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JUMPING THE BROOM

Assembling The Wedding Party
With more than a dozen principal roles to fill, the filmmakers assembled a cast that ranges from award-winning veterans like Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Brian Stokes Mitchell to relative newcomers including Paula Patton and Laz Alonso. Director Salim Akil says he approached the casting process much like a bandleader puts together an ensemble. "I'm a big music fan, so I try to think like Duke Ellington or Count Basie. I ask myself which players do I want in this band? Who can hit this note? Who can hit that note? Who can I trust to maintain the beat and keep the theme of the film?”

"We were looking for a balance between very experienced, respected actors and up-and-comers,” says Hunter. "The most important thing was to have really smart actors who could articulate their vision of the character and enrich the characters on the page. "On our wish board, our first choice was Angela Bassett. She can play anything.”

In this case, Bassett plays Claudine Watson, Sabrina's elegant, aristocratic mother. "Claudine comes from a very well-to-do family,” says Bassett, an Academy Award® nominee for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It? "Her husband, Greg, has a successful career in finance, although in her mother's estimation, Claudine married a bit beneath herself. Now, they've been married for a number of years, and the rich conversations of their early relationship don't happen as often. She suspects he's carrying on an affair. Her confidence has been shaken and it makes her strike out at times.”

Bassett accepted the role after a meeting with Akil. "I came away with such respect for him,” she says. "He is quite genuine, collaborative and open. I thought he would make a movie that was honest and truthful. It was a first impression and it was a great one.”

With Bassett on board, the filmmakers had a strong anchor for the film, and the powerhouse actress would require someone equally experienced to play against. "We wanted someone every bit as impressive as Angela to play Pam Taylor, Jason's mother, but with a very different energy,” says Hunter. "Who better than Loretta Devine?”

A five-time recipient of the NAACP's Image Award, Devine's prolific career includes stints on Broadway, series television and major films, including Waiting to Exhale, in which she starred opposite Bassett. "I knew Loretta was the perfect person to play Mrs. Taylor,” says her co-star. "She has an engaging quality that is winning, even if she's upset with you. Because you can see that she just wants the best for her son, her actions never leave a bitter taste in your mouth. And I knew from working with her before that I would enjoy playing against her. Her instrument's so malleable, and you never know what you're going to get, but it's always absolutely and completely delightful.”

In contrast to their current pairing, in Waiting to Exhale the two actresses played best friends. "It was really interesting to come together this time and play total opposites,” says Devine. "Our characters were at odds with each other most of the time.”

When she arrives on Martha's Vineyard, Pam Taylor has yet to meet her future daughter-in-law. Her wounded pride leads her to believe that the Watsons' snobbery is the reason, when, in reality it was Jason who chose not to introduce them. "He knows his mother,” says Devine. "She has tried to keep him isolated from other women. But he's afraid of losing her as well.”

The filmmakers banked on the fact that Devine's innate charm would take the edge off Pam's simmering resentments. "Mrs. Taylor does some pretty mean things to try and protect her son,” says Edmonds. "We needed somebody who would still be likeable at the end of the day. Loretta has a really sweet, soft voice that allows you to excuse some of the things she says. She found a lot of different layers and she makes her love for Jason loud and clear. I've got two boys and there's nothing like that mother-son bond.”

Sabrina Watson is beautiful, bright and loving, and the filmmakers envisioned a latter day Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn in the role. "Paula Patton brought everything we were looking for,' says Edmonds. "She's obviously gorgeous and a great actress, but she also has a sweetness and an innocence that a lot of other actresses don't have. And Paula's as fun and free-spirited as Sabrina is.”

Patton, who was returning to acting after having her first child, was attracted to the film's emphasis on family. "It's about the importance of loving each other, while also understanding the differences,” she says. "This movie will make you laugh, and it'll probably bring a tear to your eye, too. It's a feel-good, fun movie.”

The highlight of the experience was the collaboration with her co-workers, says Patton. "First of all, Salim exceeded all my expectations as a director. What he accomplished with this blew me away. I was able to completely give my trust to him, because he proved his talent every day.”

"There are so many people in this film that I admire and have been inspired by,” she continues. "Angela Bassett is a phenomenal actress. I walked away from our days at work together and just said to myself, I can't believe I'm working with Angela Bassett! The same was true with Loretta Devine. Then there's Mike Epps, DeRay Davis, Megan Goode—I can go on and on. And Laz Alonso is an amazing actor. I just feel very blessed to have worked with such great people.”

As Jason, Laz Alonso brought a strong connection to his character. "Jason reminds me of myself,” Alonso says. "He comes from a single-parent home, as I did. His father died when he was twelve, as mine did. He attended Howard University, and so did I. He's a financial analyst on Wall Street executive. I went to Wall Street when I first graduated from college and went through an analyst program. So there were a lot of parallels in this character that I felt I'd be able to be authentic with and bring to life.”

The filmmakers saw the right balance of confidence and vulnerability in Alonso. According to Edmonds, "Jason needed to be sexy and cool, but still vulnerable with his mother. For so long, it was Mrs. Taylor and Jason, together against the world. Now that he's getting married, Mrs. Taylor is worried about losing him. Laz really understood the circumstances.”

All of Sabrina's loved ones surround her on her wedding day, including her Aunt Geneva, played by Valarie Pettiford. In contrast to her straight-laced sister Claudine, Geneva leads an unconventional, unfettered life. "Aunt Geneva was actually the most challenging role to cast,” says Edmonds. "She is a very free-spirited, cosmopolitan world traveler, but she has to be immediately likeable to show the special bond she has with Sabrina. And she has to sing. Without Valarie, I don't know who would be playing Aunt Geneva. We got so lucky that she came our way.”

If Claudine reflects the ladylike, well-bred side of Sabrina, Geneva is the fun-loving, openhearted aspect of her personality. "Sabrina has very different relationships with each of them,” says Patton. "With her mom, it's about discipline and behaving herself. Aunt Geneva's more like a girlfriend. They share lingerie and stories about boyfriends.”

Aunt Geneva has made some mistakes in life, but her family's money has always provided a buffer against the consequences. "Aunt Geneva was the rebel,” says Pettiford. "She likes to have fun and she's sometimes irresponsible, but it's all coming from a good place. At the end of the day, no matter what she's gone through, love always prevails. When you have family and support and understanding, you can get

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