#WreckingCrew: Ernest Dickerson + Cast Talk ‘Juice’ Alternate Ending
Photos by Mel D. Cole (Village Slum) and Elliott Ashby.
More than 20 years after its release, the story of Bishop, Q, Raheem and Steel still has the juice. This past weekend, a New York City audience got to revisit the film and learn behind-the-scenes jewels from people involved in creating it.
A standing room-only audience of about 200 people went to Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge for a special screening of the 1992 drama “Juice” that was followed by a Q&A session where Black Thought of The Roots spoke with director Ernest Dickerson, co-writer Gerard Brown, and co-stars Khalil Kain (Raheem) and Jermaine Hopkins (Steel).
One of the most interesting parts of the Q&A came when Black Thought asked the panel if there was anything they would change about the film in retrospect. Dickerson said that Hollywood politics changed the ending that he and Brown had originally come up with for the film.
As viewers of the film know, a standoff between Bishop (played by the late Tupac Shakur) and Q (Omar Epps) ended with Bishop hanging off of a balcony, and losing grip from Q’s outstretched hand before falling to his death. But that’s not the vision the film’s writers had.
“In the original script, as we wrote it and as we filmed it, when Bishop is hanging over the edge and he’s holding on, he hears the sirens coming, and he goes into this zen moment and he looks into Q’s eyes and says, “I’m not going to jail.” And he lets go of Q’s hand, and silently slipped into the darkness,” Dickerson revealed. “…I think (that ending) had more weight.”
But test screenings for the film left two issues with the audience. The audience disliked the fact that Q threw the gun he purchased into the river — “which was the point of the movie,” Dickerson points out — and the fact that the film’s antagonist chose his own fate. Dickerson said the test audiences wanted Q to shoot Bishop at the end of the film.
The film’s producers told Dickerson and Brown to change the ending, or that “we may not support the movie in the way you want it to be supported,” Dickerson remembered. They conceded, resulting in the version of the film that finally hit theaters.
Hopkins also brought up how the film’s poster had to be changed. The original movie poster had Bishop holding a gun by his chest, but producers disliked the idea of putting such an image on a poster. Hopkins and Dickerson point out that other movies from the period, like the Christian Slater-starring “Kuffs” and the Estelle Getty-starring “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” both had guns on their posters, seemingly without any issues. With the gun being the most meaningful prop of the movie, it hurt the cause of presenting the film to potential viewers.
“We used to always say, if you see four black guys waling down the street with baseball bats, and you see four white guys on the other side walking with baseball bats, who would you think was going to play baseball, and who would you think was a gang?” Hopkins said. “That’s what we were up against.”
Kain and Hopkins also shared their memories of being relatively inexperienced actors getting such a big opportunity. Kain still vividly remembers:
“We didn’t know what we had. So it was interesting coming from NY, riding on the train, and for the first time, seeing the poster on the wall,” he said. “It was interesting to go with to the movie with your friends, chillin’ and then the trailer for Juice would come on. And if you think back, ’91-’92, the city was fire back then. There were a whole lot of things going on. When this movie dropped, I really, really was not ready for it.”
Hopkins also noted that he was nursing a bullet wound while filming the movie. He told the filmmakers he had just had a football accident, but when they contacted his doctor, they saw what really happened.
“They talk to the doctor, and (producers David Heyman and Neal Moritz) come in the office like, ‘Jermaine! You had a skin graft? You’ve been shot?’” he remembers. “…I was healing during the movie. That role was meant for me.”
Despite any concessions and adversity, the film lives on as a classic, and the people involved in making it have went on to do other projects. Dickerson directed an episode of The Deuce, the David Simon-created series that was picked up by HBO in January, and is in post-production for a film called Double Play. He has also directed 11 episodes of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Brown is teaching at Long Island University, and is working on selling the license to a book about a black police officer from 1968. Before this, he wrote two episodes of the TV series “Spawn” and four episodes of “Happily Ever After.”
Kain teaches teen acting at Harlem School of the Arts, and just helped the students put together an adaptation of Tyler Perry’s Madea plays. He wrote, directed and appears in a play being workshopped at The Cell Theatre on July 29, called Lambs to Slaughter. Hopkins appeared in Lean On Me with Morgan Freeman before he appeared in Juice, and said he is currently writing scripts.
After the film, Black Thought performed a few songs by Rakim, whose song “Know The Ledge” was prominently featured in the film’s soundtrack. After rocking three tracks by The God MC, he performed his own cut, “Making A Murderer.” DJ J Period spun tunes before and after the film.
This was the second event from Black Thought’s growingly popular film series. The first instance was a screening of The Last Dragon, which was followed with a Q&A with actor Taimak and singer El Debarge.