Bob Marley: One Love featured

Interview: Director Reinaldo Marcus Green Talks ‘Bob Marley: One Love’ and the Importance of Bringing the Legendary Singer-Songwriter’s Story to the Big Screen

February 13, 2024Ben MK

From Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman to Elvis and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, it seems that music biopics have been vying hard to win the attention of moviegoers. And whether you're a diehard fan of the genre or not, it's impossible to ignore the presence of these sing-along-worthy films, especially when their subjects are none other than some of the most popular and timeless recording artists to ever hit the airwaves. Now, with Bob Marley: One Love, King Richard director Reinaldo Marcus Green is setting out to tell the never-before-told life story of the man who was the defining voice of reggae music. And with Oscar-caliber actors like Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley and Lashana Lynch as his wife, Rita, you can be sure that the result is one of the most compelling and crowdpleasing music biopics to hit the big screen in recent years.

I caught up with Reinaldo Marcus Green to chat about Bob Marley: One Love, Kingsley Ben-Adir's transformative portrayal of Bob Marley, and to find out how working closely with the Marley family to bring the iconic singer's story to the big screen helped add a deeper level of authenticity to the movie.

Bob Marley was one of those iconic and rare voices — not only because of his music, but also because of how he was able to move people to action. Why do you think it's taken so long to bring his story to the big screen, and what made you want to be involved?

Green: I think the family wasn't ready, for whatever reason. I can't really speak to that, I can only speak to how the project came to me and why it came to me. And I feel very fortunate, as the beneficiary of a moment in time when they were ready. And so, yeah, being a fan of Bob, growing up with his music, felt like a good place to start. If you're gonna do a musical biopic, Bob seems to be like the highest bar. And he's also the one that feels like a superhero to me, he's the guy that speaks to the voice of the people. That guy looks like your brother, he just looks like somebody you know. And his music has transcended time. Of course, he wasn't a perfect person. I'm sure he had things in his life, but as far as his music and his message, that was the foundation for wanting to do it.

Speaking of biopics, you're no stranger to the genre, having previously directed films like King Richard and Good Joe Bell. What keeps you coming back to the genre, and how did you bring your experience working on those movies to bear when working on Bob Marley: One Love?

Green: I never set out to ever make biopics in general, they weren't even the movies that I watched. I set out to make movies — movies about real people, about real meaning. And these are just great stories. Bob's story is a great story. He was homeless, from the streets of Trench Town, [with an] absentee father, and rose to be one of the greatest musicians to ever do it. And so just that, in and of itself, is a great story. It just so happens to be about Bob. And this movie, hopefully, gives some insight into who he was as a man, as a father, as a husband, as a musician, to try to humanize him. Because we all know him from the buttons and the bags and the t-shirts, we just don't know that much about him. So I was interested in going a couple of layers deep in trying to understand.

Here, obviously, there's a lot of Marleys, so it's just managing the family, their expectations and the movie that I wanna make. And good thing we were aligned in that process. I felt like I had really great supporters. They just wanted the movie to be great. And we talked in movie terms, and whether that's with the actors or with the family — what movie are we making. And so it takes it out of the personal and it creates this feeling that we're making cinema. We have to take certain liberties in order to do that. And because this was a film in Patois — it's a foreign language film — I had to rely on the family in a different way in this movie. Because Im not a native Patois speaker. And so that was a big part of how we had to come together to really bring this one to life.

And speaking of working with the Marley family — beyond the language aspect of the film, how did that collaboration help shape the final cut?

Green: In a myriad of ways. Whether it was a piece of costume or a character detail that was important. Which, again, it's subconscious. When you're watching the movie, it's not things that the average audience member would know, per se. It's just something you feel. If you feel that Kingsley [embodied] the essence of Bob, a huge part of that was because the family was involved. It was a huge part because we felt like we had the extension of Bob on set, through his offspring. And so when you have Ziggy [Marley] there, and the way he touches his ring, or the way he grabs his locs, that's something that your actors pick up on. It's a character detail. So those things work in ways that I don't think they're measurable — you can't quantify them. I think that it was an essence — it was a familiarity with the family, it was a disposition, it was a spiritual thing. It's not one thing or the other. I think their support is how we made a film that hopefully feels like one voice and one director.

Of course, you mentioned Kingsley Ben-Adir. And without a doubt, the movie wouldn't be the same without him, it wouldn't work without his performance. Can you talk about how you worked with him to achieve such a remarkable transformation?

Green: It's movie magic. There were so many conversations [that] happened over a period of a year. It was a long time. His own physical transformation, everything he had to learn through choreography and language and dialect. And supporting him with the right pieces — an incredible cast, putting him around real musicians, putting him in real situations. A lot of the time it’s trying to get him not to think as often as possible. But that's hard when you have a really intelligent person who's very intellectual. So it's balancing that. And it wasn't easy, of course not. Kingsley's a dedicated craftsman, and so it was a delicate dance, and I think we achieved it well together.

Yeah, I think just the bar was so high because of who Bob was, what he represented, and I think we all took that very seriously. But there's so many things that go into the performance — it's lighting, it's costume, it's silhouette. Of course, [Kingsley] delivers [with] his work ethic, his mannerisms. He found Bob's inner voice, his inner child. He was able to embody that. And then through the other forms of filmmaking, it was allowing that to come forward. That's part of the magic of making movies.

I understand Kingsley also took vocal and guitar lessons for the role, but it's mostly Bob Marley's original vocals we hear throughout the film. Why was the decision made to go that route, versus having Kingsley do the majority of the singing?

Green: If I wanna go to a Bob Marley movie, I wanna hear Bob. So that was critical for me from jump street. And I didn't know the level that Kingsley would have, musically. I didn't know if he could play guitar or sing or dance, I needed someone that could give me the vulnerability. There's so much in the movie that is not singing and not dancing, and I needed an actor to perform that. A really great actor, I knew, could achieve the other things if they worked hard enough, and then supplement Bob's voice when necessary. The good thing for us is that Kingsley's a savant. He's a magician, and he's able to do so much. He taught himself how to play guitar, he taught himself choreography. So we struck the balance because he was relentless in his work ethic.

Needless to say, the movie is full of powerful scenes. But is there one scene in particular that happens to be the most impactful for you, personally?

Green: So many. But I love the more tender moments between [Bob] and Rita. It felt like the spine of our movie. Rita's role as the matriarch but also as a band member — she just had a unique perspective and opened up an entire perspective for us and our film. And it helps us separate the film from others, because of that viewpoint and that perspective. So, yeah, their scenes together as one — their story together — felt like that was our movie, that was the heartbeat of the film. And every scene [Lashana]'s in with Kingsley, their chemistry, their dynamic, they were truly remarkable together. I would love to go sit in a room and watch them again.

It's also a treat hearing all of the Bob Marley songs that are in the film. How did you land on that particular selection of tracks to feature throughout the movie?

Green: I developed the script over about a year with Zach Baylin, who wrote King Richard. And that process was really about finding a unique window into Bob's life. What we landed on is '76 to '78, and so that gave us a window into the music that he did create during that time. And because of where we started the film, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert, the songs that wound up in the movie felt organic to the time period that we were in. Of course, we had some opportunities through some flashbacks to go to earlier songs or some non-diegetic music and diegetic music opportunities to play other Bob songs. But the focus really became Exodus because that's the album that a lot of people know. It's the album that took Bob from being a national hero to a global superstar. And so, yeah, the bulk of our movie takes place and focuses on Exodus. But he created Kaya during that time — there was just an outpouring of music in '77, so we focused on what we could, given the timeline.

Last but not least, what do you want viewers to take away from Bob Marley: One Love?

Green: First, I want them to enjoy it, in the same way that we were given the gift of Bob's music. You never know how people are gonna walk away with it, but, obviously, his message was so critical to all of us — what he sang for, and unity and peace. It's what the world certainly needs. And I hope it just brings us together, I hope it makes people feel more united with their common brothers and sisters.

Bob Marley: One Love is in theaters February 14th.

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