Like all filmmakers, Deon Taylor will tell you he's blessed to be making movies. In his case, he's also fortunate to simply be alive.
"I was raised in project housing," he says on the phone from Kansas City International Airport. "I've seen a lot of people shot and killed. I've had a single-parent home. What happens is when you're in these environments, you have drama. You experience racism.
"You have moments where comedy is your life because you want to laugh to get away from things. As I've gotten older, all those things are reflected in what I do. Meet the Blacks (2016) is a direct comedy for the culture. Supremacy (2014) is a direct, true story about a white supremacist, and it's near and dear to me because I've experienced racism so many times. And then there's the thriller world, where I love that drama because I was raised on that genre. Those movies were escapism for me."
His latest excursion into the thriller world is The Intruder, which opens today. It stars Michael Ealy and Meagan Good as a Silicon Valley couple who buy a stately hillside home overlooking Napa Valley only to develop what may be the ultimate case of buyer's remorse.
The house's previous owner Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid) never goes away, even after taking the cash. He would literally kill to keep his boyhood residence.
"The house is actually one of the biggest characters in the entire movie. I know it sounds so crazy and so tricky. He tells them, look, this house has been in my family for over 100 years," Taylor says. "As you begin to watch him process what's going on, little things that they're doing inside the house really, really tick him off. And ultimately, he decides that, 'I'll just get it all back.'"
To make the scenic home and its well-decorated interior suitably unnerving to watch, Taylor recalls that he and cinematographer Daniel Pearl used old school techniques -- "lighting and tightening the camera."
"L.A. has all these cool houses, but they have all this glass and windows," he says. "You can see in and see out onto the property. And I said, 'At night this is scary as Hell. It goes from being something beautiful to where you look at the landscape to where someone could look right in here at me!"
With black leads and a white antagonist, Taylor chose to imply any racial animus instead of confront it directly.
"What I'm most proud of is that you never find it. If you see something, it's because you built it in your own mind," Taylor says. "The biggest thing for me as an African-American filmmaker is not to tell you that, oh, these are black people in a movie. The idea is, no, these are black people in a movie. I don't think it needs any energy or effort. What Michael Ealy and Meagan Good did in the film is no different from ... Jake Gyllenhaal and some great actress."
One bit of tension that Taylor exploits is the age of his actors. Quaid is 65, and Taylor and his leading couple are all under 50. That gap makes a significant difference in how the director and his characters see the world.
"There are some things that I know how to do extremely well because of what my mother taught me how to do coming from the Indiana-Chicago area. You have to do a lot of things early on. And then as I've gotten older, I'm touring the world, and there's things I've forgotten how to do, and you rely solely on your phone or making a phone call or what-have-you," Taylor explains.
"No, man, we do stuff with our hands. It's six o'clock in the morning. I rake those leaves; I clean those gutters; I pitch my own fence. I think that's where the movie is really cool between Michael Ealy and Dennis Quaid."
As an indie filmmaker, Taylor isn't as easy to classify as the people on screen in his latest movie. The fact that he's done comedies, docudramas and thrillers comes from necessity. While Sony's Screen Gems division has distributed The Intruder, he's an independent filmmaker, meaning he's his own studio.
"You have to have a hustler mentality in terms of finding success in independent film. You can't say I've made one movie and say, 'Wait till they see this.' It's a world where like, 'That's done. What's the next one now?' You have to keep going ...," he says.
"The reality is you have to be your own band. You have to keep beating the drum and you have to keep pushing and making noise and making film. You never look back. It's all been God and me driven by faith and family. You never know when the door closes."
If there is an advantage to his rough-and-tumble profession, Taylor has also had a knack for collaborating with people like Quaid, whom he grew up admiring -- and with two-time Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, who had a lead role in Supremacy and appeared in the Taylor-produced Kicks before rising to fame with Moonlight.
"He's one of the most kind and beautiful souls you could meet, so I couldn't be happier for him," Taylor says. "He is a true student of cinema and film. I think he might be the first guy to win four Oscars. He's just that good. He's beautiful to watch. He has the range. He reminds me so much of Sidney Poitier."
MovieStyle on 05/03/2019