and I have followed Malcolm as a filmmaker and have loved what he's done since then. I was honored to be invited on board."
Once they got the greenlight, Daniel and Lee spent time developing the script, perfecting the mix of comedy and heart. Daniel shares: "Malcolm is a brilliant writer with a great vision for this movie. I became a sounding board and a collaborator. The studio had one condition, which was that everybody had to be back in the film. So Malcolm reached out again to the actors and said, 'Okay, it's time to get real.'"
Daniel sees The Best Man Holiday as much more than a sequel. He says, "It is its own story. It brings the characters back together several years later. They have all had busy lives and have gone on to accomplish things. They have all had struggles, but the characters that people loved are as powerful, funny, emotional and opinionated as everybody remembers them." He predicts the sequel will join the ranks of holiday films to remember: "This is a different kind of holiday film in that it is about so much of life. I cannot wait to be in a crowded theater as people take this in. It will make them laugh, and it will move them. In that holiday spirit, it is incredibly affirmative."
For Lee, it was always about telling audiences a new story that was more sophisticated. He reflects: "Our concerns as 20 year olds are different from the ones that we have at 30 and 40. Our careers, lives and technology are different. There are children, mortgages. There're all kinds of things we think about when we're at a certain age. To make it more sophisticated, you have to bring more things to the table. In this case, we're bringing an element that's very different from the first one."
The filmmakers took care to make sure audiences would be just as engaged in the characters this time around. Continues Lee: "The first one was a gathering of college friends for a wedding. This is a holiday celebration, and they end up finding out that it's more than that. They were brought together for a bigger purpose -- not just to get together for a typical reunion. The film is ultimately about a group of friends who reunite over the Christmas holidays and find out not only what they're missing from each other, but the true meaning of Christmas. It's a journey with a lot of emotions, laughter and drama; there will be a fair amount of tears as well."
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