There are many mysteries surrounding Kanye West’s epic mini-movie for “Runaway,” but one question nobody is asking is why the rapper picked gorgeous model Selita Ebanks to star as the phoenix in the film.
The former fiancée of Nick Cannon, “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant and Victoria’s Secret runway strutter was happy to suit up in the feathery wings for the part in West’s nearly wordless, 35-minute movie — which will premiere on Saturday on MTV and BET — but she admitted to New York magazine that she wasn’t quite sure what Yeezy was up to herself.
“I mean, you sit down with someone, and they say, ‘Hey, I want to make a movie where a phoenix falls from the sky and she becomes my girlfriend,’ you look at him like, ‘Okaaaay,’ ” she said. Ebanks has known West ever since she appeared in the music video for Pharrell’s 2006 song “Number One,” which featured verses by Kanye. This summer, she said the good friends had dinner with Ivanka Trump and a few other friends, and West began telling his companions about his concept for the “Runaway” video.
“He’s had this idea for so long, he wants to do a movie for an album, not a music video,” she said. “And everyone was like, ‘You’re crazy! You can’t do that!’ And Ivanka was like, ‘Who’s gonna do it?’ ‘Cause the phoenix was originally going to be completely naked. And I was like, ‘No way. I’d never do that.’ ”
But, as time went on, the more she talked about it with Kanye, and the more he explained the “nonverbal acting” required of his female co-star, the more Ebanks thought she might be interested. “I’ve been studying acting for like 10 years, and I’ve always wanted to do something that off the wall,” she explained.
She likely got more than she bargained for during the intense four-day shoot in Prague earlier this summer. With abstract scenes involving explosions, skittish deer and a parade, Ebanks said the “Runaway” screenplay , such as it was, existed mostly in Kanye’s head.
“The way ‘Ye operates, everything is in his mind,” she said. “He tries to verbally explain it. It’s a lot of conversation, a lot of character development and us working together, collaborating. Then he called in the big dogs, [art director] Vanessa Beecroft, as well as Philip Lim to do the wings [for the phoenix]. It was a big process of going in and fitting them and figuring out what looks more realistic. That was done in New York, all within two to three weeks.”
The first thing she did when she got off the plane in Prague was get fitted for a breastplate she wears near the end of the film, a detail of her costuming that the pair had never discussed before. “A lot of it is putting trust into his creativity and into his vision,” she explained.
Despite the esoteric nature of the idea, Ebanks said West is not one to explain his vision by referring to existing pieces of art, but rather by asking his collaborators to trust that he knows what he’s doing. “You have to have a certain amount of trust, and then it’s pretty easy for him to convince you what his vision is, and for it to be compelling,” she said. “I completely caught what he wanted from the beginning.”
She praised West as a great director who is patient and gives good instructions, making it clear that he was not dictatorial and had “no ego” on the set. Not even a director’s chair with his name on it, in fact.
Ebanks speculated that the moral of the movie is: “The world doesn’t accept, or they try to change, what is different, instead of trying to understand it.”
Ebanks said there are probably a few different ways to interpret the newly released controversial My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album cover featuring a painting of yet another phoenix, this one topless and straddling a naked, wine-swilling Kanye. “It’s kind of the same with his music, the things that he raps about,” she said. “You shouldn’t take everything as literal as it may look. I think it’s all about that douche bag thing. You know, there he is on that couch with a drink in his hand and a phoenix naked. There’s nothing wrong with that.”