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Q&A: Ziggy Marley on Bob Marley's Life and Times

Ziggy Marley
Getty Images

It's been more than 30 years since the legendary Bob Marley's untimely death at 36. Now, the man, his music, and his journey from slums of Jamaica to the heights of international stardom are being vividly brought to life in the first-ever documentary sanctioned by his family. It opens April 20 in theaters and on VOD and features intimate interviews with family members and those who knew him best.

"Marley" includes rare footage of Bob Marley and the Wailers' thrilling live performances as they rose to worldwide acclaim in the early 1970s. But "Marley" encompasses much more than music. Directed by Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland"), it's a revelatory examination of Marley's entire life, from the rejection he suffered for being mixed-race to the assassination attempt that injured him and his wife --  as well as the reasons he is still, decades after his death, idolized by people around the world.

Ziggy Marley, the oldest of Bob's 11 children, is the one who most resembles him physically and has followed in his father's musical footsteps. He shares executive producer credit on the film with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, and he spoke with NextMovie about his memories of his father and whether he would ever approve a Bob Marley biopic.

You were just shy of 13 when your dad passed away. Did you gain new insights into your father's life from watching the footage?
I learned a lot about his early life in Trench Town [the shantytown district of Kingston, Jamaica, where Bob grew up], and the hard time he suffered as a result of his skin color. [Marley's mother was black, his father was white.] I never knew anything about his time in Germany, where he went for treatment of his melanoma, so that was very emotional and insightful. I learned a lot about his illness that I didn't know.

Also Check Out: Reggae Be Jammin' (and Wailin') in "Marley" Trailer

As executive producer, you had a lot of input into how the story was shaped.
I told Kevin, "Don't take out the sad stuff." After he showed me the first cut, I said those were the things that played into my emotions and that was very important in representing Bob's life. We wanted to show everything, all the women, the assassination attempt, the music and the emotional connection people had to him.

Marley
Magnolia Pictures

I noticed that you call him Bob, while some of your brothers and sisters still refer to him as Daddy.
I used to call him Daddy, but now he's Bob. He's like a brother, father, teacher and uncle to me. I feel enough closeness to his life and emotional feelings that will always be part of me. We have a relationship that continues to evolve and grow. When I was younger, I wanted to be just like him. I used to try; now I don't try, but I feel his spirit within me.

In the film, you say that he was very competitive with his kids -- that he wouldn't slow down when you were running together just because you were kids.
He was very physical, playing table tennis, soccer and boxing, so I saw him do sports a lot as part of being a musician. It was part of keeping the spirit up. He had very strong work ethics.

If he were still with us today, what do you think you would be doing?
I think he would be just who he was and he would be doing the same thing. His biggest influence on me is realizing that music is a spiritual thing, not just a business, and that it gives messages and ideas to people that are from God.

It's inevitable that you are compared to him.
It's natural that anyone is compared to their father. Within the music industry, I don't pay much attention. My band and I [the Melody Makers] are just trying to be ourselves.

What do you hope that audiences take away from this film?
As a viewer, I love watching movies. There has to be an emotional connection. This one is real -- with drama, sex, action, all the elements that make it compelling. I think what's great about the film is though there's been a lot of things done on Bob, I think this one will give people a more emotional connection to Bob's life as a man. Not just as a reggae legend or a mythical figure, but his life as a man, you know? The struggles he went through.

Did you or would you ever consider making a biopic about his life?
Eventually, maybe, but it would have to be great. It couldn't just be for trying to make a profit. There would have to be a reason. Maybe for another generation. The documentary is like an encyclopedia that details specifics. A biopic would be more like a short summary.

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