Will Packer and Tina Gordan‘s new film, “Praise This,” is the perfect movie to enjoy this Easter weekend. Starring Chloe Bailey, Quavo, Druski, Mack Wilds, and more, the film centers around the competitive gospel scene in Atlanta, giving us a fun look into one gospel choir’s journey to the national championship.
The hilarious, soulful film tells the story of an aspiring musician Sam, played by Bailey, who gets shipped off to Atlanta to live with her sister-cousin Jess, played by Anjelika Washington. In an exclusive interview, Baller Alert chatted about Peacock’s new original movie with the cast.
Praise This resembles gospel-based films like Sister Act 2 and The Fighting Temptations. How did these movies influence you growing up? And why is it important to bring this movie genre of film back?
Anjelika Washington: I used to grow up watching all of the Sister Acts, Fighting Temptations — that Chloe was in also (laughs)– but yea, I think it’s imperative for our generation to have a film that’s “feel good” and also centered around faith, but not necessarily shoved down your throat. The basis is acceptance and love, which is so important right now. If there’s any time other than right now that our society needs something about acceptance and love — we need it now.
Tina Gordon: I definitely grew up loving the movies that you mentioned. And when it brought me the script, I was like, ‘Why would I make another gospel musical’ and I felt like the thing I needed to lean into is making it for this generation of youth. So make it very specific in terms of the casting and in terms of the jokes. That’s what got me into it; combined with elevating the praise teams and the gospel flips of contemporary songs, it was a new value that I could add to this genre.
Art imitates life, and what I love about “Praise This” is that it shows every angle of the black church experience. If you grew up in church, you know this all too well. In what ways have those experiences shaped you as a person and helped navigate your career as a producer?
Will Packer: Growing up in the church taught me very early about faith. It taught me to have faith in a higher power and myself. In this life, you’re going to run into challenges. You’re going to have down moments, but my faith sustains me. I learned that at a very early age through the church, and something I wanted to tell in this movie. This amazing team, including Tina Gordon, did a fantastic job getting you sucked in through the great music in this film. But while you’re there, you have this story of finding your voice and faith.
In what ways has being a woman of God in the industry been challenging? How have you overcome those challenges?
Chloe Bailey: It has actually helped ease the challenges. Without God and getting on my knees to pray, I would be in my head a lot more. I don’t even know if that’s possible (laughs). I usually obsess about things being perfect, but because I know God is with me, it helps me relinquish some of that control I don’t even have. One of my favorite things to pray is that ‘I’m nothing without God, but I am everything with him. So it gives me a boost of confidence when I can’t find it deep inside. It also reminds me to stay in the present moment and to be grateful.
Tina Gordon: Your character will probably be tested in any industry, but for me — I have a firm line, but I might not tell you exactly where that line is. Sometimes people will say the right thing when they know where that is.
What I like most about your character is that it shows how people from troubled pasts can always reach Christ. In what ways would you say you and Aaron are similar?
Druski: The ambitions and continuous desire to keep going — even after I mess up. If you’ve seen the beginning of the movie, my character had some mess-ups, but he keeps going. That’s the most relatable thing to me. I will get to the top eventually; I just have to keep going.
Most of your movies seem to have a “come to Jesus moment” mixed with slight comedic relief. As a producer, delivery matters & you have it down to a science. Is there a format you have when producing? What inspires you to take that route?
Will Packer: When I think about that ‘come to Jesus moment’ that my movies have, it’s always at a moment when a character is tested, and you feel like all may be lost. It’s traditional in many films, but I do it in a way that intertwines that moment with levity. Then I make sure my films have a lightness to them. Y’now? You laugh through the pain — which is something specific to black people. It’s cultural. We have to laugh through the pain because we’ve been through so much. Ultimately, we have that faith to come out on the other side. And that’s what this movie is about.
Your work provides comedic relief for many people, and now you’ve taken your gifts to the screen. How was this opportunity presented, and what made you want to join this cast?
Druski: It was one of those opportunities where they hit me up on a Zoom call last minute, and I was kind of thrown into it. They described the character to me and showed me the script, and I was like, ‘I gotta take this role.’ After seeing all the people involved, I was like, there’s no way I won’t be a part of this movie. I accepted the role the same day as the Zoom call and had to start preparing with the professional dancers. It was amazing.
Sam is a complex character coming from a challenged past. Can both of you share a time when you had to tap into a different level of faith when it was lacking?
Chloe Bailey: Sometimes I think he’s up there laughing when I’m stressing over something that didn’t work out. Fast-forward, after time passes, you realize there was something more significant for you waiting. Instead of harboring on what we lost, we were delaying the time on what we actually needed. So when I remember that God’s plan and timing are better than anything I could come up with, I know I can relax.
Anjelika Washington: Yea, when I was working minimum wage at Starbucks (laughs) and was still trying to pursue acting. I dropped out of college. So many things had happened, and I was like, ‘God is this really for me? And if it is, show me. Guide me.’ These are the things I was praying and asking for. And God would literally show me exactly what I needed to see. Every step was a lesson, and every step has gotten me to where I am. But I can’t imagine having divine guidance and divine protection. Knowing that makes this journey easier because I know that no matter what, I’ll be okay. God’s got me.
I love that Sam and Jess are so different yet still maintain a level of respect for one another. What about their relationship would you adapt into your relationships with the people in your life?
Tina Gordon: I like that they don’t lose their identities to each other, and they’re quick to apologize. We make apologies seem like this unattainable thing that should be easy in life. It should be nothing to say, ‘I’m sorry. I was wrong.’ I like how they both authentically stay themselves. Jess is Jess. She is not changing. And Sam is the same.
Chloe Bailey: How they didn’t compromise to the other’s perfect image — whatever that might be. Jess accepted Sam in all her feistiness and sassiness. And Sam loves Jess just the same. They both brought out the best in each other.
Praise This is also in the same vein as Pitch Perfect. Can we see Praise This two happening soon? If so, who would you like to cast?
Will Packer: I’d love a Praise This two, but it’s up to the audience. When you’re a filmmaker, you make your project. You tell your story and put it out there for the world to consume, judge, and hopefully enjoy. So the audience will tell us if there will be a Praise This Two. When I think about who I’d like to be in it — there are so many people. First of all, this cast was great. So I’d bring a bunch of them back. And then, I’d sprinkle in some Angela Bassett. Maybe add some traditional gospel folks like Yolanda Adams or Kirk Franklin. I want to throw some curve balls in there too. Like what would it be like if Kevin Hart was in a gospel movie? What kind of silliness would that create? We’ll see. I hope I get to tell this story again.
“Praise This” premieres April 7 only on Peacock. Head to Baller Alert’s Youtube channel to see the full interviews with the cast and crew.