'The Temptations' at 20: Cast and Crew Look Back at Making the Classic Miniseries


“Ain’t no person comin’ to see you, Otis!”

Spoken by David Ruffin within the biographical miniseries The Temptations, the road has develop into iconic for its hilarious brashness. In the scene it comes from, the legendary Motown act’s founder, Otis Williams, warns the lead singer to cease lacking classes and rehearsals. And Williams reminds Ruffin that the viewers is coming to see the whole group.

“I can’t go 48 hours of my life with out listening to it,” says actor Leon Robinson -- identified professionally as “Leon” -- whose acclaimed portrayal of Ruffin within the 1998 miniseries stays certainly one of his most acknowledged roles.. “For some purpose, individuals need to meet me to say that to me. … Or they’re like, ‘Just say that line one time. There’s my mother, [there’s] my grandmother. Can you say it to her?’”

People are even daring sufficient to say the disparaging line to the actual Otis Williams, who, at 77 years previous, is the final surviving, unique member of the Temptations.

“It doesn’t trouble me,” says Williams, who isn’t defensive, however doesn’t chortle, both. “I’m more durable than that as a result of I do know the actual deal.”

That the quote wasn’t even within the script, however ad-libbed by Leon in rehearsal, is proof of the film’s very good casting. Rounding out the traditional Temps lineup have been Charles Malik Whitfield (Otis Williams), Terron Brooks (Eddie Kendricks), D.B. Woodside (Melvin Franklin) and Christian Payton (Paul Williams). All the lads realized the intricate choreography of the unique group, and a few sang within the movie.

“It’s nerve-wracking while you’re doing the enduring track,” says Brooks, who was tasked with re-recording Eddie Kendricks’ lead vocal on the group’s 1971 Hot 100 No. 1 hit “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” “Most instances, individuals assume it was him. … in order that’s a giant praise.”

Access to the Motown catalog — the film featured greater than 40 songs — meant viewers might sing alongside to traditional ‘60s and ‘70s hits like “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Based on Otis Williams’ e book, Temptations, the script gave followers a glance into the largely unknown story behind the music. Airing on NBC on November 1 and a pair of, 1998, the two-part miniseries coated the highs and lows of the group from its origins within the 1950s to the mid-1990s.

Before getting the gig, director Allan Arkush was a seasoned veteran of musical tasks, together with the cult traditional Rock 'n' Roll High School with the Ramones, and episodes of the TV sequence Fame. Directing The Temptations was particularly significant as a result of he grew up on the music of Motown.

“The first time I heard Smokey Robinson sing ‘Shop Around,’ it was like, ‘Wow, what is that this?’” Arkush says.

Arkush was thrilled to get a chance to have lunch with Robinson early into the manufacturing. The legendary Motown songwriter described summoning the Temptations to his piano to show them a brand new track he’d written, known as “My Girl.”. Arkush relayed the story to the solid, who acted the scene with out a script.

Robinson was impressed with early footage. In one other surreal second, he known as Arkush on set and requested to be within the movie (he makes a cameo as himself on the finish) and to contribute music. “He says, ‘Allan, can I sing you a theme track?’” Arkush recollects, excitedly. “I sat on the curb listening to Smokey Robinson over the telephone sing the theme track. … He didn’t have the phrases but. He simply had a melody.”

Robinson was simply certainly one of a number of Motown veterans concerned within the movie. Otis Williams and the Temptations’ longtime supervisor, Shelly Berger, held producer titles. And Suzanne de Passe, who as soon as labored as Motown founder Berry Gordy’s inventive assistant, served as government producer.

Staying true to the story’s setting proved troublesome; the manufacturing was compelled to shoot in Pittsburgh and rebuild Motown’s “Hitsville U.S.A.” headquarters.

“Detroit was in such dangerous form as a metropolis, we couldn’t discover the type of middle-class housing of the ‘50s,” Arkush says. “And there was no movie group in Detroit as a result of nobody filmed there.”

In casting the film, the staff regarded for actors who weren't solely proficient, however embodied the spirit of the person Temptations. “I auditioned for Paul [Williams] first, after which Suzanne de Passe stated, ‘No, you’re Eddie Kendricks,’” says Brooks, who was a 23-year-old singer with out movie expertise on the time. “I applaud the casting since you might’ve gotten stars to play all of the roles, and I believe that might’ve diminished the story… You must get via these well-known individuals.”

The exception was Leon, who had already had memorable roles in Cool Runnings and The Five Heartbeats. Otis Williams had initially requested that Leon painting him, however Leon advised de Passe and different executives that he had different aspirations.

“I stated, ‘Well, I’m very flattered and honored that Otis needs me to play him, however for those who ask me, actually, I believe I’d finest serve this movie if I play the function of David Ruffin,’” Leon says. “And all of them have been like, ‘Oh my god, we’re so completely happy you stated that.’”

Casting Otis Williams was a problem. De Passe knew she needed Charles Malik Whitfield, however the actor was hesitant. “I simply knew that, general, it wasn’t for me as a result of I felt like an actual highly effective singer ought to actually be in that function,” he says. After some back-and-forth dealings with the studio -- former Grey’s Anatomy actor Isaiah Washington was reportedly thought-about -- Whitfield signed on a couple of week earlier than taking pictures. “I actually needed to be taught all the pieces on the fly,” he says. “But [actor] Christian Payton is the explanation I realized all my dance steps. He’d keep up with me late at evening.”

A controversial character, the late David Ruffin’s reported vanity, drug use and unstable relationships with ladies are a focus within the film. (His household disputed some particulars of his portrayal, however their lawsuit towards the manufacturing was unsuccessful.) According to solid and crew, among the stress between Ruffin and the remainder of the Temptations mirrored the dynamic on set.

“Leon by no means took off his sun shades,” Arkush says, laughing. “[He’s] obtained an actual sturdy persona. And he’s an instigator. And he began enjoying David on a regular basis.”

“When I come up with a task like that, particularly an individual who truly walked and talked on this earth … you need to go to nice lengths to deliver their spirit to life,” Leon says. “Even the mom of my little one needed to name me David throughout that interval. And I don’t assume my co-stars notably cared for me. … [But] on the finish of the day, I believe it labored out.”

Otis Williams noticed Leon in motion as David Ruffin on the primary and solely day he visited the set. The expertise introduced again visceral recollections of turmoil the group confronted, which included in-fighting, lineup modifications and untimely deaths of unique members.

“I assumed it might most likely be all proper, as a result of it was so lengthy [ago], however I nonetheless had that feeling of, ‘Oh, I can’t watch this,’” Williams says. “It was virtually just like the wound was nonetheless open.”

Though he’s seen a clip right here and there through the years — and says he can deal with the Temptations musical heading to Broadway subsequent yr —  he has by no means watched the whole movie, which additionally incorporates the deaths of his mom and son.

“I’m not prepared for it simply but,” he says.

Despite Leon’s ways, the actors grew to become “brothers,” who made a dedication to do the Temptations justice, Brooks says. They spent a variety of time speaking concerning the movie and attending to know one another, and even endured racism at a resort in Pittsburgh. “We have been going to go get some meals … and we obtained bottles thrown at us,” Brooks recollects.

They would later re-enact a real-life second of the Temptations getting shot at within the South within the 1960s. It put into perspective how a lot racial progress nonetheless wanted to be made.

“Unfortunately, I believe each black man has that battle,” Brooks says. “That’s one other fantastic factor about this film. It’s African-American males and their tales, and likewise what they did fallacious. They obtained all that cash and all that success, they usually have been younger with nobody to information them.”

The problem for Arkush was capturing 40 years in 4 hours. “I needed to guarantee that the story moved ahead with the songs,” he says. “The interpretation of the track has to mirror what was going of their lives and on the stage, so I needed to re-record the songs.”

For instance, viewers can really feel the stress between Ruffin and the group throughout “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” and the unhappiness surrounding Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams’ exit from the group throughout “Just My Imagination.” And the buildup to Paul Williams’ dying is captured in the course of the 12-minute “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” track, performed in its entirety with out dialogue.

“That’s one of many issues I’m most happy with within the film,” Arkush says.

The efficient mixture of a proficient solid and crew and timeless music birthed a permanent traditional. The miniseries not solely garnered an Emmy for excellent directing, however discovered new life via its launch on VHS/DVD and reruns on VH1 and BET. And 20 years later, the movie continues to be found and celebrated -- at the moment, individuals nonetheless inform Arkush of fond recollections experiencing the movie with household.

“Their aunts and their grandmothers and their moms watched it round holidays collectively. That’s sufficient simply to know that,” he says.

And the actors really feel blessed to be part of the movie’s legacy. “It’s actually humbling, I believe, for me to have a physique of labor that stays with individuals this lengthy,” Brooks says. “They nonetheless play it on TV, so it’s simply a rare present.”

“I have a look at it with nothing however gratitude and appreciation as a result of I’ve had so many younger individuals [say], ‘You’re Otis.’” Whitfield says. “So, I look again and go, ‘You know what? Temptations perpetually.’”