BY Tony Marco
August 25 2009 9:55 PM ET
Lee, who’s been nominated for two Oscars, finds award economics troubling. “I had this happen to me on 25th Hour,” he says. “[The studio was] going to spend more money on 25th Hour if we got an Academy Award nomination.” Likewise Passing Strange. “When they didn’t win a whole bunch of Tonys,” Lee says, “it was like, all right, it’s not going to [run] much longer. And that’s when Steve Klein, one of the producers, approached me about making sure this thing will live on forever.”
Wednesday, August 19
Stew and Rodewall pop up again at Lincoln Center’s outdoor Damrosch Park venue to perform The Broadway Problem. Stew is wearing a straw porkpie hat he’ll have on all week; ditto Heidi and her skinny black blazer. The two met in Los Angeles and used to share a home, but now they just share the stage, in both Passing Strange and two bands. Tonight’s title is a clever play on the name of one of their bands, the Negro Problem. The piece is a cracked look at musical theater from a mostly black perspective, featuring an Inuit throat singer and a samba retool of Oklahoma!
They’re still over the moon about their whole big-screen treatment via Spike Lee, albeit not without their typical snark. “I hate seeing myself,” the stock-still Rodewall complains of the film. “It’s horrible. I think I’m moving around and I’m not. I’m just sitting there. Spike, I’m sure, was really frustrated with this. There are only, like, two shots of me where I actually move my body, but in my mind I’m moving around a lot.”
“We’re all the same people we were,” Rodewall recalls, recounting the story of being asked to dance at a junior high prom by a guy she really liked. Once they hit the dance floor, he kept asking her to dance. And she replied that she was dancing. “So yeah,” she says with a laugh, “That’s not easy, but that’s not what this whole thing was about. I’m not looking at myself. I’m just looking at this whole thing thinking, Oh, my God, this is filmed. And it’s not only filmed, it’s Spike Lee. It’s crazy. We’re looking at this through Spike’s eyes.”
Stew, however, doesn’t have time to be analytical about the film, which he jokes is by “some up-and-coming director.” He’s finishing up a new album, which he describes as “very, very unadorned because I’ve already done ‘the everything’” and two new musicals. “The thing about both of us is we’ve been doing this for a while now,” he says, speaking for Rodewall as well. “I think if we were 22, we’d be analyzing it to make corrections like, ‘Oh, I think I’ll wear green next time.’”
“We already know what we look good in,” Stew continues, thinking ahead to the film’s premiere, “and my guy in Harlem gets my goatee looking way better than it looks right now. When I’m making a Spike Lee movie I go. It’s real easy; you go into one of them bourgie black Harlem salons and say, ‘I’m about to be in a Spike Lee movie tomorrow,’ and suddenly the whole salon surrounds you. And then you come out looking great. So yeah, nothing changed. We were already comfortable with ourselves, and then you get this guy who’s framing you to make you look as good as you can, so it’s all really cool."