Singer-dancer Todrick Hall, the onetime Arlington resident who catapulted to national visibility through clever viral videos and appearances on season nine of “American Idol,” at first had no interest in having a documentary made about him.
But there he was on the big screen at South by Southwest at Saturday’s premiere of “Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall” (formerly titled “No Place Like Home: Todrick Hall”), a film chronicling the making of his “Straight Outta Oz” visual album and stage show, a work of connected songs dealing explicitly with his coming to terms with his artistic dreams and growing up black and gay in Texas.
“It was not my idea and I can’t take credit for that,” he said Sunday afternoon amid the hubbub of SXSW. “I was supposed to do another movie and I didn’t have time to write that movie. [The media company AwesomenessTV] kept asking me about it and I said I’m not really motivated to do that. I’m motivated to do this visuals album and maybe we can do something around this. They suggested to me to do a documentary. I don’t think I’d ever watched a documentary before we started filming this.”
For those who only know Hall through such videos as his Beyonce-themed flash mob in a Target or fun take on safety instructions for Virgin America, “Straight Outta Oz” shows off a more mature and serious Hall. He credits part of that to director Katherine Fairfax Wright, whose last film, “Call Me Kuchu,” profiled David Kato, a gay activist in Uganda, a country where homosexuality is punishable by life imprisonment.
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“After we talked [initially], I said I think she’s going to do a really good job of helping me elevate to a new level. I don’t know if it’s necessary elevating, but a different level of where I was before,” he said. “I was very like all about cupcakes and ice cream and stuff like that. Her aesthetic, she’s more mature and she could show me in a different light than I had been seen before.”
For Wright’s part, she wasn’t familiar with Hall until Awesomeness approached her. “He’s so magnetic and so creative and that was immediately apparent to me. Then I saw the trailer for ‘Straight Outta Oz’ and that’s even more compelling,” she said Sunday.
Also helping to deepen Hall’s persona in the film is the political backdrop against which the “Straight Outta Oz” album and tour were launched. In “Behind the Curtain,” the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Fla., and the police shooting of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn., play a prominent role.
“It was a part of the experience of that summer,” said Wright. “And I really wanted to find a way to fold that into the film. I knew that it would only work if it felt organic. … I needed it to feel like it came from Todrick’s world and was part of the experience of the cast that summer.”
Hall, who recently was on Broadway in “Kinky Boots,” is touring “Straight Outta Oz” again this spring, coming to the Bomb Factory in Dallas on April 30.
Hall, who now lives in Los Angeles, says he doesn’t get back to North Texas often, though he still has family here. “I come here to do shows, but to come home just to spend time with my family and chill out and watch ‘That’s So Raven’ reruns hasn’t happened in a long time,” he said with a laugh. “But, hopefully, this will be the year that it can happen.”