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The holiday season is upon us and there’s one film with its sights set on becoming a holiday classic. Almost Christmas, the new family holiday comedy from writer/director David Talbert and producer Will Packer, follows Walter the patriarch of the Meyers family as he attempts to keep his family together after the death of the family matriarch. His wish is for everyone to get along under the same roof for five days without killing each other which proves to be no easy task.

Starring Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, Kimberly Elise, Romany Malco, Jessie T. Usher, Mo’Nique, Omar Epps, JB Smoove, Nicole Ari Parker, John Michael Higgins, Keri Hilson and D.C. Young Fly the movie delivers the laughs and drama making it a holiday film everyone can relate to.

SFPL‘s own Arlene Danna chatted with producer Will Packer and Omar Epps who plays the neighbor next door Malachi, and has hopes of rekindling his romance with Rachel portrayed by Gabriel Union. Packer and Epps dished on how the movie came to be, working with comedic masterminds Mo’Nique and J.B. Smoove, being on set, as well as the importance of family especially during the holidays.

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Loved the movie. Could you briefly tell us about the film, your character, and his role in the film?

Epps: What I loved about the film is how they flipped the usual storyline. Normally, it’s the patriarch who passes, and it’s the mother who holds it all together.  It’s about love, family, and the trial and tribulations that come with that. Everyone will be able to relate because we all come from family, we all have our own interpersonal relationships. So and so doesn’t get along with such and such and oh here comes crazy uncle so and so. My character grew up with the family. He’s known them his whole life and he’s back home visiting as well. He has some history with Gabriel Union’s character Rachel who has been holding onto a grudge all these years over a misunderstanding.

The scene where you’re helping Gabriel Union’s character squeeze in through the window was it hard to keep a straight face? We’re you guys able to bang it out or did it take a few takes.

Epps: Oh yes, that was a good one. We did do it a couple of times but we banged it out rather quickly. Gabi was only going to fall in through that window but so many times. [Laughs]

Malachi (OMAR EPPS) reconnects with Rachel (GABRIELLE UNION) and the rest of the family in "Almost Christmas." The new comedy from writer/director David E. Talbert and producer Will Packer tells the festive story of a beloved patriarch who asks his family for one gift this holiday season: to get along. If they can honor that wish and spend five days under the same roof without killing one another, it will be a Christmas miracle.

Malachi (OMAR EPPS) reconnects with Rachel (GABRIELLE UNION) and the rest of the family in “Almost Christmas.”

The chemistry between everyone definitely shows on-screen. How was it being on set? Did you guys play any practical jokes on each other? Any memorable moments? 

Epps: Gabi and I have known each other for years so we had that synergy throughout the whole film. Everyone was great though. There was so much respect on set. There weren’t necessarily practical jokes but we formed this camaraderie and we shared a lot of laughs. Some of the most memorable moments for me were watching the scenes I wasn’t in. Mo’Nique and J.B. are hilarious. It was great to see them do their thing.

What 5 fly things are you looking forward to receiving this Christmas?

Epps: Well I don’t really care about getting anything for Christmas. For me it’s more about getting to spend time with my family and making it special for my kids. So I’m just really looking forward to getting this family time in.

A Meyers Christmas

Hi Will. I’m a fan of your work. Absolutely loved the film. At the end everyone including myself stood up and applauded.

Packer: Wow, really. Thank you, that’s great. It means a lot.

Almost Christmas is your second holiday film. Going into it was making sure it was noticeably different from This Christmas something you always had in the back of your mind?

Packer: Not really. You know This Christmas is one of my favorite movies that I’ve made. It’s one of those movies that audiences really responded to. It shows on cable TV every year. People will hit me and go, “When are you going to do a sequel? We want another Christmas movie.” Dave sent me a script at the perfect time, but it was about a family coming together around Thanksgiving after the death of the matriarch. I called him and I said, “Dave, I love it. I’ve got one note for you. Let’s make it Christmas instead of Thanksgiving, and let’s go make this movie.” He said, “All right. I’m in.” If you’re going to make a holiday movie it has to be about the biggest holiday of all. You can avoid people all year-long, but Christmas is the one time that you’ve gotta spend time with the folks you haven’t seen since last Christmas, and that’s true for a lot of families. After that the first person I called was Gabrielle Union. I’ve known Gab for a while and we’ve done a bunch of projects together in the past. I called her up and I go, “Gee, what do you think? I think this is the one we should do. We should produce it together.” She goes, “I’m in,” and everything just started moving from there.

You mentioned immediately reaching out to Gabriel. Prior to shooting the film did you have other people in mind for the cast as well? It’s clear the cast had great chemistry it really translated on-screen. J.B. Smoove and Mo’Nique did a superb job of bringing the laughs. 

Packer: Gabi was really the anchor that helped attract the rest of the cast. Danny Glover is a legend. Everyone was great. Nicole Ari Parker, Omar Epps, Mo’Nique, J.B. SmooveKimberly Elise, Romany Malco, they all did such an amazing job. We even have these up and comers representing the younger generation with Jessie T. Usher, and D.C. Young Fly.  The cast was able to really embody these characters and tell the story of this family that I feel will definitely resonate with audiences.

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My favorite scene was the scene with everyone gathered around the table for Christmas dinner. There were so many layers and as it progressed the comedy just got bigger and bigger. The kids also really stole the show, I think. I loved them texting back and forth with all the emoji’s and how they set-up the phone so they wouldn’t miss any of the action. How was it capturing that scene? How did everything come together? Was it written that way originally or was there some improvisation?

Packer: I have to give props to Dave for making a really solid script. The smart thing that Dave did was that he allowed his actors to embody the characters in their own way and to bring their own perspective and nuances to the characters. In the specific scene I thought it was important to include the kids texting because that’s actually what would be taking place. The way that scene was shot is how you see it, that scene is continuously moving. The transition from the dining room to the kitchen and back again was flawless. It was shot that way intentionally. We didn’t shoot the dining room and cut then go to the kitchen. We wanted it to progress naturally and the end result was better than we had imagined.

What does fly mean to you?

Packer: To me fly means being unapologetically you. Fly means standing by your convictions and making your own path. Fly is about setting your sights on something and never wavering from accomplishing it.

What are you looking forward to this holiday season?

Packer: I love the holidays. I love family movies. My immediate family is small. I have one sister, and I grew up with both my parents. Family was always very important. The holidays were the time when all the extended family would get together. I did grow up in the South. I grew up with a great sense of culture and tradition and all of that. So I’m just really looking forward to the time off and getting to spend that time with family. Work keeps me really busy so it’s nice to get a break and get that quality time in.

Almost Christmas opens in theaters Friday Nov. 11. Watch the trailer below and don’t miss out on a film destined to be a staple family Christmas movie for year’s to come. 

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