A few years ago, Albert Hughes was looking for an escape, and he found it in the John Wick universe. After years of working with weighty films rooted in urban experiences, the Menace II Society co-director relished the chance to dive into a world of stylized violence and clandestine crime. “There was something inside of me, especially after COVID-19 where I’m like, ‘I just want to check out and have fun,’” Hughes told Okayplayer. “I was already a fan of the [John Wick] film series and I go, ‘They look like they’re having fun.’”
Hughes got in on the fun when he became the executive producer for The Continental: From the World of John Wick, a three-part series that follows Winston Scott (Colin Woodell) as he attempts to gain control of a hotel for assassins. Premiering today on Peacock, the short series features tons of action and a storyline that fleshes out the tale of an underworld bureaucrat. It’s a worthwhile look into the foreground of an acclaimed blockbuster series. For Hughes, who came up directing movies alongside his brother Allen, it’s just the latest step in a career that now stretches over 30 years.
The Hughes Brothers haven’t worked as a directorial tandem since 2010’s Book of Eli. For his part, Albert has moved to Prague and worked on flicks like Alpha (2018) and The Good Lord Bird (2020). Through all his experiences, he’s picked up new perspectives, leadership techniques and more. Today, he breaks them down.
In conversation with Okayplayer, Albert Hughes discusses The Continental, his uncredited work on his brother’s Tupac docuseries, Dear Mama, hood movies, Menace II Society and more.
The interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
So first off, congrats on your new project.
Albert Hughes: Thank you, man. It was fun doing it. It was very liberating, let’s put it that way.
Liberating. In what respect?
[In] our catalog, my brother and I are dealing with inner city violence, trauma, generational trauma, social issues, gun violence. I even had to deal with slavery just recently, and there was something inside of me, especially after COVID or during COVID where I’m like, “I just want to check out and have fun. “ And I was already a fan of the [John Wick] film series and I go, “They look like they’re having fun.” And this thing just came to me. And there was another project that came to me that was dealing again with generational trauma and race and gender. It was wonderfully written. But I looked over at this project and I’m like, “I just want to check out and have fun.” And I think the audience wants that too. So God bless, Dear Mama. That’s an awesome story that my brother told. It was so emotional. I don’t know that I could have emotionally at that time done that, and he handled it so well. But again, that’s what I didn’t want to do, explore that kind of emotional feeling. I wanted to explore the emotional thrills, a joy ride. And what’s liberating is a whole part of your brain is now not taking up space, thinking about serious day-to-day issues. It’s thinking about how do you make the audience have fun, pure fun.
The Continental: From the World of John Wick | Official Trailer | Peacock Originalwww.youtube.com
Getting to The Continental: What element of the John Wick universe did you feel was the most important to infuse in this project?
Well, I think it’s a combination of things that they do so well. And one is there are amazing ornate, decadent sets and wardrobe and lighting and color and playfulness and interesting idiosyncratic characters. And lastly, I think that there must be a golden rule there that says you can’t bore the audience. That’s a cardinal sin. So all those elements I just talked about, I think everybody aspires for that when they make a movie in general. But you can’t get away with decadence and flash and flare in let’s say a project about a kid in a ghetto shooting off guns. It just doesn’t work there. It works in fantasy, but you’ve never seen it done with the way they did it with the hybrid Hong Kong cinema that Chad’s influenced by musicals, he’s influenced by Bob Fosse movies. You’ve never seen all those elements put into a movie that’s basically a genre movie, a hitman movie, and for it to not take itself so seriously and know that it’s there to entertain and be escapism, basically.
So, this story begins with the tale of two brothers who’ve gone their separate ways, but still have each other’s back. That made me think about you and Allen. Did any part of this story resonate with you more because of your own brotherly connection?
That’s a really deep question that I know the answer to because someone pointed it out to me, that I wasn’t quite conscious of it. We’d finished shooting and my partner in crime, writer Kirk Ward, pointed that out to me. And the similarities and the struggle — every brother relationship you have pains and growing pains and fights, and you fall out, you fall in love again. I am a twin. That’s a special kind of brother relationship. And sometimes you — you can think each other’s thoughts, you can finish each other’s sentences. It’s a different level of a brother relationship. So when you look at the brother relationship in The Continental one is older one, younger one’s protecting one, one’s taking the fall for, it’s a different, the family kind of tragically goes away. There weren’t too many parallels other than they were brothers. And I guess I could say my brother, even though he’s younger than me by nine minutes, did serve as the older brother in the relationship physically. Meaning he took on all the bullies when we were little. He was more the producer of the two of us and the mouthpiece early in our career. And I was more the quiet, shy one, the protected one. So there are parallels there, but it’s all subconscious.
Of this three-episode set, which was your favorite?
Well, there’s favorites in each episode, even in the middle one that was directed by Charlotte Brändström, Kirk and I supervise all three, but you bring in a director to see that one through, and it’s sometimes fun to see what another director does with the material. It’s humbling in a great way. You can learn on TV series from other directors and their technique and what they do.
I think episode three is my favorite because it’s the promise of the premise of the show, a takeover, and how Winston gets that hotel and one and two, you’re establishing all the characters, the world, the flavor of the violence, whether or not you’re sticking to the rules of the Wick World with the design of violence, which was not so much of a challenge because we have the same people. And then there’s lots of scenes in [episode] two I love, but three is it.
You and your brother’s first major films were Menace II Society and Dead Presidents — it’s reductive, but they’re films we colloquially call, “Hood movies.” Do you have an interest in returning to the genre? And does the genre even exist anymore, in your eyes?
Yeah. Like what they did with Blacksploitation, they gave it a dumb label, and I believe it was a liberal intellectual from the NAACP that coined that phrase. It didn’t come from Black people or White intellectuals either. And I think it’s unfortunate. It’s the same thing that happened with that reflected title. They’re all films and they’re telling different stories. I think what would be fascinating for me to go back to is Allen, my brother, in the same way. It’s like the years of knowledge collected over 32 years of filmmaking and what we’ve gained in bringing the level of cinematic excellence to a story like that. The level we shot Menace at was a pretty high level, but it was a $2.5 million budget. But it wasn’t [like], we got the best of the cream of the crop of Hollywood. Can you get the cream of the crop of Hollywood of technicians and crew members and apply it to [that kind of] and see, can you, what’s the word? Perception-wise, it’s a classy hood film. It’s almost like jumbo shrimp. It’s an oxymoron, right?
And that’s funny, but to be honest, I feel like younger directors now, they come up and everybody’s trying to make this “elevated” type of film…
Elevated. That was the word I was looking for.
To me, Menace II Society and Boyz N the Hood are great films. I appreciate the aesthetic …
There’s a swag. It’s like an old East Coast rap song. It’s not the best production, but you feel it.
On the note of Menace II Society — this year the movie turned 30. Cane died at the end of the movie, right as he was about to go to Atlanta with Ronnie. What would he be doing now if he survived?
Probably working at USPS. He has a pension and healthcare plan. Not that everybody can be chief. You got a few Indians out there, although I shouldn’t say that expression anymore. He probably left [Ronnie] if he’s in Atlanta and if he’s in Atlanta, he got influenced by that culture, like Love & Hip Hop stuff with those guys to be doing. They’d be creeping. She probably broke up with him. He probably has three baby mamas by now.
Filmmakers Spike Lee and The Hughes Brothers (Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes) appear at a press conference on June 10, 1993 in New York City.Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
Comparing your abilities now to what you were able to do 30 years ago, what do you think is the biggest skill you’ve picked up?
That is a good question. I think I have the answer. It’s like as a kid growing up and when we were 12 and got the camera and then moving into high school and moving into that first film, extremely shy and introverted and barely spoke, and I had to learn that you can make a personal home movie or I still do ’em in Prague when I’m not working, I still edit and make my little personal shorts that I never show anybody. You can do that and be an introvert, but you can’t do that with a 250-person crew. A lot of directors do, and it turns out to be a nightmare situation. You have to learn the hip-hop MC trick: You gotta learn how to move the crowd. If you want your baby to be delivered healthy and to be accepted, you have to learn how to communicate with the babysitters, and that’s your crew and your cast.
And I had to learn to get my mouthpiece game together. That was the biggest lesson in those 30 years. You have to respect them and know that if they respect you, they’ll give you the world and help you and they’ll make your project better because they’re professionals and that’s what they’re there for. If they don’t like you, they’re not going to help you. They’re just going to punch the clock and go home and you’re going to end up with a shitty film. That takes time. You literally have to answer hundreds of questions a day and make choices and that can freeze people, and that takes a while to get used to.
You and your brother haven’t worked together on a film project in over a decade. Have you guys talked about collaborating in the near future?
No, we haven’t. I think we’ve talked about it a couple of years ago that maybe one would produce for the other because he has a different theory on our partnership than I do. And his theory is that he doesn’t think there’s a good idea for two people to direct because you can’t have two captains. I differ with that opinion. There’s been plenty of successful partnerships, but that has to do with twin stuff and identity wanting your own space and God bless him. I do believe that you can have a partnership, and the one we had was quite successful and I had no problem with it, although we have problems as brothers. I think I was more quick to accept that you’re never going to be in any relationship without conflict. And I accepted the conflict and I don’t think he likes the conflict of a relationship. But through a conflict sometimes you come out with some good creative results as long as it doesn’t get nasty. But sometimes in siblings, it gets nasty. People would see us fight on the set, [Johnny] Depp would see it, Denzel [Washington] would see it. Gary Oldman would see it, and they would look at it and think it was vicious. But we got to an age where it looked vicious, but it wasn’t. We got over it in two minutes.
Did Dear Mama take you back to that era of knowing Tupac?
[Allen] got me involved early in that documentary and wanted me to do it with him. And I said, “No, it’s yours.” So I shot some stuff, I edited some stuff for him and then they called him and wanted to know if I wanted my credits for it, I go, “No, I don’t want any credit for it. He [can] do what he wants with it,” basically. It brought back a lot of memories of when we started out. Everybody shows that footage from “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” That was our video. It was one of our first few videos and we did three with him. And it just flashes of the timeline of the wild ‘90s. Episode three of the Defiant Ones is my favorite too, because it shows you how wild the ‘90s was. Dear Mama kind of had that similar vibe, but in a very profound, deeply emotional way.
Peter is a writer and editor who covers music, movies, and all things dope.
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