The Kitchen is adapted from a comic book, and it’s also a little similar to Widows. How did you flesh out the comic book [by Ollie Masters] without going into Widows territory?
I think on the surface I understand why we’ve had that comparison, but when you see the movie, you’ll see that it’s a really different story and a really different movie. The comic book, I love to pieces, and really saw the opportunity to dig into 1978 New York and show women in a way that we’ve never quite seen before. This is not about revenge, this is about them taking what they want, and I think it’s really great for our time to see a bunch of women saying what they want, and getting what they want? “What would it be like if women could take over the world, and what would that feel like?” I think it was really the comic book that I found so inspirational.
You always do research in your writing, so what did you do for The Kitchen?
I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, I lived in that neighbourhood for a year. When I was first sent the comic book I thought, ‘oh, The Kitchen that’s so funny, I lived there’.
I do know that neighbourhood and I know the people who live in that neighbourhood. It’s really gentrified now but when I was living there it was much more in a transitional place. All the stores were owned by these mean old Irish people. I was really familiar with what that world was like and what those people would be like and then I spent a bunch of months doing research – what was the world like in 1978? What was the economy of New York like? What did it look like? What did it feel like? What were the issues people of the day were facing?
Yes, it’s a fictional story, but there’s a lot of true stuff that’s in it. If you can add that specificity and that truth, it makes it that much more interesting and compelling.
What did you add?
Tiffany Haddish’s character was not in the comic book, and I created that very specifically because I didn’t want to make a movie about three white women. I wanted to open up the storytelling. I was sent the comic book right as I was finishing all the campaigning for Straight Outta Compton, and so I was really thinking about a conversation on race, culture and class. I didn’t want that conversation to end, so I went to the studio and said that I’m going to figure out a way to have one of these characters be authentically from someplace else.
I was not interested in just three little mannequins. I wanted real women who felt like us. I want people to watch this movie and feel like, ‘That’s me up there, I know what it’s like to not be respected, I know what it’s like to not be given opportunities, I know what it’s like to have that feeling inside’, and to really inspire people to say, ‘don’t let anybody put you in a box, don’t say that comedians can’t be funny, don’t say that I was a writer and can’t direct. Because we can all do things that are greater than ourselves.
I think all that is a piece of what I was trying to say of myself that wasn’t necessarily in the original comic book.
How was the process of writing, how long did it take?
When I’m writing, I have a very set, boring and specific schedule. I have an office and I make myself write five pages a day and I don’t let myself leave until I’ve written five pages every day. Sometimes that’s two hours, sometimes that’s eight. I need silence, no radio, no distractions, no internet.
A hundred and twenty pages and you have a script. Within two months, you have something usually. So that’s how I’ve been doing it for a long time, it’s the only way I know how to do it, so I just make myself sit there and get it done.
How important is inequality for you in every project that you do?
It’s been a big theme of mine for a very long time. My mother is a civil rights activist, my sister is disabled and my mother started off being just her own advocate and once you become really involved in the civil rights world, which I have been since I was a child, I can’t see stories any other way. I really think, ‘what would this person’s perspective be and how other people see it differently’.
How was directing?
I loved it. I’ve been making movies as a writer for fifteen years prior to this so I had quite a bit of experience helping other directors make their movies and I’ve worked with a range of incredible directors, so I took a little information every time I would go to a new project.
Oliver stone treated me really well [on World Trade Center, which Berloff wrote] and we had a very good relationship and he taught me quite a bit, so that was my first introduction to Hollywood and it was a good one because I learned a lot, even when it wasn’t an active lesson, just to let me be there and watch him. I have done that many times over the years with many men, who have been kind and have let me stay quietly in the background and watch, and that’s the best training you could ask for is watching really great directors do their work.
Everybody is talking about Hollywood changing for women, do you see that?
I think it’s changing, but I will say this, and I want to say it to the world – right now there are a lot of female movies coming out, unless people go see these movies, no more will be made. People have to go to the cinema, and they have to go see these movies, not just my movie. If people go see them and they make money at the box office, there will be more movies made. But if people don’t go see them there will not be more movies made. We are in a very interesting time where we have to prove our worth and the only way we can prove our worth is through box office, so I think we’re all very aware that we have to get audiences to understand this is not as simple as, ‘Oh, I liked the movie’, ‘I didn’t like movie’, it’s more important than that.
How do you compare the Irish Mafia with Hollywood?
Is there any difference? I’m not sure that there’s any difference. I think it’s very similar. Both are very closed communities that really protect themselves. That was one of my original pitches – I know the Mafia because it’s not very different than Hollywood.
The Kitchen is in cinemas from August 29, 2019