*To celebrate the home entertainment release of “Almost Christmas,” starring Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union and Mo’Nique, EUR/Electronic Urban Report chatted with playwright, author and director David E. Talbert about his inspiration behind the film, which debuted on Digital HD on January 24 and on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on February 7 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Check out our Q&A below, where the filmmaker reveals his great-grandmother’s connection to the hilarious and heartwarming film, and he talks about the emotions about his first stage play in five years, “Can A Woman Raise A Man?” Talbert calls the project “my most personal of all my plays.”
Get the deets below:
READ RELATE STORY: Exclusive! EUR Takes You Behind the Scenes of ‘Almost Christmas’ (WATCH)
What inspired this story? Did you draw from any personal holiday experiences?
DT: When I wrote it, it was really in honor of my great-grandmother, who has passed and she made this sweet potato pie and no one has been able to make it like her, cause no one wrote down the recipe. Movies that are very personal to the writer usually strike a chord to the viewer, and so really that whole movie was about was he going to get that sweet potato pie right, and in many ways, him being able to get it right was for me…it made me feel good because I wish I could taste my great-grandmother’s sweet potato pie. So it’s kind of therapeutic for me in many ways. It mattered to the audience as much as it mattered to me, is this dude going to finally get this pie right. That moment became the most special most in the whole movie for me.
And these rich characters that you present, were any inspired by family members — specifically the sisters played by Gabrielle Union and Kimberly Elise?
DT: Some of our producers were always wondering, “Why are they mad at each other?” I said, “They’re sisters!” You don’t have to point to any specific thing. It could have been anything as simple… or a misunderstanding along the way. But I thought it was important to show the kind of toxic relationships sometimes with siblings, but then allow it to evolve, allow there to be healing, allow there to be understanding. And I couldn’t have cast two better people to inhabit that, especially the great Kimberly Elise.
What was the feeling that you were going for in the film, is the overall message “family”?
DT: It’s family… family matter, and the things that matter to family members. I grew up in the Storefront holiness church, that my great-grandmother pastored and so that homeless shelter, in many ways, was a representation of our family church, that once she passed, what was going to happen to it. So there’s kind of so many of those things that are very personal to me that allowed themselves to be played out in the film. But it’s really about family and family has this kind of elasticity to it that you can stretch it but it won’t pop.
Is it true that you and executive producer Will Packer are working on a sequel to this?
DT: We’re working on a follow-up movie that we’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do another movie together with Universal. It was one of the great experiences of my career working with that brotha, who is a force of nature.
You’re known for exploring various elements of the human condition in your theatrical work. How satisfied are you with how these elements translate onscreen with “Almost Christmas”?
DT: This movie probably had more of the elements that I’ve played around with for twenty five years. They kinda all came together in this movie. I really like to laugh a lot. I like to cry a lot. I like to feel something a lot. And this movie allowed me the canvas to do all that, and that’s why I’m so appreciative to Universal because they allowed a story that elevated above kind of just the regular. They allowed me to tell an elegant story that had a black family but it could have had a family of any color and the story would have remained the same. The producer that really fought for me and backed me in a lot of the creative choices, and the cast…when you have Danny Glover, who’s guiding a movie, you’re bulletproof to a large extent because he doesn’t have a false beat in his body. And when you have Monique, her pendulum swings to the broad comedy to the depths of emotions effortlessly. How are you going to go wrong with her? It gets to be called a David E. Talbert film cause I’m the director, but it’s a sum total of all the parts that made it as magical as it is.
In terms of your stage productions, what’s coming up this year?
DT: I am working on my first stage play in five years, and it opens up in October in Washington D.C. and it’s called ‘Can A Woman Raise A Man?’. It’s my most personal of all my plays and it’s because I’m a new father. I have a four-year-old but I was raised, as many of us were, by a single parent — by a woman, my brother and I. It is such an overwhelming story to me because I’m not quite sure what the answer is. It’s the first time I’ve written something where I have an argument on one side, cause that’s how I was raised, and then I have an argument on another side because, along with my wife, my son is also being raised by a man in the household. So this is the first generation in my family where a man is in the household raising his son, and so I’m torn. And I think that’s what’s going to make it compelling theater.