AFI Fest: Bodied Q&A with Joseph Kahn, Calum Worthy, Dizaster, Prospek and Shoniqua Shandai

After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness, where it won the Audience Award, and winning another at Fantastic Fest, Bodied came to L.A. for AFI Fest. It would win a third Audience Award there, but first director Joseph Kahn and his cast had a Q&A about their battle rap movie.

Calum Worthy stars as Adam, a college student doing a thesis on battle rap who becomes a battle rap star himself. Behn Grymm (Jackie Long) takes Adam under his wing and real battle rappers Dizaster and Prospek play other rappers in the crew. Shoniqua Shandai plays another, Devine Write, and Rory Uphold plays Adam’s skeptical feminist vegan girlfriend.

Kahn promises distribution for Bodied in 2018 but get an early peak at it from their post-screening Q&A.

Q: What’s up with the cat?

JK: It just kept showing up in all the scenes. Okay, Brothers Karamazov is a Russian literature thing. I thought it was pretty cool to put that in there. So there’s a counterpoint to Chekov and Chekov’s cat, telling the story through the perspective of a cat who is actually turning into a predator. So it’s a metaphor.

Q: How did you cast Bodied?

JK: I’ve just been watching battle rap for a long time. I’ve been watching it actually before it actually before it actually got formalized into prime time and things like that. I knew Eminem back around 2002 when he first started. I actually wanted to do a movie with him called The Crow. We were going to do the third Crow sequel. It was going to be a hip hop version of it with DMX. I saw this guy named Eyedea who I saw on an HBO thing. I was like, “I should get this guy to write it” because I wanted some hip hop sh** in there. Never came through and a couple years later I saw Twist. I thought he was such a great writer on a literate writer. In fact, I saw him get so good at the literary stuff that it started going over people’s heads. I was like, “Oh no, don’t say that.” Some of his lines would actually start going over the audience. Okay, so he’s obviously trained. So I reached out to him to make a movie. It wasn’t even a battle rap movie. I just thought I would write a comedy with him. A couple months later, I had the idea of finally doing a battle rap movie and we just put our heads together and came up with it.
Q: What was the cast’s experience working on Bodied?

Shoniqua Shandai: It was the best experience I’ve had on set period and I wish every actor this kind of experience. I became obsessed with battle rap which is like Broadway performance. Joseph Kahn is one of the most inspiring directors to be around. You want to be there even when you’re not getting paid to be there because watching him is just a crash course. This is probably not giving him the credit he deserves, but I feel like I could go direct something because of watching him. It’s so amazing. I’ve never seen someone just so electric and excited. I think that’s part because he produced it as well. When you care about it, it’s a little bit more electric on set.

JK: Maybe I should give a frame of reference for this. The movie is a combination of real battle rappers, like Dizaster, Dumbfoundead, Hollow and actors. Shoniqua can’t rap.

SS: At all.

JK: Walter can’t rap. Calum can’t rap.

Calum Worthy. Actually, you said in an interview that I was the worst rapper to audition for the film.

JK: Yeah, we actually had another actor on board actually. He was a big movie star and he dropped out three weeks ahead of shooting. So then I went through this crash course of trying to find my lead actor. You run through Hollywood and Calum walked in. He was the funniest guy. He had the acting down pat, but he is the worst rapper in the world. I don’t even know what you were doing.

CW: I didn’t know what I was doing either.

JK: So he got the part and I was stoked. If you know anything about Calum, this was a big risk for him. The reason why the other guy dropped out was because of all the bad words you have to say. Literally every agent in Hollywood is like, “Don’t do this script. This is crazy. You’re going to get yourself banned from everything. It’s so offensive.” And this Disney star said, “F*** it, I’m going to do this.” So that’s amazing. You only had a couple weeks to become a good rapper. Here’s the thing too. I’ll tell you how there’s a piece of me that’s racist, because I was expecting any black guy to walk in to be able to know how to rap. I thought that’s just what black guys know how to do. But then I went through an audition process and no, black guys can’t rap. It’s actually a skill that you have to learn. You’re not born with it. So then I had to find Jackie. Jackie came and actually rapped, which was amazing. So I was like, “Okay, I found a great actor who can rap and he’s a black guy, done.” Then Calum came in and couldn’t rap, so we put him into rap camp. There were rappers that came in, like Twist the writer taught him, Rome taught him, Dizaster. So basically if he was trying to be a Jedi, I put him with Palpatine and Vader and Kylo Ren.

Q: What was the rappers’ experience on set?

Dizaster: Fun. Working with Joseph Kahn was really fun because I never felt like we were doing something outside of battle rap. I think people know me for being one of the purest people at this thing and how passionate I am about battle rap. So whenever sh** starts going commercial or funny style, I lose the mood and then I want to fight and it’s not cool. This was a family thing. It was fun. We were laughing, giggling. It all felt like being at a battle event. Everybody was excited. It was a warm feeling. That’s what I can say. It just felt really close to home and it didn’t feel like an alien thing. You can tell that he’s been watching battle rap for a long time. I think if he didn’t have what he was saying from back in the day, if he didn’t have that understanding, it would’ve been a less fun thing to do. But I feel like this was perfect for him. He might’ve been thinking about this for a long time. How long have you been thinking about a battle movie?

JK: 16 years.

D: You can tell. I could tell because there was a feeling of excitement that you just don’t feel in normal things. I don’t have a million movies so I can’t say, but for me this was absolutely like being at Disneyland.

Prospek: Joseph caught me towards the end of my battle rap career and I’m glad I got to be in a movie about battle rap for my first movie, just as I was exiting the arena.

JK: You were in Detention. What are you talking about?

P: Oh yeah, and I was in Detention. Joseph put me in Detention. He was a fan of battle rap. He was like, “Oh, this dude’s Asian and he battle raps. We should grab Korean barbecue and talk about battle rap.” So we did that and he cast me in the film. It was really dope. I never thought there could be another battle rap movie after 8 Mile, but this was a different kind of movie so I was excited about that and it turned out pretty dope.

Q: What are your favorite rap battles you’ve ever seen?

P: I wanted to say I’m honored on stage because one of my favorite battle rappers is Hollow the Don right here.

D: I’d say, ironic enough, Tantrum and Dumbfounded is one of my favorites.

P: This MF loves Asian sh** more than he looks like. This one talks to me hours about anime. I’m like, “I don’t give a f*** about this sh**. He’s like, “Homie, you watch that new Naruto?” I’m like, “Shut the f*** up right now.” Like hours about some anime sh*t.

D: That one and probably The Saurus and L Mac, Ayeverb vs. Hitman, Hollow Vs. Big T also.