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A conversation with Jermaine Fowler of ‘Sorry to Bother You’

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According to Jermaine Fowler (star of CBS’s “Superior Donuts”), the actor, writer and comedian could not be more pleased with the glowing reviews heaped upon director Boots Riley’s new workplace sci-fi comedy “Sorry to Bother You.”

The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year before being swiftly snapped up by Annapurna Pictures. After opening in limited release on July 6, the picture spread to 805 theaters in its second week. It was added to another 245 theaters last week.

“I’m over the roof man. The reviews have been amazing and I’m so happy about that,” Fowler told me during a phone interview.

In “Sorry to Bother You,” a telemarketing firm in Oakland, California called ‘WorryFree,’ promises to cover living expenses for its employees, in exchange for a lifetime contract of employment. When Cassius, played by Lakeith Stanfield, has trouble making sales, older coworker Langston (Danny Glover) persuades him to adopt a “white voice” to keep the company satisfied.

“Oakland is really one of the important characters in this movie,” said Fowler says. “The city fueled a lot of the talking points and characterizations in this movie. It was our director’s hometown and it was important to him to keep the movie authentic. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.”

In addition to Stanfield, Fowler’s castmates in “Sorry to Bother You” include Tessa Thompson (“Mississippi Damned”), Omari Hardwick (“The A-Team”), Terry Crews (“Everybody Hates Chris”), and Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”).

Fowler describes his character Salvador as the jokester of the firm’s crew.

“He rarely takes things seriously, until he finds out that Squeeze (Steven Yeun, of “The Walking Dead” fame) is unionizing for people who want to make more money for working for the company,” Fowler said. “Along the way, he finds his voice but loses his friend, Cassius. He doesn’t like the person Cassius has become because he sees so much more for him. That’s life, man. You hope for the best for the people you love and adore but they don’t always turn out to be the people you want them to be.”

Director Riley informed the cast that each character in the movie is an extension of himself, according to Fowler, who also says he based part of his characterization of Salvador on the personality of a coworker from his pre-fame past.

“His name was Joe and we worked at Quiznos in Hyattsville, Maryland,” Fowler said. “All of my friends worked there. Oh man, I hated that job very much. No joke, we got robbed every night. It was Joe who actually got me that job. He was the Salvador of that whole situation.”

Fowler believes that everyone has a bit of Salvador inside of them – some more than others.

“We all want to help our friends out and we all want the best for our buddies. There’s a little Salvador in Joe and a little in me,” he said.

Fowler says he could relate to each of the characters seen in “Sorry to Bother You,” and cites another early job that he doesn’t miss today.

“My first job was working at a dry cleaner,” said Fowler. “Oh God, it was terrible in there, man. It was so hot and dry in there all the time – no air conditioning. There were chemicals everywhere. Actually, I may be suffering from that still.”

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