The Netflix family Christmas movie Holiday Rush follows popular New York radio DJ Rush Williams (Romany Malco), a widowed father who has been spoiling his four kids since they lost their mom (La La Anthony), to the point that they no longer appreciate what they’re privileged enough to have. When Rush loses his job, his producer Roxy Richardson (Sonequa Martin-Green) hatches a plan to help him buy another radio station, but it means that he must downsize and get his family to embrace a simpler life. And although it’s quite an adjustment, it allows them to reconnect and brings them closer together than ever, as they learn that true holiday spirit comes from having those that you love around you.
At the Los Angeles press day for the film, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with co-stars Romany Malco and Sonequa Martin-Green to chat about why this Christmas movie, in particular, was so appealing to them, creating the chaos of family, holiday decorating, and all of the firsts that this story explores. They also talked about what it’s like, as actors, to work in successful projects that they’re proud of, with Malco being on the ABC TV series A Million Little Things while Martin-Green is on the CBS All Access TV series Star Trek: Discovery, and how Martin-Green ended up working with LeBron James and Bugs Bunny in Space Jam 2.
SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN: There are so many reasons why, but it could all be encapsulated by just saying the authenticity of it was a huge driver, for me. It was really authentically written by Sean Dwyer and Greg White, and really compellingly directed by Leslie Small. We knew the vision, from the very beginning, and seeing this successful black family with this single dad at the helm, which we don’t see because there’s a dearth of those kinds of stories, but then seeing them learn how to not take what they have for granted. It was real and it felt like home and it felt familiar to me, but it also felt very inspiring.
ROMANY MALCO: Reading the script, I thought it was pretty compelling because of the fact that it covered so many real issues within it. Talking to Leslie Small, our director, and having him explain his vision for the movie was a big part of it. Knowing that Sonequa would be involved was another huge part of it. The commitment that our writers, Sean Dwyer and Greg White, had to depicting this authentic story, just hit all of the things on the head. And even that transition from being an underappreciated employee to being an entrepreneur, a business owner, and a black business owner. If you were to go out and look at all of the black movies out there, it’s very rare that those things are represented in these films. And the fact that we could encompass all of that in one film, kudos to these writers, kudos to that director, and kudos to Netflix, big time.
This is a whole family, which creates some chaos and a certain atmosphere on set, but the kids in this family are just delightful. Were you nervous, at all, about finding them, or did you just instantly all work really well together?
MALCO: You’re talking to two parents, so that plays a big role in it. But let’s be real, in our industry, we encounter kids, quite often, and they are much more mature than their years. And these kids showed up so professional and so prepared that I had to go back to my trailer and prepare some more, before we’d do our scenes together.
MARTIN-GREEN: They were ready. They made the decision, just like the rest of us did, to tell the story with our whole hearts, to really dive into it, to be a family, and to give all of our passion and love to this. And they did carry a great bulk of the story, too – Amarr [M. Wooten], Deysha [Nelson], Selena-Marie [Alphonse] and Andrea-Marie [Alphonse]. The two eldest kids, Amarr and Deysha, had a lot to do with Rush’s maturation, and they carried it beautifully, I felt. They really contribute to the heart of the film, as well as Darlene [Love] and Deon [Cole], and those kids really captured it.
MALCO: The major shifts that Rush has, throughout the film, is with one of the kids, each time. Daysha’s character actually lets him know, “I know that we can be a little difficult.” That’s a big breakthrough for Rush. He needed to hear it from her the most, in that moment. And then, he has that realization of, “Oh, I see what you’re afraid of, son. And I’m telling you that I’m making a commitment to you, right now, that I’ve got you.” That revelation for him is a shift that he had to have with his son. Even with the kids and their materialism, he has that with his twins. And then, there’s that revelation of, “We can control our destiny with Roxy.” So, I feel like the kids play a key role in his development. Of course, Roxy does, but the kids, as well.
Decorating is different for each of these characters. What do the holidays mean for you? Are there any crazy decorators in your own family?
MALCO: I’m gonna sound all bougie, if I start talking right now.
MARTIN-GREEN: Roxy says in the film, “I thought it would be a little bit more,” but then, it grows, from that moment. And I love lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of decorations. Because of the nature of our business and our work and our schedules, we have to carve out that time to get the tree. It takes a lot of planning to do it. I would love to just go ham. I love going ham.
MALCO: You just inspired something. So, I’m the type of dude that will take it to that other level, where you plug in our stuff and, straight up, illuminate the block. That’s my nature. But thanks to you and thanks to this very question, we’re gonna let the kids do it. Not just my kids, but everybody’s kids. My family all comes together in one house in Florida, and the house is surrounded by Palm trees, and it’s gonna be on there. We’re carnies, and we show up for ten days and then we’re out. So, because of the fact that we’re not gonna have time to do it, the kids are gonna make time to do it. Merry Christmas!
That should definitely be an Instagram moment.
MARTIN-GREEN: Yes, for sure.
You guys both have TV shows that are hugely successful, which is hard to do, these days, with over 500 shows and various platforms. What does that feel like, as actors, who have both been in this business awhile, to have that kind of success with what you’re doing?
MALCO: It makes you feel really grateful.
MARTIN-GREEN: It does.
MALCO: For me, I’ve always been very resistant to network television because, quite often, if you get into a network job, it’s systemically set up to where it’s very rare that you find black representation in the writers’ room. And then, what ends up happening is that your character becomes perhaps the most homogenized and safest because, if you misrepresent, then you get boycotted. So, you become an incredibly safe character. As a black man, it’s very difficult for me to trust network television and the system that it is, but I ended up being involved in a job that was making a very conscious effort to make their depictions different. Even when we do somewhat lose our way, is some representation, and we’re always working to get more representation. And so, being able to tell these great stories about what it’s like to deal with depression or surviving cancer, and the letters that we get and the way that people feel, after watching an episode, and what they say we’ve done for their lives, it’s incredibly fulfilling. There’s so much to be grateful for, not just because of the fact that we’re working, but because of the fact that we’re actually helping people. We’re giving people an escape, we’re giving people reasoning that they might not have considered, and we’re bringing families together, in the process.
MARTIN-GREEN: And that’s the power of story, honestly. That’s the common denominator. With great storytelling, yes, it’s escapism, but then it’s also giving people a solution that they can look to. You have to visualize before you can actualize, and we’re surrounded by the problem. We see these great stories that show us all different kinds of iterations of solutions, and we get to see it played out, we get to see the turmoil, and we get to see the fight that it requires. That’s one of the things that I am so grateful for, with Star Trek: Discovery. This is a legacy that has been in place for decades. It’s been changing people’s beliefs, shifting paradigms, and inspiring people, since the ‘60s. And so, being able to be a black woman at the helm of it, and then also being able to be a part of something that speaks deeper and greater, and changes people’s lives, is amazing. And then, there are the technological advancements. You could even go off on that for awhile, about how so many things have been inspired by and influenced by Star Trek. I firmly believe in the sci-fi genre, for that reason. And then, there’s a global influence that we’ve been blessed to have, the both of us. Being able to come back from that to a holiday movie that is, in some ways, a little more micro in the storytelling, but then also has its own global appeal, with universal themes, all throughout, is really inspiring. Someone asked me once, about what Star Trek means to me, and it means so many things to me. Thank God, he placed me here. But it’s a call to rise, to me. I am so grateful to be there, but it also makes me question my life, and look for those opportunities to be more empathic and more ready to look at someone as a mirror, rather than someone other than me. And so, this path has led us here, to this amazing moment and this amazing story, where all of these things are at play, with this movie. We’re just looking back and are quite overwhelmed by it all.
MALCO: And just extremely grateful. It’s hard enough to be working on great network shows, but then to actually be successful, ‘cause none of it’s promised.
Great storytelling is great storytelling, no matter the genre or medium.
MARTIN-GREEN: Yes, it is.
MALCO: I really appreciate your saying that, and that’s definitely a big part of the draw for me. Wholesome is fine, but authenticity is important.
MARTIN-GREEN: And that authenticity and grittiness was big for Sean Dwyer and Greg White, the writers, and Leslie Small, our director. We know that this holiday film is going to have levity and it’s gonna have that light-hearted tone that you’re looking for with a holiday film, but there was also really important to desire to be truthful and to be gritty in that truth, as well. I think that this film did it quite beautifully, and I felt like it found a really lovely balance.
MALCO: It did. There are a lot of firsts, in this movie. This is my first time ever doing a streaming job. For our Netflix rep, this was his first project, as an executive producer. When they were checking in and were like, “How are things going?,” he’d be like, “Oh, everything is going great.” And you’d be like, “Oh, yeah, it’s his first job. He thinks everything’s going great.” But it turns out that everything was going great. We popped a lot of cherries on this one. It’s about a black family, a successful brother, he’s the father of four children, he makes a transition, with the help of Roxy, to become an entrepreneur with a black-owned business, with a black love interest. I don’t even know if Hollywood is allowed to do that yet.
MARTIN-GREEN: That’s too many things with black stuff.
MALCO: But because of the fact that Netflix can operate in a different way, they can do that. I feel as though we’re involved in a project that I hope sets the tone for more projects like it.
MARTIN-GREEN: Well said.
Sonequa, how did you end up in Space Jam 2, with LeBron James and Bugs Bunny?
MARTIN-GREEN: What a joy, and so unexpected. Everything has been unexpected. It’s just been one thing after another, of things coming that I never would have expected and never would have imagined, and Space Jam was definitely one of those. It was like, “What is happening?!” It was so much fun. It was such a wonderful experience, and I’m really excited about how it’s been modernized. The Looney Tunes are not as culturally relevant as they used to be, but they found a way to modernize this story that I think is gonna really captivate audiences. I think it’s gonna be a bridge, of sorts. You’ll see multi-generations being able to enjoy it, at the same time, and link up and see the two films together. I think it’s gonna be wonderful, I really do.
Holiday Rush is available to stream at Netflix on November 28th.