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Why ‘The Defiant Ones’ Director Allen Hughes Calls the Tupac-and-Marilyn-Manson Episode 3 His ‘Apocalypse Now’

How a boardroom battle and a supercharged montage helped create one of the year's most invigorating TV episodes.

Allen Hughes and Dr. Dre - The Defiant Ones HBO

Allen Hughes and Dr. Dre

G L Askew II/HBO

Even in a project as mammoth as “The Defiant Ones,” director Allen Hughes still points to one installment of the four-part series as an especially daunting task: the feature-length third episode, premiering Tuesday night on HBO.

What began as a one-off project quickly grew to, in Hughes’ mind, a potential five part series. Hughes explained as part of a recent interview with IndieWire that a fateful conversation with HBO VP of Programming Nina Rosenstein. (Hughes describes her as “my godmother at HBO.”)

“At one point, I was like ‘Nina, I’m telling you, it’s five.’ I was fighting Jimmy and Dre on that, as well. Nina said, ‘It’s four.’ I said, ‘But, mathematically, that’s gonna make my job–‘ She goes, ‘Yeah, but that’s what it is. It’s four.’ I took that as a challenge. I said fuck it. That’s why Part 3 is like ‘Apocalypse Now.'”

READ MORE: ‘The Defiant Ones’ Director Allen Hughes on How He Got Eminem, Bruce Springsteen, and Dr. Dre to Spill Secrets On Camera

This fateful episode, charting the rise of Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope Records and following through to the rise of the East Coast/West Coast rap feud, takes on a greater significance based on its placement within the overall series. One of the most difficult segments to compile was documenting Iovine’s infamous 1995 tussle over his stake in Interscope, the label he’d co-founded five years earlier. To capture how important these chapters were at the time for the future of the company and Iovine’s burgeoning media empire, Hughes knew that he had to infuse these boardroom maneuvers with a life-or-death feel.

What I loved about it — we called it ‘Time Warner 1’ and ‘Time Warner 2,’ two parts to the business of what’s going on politically at that time — it had to feel like a shootout, that was the mandate in the editing room. We have to take these business scenes and feel like someone’s getting ready to get shot in their ass,” Hughes said. 

Part 3 proved to be especially difficult in weaving together all the disparate social, political and creative battles that Interscope found itself at the center of. In one of the series most breathtaking sequences, “The Defiant Ones” ties together the cultural angst that followed all of these groups in the rap and metal worlds, all set to the strains of Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People.” Juggling all of these headlines in one condensed montage pushed the boundaries of comprehension, even for Hughes.

“One of them is a great story. If you had two in the whole movie, you’d be lucky to have those stories,” Hughes said. “We not only had an embarrassment of riches as far as great stories, but when you start to do the editing of it and they’re coming one behind the other, I must confess, I don’t think we quite achieved maximum processing. If you can process all of that in one sitting, you’re a fucking certifiable genius because I can’t.”


All four parts of “The Defiant Ones” are available via HBO NOW, HBO Go, and HBO On Demand. It will also air nightly on HBO through July 12.

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