Just as early voting for our next president begins today in Iowa, Samuel L. Jackson popped up this morning in an unabashedly partisan campaign video urging lethargic Obama supporters to “Wake the F— Up.” If the tone and rhyming rhythm sound a little familiar, it’s probably because the video resembles Jackson’s narration of Adam Mansbach’s best-selling “children’s book,” Go the F— to Sleep. That’s no surprise since Mansbach himself teamed up with the Jewish Council for Education and Research and co-directors Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) and Kitao Sakurai for the video, which stars a concerned young girl who reminds her apathetic family that failing to actively support the president could cost them down the line.
Mansbach, who has two novels coming out in 2013 and a film adaptation of his Sleep best-seller in the works, had never met Jackson in person before, so he was excited to finally shake hands with the man who helped propel his book to the top of the charts last year. “When Sam came to the set about halfway through, there was a sense of almost euphoria because everybody pretty quickly realized, ‘Sh-t, this is really going to be good.’”
The author checked in with Entertainment Weekly to explain how and why he got involved.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What gave you the idea to build this political ad in the shell of your best-selling book?
ADAM MANSBACH: In mid-August, the Jewish Council for Education and Research contacted me because they had an idea to do something riffing on my book. They didn’t want to do something that was close to the book without asking me, which was very nice of them. But when they told me what they had in mind, my take was, “Forget about permission; I need to write this.” So I jumped on and wrote it.
Does it go without saying that you wrote with Sam’s voice in mind?
Sam wasn’t involved at that point, so initially I wasn’t writing with him in mind. But as the narrative came together we all got increasingly excited by the notion of Sam being the guy to star in it. When I revised it, I was able to do it with Sam in mind. Being able to write for Sam is great. He is so good at what he does that if I can’t set him up, then I need to find another job.
Were you leery about attempting to modify your book into something so overtly political?
No, I think that was everybody’s intention to begin with — to do something that was very different, something that was edgy. The realm of conventional political ads begins to blur and is quite easy for folks to ignore. We were very clear from the inception about wanting to shake all of that up.
Was it easy to write within the constraints of Go to … Sleep‘s framework?
The challenge was keeping the meter and the rhyme going while working in as much information as possible. Rhyming is something I’ve done for a long time — I was an MC for many years — but there were so many facts that we all wanted to get in there. But working with parameters can be a fun thing because it forces you to improvise, and that can be a nice thing. Plus, anything that is shorter than a novel these days feels kind of like a vacation for me.
Is it completely random that the video went live the same day that early voting begins in Iowa?
That’s a happy coincidence. Our goal was to get it out as soon as we could, but I am very happy that it’s out in time for the beginning of voting, for sure.
The thrust of the video seems to be that Obama supporters can’t be passive, that they need to be as involved as they were in 2008.
I think we were concerned that people did not understand how important this election was and the striking differences between the two candidates in their policies. We thought it was important not just to rally folks to vote but to get involved on a deeper level and to understand that their continuing investment in this process was important. But I think at this point, it’s very clear that whatever so-called enthusiasm gap there may be clearly favors Obama.
I expect most of the feedback has been very positive, but not everyone shares your politics. Are you expecting a backlash?
Of course there will be backlash; this is a political ad. Sh-t, there was a backlash when I published a fake children’s book, you know? People sent me hate mail telling me, “I would never read this to a child!” Like, “Yeah, no sh-t. It says f–k in the title!” So inevitably, I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail. It will probably be very poorly written and badly spelled. Yeah, I have no doubt. But I also don’t give a f–k.