The director of the video of Rihanna’s recent #1 hit, Melina Matsoukas has talked to pitchfork.com about the video, about the interesting bits. Read the full interview below after the jump.
Pitchfork: I was pleasantly surprised by Rihanna’s acting in this video.
MM: She’s good, right? I was surprised, too. There’s a moment in the “Man Down” video when she’s about to be raped, and she gives this glance, and I remembered thinking, “Wow.” That gave me a hint. So I went for it with this treatment and she loved it. Then she texted me a couple days before the shoot when I’m in Belfast still trying to cast: “You better get me a hot guy because I love this treatment and I’m definitely fake fucking him all over the place.” [laughs] So I had to find her a guy that she was really attracted to because if she doesn’t like him, we’re fucked. So it’s two days before the shoot and I call this boxer that my friend’s friend told me about and I’m like, “You have to tape yourself right now! Be that man we all want but we know we shouldn’t fuck with. Just smoke your cigarette and say everything really masculine and rough around the edges.” So he sends us this little thing off his iPhone, and it was perfect. And then he met Rihanna on set, and I’m like, “OK, you guys are just lost in love– go!” And he took her hand and they started running around and it was just magic. It felt so real. They didn’t have to do any of the face fucking until the third day [laughs], so that helped a little, too.
Pitchfork: There’s a great shot when they’re arguing in the car and you can see Rihanna’s veins popping out of her neck. What were they shouting about?
MM: [laughs] She’s just mad as shit. I’m in the car with them, laying down in the back seat so no one could see me, and walking them through the fight. And I’m just like feeding her stuff. She looks really intense but she’s saying the most outlandish shit ever, like, “Dudley, you fucking tight-pant-wearing da da da,” just screaming. And then those veins popped out. It definitely tells that story– I wouldn’t want to get her mad.
Pitchfork: How much of the video was improvised?
MM: A lot. I would set something up and they would just take it way further. Even when he’s tattooing her ass, I looked away and I hear a smack. I’m like, “Did he just smack her ass? No one told him to do that.” [laughs]
Pitchfork: For better or worse, Rihanna now is kind of haunted by her relationship with Chris Brown. Were you playing into that with this video?
MM: No. The intention is not for it to be Chris or anything related to that relationship. We all have gone through the kind of tumultuous relationship shown in the video. I didn’t even know that Chris Brown is blond right now. This dude was already blond. It’s not like I told him to dye his hair. He doesn’t even really look like Chris Brown to me.
Pitchfork: That one part when he’s smoking 10 cigarettes at once seems a little painful.
MM: [laughs] I know, I felt so bad. It was actually really gross. He was having a bit of trouble lighting all of them. He doesn’t smoke and he’s a boxer for real, and I’m like, “Smoke a whole pack of cigarettes at once!” It was terrible, but it looked good.
Pitchfork: What was it like filming this video in public spaces? Were there a lot of people crowded around at all times?
MM: There were tons of people around us during the one scene where she’s like drunk on the street. It was a bit difficult. And when we showed up at these estates, which are like their projects, there were literally teachers with their whole classes there! I was like, “Shouldn’t you guys be in school? This is crazy.”
When we were shooting in the apartment, everybody was outside this building screaming and chanting and throwing bottles and rocks at the window. We were there until midnight, and as I’m walking back to the van outside, something breaks right next to me– people started throwing bottles from the top of the building. I was like, “Run!”