Birthdate: January 26, 1969
Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
George Tillman Jr. has created a durable and highly regarded career as a director/writer/producer since 1995 when he made his own indie feature debut, Scenes for the Soul (1995), shot with his own money in thirty days with non-professional Black actors in Chicago, and selling it to Savoy Pictures for $1 million just before the distributor went bankrupt.
Tillman Jr.’s second writer-director feature was the phenomenally successful indie-produced Soul Food (1997), starring Vivica A. Fox, Venessa Williams, and Nia Long, grossing a robust $43 million globally (on a $6.5 million budget) for 20th Century Fox, which then packed with George Tillman Jr. to create a successful TV series (of the same title), airing from 2000-2003.
Tillman Jr.’s next three features were as director only, starting with the military drama, Men of Honor (2000), starring Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr., Hal Holbrook, and Charlize Theron, grossing nearly three times costs ($32 million) with a total of $82 million. Tillman Jr.’s next directing assignment was Notorious (2009), the biopic (written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker) of rapper Biggie Smalls/The Notorious B.I.G., starring Jamal Woodard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, and Anthony Mackie, returning a profitable $44.4 million global gross for Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Tillman Jr. followed this project with Faster (2010), the action-thriller starring Dwayne Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton, with Carla Gugino, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Tom Berenger, grossing a weak $35.6 million. George Tillman Jr. expanded his filmmaking profile as both director and producer on the low-budget drama, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete (2013), with Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jordin Sparks, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Mackie, and Jennifer Hudson, earning 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. Tillman Jr. was director only on the Nicholas Sparks’ adaptation, The Longest Ride (2015), with Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, and Alan Alda, grossing $63 million on $34 million costs for 20th Century Fox.
Fox was also behind producer-director Tillman Jr.’s lauded The Hate U Give (2018), starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Common, and Anthony Mackie, premiering at the Toronto Film Festival and winning several audience awards from festivals including Mill Valley and Hamptons.
Tillman Jr.’s first movie as writer-director since Soul Food was Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World (2023), starring Khris Davis in the title role, Jasmine Mathews, John Magaro, and Forest Whitaker, and released by Sony Pictures. Tillman Jr.’s next movie as a director was another biopic, The Defender (date to be announced), starring Sterling K. Brown as famed defense attorney Scipio Africanus Jones.
George Tillman Jr. has had a robust career as a producer, including the hit Barbershop franchise, starting with Barbershop (2002), Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004), Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016), and the TV series version of Barbershop (2005). An additional Barbershop franchise project which Tillman Jr. produced was Beauty Shop (2005), starring Queen Latifah.
The combined global gross of the four films was $235 million, with each movie averaging at or under $20 million costs. Tillman Jr. was a producer on the comedy-drama, Roll Bounce (2005), directed by Malcolm D. Lee and starring Bow Wow, Chi McBride, Mike Epps, and Nick Cannon, and released by Fox Searchlight. George Tillman Jr. was a producer (with his regular producing partner Robert Teitel) on the Latino-themed Christmas movie, Nothing Like the Holidays (2008), with Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Alfred Molina, and Freddy Rodriguez, earning $7.5 million gross.
George Tillman Jr. was born and raised in Milwaukee, by his father George (motor plant worker), and his mother (secretary). Tillman Jr. attended and graduated from John Marshall High School, with a specialty in Mass Communications magnet classes. Tillman Jr. then moved to Chicago and majored in film and video at Chicago-based Columbia College, where he made short films. Tillman Jr. has been married to actor Marcia Wright since 1995; the couple has one child
Young Filmmaker: George Tillman Jr. made his first home movies at age 8 with his father’s 8mm camera, rewriting and re-plotting TV soap operas like All My Children (1970-2011).
Influences: Tillman Jr. cites his early viewing of Cooley High (1975), Five on the Black Hand Side (1973), and Claudine (1974) as inspiring him at a young age to be a filmmaker.