It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Lil Rel Howery in the Jordan Peele’s box office hit Get Out who’s saving the day and giving the Transportation Security Administration a good name. In the breakout horror-comedy Howery plays Rod Williams, a T.S.A. agent who is so in-tune with his “tingles” that he tries to convince his best friend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a Black man who’s dating a White woman, that her family isn’t as liberal as they seem to be, but instead hiding behind a curtain of racism mixed with some conspiracy tea.
EBONY caught up with the actor to talk about why Get Out is relevant given today’s climate and the conversations it should be sparking.
EBONY: You are being hailed as the hero of Get Out. Why do you think audiences are connecting with your character Rod?
Lil Rel Howery: I think people want to see a hero. It’s interesting that with everything that goes on now from shootings to everything, as time goes on, I’m just starting to realize just how bad people want to see a regular hero. All Rod is doing is being a good friend. He’s not Superman, or some rich dude with all this power and fancy gadgets. He didn’t get bit by a spider and now has all this power. He’s just a regular dude that goes to pick up his friend.
EBONY: How did you prepare for your role in Get Out? Did you go to the airport and talk with T.S.A. agents?
Lil Rel Howery: Actually I didn’t prepare for the role to that extent. It was more or less me thinking about every situation of me going through the airport. I’ve always had friends that worked at the airport, so it was kind of channeling people I knew and how real they were. It also helped for me to really understand that T.S.A. agents are trained to do what they do. They are literally doing their job. They are protecting us from anything crazy happening to us on a plane. So I thought, ‘Okay Rel, just be someone that takes their job seriously.’ (laughs) That’s the thing, Rod really loves being a T.S.A. agent and takes his job seriously. He really thinks he is going to save the world with his job. Part of that mindset is why I was able to deliver everything like I did.
EBONY: You have mentioned in previous interviews that you’ve seen the movie multiple times. What differences have you noticed watching with a black audience versus a non-Black audience? Is there a difference at all?
Lil Rel Howery: There is and there’s not. When I was in New York for a screening and it was an all-White audience. The most energy that I’ve seen so far, was that audience throughout the movie. There were maybe 30 Black people in the theater, and the audience was hype the entire movie. I’ve seen the movie 12 times and that’s the only time I’ve seen an audience that hype. Maybe it was because it was a film school and they were film geeks or something (laughs). But I will say this, I’ve seen it with Black audiences and Black folks talk to the screen! They were having a conversation with my character, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. They were like, ‘There you go Rod! Tell him the truth!’ (laughs).
So that’s why I keep seeing the movie. It’s not because I want to keep seeing myself, it’s because I just like watching the audience to see their reaction. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a movie where you just have to have a conversation after seeing it.
EBONY: Get Out was filmed while former President Barack Obama was still in office. Since it’s been released with a new administration in office, and as we continue to hear about police involved shootings with Black men and women, what makes this film so relevant today? What are those conversations that need to happen after the movie?
Lil Rel Howery: The biggest thing is we need to stop acting like racism don’t exist. Even when I first met with Jordan and we had dinner, he first wrote the script when Obama and Hillary Clinton were competing for the Democratic nomination. So people thought once Obama got into office that racism was over with. But, what we ended up learning was that it just came more into the light.
This movie makes sense because we aren’t hiding anything. As much as we want to act like so much of this stuff is exaggerated, that’s why I like watching the movie with White folks sometimes because then they ask, ‘Well have you been to a party like this before?’ The answer is yes! That’s what I love about this film because it shows some real situations that a lot of us went through.
I don’t use this word often but I think Jordan is a genius. Even with the mom being a psychiatrist, when the dad is taking Chris on the tour of the house and he is saying, “Oh she’s a therapist,” and the dad says, “No she’s a psychiatrist,” there’s a big difference. She’s not helping anybody (laughs). That’s like when Black people don’t like to speak about things that happened, and that’s why she’s able to manipulate Chris because he never dealt with his mother’s death. If he had gotten help to deal with it, then she could have stirred the tea all she wanted and she wouldn’t have been able to get into his head like that.
There are so many conversations in this movie. Most people want to focus on the Black and White thing but it’s deeper than that. I like when the Korean guy is at the party and he’s asking Chris a question and going to bid on him too. It’s not just Black and White, it’s also a matter of rich and poor. That’s what we are seeing in this new administration, this dude has all this power because he’s rich. Everybody that he’s throwing in his cabinet are other rich people.
EBONY: Aside from it being a conversation starter, what do you hope people walk away with after they see Get Out?
Lil Rel Howery: There’s a couple of things actually. The artistic side of it, I hope it influences a whole bunch of other filmmakers and writers to not be scared to talk about social things. Our jobs as artists is to make sure our art tells a real story and let people see themselves in these characters. It’s about having a conversation about being better people.
Now as a society, I really hope this movie shows that we need to be more sensitive to each other. Take Chris’ situation where he lost his mom early in his life. Therapy is a real thing and I think Black people really have PTSD, we have seen so much growing up, to be honest with you, and we don’t even know that some of that stuff is not normal. I think we have to find better ways to deal. You hear about these kids out here shooting and doing all kinds of stuff, but nobody is talking to them. You have these kids trying to make these grown up decisions because nobody is talking to them, we’re talking at them, but we’re not listening to them. So for me, that’s what I think this movie is really about, we really just need to figure out better ways to let people get stuff off their chest and get help.
EBONY: What can we expect from you next?
Lil Rel Howery: The Carmichael Show’s 3rd season is coming up. This is a real exciting time for me, it’s a blessing, and the way God works sometimes, it’s mind-blowing, because you don’t know how things are going to be. I just happened to like this script and it’s been something for me that’s opened so many doors right now. So now people are sending me scripts and I’m picking what movie I want do to. It’s crazy.
So you’re going to see a lot of me. Because Jordan Peele let me be a part of this masterpiece he directed, now I’m going to be able to do some really fun things and also use my voice and my favor to make sure I tell some really good stories. I can’t wait for the rest of my career to meet these young writers and filmmakers so that I can produce and push a lot of their stories out there.
Now is the time to be a Black in Hollywood and be a storyteller. To be a part of Get Out, and seeing movies like Hidden Figures and Moonlight, we are getting to see all of these characters come to light and tell all of these stories. I’m so grateful.
Follow Lil Rel on Twitter @LilRel4
Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like Charlotte Five, Sheen Magazine, JETMag.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika