“I’m a very lucky man. I’ve got two babies coming right now,” Jordan Peele jokes with ET. “I got this movie right here; I got another one coming in July. I don’t know how it goes up from here.”
This time marks a lot of firsts in the life of Peele, the actor and comedian who is often recognized as half of Key & Peele. Peele is celebrating his directorial debut and first foray into horror movies with Get Out (in theaters on Feb. 24), as well as the impending birth of his first child with his wife, Brooklyn Nine-Nine actress Chelsea Peretti. “It’s surreal. It’s not the type of thing I can just wrap my head around right now,” he says, joking: “I’m really looking forward to my child’s comedy special. It’s going to be good.”
Since the Emmy-winning Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele ended in 2015, Peele has been busy with guest-starring roles on TV series like Life in Pieces, voice acting on Bob's Burgers and last year's reunion with Keegan-Michael Key in the action comedy Keanu, which he co-wrote. It's safe to say, though, that not many fans expected Peele to be writing and directing a horror film, especially one that has a strong message about race relations. Peele himself was surprised that he got to make Get Out, saying he “literally thought this was an unproduceable movie because people seem to be afraid to take race on.”
As an actor known for his insightful and intelligent comedy, it’s not surprising that Peele would draw inspiration from a comedy icon for his move into horror. At a special screening of the film in Los Angeles, Peele revealed how Eddie Murphy’s famous “Haunted House” routine from his Delirious comedy special inspired him. “Eddie Murphy is talking about the difference between how a white family and a black family would react in a haunted house. And the white family stays and the black family hears, ‘Get out!’ -- [and says] ‘Too bad we can’t stay baby,’” Jordan explains before going on to call Murphy’s joke one of “the best bits of all time.”
The film was more directly inspired, though, by one of Peele's past relationships with a white woman. “I had to ask the question, ‘If I’m going to meet your parents, do they know I’m black?’ And she was like, ‘No,’” he recounts, describing being worried about seeing a change in her parents’ faces when they realize he’s black. But what happened was even more surprising. “I don’t know if she told them or if she didn’t, but there was no reaction [from them]. That in itself was this creepy moment, because I’m like, ‘OK. Well, then what is going on here?’”
That moment is directly reflected in Get Out, when a young black man named Chris (Black Mirror’s Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend Rose (Girls star Allison Williams) go to meet Rose’s parents, played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. The meeting begins with awkward jokes about the interracial coupling and eventually hints at something more sinister in store for Chris.
The film is a meditation on race and racism, born in the days following the election of President Barack Obama -- a time that Peele calls a “post-racial lie.”
“There was this sentiment, like, ‘Alright we’re done. We got a black president. Let’s not talk about it anymore.’ And that’s kind of where the original ‘Obama Anger Translator’ sketch came from -- this feeling like, ‘Well, if he ain’t going to say it, somebody needs to say it,’” Peele explains. “So, this was about sort of identifying these hints and these little subtle reminders that any black person in America is consistently reminded that race is real.”
To translate that experience into a horror film, Peele tapped into the paranoia he felt during that first meeting with his ex-girlfriend's family. “You can be in a situation where you don’t know [and think:] Am I being paranoid? Is there something real going on? Is it both? That to me was a perfect situation -- a perfect thing to give a protagonist of a horror movie,” he says, adding there’s one question his favorite horror movies always ask: “Am I imagining this?”
“I just was so happy that Jordan was saying this. And it was just like, ‘Oh, I can't believe you're allowed to say this in film,’” Kaluuya says. The 27-year-old English actor went on to elaborate on his own past experience of racial profiling by the police in England. “What's most interesting about that issue is, when it came out in the press, how many black men said, ‘It happened to me. It happened to me and we don't talk about it.’”
Explaining the resonance of Get Out, Kaluuya adds: “This film deals with how much black men and women internalize what's happened with them and don't share it. It comes out in such a visceral way that looks like rage, that looks unexplainable, that looks like it's coming out of nowhere. But [your race] is a constant signpost throughout your whole life where you're told you're different, you're different, you're different. It's really hard to cope with that, and that's why it's really important to explore that.”
Williams agrees. “My hope is that it just gets people talking about it, because [race is] not that scary once you start talking about it,” she says. “I will never actually know what it's like to live in another body, but I spend a lot of my time trying to understand at least the experience that other people have. It's not scary. You just have to acknowledge it.”
Peele, who is biracial (his mother is white and his father is black), is in an interracial relationship. He and Peretti married in 2016 after three years of dating. The actress -- who Peele describes as “crazy woke” -- has been very supportive of the film. And no, Get Out doesn’t draw from any real-life experiences meeting her family. “I pretty much wrote this movie before I met her, so, you know, probably on our first date I was telling her about this movie,” he says.
“She was just relieved it was good. In the first 10 minutes, she was like, ‘OK, my husband’s not a bad director,’” Peele laughs with relief. “It’s not like all my work gets a free pass with her. She’s very real with me. So when she loved it -- and she’s not a horror movie fan -- I was like, ‘We got it. We got something.’”
Which is great, considering that Peele promises more horror to come. “This is just the beginning of what I want to do with the horror genre and social thrillers. I’m dedicating my life to putting out crazy, weird horror films,” he says.
While the film debuted at a secret screening during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Peele is not worried about plot twists getting out there. “If people want to get spoilers, they can get spoilers,” he says. “If they prefer no spoilers, they can go no spoilers. I mean, this is the kind of movie that I think works the first time, the second time, the third time you see it.”
Peele is right -- the first time you see the film, you might be too scared to fully recognize the nuance in what he and his actors are doing or the deeper social message in the story. So, multiple viewings are not required, but recommended.