“Annie” hits theaters this Friday, December 19.
Academy Award nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) stars as Annie, a young, happy foster kid who’s also tough enough to make her way on the streets of New York in 2014. Originally left by her parents as a baby with the promise that they’d be back for her someday, it’s been a hard knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). But everything’s about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) – advised by his brilliant VP, Grace (Rose Byrne) and his shrewd and scheming campaign advisor, Guy (Bobby Cannavale) – makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in. Stacks believes he’s her guardian angel, but Annie’s self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it’s the other way around.
Read what Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis and Director Will Gluck had to say about reimagining “Annie.”
Q: Do you believe in luck?
JF: I think it is all of that. Luck, blessings, opportunities, but luck is obviously a factor when you look at our business.
QW: I feel like luck is something that you believe in. It’s something that if you find something that’s great that just happened you say that, “I’m lucky for this.” Which is basically like blessings. I have a great blessing for this. So it’s like all of it goes together.
Q: You probably all had different relationships with the “Annie” source material so can you talk a little bit about that when you were first exposed to it? Your perception and then the idea about completely reinventing this iconic story.
WG: So I saw “Annie” when I was a kid here in New York, my parents brought me. We went to go see it together. And I knew about it pretty well, but the one thing that connected with me in “Annie” was it really was about hope, optimism, finding your family … never giving up. And those were the touchstones with the music that connected with me. So we took those and then we stuck it in our “Annie” and we were very conscious to not forget what makes “Annie” so special for people.
QW: The thing that “Annie” brings to me is that it’s good to always be strong and if you have a goal, go for it. And if there’s something in your way just go around it and find your path again and go for your goal.
JF: I echo those sentiments.
Q: New York is such an important character in the film and you were able to shoot on location, can you each speak about that experience and just being immersed in New York as you shot “Annie”?
JF: There’s a lot of people in New York. I mean living on the west coast, so I had to get used to that bump and grind. You guys are from New York? New York’s so spirited.
WG: I’m from New York City and I knew it was going to be fun. But, the hardest part of shooting with Jamie in all the car scenes and every time we’d be in the car we’d have a big car driving through the city with lights everywhere—we’re shooting a movie. And I’d be sitting there and Jamie would be acting with Rose and Bobby and Quvenzhane and I’d say—“Oh god here it comes.” And people would come out, “Jamie Foxx!” And I’m like “Aw.”
JF: “Ay yo Jamie!”
QW: “We love you man!”
JF: “Jamie! Hate you man!”
WG: Oh boy it goes quick. It changes quick. “I love you man,” to “Hate you man,” in one block.
JF: “Get out of here!”
JF: When you all were shooting the Spanish Harlem. They’d be like “I’ve been in this neighborhood for years, I don’t give a ish. I don’t care what’s going on here! I gotta walk to my building.”
WG: Right, they have to get across the street.
WG: It changes quick when you’re driving around the block and people see Jamie, “Yo Jamie! Jamie!” And because Jamie’s acting he can’t wave and it goes right to, “I hate you Jamie!”
JF: “Yo, yo you stuck up now?”
WG: “Too good for us?”
Q: Quvenzhane, did you enjoy shooting in New York?
QW: It was something that was very fun being a southern girl from Louisiana. It was cold and sometimes and I wished I was still in Louisiana. But it was just really fun working in New York with everybody there and all the people, as he said, people would come down the street and go, “We love you Jamie Foxx!” And just go down the street so it was just very funny seeing.
WG: They yelled Annie a lot too.
JF: They did.
QW: “Annie! What you doing Annie?”
WG: “Where’s your red hair, Annie?”
Q: Talk about working with this powerful bundle of creativity Quvenzhané?
JF: Like I said she’s amazing … she’s able to stand toe-to-toe with the big guns and bring just as much weight and power to her performance and at the same time is a kid. So you know it’s fun to see that because watching her develop this is the most important time of her career. Because this is what’s going to make her either like this business or hate this business. So hopefully I think she had a great time with it you know? Will knows—movies can be tough. Movies can be tough in the cerebral form of it and to be able to walk that fine line of being a child, but still being grown up. You know there’s a lot of responsibility to this. It was just a whole lot of fun. And then you know her mom there … I’m watching all of it. And it’s the same thing when I was watching Jennifer Hudson sing that song. And I go “Oh girl. Oh when this come out. Oh!” And the same with her, “Man Christmas, it’s going to be crazy! Things are going to change.” So you know it’s fun to be a part of it.
Q: I was actually on the 1 train and I saw you go in.
WG: Yeah we shot a lot of that stuff …. she had to go run on the train. She had to go run down the block and we had to stay back because we were shooting it.
QW: And we had to make sure the train didn’t go off with me on it.
WG: And the train didn’t go off with her on it.
Q: And I’d love to talk about the music! A very important part of the film, can you speak about working the music into the film and your vision for that and I want to hear from you two about performing and your favorite musical numbers.
WG: You know we wanted to keep the touchstone songs that were so great. We changed them a little bit and the beat with Greg Kurstin and then we were lucky enough to get Sia to do one song and then I convinced her to do all the music. So Sia and Greg did everything and Sia’s never done music for a movie, Greg Kurstin’s never done music for a movie. So it kind of felt fresh and it felt of a piece. And of course because Jay-Z’s involved, the keys to the castle of the music business are just laid on our feet, which was great. And then it’s pretty easy when these guys are singing it. And then Jamie killed it. The first song Sia wrote actually was the “The City is Yours,” that Jamie sings in the helicopter.
Q: Want to speak more about the musical numbers? Performing your favorite moments?
QW: My favorite song that was in the movie was “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here.” Because I got to do a lot of things I probably wouldn’t do at home cause if I did, I would be in major trouble. And one of the hardest but still fun musical things that we did was, “It’s The Hard Knock Life,” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You.” Because for “It’s The Hard Knock Life,” we had to make sure it was sharp and that we were standing in the right place. And for “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” it’s kind of smooth but we still had to make sure we were in the right place.
Q: How hard was all the choreography to deal with?
QW: It wasn’t that hard because before I had personal lessons with Zack Woodlee and Brittany Parks so it was all something that I was used to. Learning all the choreography for the songs, it was a little bit hard but I got through it.
Q: And Jamie’s got moves too so he probably helped you.
JF: Oh man I wish I had … Oh man that was CGI.
WG: Yeah, Jamie just wore like a giant green suit. We fixed him later.
Q: How was it performing in the Thanksgiving Day parade?
QW: It was really fun and it was something that I really enjoyed doing the performance … and it was just something that was kind of hard to put all together to make sure it was something that Will liked and that he was good with the performance. So it was just all really fun and I really liked doing it for the parade.
WG: And cold.
QW: Oh yes it was snowing and there were like snowflakes in one of the girl’s hair, Nicolette. And I picked up the snowflake, it was like one of the perfect snowflakes, and it just melted on my glove. So I was sad for like a second.
Q: When you were acting opposite this powerful young lady, were you thinking about what you were doing when you were her age?
QW: I was in fifth, but then I went to sixth grade and I changed from 10 to 11.
Q: What did you do when you were in fifth grade?
JF: I was in Ms. Steel’s class and I remember “Freak Out” had just came out. She brought a 45 to the class and we danced to that. I was a very smart kid but I was also a comedian. So she would give me time at the end of class on Friday to do my stand-up material. And I would take jokes from Johnny Carson’s show because my grandmother watched Johnny Carson at night. So I would just take those jokes and tell them in class.
Q: So you were performing?
JF: Oh yeah I was always performing, but I wasn’t at this level. I was just telling David Brenner jokes.
WG: You were borrowing Carson jokes.
JF: Yeah, Steve Allen. You know. “Did you know that earlier today it was so hot –”
Q: There are some moments where you guys tip your hat to the old days especially with Daddy Warbucks towards the end there. Whose idea was that—without ruining that moment right there—but who sort of threw that in there?
WG: Yeah I put in a lot of [references] we counted the other day there’s like 35 nods to the old “Annie.” So some are obvious like that but there’s some really deep ones in there, too. So if you’re a big fan of the old “Annie,” watch them. And even with stuff like the name of the restaurant, “Domani”, means tomorrow and there’s a lot of stuff like that if you’ve watched it three or four times. We definitely wanted to pay honor and Charles Strauss came by to the set a lot so it felt nice being able to pass it on.
Q: Can you each speak about working with Rose and Bobby?
WG: Terrible people. Awful.
QW: I agree.
WG: Right? That’s why we’re not with these three.
JF: That’s why it’s just us today.
WG: Yeah just us.
QW: I’m kidding, they were all really fun.
WG: Yeah fantastic.
QW: Rose was really nice and she was always the quiet one but she was still funny. Bobby was also really funny. He was like with Jamie on the funny scale. And then Cameron Diaz—
WG: Funny in a good way!
QW: Cameron Diaz was also really nice. She was like a mother to me so it was all really fun.
Q: Did you like working with them both?
QW: Yeah I did.
WG: The thing about this was, Bobby, Rose, and Jamie were almost in every day of the movie, and if you notice it’s because Bobby and Rose had to stand next to Quvenzhane a lot. So I mean, literally we thank god everyday that we had Bobby and Rose because they’re so great, they’re awesome. They’re such great actors and they help Quvenzhane so much. And it’s a lot for the adult actors to always be around the entire time. So it was so great that everyone was working together and making everyone’s performance better.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about incorporating technology into the narrative too because that drives a lot of the storyline and it’s really wonderful and reflects our society.
WG: Yeah I didn’t purposely want to put technology on, I just purposely wanted to make it contemporary and as we can see here, technology’s everywhere. I don’t think you’re going to look back in ten years and say, “Wow the movie’s about technology.” But Jamie’s character he made $4.3 billion dollars on a cellphone company but he can’t communicate, right? So there’s my little nod to all that stuff is in there, too.
Q: Can we talk about the film within the film?
Q: Did Phil Lord and Christopher Miller actually get to direct the film?
WG: No, they’re my really good friends … It will be on the DVD we did shoot a 10-minute behind-the-scenes, “Making a Moonquake Lake with Chris and Phil,” which is really funny.
Q: I first got to know Jamie in “In Living Color.” I was wondering when you heard you were going to work with Jamie Foxx and what did you associate him with?
QW: When I first met him you probably won’t remember this.
JF: I do remember it.
QW: We were at a basketball gym and my brothers were doing basketball and you come down and you’re just like, “What’s up?” and you got your little beanie on.
JF: I remember that.
QW: Yes! And then we stopped you and asked “Can we take a picture with you?”
JF: Yeah, yeah.
WG: Where was this? Before you were in this movie?
QW: It was at a basketball gym and I was in Louisiana.
WG: Oh really?
WG: What were you doing at a Louisiana basketball gym?
JF: Tulane. Wow! I was down there with…this coach. This dude was training me, his name was Coach.
WG: Oh you were just training?
QW: Yeah so that’s how we first met.
QW: I knew him from “In Living Color.” I did know that. I knew his songs and I loved them.
JF: “Blame It On the Alcohol.”
QW: And “Unpredictable,” that’s another one.
WG: I remember going back to New York one time during a shoot of the movie … I was watching TV and “The Jamie Foxx Show” was on. And I was going, “God he is funny.”
JF: Back in the day.
WG: He’s always funny. But boy there is some stuff that he did on that show that is so far above what’s going on right now.
JF: But you know what’s crazy? Back at that time, coming out of the crew of “In Living Color” where you’re sitting and you’re the ninth funniest person in the room. To see Jim Carrey in a room putting up cue cards and it’s like, “What are you doing?” “Hey man, I’m doing this little movie called Pet Detective.” I mean to see those guys and to have Keenan Ivory Wayans … I said, “Man, Keenan I don’t know about the writers man. You know they ain’t even writing it funny.”
He’s like, “Shut up. Give me the script. Okay get on your feet. Let me show you something. Don’t ever blame a writer. Get up. You work it out and you’re gonna make it funny.” And I would watch this dude make it funny. And not only funny but what was it interesting at that time was when we did a joke or a character, it immediately impacted culture. Immediately they said, “Hey, what’s up” immediately and he said, “Don’t ever slack when it comes to your work. Always go.” And he said, “And it may not be Rembrandt every time you do it.” He said, “But man go find it.” So now I go on “The Jamie Foxx Show” and there are some disappointing days because I was with a different cast who wasn’t part of “In Living Color” so they didn’t get a chance to see that every day had to be amazing and then in that job every day couldn’t be amazing, which was frustrating sometimes. But I really learned how to get in.
WG: But you were amazing. That show when you did your stuff it was like oh my god.
JF: I used it to practice.
WG: Right, sandbox.
JF: And that was a good chance to practice. But then when I see someone like Quvenzhane who’s you know 7, 8, 9—already knowing the natural way to let a scene flow and capture you. And then another thing is seeing her on camera for the first time. I was talking to Will I was like, “How was it?” He’s like, “Watch this.” And he shows your face and he says, “Look at that. Just look at that.” It was crazy you know what I’m saying? So I was like man you’re right.
QW: Aw you too!
Q: We know how important this movie is to us but what do you want audiences to walk away with?
JF: A good family feeling and we need that right now. We need something really positive.
QW: I feel like they want to walk away with a great feeling and an upbeat feeling and that they’re still singing “Tomorrow” and “Maybe” and all the other songs that are in the film.
P.S. Watch this clip of producer Jay Z speaking on making the music of Annie while Will Smith, applauds Jay Z for being able to give the film a new vibe and energy.