Director Michael Dowse has built quite a name for himself over the past decade. The filmmaker is known for his brash approach to comedy. The kind of assertiveness that the genre needs, but is not always so fortunate to receive. Such a style could not be more welcomed, in times especially as bizarre and complicated as today. With films such as Goon, What If, and last year’s Stuber – Dowse has long proved to be a talent worth recognition.
His latest film, Coffee & Kareem, is a Netflix release. The action-comedy stars Ed Helms (The Office), Taraji P. Henson (Empire), and the hilarious Terrence Little Gardenhigh in his feature film debut. Audiences follow 12-year-old Kareem’s exploits in getting rid of his mother’s new cop boyfriend, Coffee. Things escalate too far when they get entangled with Detroit’s most ruthless drug kingpin. Helms and Gardenhigh lead this TV-MA rated journey as the titular leads – meaning that viewers are in for a raunchy and head-turning ride.
We were lucky enough to have director Michael Dowse for an exclusive interview. We talk balancing comedy and action, working with the cast, and the special filmmaking process under Netflix. Check it out below!
DF: The script for Coffee & Kareem is previously from The Black List in 2014 and was eventually picked up by Netflix, what drew you to direct this film?
MD: As a massive fan of the genre, I wanted to make a modern action-comedy. I read the script and thought it was hilarious, driven by great characters. It left no prisoners, very democratic in who it took on.
DF: When it came to the casting process for this film, what made you choose the ensemble that you have in the final product?
MD: Well, Ed Helms hired me so casting Coffee was pretty straight forward. Then we sent to Taraji as we were all massive fans of her work both dramatically and comedically. We completed the trifecta by getting Kareem, we searched hi and low and literally came back to the first kid I saw on tape, Terrence – who is amazing! Gilpin I had worked with on Stuber and was blown away by her sense of humor. I wanted to work with her again.
DF: Speaking of Stuber (which we personally really loved), what lessons did you take from developing that film into this one?
MD: Just keep the action fast and visceral, don’t pull any punches.
DF: Stuber was with Fox and this film is with Netflix, did you feel there was more freedom to explore different possibilities in Coffee & Kareem that you don’t think you could have done in a theatrically released film?
MD: I think once you take a theatrical release off the table it automatically takes pressure off the film. In the same breath, it takes away the possibility of the film being the next Star Wars or Hangover and the chance of myself buying a small tropical island. Netflix is the OG of this and has been doing it for a long time and well. They are very director/filmmaker friendly and really support your vision. Especially with comedy, many times the jokes get watered down to make the film work for all four quadrants. On Netflix they give you the freedom to keep the comedy razor-sharp, it doesn’t get focus-grouped to death.
DF: The dialogue between James Coffee and Kareem we would argue is the best part of the film – especially how well-acted/directed and natural it comes across from both actors. How much of this was improv or scripted?
MD: Yes I use a lot of improv but we usually just alt out scenes once we get the script down properly. The script was very very strong so it was difficult to top the script on this project. It’s a fun way to work, allows the actors to put their own energy and sense of humor into the film.
DF: A lot of the stunts in this film were really impressively shot, how do you go about shooting those?
MD: Plan it out the best you can, don’t shoot it in a way that hampers the speed of the action. In the edit remove anything that looks fake or false.
DF: Can you summarize to our readers why you think they should watch Coffee & Kareem as soon as possible?
MD: It’s the film the world and America needs right now. It’s a great laugh and, as mentioned before, takes on everyone democratically; white, black, young, old, cop, criminal, citizen. In a world where entertainment choices are many times designed for different cultures, I wanted to make a film that speaks to all corners of America. Put people of different racial backgrounds together in a movie but not make their differences the only baseline driving the comedy.
DF: Do you have any projects in the works?
MD: I was two weeks out from shooting my next feature when COVID-19 went down, I’m still mourning but hopefully we get back to a new normal soon.