Sorry To Bother You director Boots Riley: “Trust me, it’s sci-fi…”

We talk to director Boots Riley about Sorry To Bother You, this year’s weirdest, wildest, and most political film

There are some films that you just can’t say much about without running the risk of spoiling the experience of watching it. But most films are, at the very least, fairly clear about what genre they are – except Sorry To Bother You. For a long time we weren’t even sure that this comedy/thriller/relationship drama/anti-capitalism manifesto was even something that would fit within the remit of SciFiNow. Then we saw it.

“Just tell people ‘trust me – it’s sci-fi’,” chuckles Boots Riley, the musician-turned-first-time-director of Sorry To Bother You when we catch up with him following his film’s triumphant showing at the London Film Festival. He’s just not a director who believes in the notion of ‘genre’.

“I think genres are limitations that are really about marketing as opposed to anything else,” he says. “So my use of any particular thing, whether it’s comedy, or tension or anything, it’s because I need it, or the character needs it.”

Boots Riley on the set of Sorry To Bother You

Sorry To Bother You is about Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a broke telemarketer in a slightly alternate world in which the most popular TV show is ‘I Got The Shit Kicked Out Of Me’ and where big corporations have figured out how to rebrand slavery. Cassius finds a path to success and riches via employing his ‘white voice’ to make big sales, but soon finds himself in a world much darker than he had ever expected. 

“Everything that made it fantastical or outlandish or weird was something that I needed for the characters or the audience to go through to understand their world,” Riley explains.

He says that he needed to employ “visceral” elements. “I didn’t want the audience to just see that [Cassius] had gone through these experiences, I wanted to audience to go through these experiences too,” he continues. “There are things that happen to you that you make you feel differently about the world. When you learn new ideas and all of a sudden the world looks different to you. I wanted that to happen for the audience… So even with some of the bigger sci-fi elements of this, it was because I’d already created such a heightened world that I needed the character to be shook to his mortal core, and I needed him to see himself and us to see him, and that’s the reason. I didn’t set out being like ‘I want sci-fi fans to love this’. I just wanted to tell a good story.”

Sorry To Bother You is in cinemas now. Read the rest of the interview in the latest issue of SciFiNow.