Apollonia made her first public appearance since the passing of Prince Monday night at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The occasion? Purple Rain: Celebration, a panel discussion/screening presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) in Beverly Hills, Calif. The evening’s surprise guest was joined by fellow cast members Jerome Benton and Jill Jones as well as the film’s writer/director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo and costume designer Marie France.
Clips from the 57th Academy Awards — when Prince won the Oscar for original song score for Purple Rain — opened the evening. Then noting that “not just a memory was being celebrated but also a milestone,” AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced that the brand new 35mm optical stereo print being shown would be added to the Academy’s permanent collection. Also setting the tone: an array of brilliant portraits of Prince displayed in the outer lobby, taken over the years by his personal photographer Afshin Shahidi.
Writer/director Reginald Hudlin, who produced the 88th Academy Awards this year, and Grammy-winning composer/bass guitarist Marcus Miller, moderated the ensuing 90-minute conversation. Swapping stories about everything from the film’s early beginnings to the 90 still unreleased songs out of the 100 Prince had for the soundtrack to the absurd suggestion that John Travolta portray Prince, the panelists drew plenty of ooh’s and raucous laughter:
Robert Cavallo: “Every director and studio passed because Prince was an unknown. But the only way Prince was going to sign a new management deal with me and Joseph Ruffalo was if the package included a film — and not with some drug dealer money. Prince was the smartest tactician of all of us.” Among the potential investors that Cavallo also talked to: David Geffen and Jim Brown, who was running comedian Richard Pryor’s company at the time.
Jerome Benton: “I knew Prince from my age of 12. We lived in the same neighborhood. My first impression: He had a big old head [laughs]. But he could sing and play. He had a strong presence —and respect for me as a kid. I ended up in the Time because of my brother Terry [Lewis, production partner of Jimmy Jam]. I moved around equipment and instruments and was also the band’s runner. Then we ended up getting the deal with Prince.”
Albert Magnoli: “It was four weeks of interviews during the day [in writing the script]. Then I spent 11 p.m.-7 a.m. writing longhand with a ruler. In the morning, a secretary would pick up what I’d written and type it. Warner Bros. executives didn’t like the script. They said it was the most sexist, misogynist script they’d ever read, especially the dumpster scene. So they asked ‘what are you going to do [to change it]?’ I said nothing. Then a suggestion was made that John Travolta play Prince. I said Prince has to play Prince. That’s what will make the film authentic.”
Marie France: “I knew Prince’s music and had seen his videos. So I had a feeling for what I wanted to bring from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to make his look more iconic, romantic and artistic. I was trying to add on to who Prince was. I didn’t want to change him. Sometimes I didn’t agree with him. He’d look at me and say, ‘French women always want to argue.’ But he loved the lace and had never worn it before. I also want to thank Jerome. He would come into the trailer and help iron the shirts.”
Apollonia: “I was the last person they saw for the audition [to find the Vanity replacement]. [Actress] Nia Peeples had just walked out of the room. I walked in and they asked me to take my shoes off. I thought wow, they’re into feet. Later I learned they were flying me to Minneapolis to meet Prince, who takes me out for a ride in a purple limo. He was very reserved and shy. I’m like Chatty Cathy. The next day we do an audition at First Avenue. I wore black spandex and a metal mesh blouse. Later there’s a knock at my hotel door and it’s Chick [Charles ‘Big Chick’ Huntsberry] from his security team: “The kid likes you. Play it cool.”
Magnoli: “Prince said he had 100 songs and asked how many were needed for the film. We listened to about 20 songs and he said you pick. I picked 10 songs at that point but said we’re still missing the one song that will end the movie. After he played the song “Purple Rain” at First Avenue the first time [in Aug. 1983], I said that’s the song. He paused and said can we call the movie Purple Rain? That’s how innocent this all was. There was no master plan. Those other 90 songs have never been released; that’s what started the myth of the vault. Paisley Park wasn’t built yet.”
Jill Jones: “Prince was a master at marketing and strategy. He didn’t want to be labeled as just for black radio first and then go to white radio. This movie was also huge for the black community. It gave us lives other than being on TV and showed we’re really creative people. I also thank Prince for bringing us together. Jewish, blacks, Latino and Italians… We didn’t see color working together. It wasn’t all Kumbaya but it was the Benetton of color.”
Apollonia: “Prince called me and sang several pieces of [‘When Doves Cry’] into my answering machine and said not to erase it. When he came to my apartment, he headed straight to my machine. I still have that tape.”