Stepping Outside the Confort Zone: A Conversation with the Cast and Crew of REPENTANCE

February 27, 2014

By Frank Gonzales/CinéArts

The new Lionsgate and Code Black film REPENTANCE, starring Forrest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie and Mike Epps is an engrossing, engaging drama that examines the idea that past transgressions can lead to future repercussions for both those who performed them and those who were affected by them.  In the case of this film Forrest Whitaker's character Angel deals with the on-going effects of his mother's untimely death, and it is upon a chance meeting with Anthony Mackie (Tommy) that this idea of tidal waves of actions and reactions set the idea of the story in motion.

For Whitaker, Epps and director Philippe Caland REPENTANCE was a unique opportunity to tell this story by stretching their own personal talents into uncharted territory.  While a new film, REPENTANCE is actually a remake of Caland's THE GURU AND THE GYPSY, an independent film he made and acted in a number of years ago. Whitaker not only acted in the title role of this version, but became a producer in the film. Mike Epps stepped into a dramatic role that will really turn heads.

Whitaker's relationship with the director goes back to their collaboration in the 2007 filmTHE RIPPLE EFFECT. He recalls how that film led to a personal and professional relationship. "That film explored the issues of karma and action and Philippe and I became friends from there, and became partners in a company called Junto Box Films.

"He had done a film called THE GURU AND THE GYPSY in which he starred and I thought there was a great potential to make a broader and more powerful film. So we talked about it and decided to do it. It also gave me the opportunity to become a producer and work with the writer from my TV show Criminal Minds, Shintaro Shimosawa, to write it and then went about working to cast the movie."

Besides being one of the most talented actors of his generation, Whitaker is also a noted director of films, but producing was a new game for him. "Producing is one of the more difficult jobs because it's about problem solving."

So does he prefer one of these three jobs over another? Whitaker replied, "I really enjoy directing, which I don't do very often, maybe every four to five years. I do love acting. So I enjoy all of them in different ways…I enjoy supporting people as a director so they can do their best work; as a producer I have great partners in Nina Yang and Philippe  and we've been able to do some special films together.  So I guess in order of preference it's directing, acting and then producing."

For comedian and actor Mike Epps, his role of Ben was pivotal, not just in the movie, but also in Epps career. Ben gave Epps a chance to really break out. "These kinds of characters are really challenging for me and it gave me a chance to do something that I don't normally do," Epps commented. "I got a chance to show people that I can switch lanes and present more range and levels as an actor."

It didn't hurt that there were two great dramatic actors in Mackie and Whitaker to help him raise his performance. "I've always been a fan of Anthony and Forrest so to work with them and learn from them was really exciting.

"Being around people that are great performers you automatically step it up. When you're working with pros, you become a pro. But I definitely learned a lot from watching Forrest approach his role. When he would show up on set in character, it made me show up on set in character. It gave me choices because sometimes you have to be able to watch somebody else bring something to you in order to make a choice in how you perform a character."

And it didn't hurt to have the trifecta of a good dramatic role, a good production and script, and being surrounded by accomplished talent, right? "Absolutely! All three of them were instrumental for me. The script was good. To be able to work with someone like Forrest was great. And to be able to show people my versatility was awesome."

For Epps, this new turn into drama was something he welcomed, rather than shy away from. And for his turn as Ben, he jumped at the chance. "I said to my self 'this is something that I would love to play'.

"Ben is a guy who has been through some things in his life, just like I have been through some things in mine, which I was able to tap into for this character.  I love to show everyone that I have levels to who I am and it was exciting to be able to bring that to this movie."

Epps even wants serve notice that even more dramatic roles are in the future for him. He's already wrapped a performance as Richard Pryor for a Nina Simone bio-pic, and is looking for more. "There is no doubt I love doing these kinds of roles.
"I love making people think. I love people walking away and saying 'I respect that guy and I respect the choices that he makes.' I LOVE that. That's the part that really gets my juices flowing."

Finally, director Philippe Caland, an accomplished writer/director/actor had his own kind of growing pains in making REPENTANCE. By his own admission, as an independent film maker his methodology for producing a movie was a style all of his own.

"When I make my films, usually I act in them, as I did in THE GURU AND THE GYPSY, and I'm the producer so I'm in charge of everything and the buck stops with me." Caland noted. "So I have maximum freedom and I set the schedule. Even for me as the actor, I can bring myself back anytime I need to make whatever shots I need.

"Now the minute you make a bigger movie with a bigger cast, like in REPENTANCE, you need to have a real blueprint to make sure schedules are in sync, that the production can be done in time and that by the time you wrap the movie you have everything you need. It's unlikely you'll be able to bring back in a cast who may be scattered all over the place, so there's a much higher pressure to make a movie of this size and scope.

"On the other hand, when you have a bigger budget, a real infrastructure and a production team in place, it's easier too because everybody is doing their work and they are all professionals. Even the actors of this caliber are easier to work with and they deliver. And if you engage them into the characters that they are and are supported by a fine script, then as a director I just had to create an atmosphere and watch it manifest."

Caland also had another new twist to this production, that of doing a remake of a previous film. This time though, with the help of partner Forrest Whitaker, the job was made easier. Caland recalls, "This film was already made before once and Forrest and I had worked together before on another film so we had a good relationship as friends.

"As we thought about things we could do together I showed GURU to Forrest and he very much liked it. Then a few weeks later he mentioned again that he thought it could be a real good movie and I suggested that we remake it.

"So we explored that with Forrest bringing in a screenwriter who came and gave it new life. Then once we had the script, Forrest and I talked about casting the movie, and what other things we could do to make it stand out and be even more exciting.  He then suggested the idea of an all black cast and I thought that was a brilliant idea. The minute he suggested this I got excited and said 'Sure!'"

But what steps did he take to ensure this new version was different from his first movie? Caland remembers, "When we decided to remake it the challenge was to make it different and to give it its own texture as a movie and its own originality. We allowed for the story to be the same but the movie experience to be different.

"So by that time it became about having a screenwriter bring in his ideas and once I had those pages I brought back into it some of my fresh ideas and fresh scenes. That's when we decided we were ready to shoot. And even when we went into production we were still working on the script with changes to make sure that both movies were different."

For Whitaker, Epps and Caland, REPENTANCE was an experience where they all came away with something fresh and exciting. Whitaker used the idea of the movie's message as a way to become a metaphor for their expanded roles. "I think this movie deals a lot with the reverberations of the past and whether or not if you balk at dealing with your issues from the past it hiders your moving forward with your future, or  condemns you to live in a loop and live in that same kind of moment.

"In REPENTANCE we explore that on every level. My character needed to rid himself of the pain of the loss his mother, and in a way forgive those people who may be responsible. Anthony's character had deeds in his past that needed to be addressed in order to move forward. Mike Epps character also had transgressions in his past that haunt him and force his brother to make certain choices, which start this chain of events to occur.

"In much the same way you can take that same message and apply it to me or Philippe. We took the past as a challenge to broaden our roles and perspectives and move forward. I think those results speak for themselves in the movie."

Years after a drunken car crash that almost took his life, Tommy Carter (Anthony Mackie) has reinvented himself as a therapist/spiritual advisor who advocates a synthesis of world religions and positivity. He's parlayed this vocation into a successful book release that one day draws the attention of Angel Sanchez (Forest Whitaker), a profoundly troubled man fixated on the "untimely" death of his mother. When Carter takes on Sanchez as a personal client in an effort to raise funds for his indebted brother Ben (Mike Epps), things quickly take a turn for the worse. Angel needs much more than a simple life coach.

What may be simple to grasp for some is the idea that single actions in the past comprise tidal waves of reactions in the present. Director Philippe Caland's REPENTANCE examines these issues against a backdrop of kidnapping and murder.

REPENTANCE opens at CinéArts Theatre this Friday, February 28, 2014. For locations and tickets go to