Every time I think of Sylvie’s Love, I smile and I get all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s such a lusciously made film that it is destined to become a recurring classic in the homes of many. We don’t get sweeping, romantic movies like this anymore–especially with a predominantly Black cast. For producer (and romantic lead) Nnamdi Asomugha, he knew he had to become involved with this project.
Upon reading the script for the first time, Asomugha knew there was something special about it. He revealed that he can feel something when he reads something and wants to get involved, and how the opening sequence to Sylvie’s Love was almost different than what we saw in the final product.
“The first thing that jumped out at me was the first scene. When you’re reading something you know what you’re looking at. That first scene, we didn’t have the money to shoot it. It started off with Sylvie waiting on her cousin to the concert, but in the original, she was in a taxi cab and she gets out. It’s raining and she forget to gets her change from her driver and she’s running through all these people to the concert hall. It took me to another place. As written, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on paper. I was actually shook from that moment and it never dropped from that moment. I was very impressed.”
It’s obvious that music is the soul of Sylvie’s Love but this film is filled to the brim with iconic songs. We hear songs like “The Nearness of You,” “To Be Loved,” and “Tears On My Pillow” and Asomugha and Tessa Thompson meet in a record shop. If the music felt too artificial, the film would lack the truth of the time period, and, as a producer, Asomugha detailed how challenging it was to find everything.
“It’s a tricky thing to do because you don’t have the financing for all of them. You can’t make those decisions that far in advance. It’s so hard to read a script where there’s music involved. Hearing the music was so important and made me fall in love with it more. We had the fabulous Fabrice Lecomte composing the music and Eugene brought him in. We all learned our instruments and it was very high level and I think the other interesting thing is you get into the editing process and you have to nail down some of these songs. I would sit there and we are talking different songs with different scenes. Some songs were really expensive and we would have to find another one. There is a Sam Cooke song at the very end, ‘Nothing Can Change This Love,’ and we were going into Sundance and we didn’t have a song there yet. Our nanny was playing music on Spotify when we are having this getaway, and I heard it in the other room. I went into the other room and asked what it was, and then I listened to it for probably two weeks straight. We popped it in right before Sundance.”
Sylvie’s Love is director Eugene Ashe’s baby, and Asomugha wanted to make sure he chatted with him about coming on board. After you read a brilliant script, it’s not smooth sailing from there–you have to get the right people involved. Imagine what it would be like if Ashe wasn’t at the helm. You can feel his passion for this project and Asomugha connected with him as both a producer and the film’s leading man. \
“I don’t jump right into a lot of projects, but I always want to make sure it’s quality. I had my first conversation with Eugene and Gabrielle Galore–another producer–on the phone and I asked as many questions as I could. I was testing him to see what his sensibilities were and how he wanted to shoot it. In terms of what I was looking for, he passed with flying colors. You read some really wonderful scripts, but then the vision and how it comes together doesn’t always come together how you want to. A good script doesn’t mean a good film.”
A unique aspect to Sylvie’s Love is the true ensemble. Asomugha and Thompson are the leads, but the rest of the film is packed with actors that we all know and love in roles that we may not have thought of them in before. Wendi McLendon-Covey pops up as a Julia Child-like cooking star. Jemima Kirke appears as a countess who manages Robert’s band. My favorite piece of casting is Aja Naomi King as Mona, Sylvie’s boy-crazy cousin. She’s so bubbly and vibrant that I was excited every time she appeared on screen. When I brought up casting the film to Asomugha, his voice lit up.
“It’s my favorite part of putting the puzzle together. As an actor, I know from experience that you are usually seen as one thing. Or you’re only seen as your last thing. I like giving people the opportunity to break out of that. The higher up on the ladder roles or the lead roles, I don’t like to read them. I talk to the casting directors a lot, but I’ve had incredible casting directors before. I talked to our casting director on Sylvie’s Love–the great Kerry Barden–and they let me talk to people. Is there an essence of the character in the person? Let’s see. That’s how casting went for Tessa [Thompson]. No one had seen her in a part like this before, and I knew there was something there. The same thing with Aja. I love talking about Regé-Jean Page because we caught him at a very special time before everyone learned who he really was. He blew up. I saw him in Roots a few years ago, and I knew I had to work with him. If you look at casting in films that we’ve done. If you have a casting director who can be collaborative, it can take it to the next level.”
Looking as Asomugha’s resume, you’d never imagine that he came from the NFL. All of his production credits are attached to films that differ greatly than the last, but they all feature confident filmmaking. Crown Heights is very different from Hello, My Name is Doris and that’s different from Beasts of No Nation. Asomugha is simply eager to bring great stories to the big screen.
“The truth is, I just have to like the material. It’s so wide ranging because I grew up on every single genre. I grew up in a home where my parents were born in Nigeria but I was born in America. I would watch a lot of American movies but then we would switch to Nigerian films because that is what they wanted to watch. In America, I would watch the popular movies, and if we ever went to Nigeria the video stores would have American movies but they wouldn’t be the popular ones. They’d be B-movies and we had to watch them and I fell in love with them. I guess the meter for me is all over the place. I have to like the material. When you go buy a home and the place is empty, some people are great at imagining how it would look. I can’t do that. If someone tells me a story or sends me a script and it’s not all there, I can see if it’s going to work for me.”