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Sometimes getting what you want is all about carving out your own opportunities for yourself, and Marsai Martin was ready to take that plunge at 10 years old. The young actress had just finished off her first season on the ABC comedy Black-ish as Diane, one of four children in Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross’ TV family. Take a break? Take a summer vacation like the other kids her age? Nah. She decided to pitch what became this weekend’s comedy release Little to the production company behind Think Like a Man and Ride Along. Doing so, she’d become the star and youngest executive producer in Hollywood history.
Will Packer Productions has grown in the past few years, including the 2017 mega-hit Girls Trip, and has boosted black comedians Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart into blockbuster leads. Here’s what Packer told me during a recent Little press day about the time Marsai Martin pitched her idea for the upcoming body-switch comedy:
This 10-year-old little force of nature comes into my office with Kenya Barris, who I knew very well, but I did not know [Marsai Martin]. She comes in, she has this pitch and I hear pitches all the time at various stages, some well thought out, some not so much. She came in with this really well thought out, structured pitch that was good and worked! I said ‘You know what? I can see this movie!' She had some scenes that she acted out in the moment and I was like ‘Okay, this young lady is not shy, she’s got a very strong sense of self but also a very strong sense of story.’ That’s what stood out.
If only we all had that kind of confidence that that age! Not only did the actress have the courage to step into the Hollywood executive’s office with creator of Black-ish, Kenya Barris, but she convinced Will Packer to actually make the movie too. Little is about successful tech entrepreneur Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall), who wakes up one morning as her younger self and must renavigate life as middle-schooler, as her assistant April (Issa Rae) covers for her back at work.
Tina Gordon, who also penned the script for What Men Want, was hired to write and direct the project and collaborated with Marsai Martin during the development process. Gordon admitted that she had some different ideas going into the project about what Marsai Martin’s character would take on. Here’s what she told me:
Originally, she had a lot of scenes with the kids in the movie, but after I met her, I realized that comedically she could really go toe-to-toe with Issa Rae. She is beyond her years as far as comedic timing and they had a great chemistry together. So a lot of the buddy comedy came through meeting and collaborating with Marsai. A big part of the collaboration between us came because she was really able to inform me about the pressures of social media and bullying. She has her finger on the pulse of her generation.
Early in the process, Little was going to primarily take place in the halls of Jordan’s old middle school, but Marsai Martin’s ability to take more on blew the writer/director away. The comedy instead is more about the growing relationship and hilarious quips between little Jordan and Issa Rae’s April as they form an unlikely friendship through the events on the film.
Marsai Martin also helped Tina Gordon implement how relevant social media is on her young generation and place it in the DNA of the film, in addition to it touching on the prevalence of bullying in middle school as well. When I asked the youngest executive producer ever if the job she took on was a different experience then she was expecting, here’s what she confidently said:
I thought it was going to be more difficult because it is my first film. I was going to be nervous and I just had to get my mind right and really pay attention, but then they just made it so comfortable for me. Most of the people on set I probably knew already or seen them on Black-ish. It was more like a reunion when working with Regina and Issa, they just made it comfortable for me and it was all fun.
This 14-year-old is thriving in the cutthroat world of Hollywood without batting an eye. Marsai Martin did seem to place the right people around her for her film debut, as she had previously worked with both of the film’s stars before and much of the crew behind Black-ish followed her for Little. Think we’re going to have to watch out for this one! You can catch Little in theaters this Friday, April 12.