Over the past few years, Spike Lee joints have been a rarity—a documentary here, an HBO special there. But the remaining half of 2012 promises to make this year one of Spike's best. Between work on this August's upcoming drama, Red Hook Summer, a documentary of Michael Jackson's Bad album, and directing Mike Tyson's one-man Broadway play (yes, you read that correctly), the Brooklyn native has been pretty damn busy. We interrupted his intense schedule to get the double-truth from one of the most intrepid filmmakers of all time.
GQ: So, we have to start with Red Hook Summer. Spike Lee: Well Red Hook Summer is a writing collaboration between myself and a great novelist, James McBride. Over breakfast we were bemoaning the state of African American cinema and I told him I just bought a camera, this new Sony F3 camera, and said we should write something. One thing led into another and the product was Red Hook Summer.
GQ: And the film deals mostly with religion, right? Spike Lee: James McBride's parents actually founded the church we shot in. Unlike him, I did not grow up in the church. The only time I went to church was when my parents shipped me and my siblings' black asses down South to spend the summer with our grandparents to get rid of us. James and I have a different perspective growing up as far as going to church, and we wanted to incorporate young people in this film. You have this thing where a young, black, middle-class teenager growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta has a father die while serving in Afghanistan. His mom, who really raised him, then sends him to the Hook.
GQ: Are you ready for people to see it after your epic Sundance rant? Spike Lee: Well here's the thing, though: If I had to do that over, I would have just taken out a couple motherfuckers. But I wasn't lying though!
GQ: A lot of people have been saying that you're stepping into Tyler Perry's realm by making a religious film. Spike Lee: There's a lot of religion in Jungle Fever, Ozzie Davis is the good reverend doctor. There is a lot of religion in Malcolm X. So my man don't have the domain on religion and those films were made before he started making films. He's kind of bogarted it now, but it's not his private domain. Religion isn't just for one filmmaker, or one novelist, or one playwright.
GQ: Of all the films in the world that could be made, why did you choose this film to put your own money up for?
I'm not trying to get a medal or pat on the back when I say that I financed this myself. It's just what needed to be done. Studios were not going to make this film.
GQ: Is Spike Lee a martyr? Spike Lee: A martyr?
GQ: A martyr. Spike Lee: For whom?
GQ: For the people you make films for. There seems to be a lot of self-sacrifice behind your films. Spike Lee: Here's the thing, though: I got my money back already from Red Hook Summer, and then some. All before the film has even opened. Now, there have been a lot of films I was going to do that never happened for whatever reason. The interim between Miracle at St. Anna and Red Hook Summer is like four or five years. I was going to do the biography of James Brown, and Brooklyn loves Michael Jackson...
GQ: You're working on a MJ doc now though, right? Spike Lee: What I'm doing now is a documentary on the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Bad album. I'm also doing another documentary on Brazil called Go Brazil Go. I'm going to be directing Mike Tyson on Broadway later, it's a one man show. And then we got, God willing, Oldboy [an American remake of the popular 2003 South Korean manga film of the same name] coming up in the fall...
GQ: What's up with that? Spike Lee: Waiting for the green light. Josh Brolin...My man from District 9, Sharlto Copley.
GQ: What's stopping it though? People want to see this. Spike Lee: You know they're still trying to get the numbers straight, but I think it's going to happen.
GQ: It's good to see you're optimistic about it. Spike Lee: Yeah. If you add all the things up we're rolling now.
GQ: What's the one film that you haven't made yet and are dying to make? Spike Lee: Well I wouldn't say one film, but I'll just list the films I tried to make over the years and have yet to get them done. Like I was on the Jackie Robinson movie for a long time and then someone else is doing that. I worked a year on a great script written by John Ridley on the LA riots, but couldn't get that financed. Worked a long time on a James Brown script, could not get that financed. Wesley Snipes was going to play the Godfather of Soul. So it's been a question of finance.
GQ: The election is coming up. You've been a big supporter of Barack. Why do you think so many people are so critical of him? Spike Lee: I can't say to all the people that are unhappy with him that they're racist people. People ain't got jobs, people are hurting. So I don't care what color you are, if people are out of work, it's tough. And then when you're the first African American president, that's not helping either. I just had a meeting with somebody high up in the Obama campaign this morning and the people have to get out and vote. This thing is not a lock. It is not a lock that president Obama is getting a second term and people have to really rekindle the enthusiasm that we had the first time.
GQ: When do you see Barack pulling away if he wins? Spike Lee: Once we get to the debates my man is going to tear him up! It's going to be obvious who should lead this country for the next four years once they go head to head, toe to toe, elbow to elbow, butt to butt. And I don't think Mr. Romney can hang with him. He just can't!
GQ: What do you think Romney's appeal is to people? Spike Lee: He's not Obama [laughs].
GQ: Details magazine just labeled Adam Levine from Maroon 5 the "new king of pop" on their cover. Spike Lee: The king of pop?
GQ: The new king of pop. Spike Lee: Look, I have nothing personal against my man [Adam Levine] and I don't think that he called Details up to tell him to do that, but a lot of the time magazines will get you in trouble with titles like that. I remember M. Night Shyamalan was on the cover of Newsweek and it said he was the next Spielberg. Now I'm not trying to be disrespectful to M. Night, he didn't tell Newsweek to do that. When people see that cover they're going to be like, alright, this movie better be good. Just look at Spielberg's filmography...Signs was no Close Encounter.
GQ: Who would you say is the closest to what Mike [Jackson] was? Spike Lee: That's a very interesting question. I don't think it's anybody, I mean there are some people who could dance, look at Chris Brown—the way he dances. Usher...
GQ: Maybe a younger sensation, like Justin Bieber? Spike Lee: Justin Bieber is the new Michael Jackson? Interesting thing is that we interviewed Justin Bieber for this documentary, and you know he idolizes Michael. And I love Kanye and Jay and everybody else, but there's only one Michael Jackson. So if there's only one Michael Jackson, how can anybody be the new king of pop?
GQ: Let's move to basketball. Rest in peace to your Orange and Blue. The Heat are in the finals. What do you think of all the criticisms against LeBron? Spike Lee: Look LeBron is my man and the guy's played great. He's easily been MVP and he's played like an MVP throughout the playoffs. But as Magic has said—as Michael has said, as Barkley has said—he has no rings to show for it. That first coming out party they had in Miami—when he said we were going to win not one, two, three, four, five, six, or seven rings... When he got to seven rings Dwyane Wade was like, "Motherfucker you need to be quiet, you need to be chill." It's hard when everybody in the world is against you.
GQ: And there's no way you'll be a Nets fan? Spike Lee: Look I'm happy for them, but I'm orange and blue, baby. And if you walk outside, I mean you can see the Barkley Center from my office.
GQ: What do you think the Knicks have to do to be great? Spike Lee: We have to be healthy, first. And it's going be that coach Mike Woodson's going to have a full camp to implement all his plays, etc.
GQ: What do you think about Jeremy Lin? Spike Lee: That's my man. He's going to come back stronger.
GQ: Should he start? Spike Lee: Well I know there's talk about trying to get Steve Nash in here so he can learn under Steve Nash and come off the bench. But, that all depends on money. I would not be mad if Jeremy Lin was the starting point guard for the New York Knickerbockers.
GQ: Random question: If you put together a team, a starting five per se, but not to play basketball but to work with to make this world better, who would they be? Spike Lee: Can I bring people back from the dead?
GQ: Nope. Spike Lee: That's a hard question. President Obama would be one. My man Eric Holder to keep the law down, you know? That's two. Now I have to get some diversity in this mother, President Clinton would be there, too. You need a woman. I say Hillary Clinton.
GQ: What's the best thing you've ever done? Spike Lee: The best thing? I was in Washington D.C. for the Black Caucus. I was there because we were going to show like a 10-minute promo for an upcoming release of Malcolm X. So I'm going to the restroom and I see this woman coming towards me, the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life. So I said hello, she said hello. I went to the restroom, came back, and the rest of the night I was looking for her. Finally the event is over, I'm going down the escalator, with my date, and I see this vision beauty going up the escalator, so I ran back up the escalator.
GQ: You just left your date? Spike Lee: I told her I left something, "I forgot something at the table."
GQ: That's cold, Spike! Spike Lee: [Laughs] I left the program. I needed it because I'm a collector. I wanted to go back and get the program because I "collect" things. And so I walked up to her and asked her name. Then I asked if she had a boyfriend. She said no and then I did my little jig dance, the little dance. I got her number and made sure there were flowers waiting for her when she walked in her office the next day. Nine months later, we were engaged.
GQ: We talked about LeBron earlier and how he's never won a championship, how he needs that to validate his spot in basketball. You've been nominated, but never won an Academy Award. Do you look at them the same way? Spike Lee: No, no, no. That's the great thing about sports. Championships are not voted on. You have to go out there, bust your ass, and win. Academy awards, Grammys, Tonys, etc. are based on taste. Athletes, when they compete, if they're great athletes, they want to win a championship. When you're an artist and you're getting ready to embark on an artistic endeavor and your number one goal is to win an Oscar or a Grammy or a Tony, for me, that's a recipe for disaster. You just have to do the best work. Big difference between sports and the arts.