Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son - Director John Whitesell
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son - Director John Whitesell on the set © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox, Photo by John P Johnson

John Whitesell has directed and produced over 200 episodes of primetime television including such hit series as Law & Order, Roseanne, Cosby and Grounded for Life.

His movie credits include Big Momma’s House 2, Deck the Halls, Calendar Girl and Malibu’s Most Wanted.

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son returns the director to the popular franchise starring Martin Lawrence as FBI agent Malcolm Turner. When his step-son, Trent (Brandon T Jackson), witnesses a murder, in order to protect him from the killer, and to find a vital piece of evidence, Malcolm once again goes deep undercover as Big Momma at an all-girls performing arts school as their new House Mother, and Trent as its new coed Charmaine.

How did you shoot Martin in this film? Did you do all the scenes together with him when he was in the Big Momma’s suit?

Charmaine (Brandon T Jackson) and Big Momma (Martin Lawrence) Trent and Malcolm arrive at their new home: an all-girls’ high school © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

Well, I learned from the last film, where he was in the suit 41 out of 51 days, that it’s a killer. And putting the suit and the make up on five days in a row is really tough, it kills the skin, it kills his energy, because he’s basically been in a sauna for three days in a row wearing the suit. And so we really tried this time to balance it out.

I tried to not put more than two or three days of Big Momma in a week, and I liked to try and keep them together so he has a real break in between them, and we were fortunate in this one that we were able to schedule them much better than the other one.

We actually started the whole first week without any Big Momma, which was a great. We got him going, and then we were able to work hard in a very specific way.

One of the great things about Martin is, when he shows up he comes to work, and he’s ready and he’s prepared, so we work through lunch. When we get him in the suit we don’t stop. We keep shooting until that suit work is done, and then we break for lunch. That makes for a hungry crew, but we get him done and it’s a big savings for him and it’s great for the performance, because it’s fresh and he’s not exhausted and he doesn’t sweat through his makeup.

Were there days where you could just have Brandon, so Martin had a break?

Yes, only Brandon got a little shorter end on that. Well, he wasn’t the star now was he?

Can you talk about casting Brandon? Did he have to do a ‘female screen test’?

Yes, he did a full on test as a rapper, as Trent and as Charmaine. We didn’t put him in the make up, but we did put him in a wig and a dress and high heels.

I thought he was cute as a woman.

You didn’t see the test. That was not a girl you wanted to see. Trust me, Charmaine’s much more attractive, bigger but much more attractive. But he was great as Charmaine, he knocked it out of the park, he was really terrific, he inhabited Charmaine so well.

Did you have an input in the writing of the script?

Charmaine (Brandon T Jackson) and Big Momma (Martin Lawrence) adjust to life at a girls’ school © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

I wasn’t really involved in this, because when I came on they had done a script that did not work at all, and we started over with a young guy named Matt Fogel, and he pitched the idea to me of Some Like it Hot, he takes his son undercover with him, and from there that whole father/son storyline started evolving and after about five drafts in about six month of us working together we got it to a place that was the movie in essence that you saw.

Then Randy Singer came in and did a polish on it, which was great because she’s a real professional and she smoothed a lot of the edges out and helped us solve a couple of transitional problems and made the movie ready to shoot.

What was it like shooting in Atlanta?

Because of all of the music in the movie, I couldn’t think of a better place to shoot than Atlanta. The culture and music of the city come out in a lot of the locations and the large pool of actors available in the area added a lot to the production

How did you do that nude scene of Big Momma? It looked so real.

Martin gained 60 pounds and then lost it! [No,] we built a suit for him this time. We built a suit for him last time for the bathing suit, it was a bad suit, it was like an eggshell, it was when he was running on the beach.

It was such a terrible suit we decided this time we had to build a good suit, one that he actually could move and work around in, and they did a great job on it, it was totally there, it was the whole body and then it was very strategic draping. We worked on that with the sheet. The one great thing is those [suits] aren’t that hot, it only adds about 20 degrees to his temperature.

Why do you feel Big Momma is so popular?

To know Big Momma is to love her, and she has become nothing less than an icon. Big Momma has an opinion about everything, and will put you on your but if need be. But beyond that, she’s funny and loving.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane

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