Interview: Director Jordan Peele and the cast of Nope – Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Steven Yeun

Following the commercial and critical success of both Get Out and Us, audiences have now come to expect genre greatness from comedian-turned-horror-auteur Jordan Peele.

Adopting his own fresh spin on the classic UFO subgenre of science-fiction-leaning horror, Peele’s latest opus Nope is looking to soar into Australian cinemas this week, but, to be expected, all will not be as it simply appears.

To coincide with the local release, Peter Gray was invited to the film’s global press conference where he sat in with Peele and Nope‘s primary cast – Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Steven Yeun – to discuss tempering the expectations in releasing a new film, its commentary on fame and the film industry, and the excitement in playing in Peele’s unpredictable playground.

Jordan, what was the main inspiration behind making this movie for you?

Jordan Peele:  So many things, you know. As you can tell, it’s quite full. I ‘ll answer it in a simple way, which is, I always look for something that doesn’t exist for a film that I wish I could see for the first time. And in this case, it was a a truly horrifying UFO film, that in which we’re really able to be immersed into the situation. Like some of my favourite films. So yeah, that was the nugget. I (had) a responsibility to movies to make this movie.

Your films are often seen as sub-genres on their own.  How do you deal with the expectations that come from creating new work?

Jordan Peele: I think of the expectations as gifts. (It’s) the only way you can, other otherwise you’re going to be smothered and unwound by overthought. But, for me, to sort of take control of what I think the expectations are, gives me a sense of of a power when I’m crafting a story, because, you know, the more I know about what an audience is thinking and what they’re expecting, the more ability I have to deliver.  To try to deliver on that or flip it on its head.

And you definitely have done that here in a story that, at its heart, is really about the relationship of two siblings that couldn’t be more different…

Jordan Peele: Yeah. OJ, played by Daniel Kaluuya, and Emerald, played by Keke Palmer, both represent two distinct parts of my personal relationship to the need for attention. And, I think, (they’re) probably two halves of what most of us have within ourselves. I would at least say that most people would think that they are an OJ or they are an Emerald. There’s part of me that is Emerald. That wants to be out there, you know, to get the laugh, to get the appraisal.  And there’s another part of me that’s OJ, that is just very socially nervous and uncomfortable. And that’s the sibling hood we’re talking about here.

And how was it for you, Keke and Daniel, in creating that sibling bond?

Keke Palmer: That was the easiest part We have a natural chemistry together. You know, for whatever reason, I just think we vibe out. You know, I love picking on Daniel, he’s, you know, he’s the funnest person to try and get out of being calm because he is so relaxed. So you know, I always like to just mess with them. And I think that’s the same way with Emerald and OJ.

Daniel Kaluuya: Every single moment (laughs), it was good man. Kiki’s cool people, man.  I was a fan of her before we worked (together), so when Jordan mentioned she was part of (Nope) I was just happy that Kiki was going to have a moment.  And that makes me happy when I see people that I like, that have “the thing” and get the opportunity to show what they have. So I love that.

The excitement around this movie is intense.  I’m sure there were many reasons for you to all personally to want to do it?

Steven Yeun: I think for me, the first and foremost reason was working with Jordan. I’ve been a big fan of his, for some time as a director and as a human. And, you know, when he offered me this role, I wasn’t hesitant, but I wanted to see what he wanted to do specifically with this role. And in talking with him and excavating the character, and him opening up the collaboration to build out the character specifically tailored to me. I knew that he was someone that I could trust.

Daniel Kaluuya: (I just feel) very blessed, because I just wanted to watch it. So the fact that something arrived to me that I would want to watch, and they’ve asked me to be in it, and it was Jordan as well. So I’m reconnecting with him, and then you’re doing some genre stuff. It was a challenge, because there was a lot of non dialogue scenes (but) I really enjoyed it, especially after Judas (And the Black Messiah).

Keke Palmer: Yeah, I feel super blessed (and) excited to experience working with Jordan in his kind of way with this genre. And this kind of character. I really loved what I read on the page of the character that I played, so I was excited to get into it.

Steven, your character has a strong relationship with pop culture, fame and nostalgia.  Could you elaborate on Jupe’s complex regarding that?

Steven Yeun:  Yeah, I think Jupe is all of us in some way. Maybe slightly infantilized, perhaps the sum of everyone else’s expectations and projections upon him. I think he’s kind of touching the way in which we see each other, the way in which we’re kind of domesticated and trained to respond to the way we’re seeing.  And then what happens when you’re a child and you’re subject to being a Hollywood star. And then, more specifically with Jupe, what’s it like when you’re actually not the main character? But you’re one of the side characters? What does that all do? So there’s there’s many layers to him that I think we all try to touch. But in that way, I think he represents all of us to live in that type of isolation, where maybe there’s a true version of himself somewhere, but it’s hidden under many layers of other people’s expectations.

Did you mould your characters evangelical mentality on anyone specifically?

Steven Yeun: That’s funny that you say that. There was a couple ideas that we threw around. I don’t know if I’d like to name specific names, but yes, there were like evangelical pastors that we looked at that. I (also) thought about Willy Wonka, sometimes. There was just this cultish way about him as well, that I really wanted to tap into.

It must be great to have a character with so much complexity, so much richness?

Steven Yeun: It is. And I think the scary part of it at some point is that as you get deeper and deeper, the separation between yourself and the character becomes less and less, because then you’re hitting something so base and so fundamental, that you’re like, is this me? (Laughs). So it gets tricky that way. But you’re right, it is really nice when a character can be so full that way.

The film also displays a lot of commentary on the film industry and that need to feel seen within it.  How does this story relate to your own journey as actors?

Keke Palmer: It related to me a lot as a kid and how I interpret what being seen actually was, as opposed to actually truly being seen for who I am.  And I think as it pertains to popularity, fame and perception, as much as we think those things are us being seen, you know, especially in the era that we’re in now, (where) everybody wants to be seen in that way, but actually, you become the most unseen in those scenarios.  And I’ve learned that first-hand. And so I really love how we explore that in the film. Because my relationship with being seen has been so different since I did my first big film at 11 years old.

Nope is scheduled to be released in Australian theatres from August 11th, 2022.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.