"I loved filming in Buffalo," said "Marshall" director Reginald Hudlin. "The entire crew loved filming in Buffalo." Luckily for Buffalo, you can see it in half of the film's scenes, at least.
"First of all, it's a beautiful city. And you can get that beauty onscreen. You have that beauty in your life. It was really just being in a place with water and trees and beautiful neighborhoods and all the wonderful features that are Buffalo. And then you've got nice people. Everyone in Buffalo, when we were shooting on location, was very welcoming. The local people who worked as actors were all just eager, same with the crew people. And there was great food."
The preceding slab of raw, uncut Buffalove was brought to you by a film about the upper class precincts of Bridgeport, Conn., that no American movie studio would plunk down a nickel to get made. The financing instead came from China.
"We shopped the film to several different movie studios," Hudlin said. "They just didn't make movies like this anymore. The movie lacked a giant robot. If you're not that kind of mainstream popcorn movie, they really don't know what to do with you."
A group of Chinese investors had a movie set to go but fell apart. "They were looking for something that was immediately ready to go. They saw the script and really loved it," Hudlin said.
And that is how a movie about one of the greatest of all American civil rights attorneys found its way to being made in Buffalo.
"I've always been a huge Thurgood Marshall fan. Just the opportunity to make a film about Thurgood Marshall was a no-brainer for me. When I got the call from Paula Wagner saying 'hey, we've got this script about Thurgood Marshall', I was like 'whoa! Say no more. Let's go. Let's make that.' "
When you compare it--favorably--to some of the content-rich films that are more commonly seen on TV these days, Hudlin said he was influenced by the kind of movies that used to be made in America.
"People have seen the movie and said 'this reminds me of a [Sidney] Lumet movie' or 'this reminds me of a Norman Jewison movie.' That was a genre and style of filmmaking that laid the foundations of what people did in Hollywood. Unfortunately we don't do it anymore," Hudlin said.
"So many young people--particularly young people--are responding (to 'Marshall') like 'Wow, we've never seen anything like this.' That's because their generation missed it. For older folks, they're like 'Oooo, I love these kinds of movie. They don't really make movies like this.' So there's a response either way but kind of wonderment."
Whether or not the movie finds the commercial sweet spot Hudlin and his investors might be hoping for, what few would argue is how strong the performances are. When you tell him you think this may be Josh Gad's best performance on film he agrees.
"He did fantastic work in the film. And it was a chance to show off his range as an actor. It's a chance for him to show off his dramatic chops. He still had his comedic side but he really performed in context."
Sterling K. Brown, who currently lives in a bubble of omni-praise from every corner including a recent Emmy win for "This Is Us," Hudlin said, is "an unbelievable actor. And he's just a great person. I could say that about the entire cast. I felt very fortunate to have them ... they're great actors but you also want to hang out with them after the shoot because they're funny, they're smart, they're so nice. It was a delightful situation."
As for Chadwick Boseman bravely bringing a couple of strident elements into his portrait of Marshall, a genuine American hero, Hudlin said "we wanted to take him off the pedestal and put him on the ground with us. Part of it was just thinking logically: 'what would it take to be such a man?' To say 'I'm going to places where they've never seen a negro lawyer. They may not think I belong but I'm going to convince them to change their minds, to change their racist ways and give him a fair trial."
Two bits of ignorance about Buffalo strike Hudlin now as being fortuitous--that, for one, he didn't know when he hired him that Jeffrey DeMunn, who has a strong courtroom scene as a doctor, is the son of Buffalo actors and went to Nichols School in early 1960s. Nor did he know that the board of directors of the Buffalo Club forbade James Caan to film a scene there for "Hide in Plain Sight." Hudlin, in contrast, has a good scene there in "Marshall."
His reaction to that was "Wow. I was not aware of that. That only makes the fact that they were willing to let us in an even bigger deal. It seems even more special now."