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'Purple Rain' Turns 30: Prince's Engineer Shares Majestic (And Maddening) Studio Stories

There are those high pressured, perilous jobs that are not for the meek. The U.S. Secret Service; a window cleaner for the world's tallest building—Dubia's 2,716 feet wonder Burj Khalifa; Kanye West's publicist. But during the '80s, one would be hard-pressed to find a gig more intimidating or unpredictable than working as a music engineer for Prince. Susan Rogers has lived to tell the tale.

An Associate Professor of Music Production and Engineering at the prestigious Berklee College from 1983 to 1988, Rogers had the ultimate insider's view of the obsessive, glorious run of arguably pop music's most prolific talent.

"You are talking about someone who would play a show from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and then perform at an after party," she recalls of Prince's torrid pace. "Then I would book a recording studio for 1 a.m. while on tour and Prince would work on his music or say Sheila E's record. There is so much great, unreleased material from Prince. We would work all day and night long, and then he would be up the next morning ready to do it all over again."

But the Purple Rain-era holds a special place in Rogers' heart. For the then 27-year-old, it was baptism-by-fire after being hired as the songwriting machine's personal studio technician in August of 1983. It was during this period that Rogers, who would go on to engineer for such acclaimed Prince works as Around The World In A Day, Parade, and Sign 'O The Times, witnessed the making of the enigmatic artist's highest selling album (the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning 1984 film has to date sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide). In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Purple Rain album, VIBE sat down with the studio veteran to discuss her wild and crazy ride with Prince Rogers Nelson from superhuman, marathon recording sessions to escaping the clutches of film icon Elizabeth Taylor on the Purple Rain tour. This is not music, this is a trip. —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)

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VIBE: You set out to become an engineer in 1978, at a time when women were an anomaly on the technical side of recording. What compelled you to go into such a male dominated field?
Susan Rogers: It was the clear ether of youth [laughs]. I did not know it was male-dominated, and I didn't know any musicians in the business. But what I did know is I loved records and that I had fantasized about being a studio engineer. I always knew I wasn't cut out to be a musician or a songwriter. My calling was to be on the other side of the glass and to be sung and played to. I just aimed in that direction and found myself there. If people needed a tape machine repaired, the tape machine doesn't care what gender you are [laughs].

What was it about Prince that made you want to work with him, and what was your role on the Purple Rain project?
I was riding a city bus in Hollywood and there was a kid who was sitting in the back of the bus with a boombox. I heard the song "Soft & Wet," and I remember thinking, "I got to find out who this is...this is great!" I became a Prince fan immediately. By the time [1980's] Dirty Mind came out, my mind was completely blown. It was everything I wanted music to be: It was R&B, rock, soul, and funk. And it was art music. Prince was bold, creative and he was making a statement and he had original thought.

I knew I would do anything to work with Prince. So then in 1983, I heard through the grapevine that Prince was looking for a technician. And then I went right to Glen Phoenix, who is the President of Westlake Audio, the studio where Prince recorded and told him I would be perfect for him. I'm female and Prince likes working with females. I am completely well-trained as a technician so I knew I could do the work and I was a huge fan. Glenn asked me a lot of questions and then he sent me over to Prince's management.

That had to be very surreal for you, right?
It was. They made me an offer right then and there. At the time I was just joining Prince I didn't know what he was like and what he was thinking going into Purple Rain. But I can say that it was clear that he had momentum. When I first met Prince he was just coming off the 1999 tour. He had already done some of the recording for Purple Rain and there was more to be done. At this time, I wasn't hired as his engineer. I was his maintenance tech. But you got the sense from being around him that he felt empowered. Prince was aware that with this new power he could do even more than what he had achieved with 1999. It was a big deal for such a young artist to go to his record label and say, "I want to make a movie." This is an artist who created his own competition with the Time, Vanity 6, Sheila E, and others. Prince was going to try to see how far he could go with all of his artistry.

Were you around when they initially recorded parts of Purple Rain at August '83 First Avenue gig?
No. But I was hired in August of 1983, around the time the First Avenue songs were [premiered]. I was planning the transition from moving from Los Angeles to Minnesota. There was a mobile truck at First Avenue and David Rivkin, Bobby Z's brother, did the recording during the live gig. But I did arrive in time to do a lot of the overdubs for the Purple Rain album. The first thing Prince had me do was work on his home studio. I had to tear out an old console and install a new one. He had just brought a new API console. I repaired his tape machine, which was an Ampex MM 1200. I got a lot of stuff done. One of the first songs we worked on was "Darling Nikki." We did a lot of work for the Purple Rain album in his home studio.

"Darling Nikki" is a hell of a song to have as your first project. Did you press play and think to yourself, "What have I gotten myself into?"
[Laughs] You have to remember I was his new employee. So Prince had me put up the tape of "Darling Nikki." I pushed up the faders and I remember thinking, "Holy shit!" "Darling Nikki" wasn't even finished yet, but you could tell it was something special. I would hazard to guess he did it all by himself; he played everything. The song "Let's Go Crazy" was recorded live at a rehearsal. That was one of the first things I did with Prince. He rehearsed the song and the arrangement of the song with his band The Revolution. At that time, St. Louis Park was the city where Prince rehearsed. Now typically, the recording studio is isolated from the musicians, but not in this case. We had the recording equipment right in the middle of the floor. We recorded the band live and then Prince and I stayed there late, late late to do the guitar solo and the additional instrumental parts. That was the first song I recorded with him from beginning to end. It was crazy.

You talk about recording with Prince so nonchalantly, but from all the stories about his recording exploits he was known for wearing out engineers. How were you able to keep up?
Let me tell you. At that time, four hours of sleep was a good night's sleep for Prince. I would usually get a phone call at 9 a.m. and it's from Prince. When he would call that meant come to the studio immediately. Prince would tell me what kind of set up he wanted. The most important thing was to never hand Prince an instrument that wasn't in tune. His technicians taught me how to tune his piano, drums, bass, and guitar. And this included setting up a vocal mic as well. Prince would come downstairs and usually have a lyric sheet written in long hand. And he would tape it up on a stand in front of the drums. I'd hit record and he would play the entire drum track from beginning to end without a click with the song in his head. He was a musical genius, especially on the drum machine.

Show off...
That's how talented he is. Prince wanted to be able to walk from the drum booth into the control room, pick up the bass and play the bass parts. Next, he might do the keyboard or pick up the guitar. He'd get half of the instrumentation done and then by himself he would record his vocals. Once it was time for vocals, I would leave the room. He always had to do his vocals alone because he needed that concentration. We could finish an entire song and have it printed and mixed in one day and have copies made. And then a few hours later, the phone would ring again and it's Prince [laughs]. And I would come back and do the whole thing again. But that's just so extremely rare. Most people don't or can't work like that.

Can you think of any other artist that has been that obsessed with recording at such a torrid pace?

No. I can't think of any other artist who has ever done what he's done. His competition at that time was Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna. Now there have been other artists since that have seemingly done it all in the studio. But they don't really do it all. They are not writing, producing and arranging all of their material. And playing every instrument and writing music for movies at the same time and writing for other artists. Prince was doing all this and designing every aspect of his live show. He even designed his own clothes. To do all this and be on top for as long as he was and to have that many hit records and exercising that much control and power and that much anonymity over that many aspects of your music there's no precedent for that.

You are not dealing with someone who wakes up and does the dishes, huh?
[Laughs] That's true! When I first got to Prince's home it was a typical split-level suburban house and the studio was in a bedroom downstairs right below his living room. So his piano was right above me. While I was downstairs in his bedroom for a week installing his console and doing his wiring, Prince was just waiting for his studio to be built, and I would hear him on the piano playing over and over again. I heard him play an early version of "The Beautiful Ones" more than any other song. He was just working it out over and over again. It was a powerful theme for him in his playing. It was really a privilege to hear him play these great songs. He would sit down at the piano and just play.

What was a typical recording session with Prince like during the Purple Rain era?
A typical session for Prince was when we started a song from scratch we typically didn't leave the studio until it was mixed and printed. No one else did that. But Prince did that for every song. So if we came in and we started a song from scratch we would either do the drum machine or live drums first. Then we might bring in members of his band. But usually, he would finish an entire song without any help. We would not leave until everything was overdubbed. When I officially became Prince's engineer I would usually be mixing it as we went along. He changed his method of recording after Paisley Park was built because he could finally use automation. But most of the time I was with Prince it was very old school.The only time we would remix something after the fact is when the original track was cut live like in the case of "Let's Go Crazy" and subsequent records like "Mountains." And of course, we would remix tracks that were recorded live by the mobile truck. We would bring it back in the studio, fix it and mix it. That was the case with "Purple Rain" and a few other tracks on that album.

Did you have a hand at recording Purple Rain's film score as well?
Even though I came in late on the project, I was doing quite a bit of work on the album and the movie. In addition to sequencing Purple Rain and taking it to mastering, I helped with recording the incidental music for the film. I was hearing it all as it was coming together.

Was there a sense that you were working on a game-changing project?
There was definitely a sense that the Purple Rain soundtrack and entire project was noteworthy. We had no idea that this thing was going to sell how many millions of copies that it did. But there was a sense that if they hadn't noticed Prince before they would notice him now. And he had songs that didn't make it on the album like "Wonderful Ass," which was on a tape that was just sitting there in his room when I joined him as an employee. He had those great [Purple Rain b-sides] like "17 Days," a song I loved! He had so much material. That was probably his most fertile period. And really good stuff. I was disappointed that his funk songs like "17 Days" didn't make it onto Purple Rain.You engineered on the Purple Rain tour as well. What's your fondest memory?
We had a mobile recording truck at the Superdome in Louisiana. Imagine being a single-named artist and selling out two nights at a place that holds 60,000 people. That's where we recorded "4 The Tears In Your Eyes." This was an astonishing moment for me. I was on the side as the band was taking the stage and was hit by the sound of 60,000 people. I have never heard anything like that before. Prince and the stage looked so small in a place of that size. It was great just to realize what this guy had accomplished. After that, we played Los Angeles, which was a big deal because you would see all of these celebrities backstage. I'm looking at Prince like, "Wow, you are the guy I go to work for everyday."

That had to be a humbling experience for everyone involved, right?
It really was. Prince was an output for recording and performing. That's all he did. But he didn't want to be backstage, and yet something remarkable happened at the Forum. Prince was held captive by Elizabeth Taylor! He didn't want to be talking to Elizabeth Taylor... not there; not after a sold-out show. But there he was. My ex-boyfriend John was also backstage. So I'm running around because we have the mobile truck there, too. John looked at Prince being talked to by Elizabeth Taylor and he saw a brother in trouble [laughs]. And John thought to himself, "I'm going to fall on the sword." So John jumped in between Prince and Elizabeth Taylor and did his best Quincy, Massachusetts, nutcase kid. He's screaming, "Prince, the show was wicked awesome! I took two hits of acid and smoked a big joint!"

That should have been a Dave Chappelle sketch.
It was hilarious! That was enough of a distraction where Prince could look at Taylor and go, "Well, nutcase in the room...what are you gonna do?" and make his escape. I never heard this until Prince told me that story afterward. He was laughing when he told what happened. He said, "Man, that dude saved my life...I love that guy!"'

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Matt Muse Raps His Heart Out On 'Love & Nappyness'

Matt Muse used to hate love songs. Last fall, the Chicago rapper asked his Instagram followers what they’d like to see on his next project, and they answered resoundingly with demand for more songs like “Shea Butter Baby,” a hip-house love song that was a highlight of 2018’s Nappy Talk. “I think love songs are mad corny, so I was like ‘Hell naw,’” he laughs over the phone. “But then I’m thinking, ‘They told you their answer. What is a way I can satisfy this desire?’” Muse then faced the challenge of delving into love songs without repeating himself or regurgitating cliches.

Love & Nappyness, Matt Muse’s new project, explores love from all angles: romantic, but also platonic, familial, even spiritual. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but Muse succeeds through sharp writing and soulful production. It’s the best work yet by a rising artist in Chicago’s fertile hip-hop scene.

The rapper born Dexter Matthews found inspiration for the album in his church’s annual Agape Festival. “The festival was everybody feasting together in the basement of our church celebrating love,” he says. Included in the program were Greek and Biblical terms for various kinds of love that provided a framework as Muse wrote his verses and eventually became subtitles for each track. “Love doesn’t just exist in this vacuum of intimate relationships. It actually exists in all these other ways too,” he says.

The South Side rapper was careful to avoid the corniness he sees inherent to the love songs churned out by pop songwriters for “anybody who can look good and sing well.” “The way I automatically combat that corniness is the nappyness,” Muse explains. “It’s real, it’s me, it’s genuine. Everything I talk about in every one of these songs is one million percent real to me.” The EP’s title is less an Al Green reference than a celebration of freedom from external expectations, symbolized by his natural hair.

On the project’s first track, “St. Matthew (Agape),” Muse raps directly to God. “Now me at 26, 10 years from you / But searching for a verse to keep the congregation moved / Guess we ain’t that far removed but I’m still stuck & still confused.” I’d recommend that!Though he grew up intending to be a preacher, he stopped believing entirely after processing the deaths of loved ones in his teens. His distance from divinity is the heart of the song, where he laments earthly racism and disloyalty while admitting his own mistakes. It’s a credit to Muse’s pen that he balances the heavy subject matter with moments of levity, like when he imagines that God will “probably reply ‘Same phone, who dis?’” Muse stresses that his lack of religious beliefs didn’t divide him from his churchgoing family. “I still be pulling up to the church sometimes, people don’t treat me any different.”

Muse continues his family’s musical tradition, as he explains on “Family, Still (Storge).” He raps that his “mom’s in twenty-something choirs,” while his father, stage name Big Ed, has produced house music and rapped all his life. (One of his songwriting credits, Barbara Tucker’s “I Get Lifted,” was recently sampled by a house tribute from a fellow Chicagoan: Kanye West’s “Fade.”) Muse’s music career was kickstarted by an eighth-grade graduation gift from his dad, a drum machine. His younger brother raps and produces as well under the name Syl Messi, a fitting name because “his room still be dirty but his beats be kicking.”

The song concludes with Muse harmonizing to Mon’Aerie singing a yearning melody: “Rest your head and your heart / I’ll keep the family near.” The Chicago singer’s warm vocals add extra flavor all over the EP. “If I’m the heart and brains,” Muse says, “she’s the body.”

Though he initially planned against featuring any guest rappers, Muse tapped Pivot Gang member Joseph Chilliams for a verse on “Myself (Philautia II).” The song shares a subtitle with “Ain’t No,” which is a dexterous boast like vintage Lupe Fiasco, but “Myself” is about self-love in a physical sense. “Love how you treat me baby,” Muse sings on the hook. “But first let me treat myself.” As the sugary sweet beat dissolves to drums, Chilliams raps “Looking in the mirror, I just gotta thank the lord / In love with myself just like Regina George.” Chilliams is familiar with showing his feelings, his humor and his Mean Girls knowledge, dating back to past projects like The Plastics and Henry Church. “Listening to Joseph Chilliams’ music was a huge inspiration for me to even be comfortable being as vulnerable as I am on this song,” Muse says. “To me, he embodies self-love in the way he raps.”

Muse addresses romantic love on “Love Wrong (Eros),” a sequel of sorts to “Shea Butter Baby.” If the fan-favorite track depicted puppy love, “Love Wrong” documents the same relationship later, as the two navigate disagreement and miscommunication. “Both songs are about the same real person. ‘Love Wrong’ is a more in-depth analysis of what her and I have experienced since being involved with each other,” Muse says. “The realities of it, like ‘Oh we gotta learn each other, this sh*t doesn’t just work overnight,’” he continues. The song ends on a hopeful note, as he chants “We gon get it right” like a mantra to get through the tough times. Muse is still seeing the woman who inspired both songs, after all.

Perseverance through discord and death is the common thread through Love & Nappyness, the same grit in the face of adversity that drives hometown heroes like Kanye and Common. Muse is releasing his latest work independently, and he passed up opportunities to play festivals in order to book the release show, his first time headlining. For him, the payoff has been worth it. “The whole theme of my year,” he says, “has been betting on myself.”

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6 Pop Culture Tributes In Normani's Jam-Packed "Motivation" Video

Since its release this morning at midnight (Aug. 16), Normani has been the name on everybody's lips. The former Fifth Harmony member dropped a video for her latest single, "Motivation," which shows off the 23-year-old's incredible dance moves and also pleasantly pays homage to some of our favorite visuals and pop-culture moments from the 2000s.

"Motivation" was produced by ILYA, and Normani revealed that Ariana Grande was one of the song's co-writers. The video was directed by Daniel Russell and Dave Meyers, who is as iconic (and throwback) as it gets. Take a look at a few moments the video pays homage to below.

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106 & Park (0:00- 0:29)

BET's music countdown show is the basis for the visual. A teenage girl is shown running into her living room, and she is eager to see if one of her favorite music videos will be shown. To her delight, Terrence J and Rocsi announce that Normani's video will be playing.

Beyonce, "Crazy In Love" (0:30-0:42 and 2:43-3:08)

A given considering Normani's vocal appreciation of the Queen Bey. To start the video within the video, 'Mani is seen strutting down the street a la 'Crazy In Love' with denim bottoms and a white tank, serving us life on a silver platter.

She also served us sexy choreography in the rain, a likely homage to Bey's iconic video. The bedazzled outfit screamed 2000s, but there was no denying there was Bey influence for the scene.

Ciara, "1, 2 Step" And/Or Ashanti, "Happy" (0:45- throughout)

Normani storms into this scene with energy, which prompts everyone else to get in formation and dance with her, reminiscent of when Ciara showed us how to 1,2 Step. Much like in the homage, everyone rallies behind CiCi to have some fun.

This could also be an homage to Ashanti's "Happy." Videos in the 2000s were clearly all about dancing in front of houses, and with the synchronization of both groups of dancers, we could also lean towards Ashanti being a definite inspiration.

Jennifer Lopez Feat. Ja Rule, "I'm Real (Remix)" (1:42-2:13)

The 2000s were all about the basketball court too, and "Motivation" screams "I'm Real." The OG video features J. Lo and Ja playfully canoodling on the court, which is also what we see during Normani's take on the hit.

Britney Spears, "...Baby One More Time" (1:54- 2:05)

You can't deny that this particular scene has Brit Brit written all over it. The Louisiana native, who is a former dancer and gymnast, pulled out all the stops in her debut music video. Normani (a fellow Louisiana girl as well as a dancer and gymnast) pays homage in a very loaded way.

via GIPHY
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Katherine Bomboy / Bleecker Street

The Devastation Of Delayed Justice And The Necessary Timing Of 'Brian Banks'

Anger is nothing but clouded judgment, and Aldis Hodge wants me to be clear on that. It’s a pleasant June afternoon and before the actor departs from the East Coast for his next film project, we’re chatting over the phone about the particulars of the infamous Brock Turner case. In 2015, the former Stanford University student, then 19, was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious 22-year-old woman behind a campus dumpster after a frat party. At the time of sentencing for his deplorable crime, his father wrote a letter to the judge presiding over the case, begging for a more lenient sentence than the prosecutor’s requested six years because “that is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

To say Hodge felt certain things when the judge okayed a gentler sentencing—Turner was given six months in Santa Clara County Jail but was released after three—would be an understatement. Like many with sense and empathy considered it, the meager “consequence” for his actions was a spit in the face.

“The judicial system failed that woman,” Hodge says sternly. “When [Turner] gets let off with a slap on the wrist for three months, then I have to question how does the judicial system look at the value of women. They're saying, ‘his life will be severely impacted if he's in jail.’ I'm sorry, it's supposed to be. Why? Because this young woman's life is now severely impacted forever. She can't escape that. Where is the real justice?” The passion manifesting in the inflections of his voice, however, is steeped in disappointment, not quite anger. “I speak with full clarity and understanding of the subject matter but I'm still quite disappointed because we have been let down as a society.”

It wasn’t lost on Hodge how similar this judicial fumble was to the case of former Atlanta Falcons player Brian Banks, whose infuriating story is the basis of the Bleeker Street film bearing his name. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why he auditioned for the lead role in the first place. Those familiar with Banks’ tale will know that in 2002, the then-17 high schooler and NFL prospect was wrongfully convicted of rape following a consensual sexual encounter on campus with classmate Wanetta Gibson. Although he maintained his innocence, she accused him of raping and kidnapping her, sued Long Beach Unified School District for lax security and an unsafe school environment, and eventually received a settlement of $15 million.

After being given 10 minutes to pick fighting the charges and risking 41 years-to-life in prison, or taking a plea deal and spending just over five years, he chose the latter with a no contest plea. Banks was sentenced to six years and a lifetime on the sex offender list, serving five and a year on probation (complete with an ankle monitor). With the eventual help of the California Innocence Project (who he had to convince to advocate on his behalf) he was exonerated a decade later on May 24, 2012 when Gibson recanted her story and admitted to fabricating the rape.

Brian Banks finds Hodge (Underground, City on a Hill, What Men Want) retracing the steps of the athlete’s redemption story from solitary confinement breakdowns to his rocky reentry to society on parole to the day his accuser, whose lie temporarily shattered his future, reached out to him on Facebook to “move past” that time.

Tucking away the pain of his ordeal took time, but in spending time with Banks, now 34, Aldis has developed a deep sense of awe and respect for Banks’ resilience and healing process. During the making of this film, in which Banks served as an executive producer, tough days were far from absent. Hodge can recall times when the flood of emotions were too strong to be kept behind stoic facades and focused eyes.

“There's a scene where I'm presenting my evidence to the C.I.P., showing them that this woman lied and they’re saying that I cannot present that in court. It's inadmissible,” he says, referencing Banks’ almost moment of freedom. After agreeing to talk to him in person about the incident, Banks and a neutral party secretly recorded her recantation. Unfortunately, because she did not agree up front to record the plain-as-day confession, her new words could not be used to free him. One could imagine the crushing feeling of defeat. “We talked about that before I shot the scene and were sitting there, two grown swole dudes in a hallway sitting on some stairs crying, going through the emotions.”

Here, Aldis Hodge talks about the feeling of retelling of such a heavy yet hopeful story, why it’s unfair to measure Brian Banks against the #MeToo movement, and why the time to take America’s flawed justice system to task—no matter the victim’s demographic—is right now.

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VIBE: How much did you know about Brian's story before this project and did you find this project on you own or did someone seek you out? Aldis Hodge: I was familiar with it because of the juxtaposition of the case of Brock Turner and you see how it was handled versus how Brian's case was handled. I was quite frustrated with that, so when the story came up, I said, wow, this is really a grand opportunity to say something effective. Hopefully share a little light on the disparity when it comes to how we're treated in the judicial system versus how folk who don't look like us are treated.

What was that knee-jerk reaction when you heard the Brock Turner case? My personal take on that, first of all I was, "Who's judging the judge?" The judge failed us as a society when it came to not necessarily making an example out of this young man, but just doing what was supposed to be done right. Justice wasn't served. I was pissed off. I'm not even going to lie, I was pissed off. In life there are so many grey areas, but when it comes to cases like this, there's black and white.

We can point back to Brian's case where they had a bunch of evidence pointing towards his innocence, where he should've gotten the benefit of the doubt. He should've gotten a second chance. The judicial system failed him and they didn't give him a chance at all because of who he was, what he looked like, where he came from. That's how we as black culture in this country are continually treated by the government, by the justice system. That needs to change, which is another part of why I did this film. I believe it has something more to say than just “it's a great story about hope.” It's really a wonderful, beautiful story that, to me, inspires faith and belief in oneself, because what Brian did for himself is insane. He went into prison, came out smarter and far more educated than when he went in. He manages to achieve exonerating and clearing his name, then goes on to achieve the ultimate dream—being in the NFL. That's insane to me, the fact that he held so much faith in who he was and his value that he just beat down wall after wall after wall of doubt. [He] pushed forward to create experiencing the impossible.

That was miraculous. I mean, how many times do you actually hear stories like this? Especially the fact that he cleared his name just a month or two shy of his parole being up. If his parole had completed, doesn't matter what would've happened, he wouldn't have been able to clear his records. If he had stopped believing in himself a day or two, a week, a year, a month earlier, imagine what would not have ever happened for him.

I can feel the passion that you have, just as a person in the society towards it. Coming to the table with Brian to talk about how to embody this role going forward, was your passion matched in the same way? What did that look like for him? Is his stance more reflective, and has he moved past those raw emotions? My passion is not anger, it's disappointment. I do have a bit of reverence to allow people to understand the degree of severity of when it comes to these situations. My passions are very real because the fact is that this could hit me, this could affect me at any moment. When it comes to Brian, he's been through the anger. The very first question I asked him when I talked to him the first time we met was, “Hey man, are you angry?” He said, “No, I'm not. I've been through the anger, I want to put that to bed. What I want to do now is just live my life. Live the happiest best life that I possibly can. I want to live freely.” I think we both share the same passion, where we understand that people in positions are not doing the jobs that they are challenged to do, and that’s why we do the work that we do in ways that we hopefully can be most effective.

How did you prepare for the role emotionally? Initially I was trying to get my weight up [for the role]. I was thinking about trying to get a trainer and then after a while, I was like, nah, let me just Brian train me. Brian and I spent our time in the gym and that's where we started learning more about each others’ mentality, our work ethic, how serious we are about this. From there, when it came to being on set Brian was on set most days and the days he wasn't there was a conscience choice because he had a hard time dealing with certain situations. When we did the solitary confinement scene, he had to step away but we would talk and before every scene I would hit him up and be like "Look man, what were you going though in this time frame and where was your mentality on it."

Before watching the film, some of the critiques I saw when it first premiered at the L.A. film festival were, "It's a great film that came out at the wrong time.” They felt it was “bad timing" given the height of the #MeToo movement. Did you have any of those reservations? I can't compare my pain to yours, yours is equally as valid as mine is. I know that from a very basic and narrow and, to a degree, I would say emotionally immature perspective, people like to compare what this is and could be to the #MeToo movement. What they have to realize is as far as the victims for the #MeToo movement, they deserve their voice. They deserve to be represented, they deserve to seek justice. On the flip side of that, there are also victims who are in prison for crimes that they did not commit. I'm talking robbery, I'm talking rape, I'm talking drug charges.

With Brian's story, a judicial system has failed because they did not do their jobs. Brian had evidence. Basically, we have the scientific lab report that's saying it was literally no sex. [Brian’s] lawyer has this in her hand and she tries not to use this evidence right. She chose to say, I'm going to figure out how to win this case and not lose, so I'm going to go in there and tell you take a plea deal, not fully explaining the consequences of what pleading out means, because 97 percent of cases plea out as opposed to fighting for their innocence and their justice. We’re talking about a judicial system that has failed people on all sides, so there's no comparison or really parallel when it comes to the #MeToo movement. They deserve their respect and they deserve their placement. Out of respect for victims of the #MeToo movement, we don't ever bring that up because we feel like, who are we to ever in any capacity compare? That's not who we are, that's not what we do, and that's definitely not who or what Brian is. They deserve their justice. Brian, being in his position, also deserves his justice and what the audience has to acclimate to doing is seeing the full scope of the flaws within these situations.

Are you familiar with the Albert Wilson case? No. Please educate me.

A former University of Kansas student was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for an alleged rape, where there was no DNA evidence that they had sex. He and the young woman went to a club underage at the time, none of them were carded, and afterwards, “fooling around” happened that she alleges was rape but he says was not. The minimum for rape convictions in Kansas is 12 years, and he was recently sent to prison to serve out the sentence even though he maintains his innocence. The timing of Brian Banks coming out and sharing this message is interesting because of how similar the DNA situation is, provided his actual innocence. It makes you think about how hard it is to experience a redemption moment like Brian did. I think that anytime to address flaws when it comes to fighting for justice, is the right time. For people who think, oh is this the wrong time, no we are talking about a real issue that happens on a daily basis and the fact that we're bringing it to light... The right time is today, now, yesterday. It's always the right time to talk about anything that's going to fight for true justice.

When it comes to Brian's case he did all of his time. He was a couple months shy of parole being up when he exonerated himself. So he did a year in jail, he did five years in prison and then he did five years on parole, living that caged hell on the outside of prison. Brian didn't get any kind of break when it came to his sentence. He wasn't let off early, he wasn't handed a break really even with the C.I.P. If it wasn't for him really fighting for himself he would've been lost, lost to the system. I do hope for this young man’s sake, presuming his innocence, that he gets the help that he needs because it's out there. Hopefully this film sheds a little light on more people that need that help.

A frustrating thing is not knowing when, if or how an entity will advocate on your behalf and fight for you the way you want to fight for yourself. Like you said, Brian had to find a way to prove, "Hey, I'm worthy of being helped. What do you think should be the takeaways as far as advocacy, especially in fine line situations? The whole idea that you may likely be innocent but there could be a doubt that you're not and how that shapes the way people approach your situation. I remember when I first met Brian, in order to really take on this role, I had to believe him. If I was going to represent this man, for me this is not about a job opportunity or check. This is about what I’m personally putting my name behind and what I believe in. I had to believe him and I did. If you put yourself in a position professionally or charitably where you are able to and you’re supposed to help build the need, do the due diligence and do the work. Go out there and make yourself a bit more accessible. Granted, I understand there's a lot of people who might say "I'm innocent" when they're not and, again, if you do the work, you get as much info as you can. As much evidence as you can and just make yourself available for these people to find you so they can access you. There's a lot of people in prison who don't realize that they have access to more help on the outside. If they know they have more access, they might be able to actually help represent themselves in a position where they can clear their names.

I say if it's family and friends, do as much research as you can. We have access to more resources than ever in this particular age in time and reach out and find out these organizations like the C.I.P, the California Innocence Project. If not that, you might have to go do the work yourself, get a private investigator to go look at the location, the scene of the crime. Just like with Brian's case the DA, no one went down to investigate where the girls said that she was kidnapped. If they had, they would've known that everything that she said was a lie. Given the time of day, given the access, given the people that would've been around, there is no possible way that she could've been dragged, kicking and screaming down an open hallway with all these doors open and students in class. Regardless of what they would've found, the fact is again they didn't do their jobs because no one went down there to investigate the scene of the crime. The scene of the supposed crime, that is the biggest issue there.

Also, if you're put in a position to do a specific job you have to do, step up to the plate. Don't be lazy and don't play the agenda bias of I'm just trying to get from point A to point Z. No, you have people’s lives in you hands and you are committed to that.That is what you're doing is to help actually save some lives, so do that.

One of the interesting nuances of the film is the presentation of “Kennisha Rice” and the part she plays in setting Brian's life back. It’s very interesting that she was not presented as malicious, sneaky or intentional; her inconsistencies were driven out of fear from her mother’s point of view. Do you think it's something to take into account when looking at some of the people who make these accusations and wind up ruining people’s lives, And the way they're seen after that? With this film, our priority was not to demonize her. If we were going to show her, we were going to show her as a human being, given Brian's current perspective of not being angry and not wanting to demonize her, not get revenge on this woman, anything like that. He's free of that. We want you to come up with your own idea, if you happen to understand her and sympathize with the fear and maybe you've made the same terrible choice in the situation. That's on you. We don't want to direct how you see this person.

As far as what may come of this, if it's karma coming back at her, it's not karma that Brian threw out her. Brian is telling his story and he has to be honest of that. However, we have to accentuate the fact that they are flawed human beings and this is what can happen when you don't take responsibility for your own flaws. When you don't look at it yourself and understand the power you made holds in the situation, these are the mistakes that can happen. We are not trying to get people to hate this character because that would contradict the entire journey that Brian as been on. We don't want you to hate anybody. We’re over that. Focus on the faith. Focus on the happiness. Focus on the belief and the fight that Brian had to fight for who he was in his value and maintaining his innocence knowing that he was still worth something.

What do you hope unsure audiences take away from this film and this very real story? I caution against my selfish ambitions when it comes to that question. I just hope people take away hope and belief in themselves and the power that they will, when it comes to actually helping someone else who maybe in need, I hope people answer the call if every they are or feel called to do so.

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