Who's 'The Best Man'?
The other Lee begins search for filmmaking voice
October 20, 1999
By Jamie Allen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- At one point during an on-camera interview with director Malcolm D. Lee at CNN Center, actor Taye Diggs crawls in front of the anchor desk where Lee is sitting, pops up and says in a high voice, "Hello, Malcolm."
Lee barely breaks stride. He's used to it, as Diggs -- along with fellow actors Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Monica Calhoun, and Harold Perrineau -- made a habit of cutting up during the filming of Lee's first feature-length movie, "The Best Man."
Lee admits that the set of his film was as relaxed as this interview.
"I hated all these guys," says Lee, wearing his best straight face. "They're all such prima donnas, joking around. I couldn't get any work done.
"No, seriously. It was a great, great experience, my first film, having to work with so many talented and fun people."
Diggs, who plays the title character, throws praise back to Lee.
"He was real cool," Diggs says of his director. "We were all just cutting up on set. We had no problem making that transition from pal, buddy, cool brother to Mr. Directorman. Malcolm would approach us in the same style, and we would just hang out. There wasn't any intimidation factor. So every day it was like a party on set. And it wouldn't have been so if he didn't allow us to just be ourselves and enjoy the fact that we were working on such an amazing piece."
"The Best Man" is a romantic comedy with a familiar setting -- the events leading up to a wedding. But unlike most white weddings seen on the silver screen, this film features a rare demographic in the world of celluloid, according to Lee.
"The movie really came out of my lack of seeing multi-dimensional black characters on-screen, people I could really relate to on-screen," says Lee, who also wrote the screenplay.
As Harper Stewart, Diggs plays a guy who has trouble committing to one woman. He's a writer whose first book, "Unfinished Business," is about to hit the big time on Oprah -- before its release. Problem is, everyone in the wedding party, including the groom, gets their hands on an early proof of the book and realizes that each character is based on one of them.
Ghosts of the past are resurrected until Harper's business is finished in grand wedding fashion.
Diggs shy of committment
Diggs says he's never been a best man, but he can relate to one aspect of his character.
"In a lot of ways, most men get a little jittery when posed with the question of committment," says Diggs, who has seen his celebrity rise since starring as the impetus to "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."
"There's something about the thought of spending the rest of your life with one woman. So I would have to say I've had those thoughts. Hopefully, when it's time to lay down those laws I won't have a problem. You know, I'm a man, and I question it, you know? It worries me sometimes, you know?"
The movie was produced in part by Lee's cousin, a guy that goes by the name of Spike Lee, the filmmaker known for serving audiences highly-praised "joints" like "Do the Right Thing" (1989), "Malcolm X" (1992), and most recently "Summer of Sam" (1999).
Malcolm Lee says cousin Spike offered advice, but knew when to step into the shadows.
"Spike would make suggestions in the script, casting, editing," says Lee. "Sometimes I agreed and sometimes I didn't, and both ways it was great, because he respects the director's vision."
Be like Spike?
Lee, in fact, wants to find his own voice as a director, though he admits that he's still searching.
"I'm not trying to follow in Spike's footsteps," says Lee. "I'm just trying to be my own filmmaker, my own artist. I don't think my style is defined yet. Hopefully, you won't be able to pigeonhole me and say, 'This is the Malcolm Lee style,' because I want to make different kinds of movies.
"I want to make thought-provoking, entertaining films."
And those films will be fun to make.
"It's a fun job, but a very difficult job," says Lee. "If you're going to undertake this job you should have fun doing it. Everyone got along extremely well. We all bonded and had a lot of fun making this picture."
Review: 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back' sudsy, sexy fun
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