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Interview – Omari Hardwick on the Horrors of Hoodoo and Code-Switching in SPELL

Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) presents a story about voodoo amid scenes of social and political unrest in Haiti during the eighties. I remember seeing it when it came out and being scared to death. Now in 2020, we have the equally terrifying Spell, a modern-day story dealing with the horror of hoodoo, childhood abuse, and code-switching, and boasting an incredible African American cast and director. Directed by Mark Tonderai, known for Locke & Key and Castle Rock, and written by Kurt Wimmer, who is known for Equilibrium and Total Recall, Spell features outstanding performances from Omari Hardwick (Sorry to Bother You, Power) and Loretta Devine (Being Mary Jane, Urban Legend).

Hardwick stars as Marquis, a successful man with a loving wife (Lorraine Burroughs) and two beautiful kids. When Marquis’ father passes away and he and his family have to fly to rural Appalachia for the funeral, childhood traumas resurface. Marquis has been suppressing unpleasant memories of his father’s heavy involvement in hoodoo, but he is forced to come face to face with his worst fears when he wakes up in the attic of a devious hoodoo practitioner named Eloise (Devine).

Dread Central was excited to have the opportunity to talk with Omari Hardwick about Spell, working with Loretta Devine, the impressive practical effects, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

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Paramount will release Spell in select theaters, and on demand and digital on October 30th.

Dread Central: What was it that appealed to you the most about the script for Spell and the role of Marquis?

Omari Hardwick: The Marquis T. Woods character, the director, Mark Tonderai, he came to me and the conversation was the same as Boots Riley, a brand-new director at the time, directing Sorry To Bother You. Similar in a way to Boots, he spoke about code-switching and the notion of, particularly Black American men, having to code switch in different environments. I think what appealed to me was the conversation I had with Mark Tonderai and I immediately thought about Sorry To Bother You and all the different sort of films. So, for this film, you’re talking about a horror, psychological thriller, which enticed me, as opposed to just being a horror movie. I wouldn’t have had as much interest in doing something that was just horror.

Once you throw in the psychological thriller component, then I was more interested in this concept of code-switching. I asked him a lot about that as it pertained to the story. From his standpoint, this was a guy, from the outside looking in, he’s got it all; he’s successful, he’s an attorney, he’s married, he’s got a beautiful family, and kids. From the outside, everything looks great. Then from the inside, he is not only someone that has to code-switch based on the environment, but he is also, and there was a conversation, I might have thrown it out equally, where I started to go, he code-switched with himself. He’s lying to himself in so many ways on purpose and it should be given, if the actor does his due diligence, it should be received in a way where there’s some empathy for him doing that. That empathy is, this is an abused man who absolutely, when asked by his wife to talk about his past, he sort of brushes over it and again, the empathy would be, this is a very dysfunctional dark past.

Who wouldn’t want to brush over that, at all ages, it doesn’t matter what age you are? The fact that he could brush over it, that’s because he’s literally forced. He’s forced literally from his environment from which he came, he doesn’t want to be part of it ever again. But in his return to his father’s past and funeral, he is forced again with his family, included in that by Eloise, played by Loretta Devine. So a lot of it is, it’s not karma, karma can find your mailbox without any navigation, but equally it’s your past, it will always sort of find you, you know what I mean? It’s still there, it happened, and that interested me, in present it does, and looking back when he gave me that script, it was very interesting to me to look deep into a thing that I couldn’t outrun. That’s what the character is, that’s what he’s about, and so that interested me.

DC: This film has such an amazing cast, especially Loretta Devine. She is so good in this, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her play a role like this before, she was so evil. What was it like working with her and the rest of the cast?

OH: Some of it stems from having a prior relationship, obviously we had worked with each other on For Colored Girls with Tyler Perry. Even though our parts weren’t together, because we knew each other prior to For Colored Girls, having done a stage reading together, and with us both coming from stage that would be the other shorthand reality. Lorraine Burroughs, who plays my wife, she also comes from theater, so when you have that theater background, which I think every actor should but obviously doesn’t, there is this different sort of understanding. For the darkness of these types of characters that will scare you like she did, the world hasn’t seen her be like she was in this one, if you come from stage you are literally rehearsing day in and day out. So, with this there was a lot of laughter, a lot of in between takes, in between what the world hasn’t seen before, the sweet, laughing, loving Loretta we know her to be.

The character was so dark, and with us having that prior relationship, the trust was there so for me it was nice to figuratively, and literally at times in between takes, hold her hand and allow her the space, to feel grounded that I was with her. That’s a fun place for her to be, and I just wanted to remind her, I am her with you, I got you. It was nice, nice to see those moments where she went dark and then go to that laughter in between takes, almost like she was in method at times, and method doesn’t mean you are in method 24/7. It means you have some kind of ability to get out of it enough to see the actor in front of you and then go to lunch, get on the phone, call your family, get out of it enough, and she was pretty much in method as Eloise and it was a beautiful thing to watch because I knew she had it.

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Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine in Spell

DC: I loved how the two of you worked together in this movie, how your two characters worked against each other. I thought it was really good.

OH: Thank you, thank you so much, that’s cool. I can’t wait for the world to see that too, the rapport between us, that will be cool.

DC: As you mentioned, this movie goes to some really dark places and I thought there were some really cool special effects. I especially love the part where you have the metal spike through your foot. That was so insane! What was it like filming that whole sequence?

OH: Oh, man. So, flash backwards to pre-production, we’re in South Africa, I don’t know if you had been told that by your team or read that. We were in Cape Town for eight weeks, but in South Africa week one let’s say, it was pre-production. Obviously, that would have looked a lot different had we been dealing with COVID. I think Australia is one place where filming is still going on, Canada, parts of America, but I felt almost like a COVID moment. What I mean by that is, I was sort of quarantined for hours it felt like in this cast, they had to make that foot, so that thing that you see, they made a foot. They figured out how to do it, when everyone said it will be like seven hours to make that, these guys made it within three hours. They were three hours in, and I was still in that one position, not able to move the entire time. I was trying to get into the character.

I had just come off of Army of the Dead, which was a totally different character, so I used that moment and finally came up with it. Then we were back in the hotel and I’m just in the production lot, one of the offices, and we had an incredible special effects team who were all South Africans, they were a beautiful crew, phenomenal. Everything, every position, was run to the T by the crew, they were just a real pleasure to work with. They created that thing that you see and obviously the acting was up to me, to make you believe it was as grueling and painful to pull out as it was. I have to quit my day job if I can’t do that in the day job, but those guys did a great job with what they created with the prosthetic.

DC: The film revolves around your character and his experiences with voodoo in his family. Is there a real history with the Boogity doll?

OH: Yeah, for sure. Obviously, the movie touches on voodoo. Often times, there is this forgotten component called Christianity, but it deals with those two in terms of our country, and beyond our country, and what they create. She made hers out of clay, some people make it out of fabric and cotton to stuff it, but she made it out of clay and that was super cool and a great choice by the writer Kurt to include it. I thought it was really great. In that, in that being the study of it, getting a bible, and the bible was given to us by the director Mark Tonderai. He distributed these bibles, and they went to me, Loretta, and Lorraine. The kids who had never seen the bible, it was beautiful to watch them navigate that type of thing. Mark really put a lot of time into creating this two hundred something page bible, how it all looks, voodoo, hoodoo, Boogity, and what that means.

Written by Michelle Swope

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