Thursday, November 30, 2023

Uzo Aduba, Sanaa Lathan, Aunjanue Ellis in latest feature film to shoot in Wilmington  

The actresses play three friends in “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat,” which is in pre-production in Wilmington. (Courtesy photos)

WILMINGTON — Last week Johnny Griffin, the director of the Wilmington Film Commission, revealed to Port City Daily another feature film would be landing in the area soon. By Monday, the commission website had a Temple Hill Entertainment and Searchlights Pictures project listed in pre-production.

“The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat” is based on the 2013 New York Times best selling novel by Chicago writer and cellist Edward Kelsey Moore (he also wrote a followup, “The Supremes Sing the Happy Heartache Blues”). The story starts in the 1960s and follows Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean — dubbed “The Supremes” — who meet every week at a local diner in Plainview, Indiana.

READ MORE: $7M in film rebates announced for 2 projects rolling in Wilmington

Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is the first Black-owned business in town, a safe haven and place of respite for the friends to gather and dish on their lives and the townsfolk. Their stories oscillate between the high school years of the past into their present adulthood, and show a glimpse into resiliency and obstacles they face along the way.

The book was optioned as a film in 2020 with script by Gina Prince-Bythewood — who did “Love & Basketball” in the early aughts. The film inspired writer and director Tina Mabry to enter the moviemaking industry. Known for her work on FX’s Emmy Award-winning “Pose,” Marby’s acclaimed directorial debut came in 2009’s “Mississippi Damned.” 

In 2020, Variety reported the two would pair up to make “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat.” Yet, whispers of their collaboration actually began two years earlier at Slamdance. Prince-Bythewood and Marby teased in an alumni spotlight interview they would work together, particularly on “The Supremes” script, which Prince-Bythewood had already penned at the time. 

“But I knew I wasn’t going to be able to direct, and the question came up, ‘Who should direct it? And who do you trust?’” she told Marby during the interview. “I have an extremely tiny list, but you, [Tina,] were right at the top.”

Multiple media reports have revealed the cast of “The Supremes”: Uzo Aduba, Sanaa Lathan and Aunjanue Ellis will star as three best friends. It’s unclear which roles each will take on at this time. 

Emmy Award-winning Aduba is most recognized as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in “Orange is the New Black.” She scored another Emmy for her role as Shirley Chisolm in FX’s “Mrs. America,” starring Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne.

The feature film marks Aduba’s return to Wilmington; a few short months ago she was cast in “Problem with Providence.” The independent feature — a dark comedy, also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lily James — wrapped in June in Southport.

READ MORE: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lily James to film dark comedy in Southport

Ellis was nominated at this year’s Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress as tennis icons Venus and Serena Williiams in “King Richard,” also starring Will Smith. Her next film will be with director Lee Daniel (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) in “The Deliverance,” featuring Glenn Close and Mo’Nique.

Lathan got her start in Prince-Bythewood’s “Love & Basketball” two decades ago. She recently appeared as lawyer Lisa Arthurs in HBO’s third season of “Succession” and as Harley Quinn in the TV series “Catwoman.”

Other characters to fill out the script include the friends’ husbands and children, diner owner Earl, as well as other eccentric Plainsville residents. No other star power has been revealed yet.

“The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat” is one of a handful of projects currently filming in Wilmington. STARZ’s “Hightown” is wrapping season three, while Amazon’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty” is rolling for season two, as is FOX’s second season of “Welcome to Flatch.” The independent feature “Eric LaRue,” directed by Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon, also is in production.

More could be in the works for the area, according to Griffin. “We have a couple of projects that we are waiting on to see if they get a ‘greenlight’ to start or not,” he said.

At city council’s Monday agenda briefing, he told council more than 600 people are working in the local industry currently. So far, over $200 million has been spent by productions and Wilmington is slated to provide over $32 million in incentives, as part of the North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grants.

The rebate potential for “The Supremes” has not been revealed by the N.C. Film Office. The state office’s director Guy Gaster said they don’t unveil economic impact on pending projects.

“If and when a project is approved for the film grant, and the project officially accepts the offer, the Department of Commerce will make an announcement,” he said.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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