Interview: Sunu Gonera from “Pride”
Interview: Sunu Gonera from “Pride”

Mike Massie and Joy Dominguez recently got to sit down with “Pride” director Sunu Gonera for an exclusive interview.

 

Mike Massie: What drew you to the project of “Pride”?

Sunu Gonera: For me it’s a very personal story; something I related to. I played sports, was a rugby player, and have had great mentors in my life. My rugby coach in school, Lionel Reynolds was my Jim Ellis, a guy that believed I could do anything and had a big impact on my life. When I read the story it reminded me of my coach.

Joy Dominguez: How did you become the director of “Pride”?

SG: I was sent the script by my agent. I had to go through the pitching process against a whole lot of directors. I read it, loved it, and when it was confirmed, my wife put the house on the market and sold everything for us to come across for me to do this.

MM: Did you ever want to do acting and directing?

SG: That’s where I come from, is in front of the camera. I did a film called “In My Country” with Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche a couple of years ago, and I’ve done tons of TV commercials. Acting is my first love, so I’m going to go back in front of the camera. At the moment I just love directing.

MM: Do you want to direct yourself?

SG: Yes, I think it would be interesting. I want to do both.

JD: Who are your role models and favorite directors?

SG: My biggest role model is Steven Spielberg. I love his ability to capture human emotion; his movies are always about the ordinary guy. The sheriff in “Jaws”, Oscar Schindler, an ordinary German businessman who now has to do this incredible thing, even Tom Cruise in “War of the Worlds” is an ordinary father in difficult circumstances, who must save his family. Clint Eastwood is also a huge role model for me. Bono from U2 as well; Oprah Winfrey, an ordinary girl who went on to do something big with her life and Nelson Mandela; for me he’s symbolic of selflessness. And my mother; she believed in me, and my dad always told me I could do anything.

MM: What can you tell us about your future projects?

SG: I’m working on “Church Boy” which is Kirk Franklin’s life story, another kid from an abused background, who has gone on to become the world’s biggest gospel artist. I’m inspired and drawn by true life stories. I’m producing an animation called “Once Upon an Easter” which is an Easter story set in the perspective of the animals, and one called “An African Tale” which is about the jungle animals in Africa shown in a very humorous way.

JD: How did you make the transition from commercials to film?

SG: I’ve been doing TV commercials for awhile and then I did a short film based on a full-length feature script I’d written. For me, features are what I’ve always wanted to do. It was very different and tough, but also felt totally natural and right. This is what I was born to do. I watch a lot of movies, almost daily, read and write every day and I’m always working on a screenplay, and I read screenplays almost daily. Because I’ve immersed myself in the world so much, it made it easier. I watched Spielberg and how he does it, and how he covers scenes, and how he edits, and camera placement and direction, and I’ve been in front of the camera. I’m fortunate that I’ve been in the world of film for awhile. I’m in my element when I’m on a film set.

MM: How much control did you have over the casting for “Pride”?

SG: Terrence and I started speaking immediately when I got offered the project, so he was the first choice. When the role of Elston was developed, there was Bernie Mac and there was Bernie Mac. No one else could do that role. He brings so much integrity, honesty and warmth; he’s like the emotional anchor of the story. I was fortunate to have gotten all my first choices. I think the whole world woke up to who Terence Howard was when they saw “Crash”, and then I saw “Hustle and Flow” and he had been looking for another big leading role and this was perfect for him since it’s very different from those other two roles.

JD: How well did you get to know Jim Ellis?

SG: Extremely well. I spoke to Jim all the time. We’ve become very good friends. Yesterday I spoke to him on the phone for an hour-and-a-half, talking life and dreams. For me it was important that I got to know him so that I could represent him accurately on the screen. I consulted with him a lot when we were writing and shooting.

MM: How similar is your life to Jim’s?

SG: Jim and I are very similar men in a lot of ways. The area I think we are most similar in is our philosophy of life, our passion to mentor young people, and we both believe there are no shortcuts to success. You’ve got to get out there and do the hard jobs yourself. We both really believe in who we are and what we’ve got to offer. There’s an incredible determination to succeed in whatever we do, and resilience. For me, I could’ve given up long ago. I’ve been told many times “you can’t go to Hollywood” and here I am, and “you can’t get into a private school” and I did it, and “you can’t become a professional sportsman” and I did that too.

JD: Do you swim? Did you swim a lot growing up?

SG: I did. I swam competitively also, so I was very familiar with the world of swimming. Jim helped out Terrence Howard. He learned about how Jim coached and got to swim with some of Jim’s kids.

MM: Was the villain, Gary Sturgis, based on a real life character?

SG: The scene where they jump into the pool: that really happened. In the real story, Jim and all the kids jump in the pool and drag them into the water and half drown them because the kids knew they could swim better than the gangsters could. What was really amazing is that when we were shooting, Gary Sturgis couldn’t swim, so he really was terrified; he really was drowning. He always talks about that scene and says “that wasn’t acting. That was real.”