Green Book is based on a true story, one about an unlikely friendship between black concert pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Italian-American driver Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). But sometimes, even the film’s co-writer Nick Vallelonga (Lip’s son) has trouble believing it all happened.
“He was larger than life,” he says in the exclusive featurette above. “I could make 50 movies about my dad.”
Well, Green Book certainly makes an auspicious start. The film made a splash when it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, winning the prestigious People’s Choice Award and launching into the Oscars conversation. As the film journeys into the awards race, its stars and director Peter Farrelly took a quick pit stop to sit down for a roundtable with EW.
Below is an excerpt from the conversation featured in the next issue of Entertainment Weekly (on stands Monday), in which the trio discuss their thoughts on having Green Book labeled a “feel-good” film, despite the myriad social issues it tackles.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Green Book juggles odd-couple humor with weighty material, as Tony and Don run into tons of trouble on their trip. Given how toxic racism continues to be, were you ever worried that the movie wasn’t serious enough? It’s been called “feel-good,” and I’m wondering how you feel about that. [Ed. note: This interview was conducted before Mortensen’s use of a racial slur at an event recently. He has since apologized.]
PETER FARRELLY: It has a positive, hopeful ending, but “feel-good” makes it sound squeakier-clean than it is. When you, in the first minutes of your movie, have your protagonist drop water glasses in the trash because black workers drank from them, that’s not cutting corners.
ALI: No movie, I don’t care how heavy or gut-wrenching it is, is going to fix any of our larger societal issues. They just open the door to conversations…. Like, we’re going through some things right now, but —
MORTENSEN: Hope is not a bad deal.
ALI: Yeah. So the fact that people walk out feeling uplifted to some degree, I don’t think we should apologize for that. [Laughs]
How did you decide when to add comedy, then? Did the humor come naturally?
ALI: Things became funnier as we worked on them. I remember feeling this tension between giving over to [the humor] or fighting it for the sake of preserving this idea of doing a drama, which felt dishonest. The truth is that this is a quirky situation, and it has levity to it.
FARRELLY: Yeah, I was keeping that in check. I thought of trying to go for jokes. Like “farm dog” —
Sorry, what dog?
FARRELLY: [Points to Mortensen] We were winging it [in a scene on the road], and he goes, “You see that? Was that a deer or a… farm dog?” [Laughs]
MORTENSEN: [Tony’s] never been in the countryside, so… [Shrugs]
FARRELLY: It cracked me up, but it was like we were going for a joke.
The Green Book team answered much more than three questions. Pick up next week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly to continue reading the roundtable for the trio’s insights into the film, including scenes Farrelly cut, what has stayed with Mortensen since filming, and how working on Green Book prepared Ali for his subsequent role on True Detective.
Watch the exclusive clip on the making of Green Book above. The film is now open in 20 cities, and will release wide on Nov. 21.