DeMane Davis Interview: ‘Self Made’ director
DeMane Davis does not mince words when it comes to talking about directing a performer like Octavia Spencer on the Netflix limited series, “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.” “Miss Octavia, as I call her, is absolutely phenomenal,” she recalls in our recent webchat (watch the video above). Davis elaborates on this by talking about how she would get to the set early to walk through it and review the script, thinking she was by herself only to discover Spencer was already on set. Davis also extended this gratitude to the rest of her central cast including Blair Underwood, Tiffany Haddish and Garrett Morris. The energy all the actors brought to the project made the whole experience very welcoming. “I was pinching myself quite a bit just being there.”
“Self Made” chronicles the journey of Sarah Breedlove, a clothes washer who started her own line of hair care products for black women to help them grow and style their hair. Using the name of her husband, C.J. Walker, she builds the company from the ground up and in the process, becomes the first self-made female millionaire in American history.
Working on this kind of project was a first for Davis, who had never directed a period piece before. She describes the massiveness of the project as going beyond obvious factors such as extras, wardrobe and hair saying there were “things you don’t think of when you think of a period film which is we can’t just pick up a scene because maybe that light fixture didn’t exist and these cars didn’t exist.” She would even have to bring in mulch and dirt to lay down on the ground since asphalt had not been invented when the series takes place.
Davis directed the latter two episodes of the four-part series and the first two were directed by Kasi Lemmons. Davis ended up working very closely with Lemmons, as they were both also producers on the film. Davis says that Lemmons, in directing the first two episodes, “set the tone and the look for the series and… I would sort of step in and see how it was going to go and then we coordinated.” While doing prep for her episodes Davis would be on set as often as she could “to make sure that there was some synergy between the whole series and all the episodes.”