Storied “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas waited 20 years to get “Red Tails” done and earlier this year, the finished product hit screens. The film about the heroic Tuskegee Airmen, the black fighting squadron that served in WWII and helped desegregate the military, was a modest success due mostly to the support it received from black audiences who wanted to honor their history.
For anyone who missed it in theaters, or who wants to own it, “Red Tails” is now available on DVD. Starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr., “Red Tails” is a dramatic retelling of the Tuskegee saga complete with Lucas-supervised special effects and an interracial love story.
We caught up with Elijah Kelley, the 25-year-old Georgia native best known for his role as Seaweed in “Hairspray” who played Samuel “Joker” George in “Red Tails.” We asked him about what it was like making the movie and what he’s up to now.
BlackAmericaWeb: Hey Elijah…what’s up with you?
Elijah Kelley: I’m incredible, just in New York right now getting rained on.
It couldn’t have been worse than the months you spent training in the Czech Republic for “Red Tails.” (Laughs) That was an effortless transition. That was smooth right there. I still owe George Lucas, Anthony Hemingway [director] and Rick McCallum [producer] a chokehold for all we went through. The process was just ridiculous. We would wake up in the middle of the night to simulated M-16 sounds going on and take nine mile hikes in the middle of the night. We’re actors. We get manicures and facials. It’s not supposed to be like this. Where’s my trailer? The funny thing was since it was a war movie, everybody got ripped. I looked like a little Arnold Schwarzenegger. Everybody got ripped but the only person who got to take their shirt off was David [Oyelowo]. Everyone was mad at him.
How did all that training show up in the movie?
You can’t go through that without becoming close. We shed blood together; we cried together, it was poetic how it came about. We had a connection. If I had to do it again to get the same results, I’d do it.
How did you feel about the responsibility of representing the real Tuskegee Airmen?
The responsibility is filled with carrying the legacy and continuing to educate those who’ve never heard of them. It’s the saddest thing is that no one realized until now how important these guys are. They were on set a lot of time and we would go over there and we’d ask them the things that they would do and if it wasn’t right, they would check us then and there. They’d pull our pants up, they’d tuck in our shirts, they were like the strongest 91-year-old dudes you’d ever meet. Seeing them every day was just motivating. You really had a responsibility to honor these guys because they’re still here.
We went to the White House to see the movie and watching them watch the movie was so great because those were the survivors of that era. They lived through that war and they were still here. It was amazing.
Why do you think folks should see this film now that it’s out on DVD?
Just because you’re an American, you should understand the contributions of these men. They are pioneers and heroes. The confident, adamantly intelligent black men that we have today in our generation could not have done it without them. It’s a good film, the action is incredible and once the DVD comes out hopefully “Red Tails,” will be that and go on. We’re opening in theaters internationally in June and we want to solidify it as an American classic.