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The Reeler Blog

Tender is the Night

(L-R) John Singleton and Wanda De Jesus face the press at Monday's Illegal Tender premiere in Chelsea
(Photo: Christopher Campbell)

By Christopher Campbell

Oscar-nominated writer-director John Singleton can't easily convince Hollywood to get behind an African-American superhero (as in his long-in-development Luke Cage adaptation), but he has no trouble garnering studio interest in fresh, young filmmakers. As a producer, he ushered Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) to a hot career at Paramount and now he's returned Franc. Reyes to Universal, which releases his latest, Illegal Tender, this Friday.

At the crowded clusterfuck of a red carpet Monday evening that was Illegal Tender's New York premiere, Singleton, Reyes and actor Rick Gonzalez were whisked into the theater before print and online journalists could ask about the 38-year-old's ongoing mentorship. (We were promised they'd return; they never did. But at least Hot 97 got its shit, right?) No worries, though: The Reeler caught up with Tender's gracious, beautiful co-star Wanda De Jesus to discuss the collaboration between Singleton and Reyes.

"There was a great synergy between the two of them," she said. "It's a great partnership. In the sense of the savvy business know-how, moviemaking know-how and what his experience has been, (Singleton) imparts great knowledge (to) his directors. But he totally respects Franc. because Franc. has his own voice."

Sounds like Reyes didn't need a father figure, let alone a veteran filmmaker offering words of wisdom. There must have been some reason to keep Singleton around on set.

"John loves making films," De Jesus told The Reeler. "Out of every cell, he oozes the passion and the joy. He was a voyeur in many ways. He would watch what the talent would bring and what [Reyes] was shooting and would never really get in the way of suggesting, but [would] encourage. He was there overseeing, acting like our cheerleader."

Thematically, anyway, the father figure thing would have been unfitting for Illegal Tender; the film has more to do with De Jesus's character's strong maternal presence. "She is a Latin woman/mother unlike any images you've ever seen," said De Jesus, who plays a matriarch forced into a vengeful battle with her husband's killers. "Usually Latin mothers have been, in Hollywood, long-suffering, non-sexual, housecoat-wearing, stroking their sons. ... Or if you're a sexually viable mom, you're a bad mother. This [character] is a good mother, good woman, viable, single parent, intelligent, educated; her sons are on the same track. But then, she's dangerous, too –- well, not 'dangerous,' but self-sufficient and independent and knows how to use her firearms, believes in the NRA, protects her family -- only because she has no other legal recourse, not because she's 'ghetto.' That's why I love this woman."

And that description should be why the film's publicists love Wanda De Jesus.

Posted at August 21, 2007 7:55 AM

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