About The Production
In 2002, high school athlete Brian Banks was falsely accused of rape and
kidnapping by a female
classmate in Long Beach, California. Although he experienced a real-life
nightmare that would have
destroyed most other people, Banks survived five years behind bars and another
five on probation. His
story of perseverance gained widespread media attention in 2012 when he was
exonerated with the help
of the California Innocence Project.
Film producer Amy Baer (Last Vegas, Mary Shelley) of Gidden Media saw a news
Banks' remarkable case on a Los Angeles TV station and knew instantly it was a
story important enough
to be shared on the big screen. "Brian's tale of survival was incredibly
compelling," she says. "Here was a
young man trying to reclaim a decade of his life that was stolen from him, and I
felt that turning his past
into a movie might be a way of transforming that negative moment into a positive
Three years later, "60 Minutes" aired a major report on Banks, which producer
(Trumbo, Captain Fantastic) happened to see. Shortly thereafter, Baer met with
Rawat and her producing
partner Monica Levinson (Danny Collins, Beirut) and asked if they would be
interested in developing a
feature with her.
"I didn't even let Amy finish before I told her I was in," says Rawat.
"Monica and I really
wanted to tell this story with her."
The three producers traveled to New York to meet with Banks in person, and
impressed with his indomitable spirit and positivity. "Brian lights up the room
when he walks in," says
Levinson. "He just makes you happy, and every time you look at him you think:
'How can you have
gone through such a terrible experience and still be that human right now?'"
Rawat agrees. "He's a role model for everyone, because he never gave up. This
his life, but he knew he had to continue living it somehow."
Achieving that level of persistence and optimism took practice, according to
Banks. "Where I
am today did not happen overnight," he explains. "It started with a choice. I
try to put out into the
world what I want to receive back. I want positivity, peace, and love in my
world, and none of that is
dictated by where you are or what you're going through. It's all dictated by how
you see yourself and the
world around you."
Banks says he agreed to have his life made into a feature film because he's
committed to helping
others who are struggling in a similar situation. "By telling my story in this
movie, I hope that we can
prevent, or at least minimize, wrongful convictions from continuing to happen in
the future. The truth is
that wrongful convictions and social injustices don't receive the recognition
they should. Too often, it's
out of sight, out of mind. If we don't talk about it, people won't ever get
engaged enough to do
something about it."
A Remarkable Life Story
To turn Banks' story into a script, Baer reached out to award-winning
screenwriter Doug Atchison.
"Amy was aware of a film I'd written and directed called Akeelah and the Bee,"
says Atchison. "Curiously
enough, Brian actually saw that film while he was in prison. He had the ability
to check out DVDs, so he
watched it and told me later that it inspired him. Apparently when Amy and her
team were talking with him
about writers to tell his story, my name came up and he responded positively."
Atchison had followed Banks' exoneration in the news when it happened. "The
that allowed him to get through this ordeal deeply impressed me," the writer
says. "This wasn't a case where
people came in and rescued him. He very much rescued himself. Of course, he had
a strong alliance with the
California Innocence Project and Justin Brooks. But it was Brian's willpower
that motivated the CIP to step
After signing on to write the script, Atchison met with Banks and discussed
the events surrounding
his wrongful incarceration. "Hearing this young man talk about what had happened
to him in solitary
confinement, and how he was able to get through it, really drew me in. He'd been
waiting years to tell this
story in its entirety, and that's what he did. He told me about his whole life."
Banks was working for the National Football League at the time, so the two
men met at an NFL
office in New York to talk things over. "It wasn't football season, so we had
this big conference room all to
ourselves," Atchison explains. "I brought my camera with me and recorded about
13 hours of Brian telling
me his life story, from beginning to end. It was my job to ask the right
questions in order to extract all the
facts of what happened and how he felt about it."
Although he'd spoken with various subjects in the past while writing
fact-based material, Atchison
was caught off guard by Banks' enthusiastic candor. "I've never heard anybody
tell their life story in such a
complete and compelling way, over such a long period of time. I mean, this is
something most people would
take a couple weeks to do, but Brian did it over a single weekend. He just
needed to get it out."
Those video interviews became a crucial element of the writing process. "I
went over the footage
carefully with the producers," says Atchison. "Then I asked for certain sections
to be transcribed, which gave
me a document I could constantly refer back to while writing. It became a sort
of bible of Brian's story."
To gain additional insight, Atchison attended one of Brooks' wrongful
conviction classes at the
California Innocence Project's headquarters in San Diego. "I watched how they
wrestled with a case, and I
spoke with Alissa, one of Justin's students who we portray in the film, about
how things worked. At that
point I probably knew more about Brian's case than anyone except Brian and
Justin, because I had the whole
case file, the police reports, the court depositions, the videotaped interviews,
everything. Although a lot of
that information didn't end up in the movie, I felt like I had to understand it
Next Atchison faced the challenge of how to best convey the remarkable story
he had been entrusted
with in an emotionally engaging two-hour film. He decided to begin the script at
the time when Banks had
been released from prison but found he was still unable to build a life because
of the legal restrictions put
upon him. "I felt like the point where he was out trying to get work, trying to
play football, and trying to
move forward with this conviction hanging over him was the heart of the story,"
he says. From there,
Atchison takes viewers on a journey back and forth through the timeline of
Banks' life to reveal how he
found himself in such a dire situation - and how he fought to overcome it.
The Director's Chair
Baer had a number of potential directors in mind to helm Brian Banks, but after
meeting with acclaimed filmmaker Tom Shadyac (The Nutty Professor, Bruce
Almighty) she was convinced
he was the one best suited to the material. "I was blown away after talking with
him," Baer says. "I just
knew this was a movie he was meant to make. I mean, this is who Tom is as an
artist and as a human
being. I really felt he could be true to Brian's story while also making a very
The director's deep and personal grasp of the film's themes made him a perfect
fit, according to
Rawat. "Tom clearly cared about Brian and the pain he had endured," she say. "In
the end, he turned out
a truly beautiful film that did the subject justice."
Perhaps Shadyac's biggest supporter on the film was Banks himself. "Tom is a
standup guy," he
says. "The first time I met him, he approached me like he was just another
person on the street. He said,
'Hi, I'm Tom, and some people have asked me to join this project and I think I
can do it justice.' Then
he asked me about my spirits, and he wanted to know what I learned about myself
throughout the whole
ordeal. He asked about my mom, my family and our struggle. These questions told
me that he's a person
who looks beyond the surface of things. He's a really deep guy."
Shadyac had been looking for the right project to direct for some time when
Baer sent him
Atchison's script. "I'd wanted to get back in the director's chair, and after
working in an underserved
community in Memphis for years, Brian's story spoke to me," Shadyac says. "The
issues he faced were
emblematic of some of the students I've had the privilege of teaching and
learning from, so it really hit home.
These kids are not treated the same way as people from privileged communities
are, and that breaks my
Like Banks, Shadyac felt a film about his wrongful conviction might help
bring some much-needed
attention to a problem that's remained unexamined for far too long. "I really
thought if we told this story
effectively, it could speak to a lot of the issues that need to be addressed
today about mass incarceration and
the disproportionate number of people of color in our prison system," he says.
Although he is best known for directing blockbuster comedies, Brian Banks
isn't Shadyac's first
dramatic feature. He directed the feature Dragonfly, starring Kevin Costner,
Susanna Thompson and Kathy
Bates. "I learned a ton on that movie," he says. "But nothing will help you make
a drama better than getting
your ass kicked in real life, and I've had my share of ups and downs."
Shadyac is referring to a serious head injury he suffered during a bicycle
accident in Virginia in 2007.
The traumatic effects of that concussion prompted him to take a break from
directing while he reevaluated
his career and personal life, and started him down the path of teaching in
Memphis. "It sort of helped me to
recalibrate things in my life, and it gave me the opportunity to come and learn
from a community that's
pulsing with promise."
After signing on to direct Brian Banks, Shadyac worked with Atchison to
further hone the script,
for which the screenwriter has been honored with the 2019 Humanitas Prize for
Best Independent Feature.
"Doug is a great writer and really passionate about this material because he has
personal ties to it," he
Shadyac's comedy skills were invaluable when it came to making a film that
will keep audiences
engaged and entertained as well as enlightened, according to Atchison. "One of
the things Tom counseled me
on was balancing the script's dark material with the light," the writer says.
"For instance, Brian's time in
prison was considerably longer in earlier drafts. But Tom advised me not to
dwell too much in that dark area.
He felt we could lead the audience through that period without lingering on it
for too long."
Indeed, notes Shadyac, a drama about someone who lost 10 years of their life
for a crime they didn't
commit could easily drag viewers down a dark hole. "But you can't forget to
include some laughter as well,
because that's how people survive the darkest circumstances," observes the
director. "Brian had positive
relationships with his teacher, with his mother and with Justin. They became his
family, and families laugh
and joke together. That's one of the keys to moving forward in life, and that's
how Brian moved forward. He
maintained his humanity in a dark situation, and we put that across in the
In the film's title role, award-winning actor Aldis Hodge (Hidden Figures,
Straight Outta Compton)
delivers a performance of rare insight and depth, due in large part to the
emotional bond he felt with Banks.
"I knew instantly that this would be a special project for me because I really
connected with the story and the
character," says Hodge. "Something about the way Doug wrote it just sparked my
Hodge admits to being nervous going into his first audition because of how
badly he wanted the role.
"Then about a week later, they asked me to come in again and meet with Tom
Shadyac," he recalls. "It was
actually more of a discussion about who I was as a person. Tom really wanted to
learn about me because he
was searching for an element of synergy between Brian and the actor cast to
Between that first and second audition, Hodge hit the gym and began bulking
up. "I knew if I
wanted this job I'd have to be prepared for it," he says. "So, when Tom finally
saw me, he said, 'Man, you put
on some weight!' I think he respected the fact that I was showing him I was
ready to do the work."
Two months prior to shooting, Hodge met Banks for the first time. "We just
sort of hung out at his
apartment and talked for a couple hours, but there was a little more to it than
that," he says. "I really needed
to meet him and make sure I could believe in him myself. I needed to see what
kind of man he was in order
to carry him with me for however long it took to shoot the film."
During that initial meeting, Hodge told Banks he needed to beef up further in
order to realistically
approximate the 250-pound linebacker's powerful physique. "From that moment on,
we started training
together in the gym several times a week until it was time to shoot," says the
actor. "We formed a strong
bond in the gym. I tested myself every day, and Brian saw how hungry I was for
At Shadyac's request, Hodge agreed to wear an actual GPS ankle monitor
"Since Brian had to register as a sex offender while on probation and wear an
ankle monitor the entire time, I
actually wore one for the majority of the film, right up until the scene where I
was finally able to take it off."
The unusual ploy had the psychological effect on the actor that Shadyac hoped it
would. "Wearing a
monitor puts you in a very different mindset," says Hodge. "It makes you
self-conscious on a whole new
level. You walk around thinking everybody's looking at you like you're a
Like everyone involved in the making of Brian Banks, Hodge remains enormously
grateful to have
had Shadyac behind the camera. "Tom was coming off a 10-year period of not
making films because he went
through a transformative experience," he says. "Instead of directing, he
dedicated his life to charity. But he
came back more passionate than ever and he really poured his heart into this
Shadyac is equally effusive about Hodge's performance. "Aldis brought a sense
of authenticity and a
lifetime of experience that the role needed," he says. "Playing Brian Banks has
to come from someplace deep
in the soul, and when Aldis walked through that door and read a couple of the
more challenging scenes, you
could feel that this was a human being who had lived a full life, and he brought
that experience to the role."
Kinnear Takes the Case
Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear (As Good as It Gets, Little Miss Sunshine)
attorney Justin Brooks in Brian Banks, and brings his everyman charm and
signature wit to the role. Shadyac
saw Kinnear as the perfect actor to play Brooks, a law professor and director
and co-founder of the
California Innocence Project (CIP). "Justin Brooks is one of the most
intelligent and compassionate people
and Greg has those same qualities," he says. "Plus he has a great sense of
humor. Since there's already so
much drama in the film, I felt Greg could bring a degree of lightness."
Immediately intrigued by the script, Kinnear sat down with Shadyac to discuss
the project. Their
meeting, scheduled for a single hour, quickly turned into four. "Tom was so
passionate about the power of
this story, and he had a very clear and cohesive vision for the movie," says
Kinnear. "A few weeks later, I
went down to San Diego and attended one of Justin Brooks' law school classes,
and that's all it took. I was
totally on board."
Kinnear was profoundly moved by the pro bono legal services that the
provides its clients. "There are lots of Innocence Projects, but CIP really
stands out," the actor says. "They've
exonerated dozens of wrongly convicted people with limited resources, and I'm
just blown away by the work
they do. To witness Justin and his law students fight to overturn these
injustices is humbling. Of course,
Justin never takes a dime for this work. He just feels a powerful need to act on
his clients' behalf."
To prepare for the role, Kinnear read as much as he could about the current
state of the American
justice system. What he discovered left him disheartened. "There's no question
that the system we have is
broken, and Brian's story provides a great example of both how and why," he
says. "By examining this case
and showing what the Innocence Project could and couldn't do to help him, the
film gives viewers an
overview of where we're at. It offers a deep examination of how the system
failed Brian and how he
ultimately saved himself through determination and grit."
Beyond the pressing social and legal issues, Kinnear was also drawn to the
relationships the script
portrays. "I liked the onscreen friendship between Brian and Justin," he says.
"There's a real trust there that
had to be earned before they took on the fight together. That relationship feels
honest and natural, and the
fact that they were able to succeed in court, given the circumstances working
against them, is incredible."
No stranger to portraying real-life figures on screen, Kinnear says he
relished the chance to meet
Brooks while researching the role. "He's very welcoming and open about the work
he does, and he has an
incredibly easygoing attitude, which is hard to imagine when you spend your days
staring into the abyss of the
criminal justice system. I found him to be a sensitive guy who makes real
connections with people."
Sharing scenes with Hodge was another highlight of the shoot, says Kinnear. "Aldis
is a total pro,"
he says. "His skill and technique are awesome, which is important because he has
a lot of heavy lifting to do
in this film. He worked incredibly hard to find the soul of who Brian is, and I
expect audiences will really
connect with this story because of his work."
A Serious Comedian
A number of stars were under consideration to portray Leomia Banks, Brian's
but it was Sherri Shepherd (Beauty Shop, "30 Rock") who fought for and
ultimately won the role.
"Leomia's love for Brian hit me in such a profound way because I have a son who
has special needs,
and I have to fight for him and advocate for him on a regular basis," she
explains. "So, as a mom, I know
what it means to be a rock for your child. During my audition, I told Tom about
the heartache and pain of
raising my son, and what I go through each day, and I think my story moved him
and producer Amy Baer as
Baer recalls Shepherd's casting session well. "Every single actor shared
personal with us about their own lives and why this story resonated for them,"
she says. "But Sherri, in
particular, really opened herself up to us. There's an emotional authenticity to
her performance that's
impossible to ignore."
To learn more about the woman she was portraying, Shepherd visited the real
Leomia Banks at her
home for several hours before filming began. "I discovered that she's a quiet
warrior who doesn't consider
herself any kind of hero," says the actress. "In fact, she doesn't see herself
as special at all. She's not one of
those mothers that come out fighting, but she has a quiet strength that truly
impressed me. That's what I got
from meeting with her," Shepherd says.
Acting opposite Hodge was a joy, according to the actress. "He raised my game
to another level. We
had such a great chemistry together. There were times when he would look at me
and say, 'Momma,' and my
heart would break. I remember some of the extras were sobbing during one
emotional scene, and Tom had to
call cut. We literally had to embrace some extras and hug them because stories
like Brian's have happened to
a lot of people."
Best known for her expert comedy skills, Shepherd credits Shadyac with
helping her explore her
dramatic side on screen. "He's a genius at being able to bring out that side of
a comedian. He guided me
through the process and took me where I needed to go." Shepherd's heartfelt take
on the character is
essential to the film's emotional power, according to Rawat. "Leomia is one of
the toughest roles to play in
the film, and Sherri did such a beautiful job with it. Every time she comes on
screen, you forget that she
isn't Brian's real mom. You forget she's acting."
Banks gives Shepherd the ultimate stamp of approval. "Sherri has a smile that
mom's," he says. "They have a slight physical similarity to each other, but
where they really connect is in
their motherly vibe. When I first told her that Sherri had been cast, she asked
me, 'Do you think she'll be
able to play me correctly?' Well, after their meeting, my mom texted me with
stretched across the entire phone, and I could tell that she was thrilled about
it. We're both very happy
that Sherri is part of this project. I think she captured my mother's spirit
A Guiding Force
For the small but pivotal role of Jerome Johnson, the real-life mentor who
provided Brian with the
mental and spiritual tools necessary to survive his years in prison, Shadyac
cast Oscar-winning actor Morgan
Freeman, who had previously played God in two of the director's hit comedies,
Bruce Almighty and Evan
"He was the first person I thought of to play Mr. Johnson when I read the
script," Shadyac says.
"But I figured we couldn't get him for our small-budget movie - because he'd
probably be shooting a big-budget movie somewhere - so we initially cast another
When that actor got sick at the last minute and was unable to travel, Shadyac
sent Freeman the Brian
Banks script. "Morgan read it and was moved by it, so he came in," recalls the
director. "Now I can't
imagine anyone else playing Jerome Johnson. Perhaps no one involved in the film
was more delighted with
Freeman's participation than Banks himself. "If I had to pick the perfect actor
to play one of the
strongest men I know in this world, I would choose Morgan Freeman - and he
actually played the
role!" Banks exclaims. "I don't know if I have enough words to describe that."
Meeting one of his favorite actors in a functioning jail was a surreal
experience, says Banks. "Just
to sit next to him, and talk and laugh with him, and have some really powerful
conversations about life and spirituality was incredible. What a week that was!
As amazing and unique as
Morgan Freeman is, that's who Mr. Johnson is. He's given his life to working
with incarcerated youth
who are about to be sent to adult jail."
Taking off the Mask
For the role of Karina, the empathetic personal trainer who befriends Banks
after he confesses his
painful history to her, the filmmakers cast British actress Melanie Liburd
("This Is Us," "Dark Matter"). "So
much of her role is about the masks we wear in life, because Karina has her own
explains Shadyac. "And when her mask is finally removed and we get to see what's
underneath it, and why
she reacted the way she did to Brian's story, we understand and feel for her."
Born in Hertfordshire, England, Liburd wasn't in the U.S. when Banks' story
was originally in the
press. "But when I asked my American friends about it, they'd all heard of him,"
the actress says. "It was the
film's message of hope that initially attracted me to the role. Brian is an
incredible human being to have such
faith and not be broken by what happened to him. He's a positive and giving
person, and to be an actor
working on stories like this that have such meaning and hope is really special."
Liburd describes her character as a smart woman who doesn't want to be
defined by what happened
to her in the past. Although she's experienced her own tragedy, she wants to
move forward and be the best
version of herself she can be. "So, when she meets Brian they inspire each
other," Liburd says.
After meeting the Bankses on set and working with the talented cast and crew
to bring Brian's story
to life, Liburd says she's grateful for the experience. "Brian Banks tells a
very important story, and I'm so
proud to be part of it. This movie shines a light on how the criminal justice
system really needs to change.
Brian was tried as an adult when he shouldn't have been, and he was put away for
so long for a crime he
didn't commit. The injustice of that is staggering."
Shadyac and the film's producers felt it was important that Kennisha Rice - the
representing Banks' accuser in the film - not be portrayed as a traditional
cinematic villain. "I believe you
have to love all the characters in your movie, even the ones who make choices
you don't agree with," Shadyac
explains. "So, we wanted to avoid vilification and concentrate on authenticity
Actress Xosha Roquemore (Precious, "The Mindy Project") delivers a memorable
performance in the
difficult role. "I often tell people that I don't cast roles; the actors come in
and take them," says Shadyac.
"And that's what Xosha did. She somehow connected with the energy of this
character to the point where it
didn't seem like she was playing Kennisha, she simply was Kennisha."
Shepherd, who had previously worked with Roquemore on the film Precious, is
equally effusive about
the actress' nuanced performance. "Even though her character in Brian Banks does
this horrendous thing,
Xosha shows us the pain and hurt inside of Kennisha, so you can't help but feel
a degree of sympathy for her.
She's not a black-and-white villain. She's broken."
An Invaluable Resource
Banks' presence on set throughout much of the production provided the filmmakers
invaluable resource, says Shadyac. "It was imperative to have Brian there. He
was like a walking Wikipedia
on the history and the truth of the story. Whether we were in a courtroom or on
a football field, we could
turn to him and ask if we were getting things right or if we were missing
More than perhaps anyone else in the cast and crew, Hodge relied on Banks'
input while filming.
"Having him right there during the production was like having a living cheat
sheet available," the actor says.
"If there was any question about how to play something, we just talked it out.
There were plenty of times
when we'd have deep conversations about what was happening in the scene we were
shooting, and if you
happened to look over at us, you'd see two grown men just sitting there talking
and crying together. But they
were healing tears."
Understandably, there were moments depicted in the film that were difficult
for Banks to relive.
The incarceration scenes - which were shot in an active prison - were
particularly challenging for
Banks. "They weren't something I looked forward to, but this film gave me the
opportunity to share
something traumatic that happened to me, and having that platform far outweighed
the fear I had of
going back into a jail," he says. "When I first walked into a prison at the age
of 16 after being wrongfully
convicted, I was chained from the waist down, and I ended up spending five years
behind those bars. So,
being able to walk back in there as a free man, show the world what happened to
me, and then walk out
again felt like coming full circle."
Keeping It Real
Since Brian Banks is based on actual events, authenticity was extremely
important to everyone
involved in bringing it to the screen. "The story is very truthful in terms of
what happened to Brian," says
Shadyac. "Of course, there is some time-collapsing here and there, and there are
a few composite characters,
like Karina, who represented different people in Brian's life, but it's still
According to Atchison, some of the conversations between Banks and Brooks in
the movie - which
serve as a vehicle to convey key background information to the audience - are
more detailed than they
probably were in real life. "But everything they discuss is absolutely real.
I've written true stories before that
deviate quite a bit from reality, but this film adheres to the facts."
As an example of the degree of accuracy involved, Kinnear singles out the
film's final courtroom
scene, in which Brooks pleads Banks' case to the judge who previously sentenced
him. "Tom set that
courtroom scene up exactly as it took place in real life," says the actor. "I
spoke to Justin Brooks a lot about
that day in court, when Brian's case was finally overturned. The monologue I
deliver was written using mostly
court transcripts, and everyone involved in the production wanted to get the
moment right, out of respect for
Faith in Dark Times
Belief in a higher power is one of the things that gave Banks and his mother
strength during his
period of wrongful imprisonment, and it's something Atchison and Shadyac felt
needed to be included.
"Brian and his mother's faith comes up in the way they both communicate,"
Atchison explains. "It's a part of
their family that binds them and gives them strength, so we had to honor that."
That said, the film steers clear of overt references to a specific religion,
because it was important to
the filmmakers that it resonate with viewers of any religion - or no religion.
"Faith is about how you walk in a
difficult situation," says Shadyac. "It's a mother selling her house to pay for
her son's defense because he's
innocent. It's a mother driving three hours, twice a week, to visit him when
he's incarcerated unjustly. It's a
son learning to believe in himself and finding the power that's within him.
Leomia and Brian express their
faith through their behavior and by choosing to remain positive in dark
circumstances. I hope that's reflected
in the movie."
An Inspiring Message
Shadyac says he hopes viewers will see Brian Banks as a metaphor for their own
demonstrates the hero's journey as well as any character I've ever encountered
in my career. All of us face
obstacles, and I'd like people to realize that if Brian could face his situation
with courage, they can face the
circumstances in their lives, too."
The socially conscious director also hopes the film's timely message about
wrongful convictions will
help facilitate long-overdue change to the judicial system. "People need to be
made aware that there are
populations in this country that don't get a fair shake," he says. "Ninety-seven
percent of inmates in our jail
systems accepted a plea bargain, and when a lawyer threatens you with 40 years
behind bars if you don't cop a
plea for something that you didn't do, that's not right, and we're all
responsible for it."
Kinnear says he too hopes audiences are inspired by Banks' story and will
reflect upon the inherent
weaknesses of our criminal justice system. "But," he adds, "I also hope they go
because it's enormously
Banks is hopeful the film will inspire as many people as possible when it's
released. "A lot of
people are walking around feeling unhappy or dejected, and I want this movie to
uplift them and give
them courage. Because if you think differently you act differently. And if you
act differently, different
things happen around you. It's a domino effect, and it starts with this film."
For the time being, he has a final message for the cast and crew of Brian
Banks. "I love
everyone involved in this project. Knowing that filmmakers signed up to tell my
story shows that people
really do care about justice and equality. I'm just so thankful for that."
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