Hiro Murai—Atlanta co-executive producer and Donald Glover's frequent music video collaborator—recently sat down with Indiewire's Toolkit podcast to talk about the Teddy Perkins episode of Atlanta. Murai explained that the episode was one of the biggest challenges they faced yet, and that it could have come off as "a farce," but to keep things in that perfect surreal balance, even Lakeith Stanfield, who plays Darius, had no idea it was Donald Glover playing the prosthetic white-faced Teddy Perkins.
There's no denying the breadth of Donald Glover's artistic talent. His masterful storytelling ability translates across different mediums, and consistently leaves us in awe of his creative prowess. Glover's own cast and collaborators seem to trust in his ability to visualize and execute a concept so fully, that even an idea as far-fetched as his Teddy Perkins character on an episode of Atlanta was able to thrive.
"As soon as I saw him, I just started laughing because I was so relieved. I just knew it was going to work just based on how I felt just staring at him," Murai said of his first encounter of Glover as Teddy Perkins.
Murai explained that in order for this particular episode to work, they would have to focus on a different visual structure than the usual stylized, wide-angle shots that play up Atlanta's nuanced background and foreground subtleties.
"The big thing with that episode was dialing everything back and just letting Teddy’s face do all the talking," Murai said.
Adding to the confusion of such a bizarre episode, Murai revealed that much of the cast and crew on set were not made aware of the identity of the actor portraying Teddy Perkins—including Stanfield.
"Keith didn’t know, at least for a day and half, until he just grilled everyone on the crew until someone gave up the information. Keith had no idea," Murai said. Murai even recounted the behind-the-scenes moment when he was able to take a picture of Stanfield and Glover as Perkins, prior to Standfield knowing who was beneath his co-star's creepy mask.
"I have this great photo from set where I told Keith to sit next to Teddy so I could take a photo of them. I can see just pure confusion and horror on his face because he knew somebody was in there—it’s not a natural looking person but he was just going mad trying to figure it out," said Murai.
Listen to the full episode of Indiewire's Toolkit podcast here, to hear Murai talk more about the episode.
Stanfield confirmed Murai's Teddy Perkins story during a recent appearance on BigBoyTV. While promoting his upcoming film, Sorry to Bother You, the 26-year-old actor revealed he had no idea Glover was playing Teddy.
"I’m gonna be honest with you: I had no idea who that person was," he said at the 13:55 mark. "And whoever it was they were either in character the whole time, or it was somebody who I had never met before. So I was asking everyone, 'Who is that?' And they said 'That’s Teddy Perkins.' So Googled him, and nothing came up.
"[...] So I came to talk to him, and he’s like, ‘I’m an actor. I’ve been doing this for 15 years [...] So I didn't know who he was, and the cameras got to rolling, and my mind was just blown. I was like, my mind was just blown," Stanfield said, before revealing he has never confirmed that it was in fact Donald in the Teddy makeup. "[...] There was only one thing that was similar: His feet were kind of like Donald’s. But I was looking at the dude and was like, 'Nah. That’ ain’t Donald.'"