Get Out: Smash Hit Thriller–Behind the Scenes

Casting was a crucial factor in setting up the culture clash in Get Out, the new satirical thriller.

From critically lauded performers to young upstarts who are breaking into the business, he filled the thriller’s roster with an unexpected array of talent.

For Peele, all his experience as a performer proved quite valuable as he directed his actors.  “Jordan’s been in front of the camera for so many years that he understood what they were going through,” says McKittrick.  “He was able to put all the actors at ease.  He has complete control and understanding of what each character is because he created them.  Each actor was able to bring a different perspective to their part, which Jordan fed on and added to.”

Daniel Kaluuya

Chris Washington is an aspiring photographer and an artist with whom Rose has fallen in love.  Peele explains that his protagonist has a complicated past: “Chris is a highly intelligent guy who has had emotional trauma, and someone who expresses his pain through art.”

For Peele, it was important to cast a performer who could emote the confusion Chris has—especially toward his notions of how he will be received by a white family.  “The element that makes Chris the most nervous is the fact that Rose gave them no warning that he’s black.  He’s anticipating an awkward situation.  I would say that Chris is ‘woke.’  He’s in love, but he’s approaching this situation with an open mind.”

Chris needed to be portrayed by a performer who could walk the line between agreeable newcomer to the Armitage family and credible outsider.   Peele found his hero in British performer Daniel Kaluuya.  “Daniel is a total star,” lauds Peele.  “He has a relatability that is infectious, and he has an ability to be in the moment that is totally masterful, and I love him from Black Mirror and Sicario.  He carries the film.”

While Chris tries to put his suspicions behind him and enjoy the weekend, he begins to feel that he should trust his instincts about the Armitage family, especially Rose’s mother, Missy, a psychiatrist who insists that her daughter’s new boyfriend should try her unique brand of therapy.  Although Chris wants to quit smoking, he is no rush; still, that doesn’t stop the good doctor from pushing the issue.  “Chris sees that Missy is intense,” explains Kaluuya, “and that she is an in-your-face kind of woman that gets what she wants without trying.  He finds himself late at night in her room hypnotized.”

The reason Rose chose this weekend to bring her new boyfriend up is to celebrate the annual tradition of her late grandfather and grandmother’s garden party.  The gathering of friends and extended family to honor the patriarch is initially heartwarming for Chris, as he lost his own mother at a young age and has had to fend for himself for the majority of his life.  Kaluuya sets up the scene: “So much of this film is about the anticipation of what is going to happen.  Chris notices that something is off at this party, and he senses an intense amount of undercover racism.  He has an interaction which immediately proves the environment isn’t for him, and he’s ready to leave.  He knows he does not fit in, and is not feeling good about it.”

For Rose, Peele wrote the perfect girlfriend for the story’s hero; indeed, she is just as mortified by her family’s behavior toward Chris as he is embarrassed about it.  “It was very important for this film that, at its core, it’s a love story,” he says.  “This is a couple that we’re rooting for.  She’s not perfect, because there are elements to being in an interracial relationship that she wakes up to as the movie goes on, but she is trying to understand what Chris is going through.  She’s a very supportive, understanding and funny-smart character.”

Allison Williams

To portray the young nurse Rose, they cast Allison Williams, a performer whose stand-out work in HBO’s Girls and work in musical theater brought her to the team’s attention.  For Blum, this offered the chance to work with a dear friend.  “I have been friends with Allison for a long time,” he states, “so it was a really cool opportunity to finally get to work with her.  She did an amazing job.”

“Allison gives us the comfort and the love that is at the core of this movie,” agrees Peele.  “She gives us something to root for in their relationship.

“Rose is the girl next-door, very progressive, liberal and loving,” adds McKittrick.  “She has her own reservations about what her parents are going to think of her black boyfriend, but you never get the sense that she’s siding with what might be wrong with the family.  You believe she’s always on Chris’ side and is truly in love with him.”

The actresses appreciated portraying a young woman whose true intentions are just beneath the surface.  She introduces us to her character: “Rose takes her black boyfriend home to meet her white family, and something is not quite right once they arrive.  Rose is torn between her allegiance to her family and her new boyfriend, but she is committed to Chris.  She is willing to shake things up with her family in order to salvage their relationship.”

Williams appreciated Peele’s interest in pushing the story outside of horror tropes, and sums the cast’s feelings about working with him on set: “It is a bonus to have the writer also be your director—that there is a continuity of vision, thought and intention.”

The young performers are in the majority of scenes of Get Out, and their chemistry and skills was not lost on the filmmakers.  Shares McKittrick of the pair: “Allison was the first one to board the film, although Daniel had been chasing the film for quite a while.  They are the two anchors of the film.  Allison is an incredible actress; both on- and off-screen, she’s a wonderful person.  Daniel is an exceptional actor who acts with his entire body. I’ve never seen anything like it.  He put so much into it that he’s actually exhausted between takes.  His intensity anchored the film entirely because the audience has to relate to Chris as someone who is an everyman.”

When it came to casting the parts of Rose’s parents, the retired surgeon Dean and psychiatrist Missy, the team selected two performers who have navigated the worlds of comedy their entire careers.

Catherine Keener

In two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, as riveting in Being John Malkovich and Captain Phillips as she is The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and three-time Golden Globe Award nominee Bradley Whitford, who was just as fascinating in The West Wing and Transparent as he was The Cabin in the Woods, the producers found actors to play anything but stereotypical villains.

What Blum appreciated about the heads of the Armitage family is that they embody the liberal elite that Peele skewers in his screenplay.  While Rose hasn’t told them that Chris is black, she is certain they will be fine with his being of another race.  What Chris finds, however, is far from that.  “The parents start to say things that are on the edge of racist.  They just make everyone feel uncomfortable,” says Blum.  “They ask Chris if he likes golf…then tell him they’re big fans of Tiger Woods.  They are painted as part of the white, liberal elite—very sensitive about race.  In fact they’re quite the opposite.”

As was Williams, Whitford was thrilled to be a part of the production.  “I am such a fan of Jordan’s that I would have done yard work for him,” the actor laughs.  On the shock factor of the film, Whitford says: “I think people will have an odd reaction to this.  It flips your idea of genre upside down.”

Peele shares a bit about their characters and the actors’ work: “Bradley plays Dean Armitage, the disarmingly kind, and kind of goofy, father.  With him, it turns out there’s more than meets the eye.  Catherine does this beautiful performance as Missy, who hypnotizes Chris and gives him an experience completely out of his comfort zone.  She is the perfect mother-in-law on paper, and then as the movie goes on, you realize, ‘Oh.  There’s something darker going on here.’”

The final member of Rose’s immediate family is her younger brother, Jeremy, who is as interested in provoking Chris as he is in getting to know him.  Portrayed by Caleb Landry Jones, who first came to audience’s attention with television’s Friday Night Lights, and then rocketed to fame as the memorable Banshee in X-Men: First Class, Jones brings to the role of Jeremy an inexplicable creepiness that sets Chris off from the moment he encounters him.  Raves Peele; “Caleb can channel so much menace, and yet he’s so fun and infinitely engaging to watch.  He’s a great tonal centerpiece for the movie, in that way.”

Portraying the parts of the Armitage’s live-in help are The Purge: Election Year and Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt’s Betty Gabriel as Georgina, the family’s housekeeper, and Django Unchained and Pete’s Dragon’s Marcus Henderson as Walter, the groundskeeper.  When Chris first encounters the pair, he finds them symptomatic of just how strange the rural community is toward African-Americans.  Whether it is Walter’s dead-eyed run about the grounds in the middle of the night or Georgina’s staring blankly into a mirror, neither of them seem like they are all there.

With every black person Chris encounters during his trip upstate, he gets the opposite of what he expects.  The situation in which Chris has found himself is just as uncomfortable for him as it is for the audience.  Peele crafted his story to make sure that was the case: “They are sort of traditional African-American servants at this place, and Chris is being brought in as a family member.  With Georgina and Walter, Chris doesn’t get the African-American camaraderie he’s looking for in them, and that proves to be very isolating and alienating.”

While the set-up is par for the course for the Armitage family, it feels very uncomfortable for their weekend guest.  “It’s so weird for Chris,” explains Kaluuya.  “Rose’s family is white, and the servants who are helping are black.  That’s just a bit odd for him, especially coming from the city in New York, which is one of the most modern cultural cities in the world.”

The charming Chris often encounters Georgina glaring at him…or herself.  “Georgina has a love of herself,” states Gabriel.  “She likes the way she looks, so she looks at herself as often as she can.”

The character begins to show her true colors at the Armitage annual get-together.  “The party is a family tradition to honor Rose’s grandparents and keep their memory alive,” explains Gabriel.  “It is shocking for Chris, and everyone is genuinely interested in him being there… Maybe a little too interested.”

Chris gets the feeling that the groundskeeper is just as protective of the Armitage secret as Georgina is.  “Walter is the Armitage’s groundskeeper, and he is very attached to the family,” adds Henderson.  “Something is a little off about him, the way he sees things comes from a different place.”  The performer appreciated that the story is cloaked in shadow…until it all explodes.  “My character is hiding a huge secret.  Jordan gave me a note on set that said, ‘You have this secret you really want to tell, but you cannot,’ which lit my five-year-old self up.  That made this production fun.”

Georgina and Walter are not the only African-Americans that Chris encounters when he makes his way to the primarily-Caucasian enclave over the weekend.  Lakeith Stanfield, who stole his scenes as Snoop Dogg in 2015’s smash Straight Outta Compton was brought aboard the team to play Logan King, a young man just as remarkable in his old-fashioned dress as he is speech and mannerisms.  The only other guest who is also black, Logan seems quite out of place with his elderly white wife.  “Logan knows Rose’s family intimately,” explains the performer.  “He has known them for years, and is glad to celebrate with them at the party.”

Much like his counterparts, Logan isn’t remotely who or what he seems, especially with a flash from Chris’ cell phone gives him an apparent seizure…one that makes him grab Chris and scream at him to get out of the house.  “He undergoes a scary transition during the film,” says Stanfield.  “During this transition, he turns into someone who is a separate cultural expression of the guy everyone thinks they know.”

McKittrick explains the instantaneous transformation: “The flash on Chris’s phone as he takes a photo of Logan triggers something inside of Logan where he attacks Chris.  He has blood coming out of his nose, and we know it’s something that’s serious.  It takes Missy, who is a psychiatrist, to bring Logan back to what they want him to be.”

Peele could not have been prouder of the work of his core young supporting cast.  Of their talents, he lauds: “Betty just did this-ass performance as Georgina, as did Marcus as Walter, the groundskeeper.  Lakeith plays such a unique character; he shows this range that is totally impressive, and he committed himself fully for the role.”

One of the final principal curious guests of the annual garden-party celebration is Jim Hudson, played by the inimitable character actor Stephen Root, known for his brilliant voiceover work, as well as comedy in films from Dodgeball to Office Space and serious fare in Boardwalk Empire and Trumbo.  “My character is blind and might be a person that you would not want to cross, or he might be a swell man from the city,” explains Root.

It remains just as important to the cast as it does for Peele and the other producers that the secrets of Get Out remain intact for the audience.  Root typifies that mandate when he coyly states: “Chris is a handsome young man, and everyone wants to meet him—just not necessarily for the same reasons.  Nothing is quite what it seems, including the party and the guests.  The audience does not find out what is actually going on for a while.”

The film’s knight in shining armor is in the form of an annoyed TSA agent who also happens to be Chris’ best friend back home: Rod Williams.  Played by Milton “Lil Rel” Howery, a stand-up who has taking his whip-smart timing to TV series such as The Carmichael Show, Rod is the voice of the audience.  “Rod is the character giving us that voice at a horror movie where everybody should be screaming, ‘Get out!  Get out of the house.  Don’t turn around.  Don’t back up into the closet.  He has several phone calls with Chris throughout Chris’ time at Rose’s family’s house.  At the same time, Rod is figuring out some of what’s going on, and he’s also getting a lot of it wrong.  He’s our comic relief and our voice of reason at the same time.”