When director Deon Taylor and producer Roxanne Avent were given the script to The Intruder, they knew they’d want to put their own spin on it.
Their eighth film together, which stars Michael Ealy, Meagan Good and Dennis Quaid, is the story of a successful young couple who buy a home in the wine country in order to mend their marriage. Consequently, their mettle is tested like never before when their new home’s former owner (Dennis Quaid) refuses to move on with his life.
“At the time, the script was not written for an African-American cast,” Taylor tells The Hollywood Reporter of the first draft he saw.
He soon reworked the script to center it around an African-American couple.
“I just love being able to put our people in that light — as a dope pair of upstanding African-American people. After that, we were all in; we were making this happen,” he says.
Taylor admits working with an established movie star like Quaid was intimidating at first, but he was put at ease when the actor said he was there to please the director. When production kicked into gear, Taylor was impressed by Quaid’s willingness to pitch in beyond his job description.
”Dennis was even moving lights, moving chairs, working overtime and buying coffee. One day, we were over three or four hours and I was tired, but he said, ‘C’mon, man, we got one more shot,'” recalls Taylor.
In a recent conversation with THR, Taylor and Avent further discuss working with Dennis Quaid, the key location tip they received from their driver in Vancouver, the ins and outs of their partnership and their upcoming slate of films.
The two of you first worked together in 2007 on Dead Tone, and you’ve basically worked together ever since. How did it become apparent, in 2007, that you were a productive partnership?
Deon Taylor: When you’re first starting off independently, you go through the ups and downs of trying to find different people that you feel can help you get to the next step. During those hard times is when you normally lose a lot of people. The people that stay with you ultimately become the people that stay with you forever. We’ve been doing this together since then. We’ve worked through the ups and the downs, trying to make movies independently. We’ve been in the battlefield with a lot of people that are indie filmmakers. Roxanne has been amazing in terms of being there as my producing partner. We’ve learned together; we’re both self-taught. So, as we’re making our ranks, trying to figure out how to make a film in Hollywood and get what we like to call a 360, meaning, you make the movie, get it distributed and ultimately have it return money, we’ve been the only two left standing, alongside Robert Smith, our financier.
Roxanne Avent: There’s also a great balance between us. Deon is more of the creative force behind what we do, and I’m the producing partner for him. So we know our roles, and we respect those roles. Then we support each other on both sides of that. There’s never any competition with what we’re doing. We figure out the best way to do things for each side, and then we’re able to execute it without any kind of gray area.
How did The Intruder first pop up on your radar?
Avent: We were shooting Traffik, and [executive producer] Mark Burg presented the script to us as a really interesting crossover film based on some different elements than what we’re normally doing. We incorporated the black cast, if you will, and the dropped Dennis [Quaid] into that vehicle. It was just something different for me, as a producer, because I had the opportunity to work with a movie star within a vehicle that we’re used to doing with our prior films.
Taylor: Mark Burg is someone we’re gigantic fans of; he obviously produced the Saw franchise. He said, “Deon, here’s a movie that you’ll really get a kick out of if you read it. If you put your spin on this, it could be really special.” I remember I was sitting on the couch and reading the script on my iPhone. When I finished, I said, “Yo, this is crazy!” At the time, the script was not written for an African-American cast. There were a few other things that really made my mind run. I called Mark back and said that we wanted to make it. One hour after that, I was making the phone call to Robert Smith.
Besides being a terrific thriller-horror movie, what I loved about the idea of the script is that it took an African-American couple and put them in a different light. I love the fact that they were millennials and that they worked out of San Francisco as creative executives. They had great careers; it wasn’t a stretch. I just love being able to put our people in that light — as a dope pair of upstanding African-American people. After that, we were all in; we were making this happen.
Avent: There’s nothing scarier than a film that can really happen. When I read scripts, the things I’m attracted to most are when you can’t stop turning the page and knowing that it can really happen. So, this was really cool.
Dennis Quaid has always had an intimidating quality about him, something your movie really leans into. Were you intimidated at all during your collaboration with him?
Taylor: The entire film was a beautiful process. One of the most prolific things about the film was that it was independent. When you have the ability to make independent film, it allows you to take your time and be creative with talent as a director. We were making our movie, and when Dennis came on board, it was Dennis’ movie with us, plus the whole cast. Dennis is an intimidating person. His body is incredible; his mind is sharp. He’s so iconic as an actor that as a director, you have to make sure you know what you’re talking about. So the first day we met, we sat down and started talking about the character. I remember him fishing a little bit to see what I knew. Thirty minutes into the meeting, he said, “Look, you know how to do this. I’m here because of you, as a filmmaker. Whatever you want me to do, I’m here to please you.”
Once that was said, everything was loose. It was just me and him. He was able to go as far left as we wanted him to go, and then he would come back and say, “Was that too far?” Then, I’d say, “Yeah, bring it back here.” Two weeks into the project, we had this Charlie Peck character really lined out. It was scary; it was funny. Every time I watch the film, I say, “Goddamn, this dude is good.” Dennis was even moving lights, moving chairs, working overtime and buying coffee. One day, we were over three or four hours, and I was tired, but he said, “C’mon, man, we got one more shot.” Outside of anything you talk about in Hollywood and entertainment — where everything is generally about money and success — this, to me, is why you make movies. An iconic actor was there simply because of the movie.
The primary location in this movie is a beautiful home that’s set in the wine country. How long did it take to find this location, and did you have to rewrite the script to accommodate the location?
Taylor: The location was tough. It was another one of those independent moments where you’re riding around in Canada. We were there because we wanted the tax credit. We live up in Northern California, and we really wanted to set the stage for Napa. It was my first time in Vancouver, and I told Roxanne, “None of this is working.” Believe it or not, we looked at seven or eight locations, and finally, the driver, who was driving the van, said, “I don’t want to butt in, but there’s this one location called Fox Club. I think it’s what you keep pitching everyone.” He drove us over there, and we were beyond blessed. We drove down the driveway of the place and I said, “Oh my God.” It had the baby angel statues and one of the rings had broken off. It just kept getting better and better. Right when I walked in, I remember Daniel Pearl, the cinematographer, looking at me and shaking his head. I said, “What do you mean no?” He said, “It’s too small. The house is a hundred years old and we’ll never be able to get the cameras in here and shoot the scenes.” But, I said, “This is it.” So, yeah, we changed the script — a lot — to fit the house. I just fell in love with the place and thought it was a beautiful and creepy location that went with the story. Even in the trailer, you hear Charlie say that the house has been in his family for a hundred years. So, you can’t beat that. It was so good that we named the house Fox Club, which is the name of the real location. (Laughs.)
Avent: Of course, it’s exciting for me, because working within these budget parameters, being able to shoot everything in the movie, except for two days, on a 25-day shoot, is a blessing. Even though the house was really small, which was a big challenge, it makes all the characters and all the energy we’re shooting for that much better.
The two of you have made several comedies, as well as horror-thrillers. In terms of process, have you recognized any similarities between the two genres, such as timing of the joke or scare?
Taylor: Roxanne and I talk about this a lot, but as an African-American filmmaker, I want to be the first director to check all the boxes. I’m not afraid to fail. Hollywood encourages you to do what you’re good at and only do that. I’ve always been a storyteller, and I love all genres. The one thing that is a constant with 99.9 percent of all the films we’ve made is someone dealing with adversity and overcoming it. That has been the line in comedy; that has been the line in drama and that has been the line in horror. They’re all human stories at the core of them. When you have human stories, they all have to have laughter, adversity and drama. That’s what we’re building in the framework of every film that we pick to do. The Intruder is about a couple that is having a hard time with their marriage and they move to a better a location, hoping that it would help. They have to overcome adversity and become closer. That necessary evil is the Charlie Peck character (Dennis Quaid). It’s the same thing in a comedy like Meet the Blacks. The comedy and everything else falls in there, because it’s our DNA. If I told you some of the things that we’ve been through, you would be crying and you would be laughing. Then, you’d have the dramatic moment where you say, “Damn!” We just pour it all into the movies because that’s who we are as people.
You have no shortage of upcoming projects. Do you want to update anything in particular?
Avent: We just finished shooting a noir thriller with Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy. We are hoping that will sell in the next month. And then, obviously, Meet the Blacks 2 is coming out in October with Mike Epps, Katt Williams and all the recurring characters from the first one.
Taylor: Yeah, Fatale is the next one up. It’s an incredible noir thriller in the vain of Fatal Attraction. That’s Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy and Mike Colter. I just recently wrapped a Sony movie, Exposure, which is a beautiful movie that stars Naomie Harris and Tyrese Gibson. It’s a story about a black female police officer in New Orleans who witnesses a couple of narc officers kill a black kid. The movie follows her on the run with these narc officers trying to silence her.
We love making movies for fans. We’re movie fans, too. We’re the ones in the theaters screaming, “Hell no!” We just love movies. So, when we make movies, we want to make movies for people that see them in the theater, versus “Oh, critically, we have to say this or we must do that.” We love breaking the rules.
The Intruder is in theaters now.