May05

One On One: Chadwick Boseman

chadwickHis name may not yet be on everyone’s radar, but Chadwick Boseman is fast becoming the next hot actor. Having nabbed his first major starring role as legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson in the biopic “42,” (which grossed $95M at the box office) he’ll shake things up next as the “godfather of soul,” James Brown in the biopic, “Get On Up” (Out August). The roles may seem miles apart, but the 32-year-old South Carolina native—educated at Howard University and Oxford—says he’s having the time of his life. View his acting chops on the big screen now in the NFL movie “Draft Day” starring Kevin Costner.

Q: With such great scripts being handed to you, what drew you to this specific story, how did you prepare and what is notable about your character Vontae Mack in “Draft Day?”

A: This is all about the story behind sports, the dreams and hopes... What I love about his actions in the movie is that he's knowledgeable about the draft in a way that the other characters are not. Interestingly, I had lost a little weight [for 42] so I had to gain at least 25 pounds in only three weeks. I was up to 215, close to 220 pounds, and I've never been that heavy. I ate things that I wouldn't normally eat like a lot of steak and carbs.

Q: What have been the major career highlights for you?

A: I can’t even put that into words. All of it. All of this has been an amazing 2 1/2 years. It doesn’t even make sense. In doing the James Brown film, you get to be a rock star. You always dream about having your headset on and listening to music and dreaming about doing it, but to actually learn the skill set, the footwork, and the vocabulary is beyond what I ever imagined. This is a James Brown vocabulary that a lot of artists have picked up on and to learn that and to implement it and know it. I could go into the clubs and if I wanted to throw in a few moves, I could. You get to learn things as an actor that other people don’t get a chance to do in a regular job. You get to have professional baseball training or singing lessons. So having other people see it will be fun.

Q: What was the hardest part about James Brown to portray? What was the best part and what did you learn about him?

A: The man himself. He was a very complex man and just figuring out why he did the things he did. The dancing part was fun.

I met two of his wives, his nephew and his grandson—he was actually on set every day. They said a lot and it was helpful. We start with him as a kid. It’s a triumphant story. He knew that there was something special inside him. He was never a victim of anything.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I play an Egyptian God in “Gods of Egypt” [out in 2015], so I’m more in the fantasy world right now.

Apr03

One On One: Mekhi Phifer

Screen-Shot-2013-11-18-at-5.05.10-PM
A Harlem, NY native and Los Angeles resident, Mekhi Phifer's acting career began with a bang after auditioning at an open casting call for Spike Lee's “Clockers” and landing the lead role. Now, the 39-year-old father of two (known for his various R rated roles in “Soul Food,” “8 Mile,” “Carmen: A Hip Hopera,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Shaft,” “O,” and stints on TV series’ “ER,” “Lie To Me,” “Torchwood” and “House of Lies”), has stepped into young adult action-adventure blockbusters with a role in “Divergent”—the first in a trilogy also starring Zoe Kravitz, Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd—in theaters now.

Q: Your role in “Divergent” is minor but strong. Tell us about your character.
A:
I play Max, the leader of the Dauntless factor. He’s a bit of a mystery in this first installment. We don’t know what his motivations are. You know there’s something going on, but we don’t really know yet, so I’m looking forward to the second installment.

Q: You’ve said Max’s race was ambiguous, how hard is it for you to find opportunities even to audition for roles that are colorblind?
A:
Usually, directors and producers kind of know who they want. So it’s always a challenge to get past any stereotype and just be a man.

Q: What drew you to this type of movie, which isn’t a “usual” choice for you?
A:
I rarely get to do films that my kids can go see. I’ve got a lot of R-rated movies, there’s cursing and very edgy, so it was nice to be able to sort of open up to another demographic in this kind of film. My son, who is 14, knew about the book before I did. This is the first project in my career that he has been excited for.

People have worked their whole careers and never get the chance to do a film as big as this one. I know this is the biggest film of my career, budget-wise.

Q: How do you pick your roles—do you choose crisis or survival roles on purpose?
A:
It’s fun. It’s unpredictable. You’re not locked into anything that’s boring. Those are some fun adventures that I’m going on with those shows and films. As an actor, you’re always striving to keep things fresh and stay interested and stay on your toes, so to speak. I’ve turned down money because I was either going to be making lateral movement or going down as far as the way I was being perceived by the public and fans. There are jobs that I wouldn’t take, but then there’d be this job that would take you to another level.

Q: How did you get started acting?
A:
Well, I wasn’t even trying to act. I just went to an open casting call. When you come out the game with that sort of film, working with all these great people, including Spike Lee, it really sets a tone on where you want to be with your career. When I did “Clockers,” I didn’t even think about having a career in acting, I just thought, “Wow, this is cool. I get to do a little movie.” But it really does affect your selection, because you’ve already set a tone for what you expect of yourself and what people expect of you.

Mar03

One On One: Kevin Hart

GuideWith over a decade of credits in films such as “Soul Plane,” “Death At A Funeral,” “Fools Gold” and a role in the “Barbershop” TV series, actor, comedian and businessman, Kevin Hart has finally reached the A-list. The father of two is enjoying star power with recent blockbuster roles in “Think Like A Man,” “Grudge Match” and “Ride Along” (No. 1 for three weeks). This month he stars in the ‘80s remake “About Last Night” (No. 2 opening weekend) opposite Regina Hall, Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant.

Q: In “About Last Night” you have a swimming scene against Michael Ealy, who said you were part of the famous swim team featured in the film “Pride” (starring Terrence Howard), what happened there?

A: Yes, I swam all my youth and that movie was based off my real swim team. I made it to the junior Olympics and everything. But my mom made me do it and because I didn’t like the fact that she made me, when I got old enough to stop, I was like “I’m not swimming no more.” It’s weird. I was a dumb kid. Maybe I got lucky and made the right decision.

Q: What sets you apart from great standup comedian/actors who came before you?

A: I’m universal. When you’re universal it means you appeal to everyone. From my standups you’ve seen me get married, have kids, go through a divorce and become a single dad—It’s all one big evolving story.

And my stand up movies I did on my own. “Laugh At My Pain,” I spent $750,000 and made $8M. I did “Let Me Explain” for $2.5M and that did $33M. And I own the rights - nobody else owns theirs – the studio owns it. That’s why I get looked at with a side eye – I’m just not afraid to take risks, I take my own money and flip it.

Q: How do you remain grounded?

A: You need friends that will tell you to sit down. You need friends that will tell you you’re doing too much. The reason why I’m not caught up in Hollywood is because I’m not part of Hollywood. I got my Hollywood friends I hangout with, but for the bulk of my days if I’m not with my kids, I’m in my office with guys working and trying to figure out whats next, or I’m at home. My office is around the corner from my house and my kids will come to the office and play. I have such a balance.

Q: To have worked for 17 years with little traction until now, how did you overcome rejection?

A: That's the thing about acting: you have to have a thick skin. Some people are blessed with it, some people aren't. I've done auditions where the casting director is taking the paper out of my hand in the middle of reading. When my show “The Big House” was picked up, they flew me to New York, I'm about to step on stage to announce it and a hand grabs my shoulder, "Kevin no, they just decided to cancel it." It's a serious smack-in-the-face business, and either you can take it or you can't. I remember this guy told me that he felt that I just wasn't that funny. He didn't like my approach to standup comedy, and this was the guy who judged you to get on stage. And I was like, ‘Alright.’ I just went to another comedy club. I wasn’t affected by it. Everything happens when it’s supposed to.

Feb05

One on One: Joy Bryant

Yale University dropout and former model, Joy Bryant is reaping the benefits of an acting career she nearly passed up. Now, the married 39-year-old Bronx, New York native, whose credits include “The Skeleton Key,” “Get Rich or Die Tryin,’” “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins,” and currently co-stars in NBC’s “Parenthood,” brushes up on her comedy skills in the new film, “About Last Night”—opposite Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy and Regina Hall—due out Valentine’s Day.

Q: What was the most memorable part of filming with this ensemble?
A: I remember it being really hard not to laugh. In the beginning of the movie, Kevin and Regina are sitting across from us in a bar and at one point I forgot I was in the scene. I almost became a spectator. I felt I needed some popcorn because they were out of this world funny. It was very difficult to keep it together.

Q: What about this love story felt most real?
A: How it portrays the natural evolution of a relationship. The initial meeting of someone and not being your authentic self and falling in love, but then the honeymoon is over and you hate them...and then you want them back. Relationships show your capacity to be selfless. People underestimate what you have to do to maintain and nurture a relationship. With my character, Debbie, she exemplifies the, “Why am I going to try [this] if it’s not going to work?”

Q: How did you get into acting?
A: I didn't have aspirations of being an actor. I thought I would end up on Wall Street—or on a completely different path. After dropping out of Yale, acting was something I came into while I was modeling. People said, “You should be an actor. I would say, “Actors are crazy.” But I ended up going on an audition my agent referred me to and landed the part. Splitting time between New York and Paris, I wasn't sure about taking the part because there were other people that really wanted it—that was their life. I would’ve felt horrible to take the opportunity, so I removed myself from consideration. The casting director called me, and I told him why. He said I had a natural ability. So in London I took an acting class. I did that for a year before I went on any auditions and then I booked “Carmen: A Hip Hopera” with Beyonce. Within six months I booked “Antwone Fisher.”

Q: Do you think there’s a change going on in terms of black Hollywood flourishing?
A: Is it a black renaissance? No. We’ll see that in a few years when we consistently have more movies out there. Also, when there’s more people of color behind the scenes flipping the switch, that's when we’ll know—whether they’re women or people of color. Let’s enjoy it,- but not break out the champagne yet. I mean I started modeling in ’94 and we’re still talking about the same thing.

Q: What is the project you’re trying to bring into fruition?
A: I’m working on telling the story of black artists living in Paris in the ‘20s. That time period and especially the fashion is one of my favorite eras.

Jan07

One On One: Idris Elba

Idris-ElbaBritish-born actor and Golden Globe winner, Idris Elba came to America twenty years ago. In the time since, the 41-year-old unmarried father of one (presently expecting baby No. 2) has become Hollywood gold, thanks to a string of high profile film roles, including “Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls,” “Obsessed,” “Takers,” “Thor,” and “Pacific Rim.” Ironically, it was on TV that he first got noticed with his breakout role in 2002 as Stringer Bell on “The Wire,” followed by a short stint on “The Office” and a leading role on “Luther.” His appeal only grows stronger with "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” in theaters now.

Q: Did you carry a great sense of responsibility, having to portray such an iconic personality?

A: I did, and I'm still carrying that responsibility now. It was based on the idea that everybody knows who Mandela is and one way or the other is moved by his story. I certainly didn't feel qualified to play the man, to be honest, as an actor. I thought there were much greater actors who could and should play such a great man. However, I took that sense of responsibility to heart, and as I promote the film now, I realize that it's beyond just playing the character at this point, it's about representing Mr. Mandela himself.

Q: What was the most important aspect for you in portraying Nelson Mandela?

A: We knew that the filmmaker didn’t want to make a look-a-like type of Mandela. They wanted to make an interpretation of the man. So I wanted to make sure everything else was absolutely as it was, especially the voice. My parents are West African. I grew up listening to both my mum and dad speaking with a West African accent. They're from Sierra Leone. Which is very different from Southern Africa in terms of the way they speak English. However, that sort of cadence I'm quite used to. So I had a foundation to understand where to start from. But then here's a quality in his voice that I had to pay attention to.

Q: Was Mandela’s legacy something you paid attention to in your youth?

A: It was compulsory that I knew that there was a man that's sitting in jail that's been there forever because he fought against apartheid. My dad flew the flag for Nelson Mandela and any freedom fighter in South Africa. I used to listen to World Service News just to understand the situation.

Q: It’s more than 10 years since The Wire started. Do you ever get sick of talking about it?

A: I enjoy seeing the reach of it. I’ll go to a press junket and there’ll be a guy from London and a guy from Taiwan who are both hardcore Wire fans, and that to me is enjoyable. So I’ve always liked talking about it. I’ve faced criticism before from people who say, “Oh, you don’t really speak highly enough of The Wire.” I do, I love The Wire. It’s just it was a long time ago and I was written out of the show early, so it’s a different sort of journey for me.

Dec04

One on One: Taye Diggs

Taye-DiggsFifteen years after the “Best Man” released to record box office numbers in 2001, the college friends reunite in the anticipated sequel, “The Best Man Holiday,” in theaters now. Similar to the role that put him on the map, Diggs is also a real life published author of a children’s book titled ‘Chocolate Me.’ Of course, the 42-year-old married father of one is best-known for his six-year run on TV series “Private Practice,” his Broadway stint on “Rent,” a supporting role in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” and as Paula Patton’s love interest in “Baggage Claim,” released this summer. “The Best Man Holiday”—which came in #2 at the box office with three times the box office receipts of “The Best Man”—only goes to show that Diggs and the rest of the ensemble cast, have not lost their appeal with today’s movie going audiences.

Q: How did making the first movie change your life?
A: "The Best Man" is considered a classic. A lot of movies used it as a model. I was lucky enough to have it on my resumé and I was proud to be part of one of the first of its kind. To have experienced that movie with those people was special. And for me, as an actor, to be one of the leads in a movie like that, I also proved to myself that this wasn't a fluke, that I could do this and that I could have a good time doing it.

Q: How cool was it to do the New Edition dance scene with Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, and Harold Perrineau?
A: That was my favorite couple of days on set. That's why I do movies like these. Great people and good music. It was fun. We only learned a smidgeon and we simplified the choreography an amazing amount. From doing that I’ve gained a new respect for all of those groups who dance and sing at the same time. All the movements were so specific and the timing was difficult. I enjoyed that challenge but it threw me off in the beginning because these cats make it look so easy.

Q: After getting a theater degree from Syracuse University, you did “Carousel” on Broadway and then what?
A: I was at Tokyo Disneyland. I was the emcee at a show called Sebastian’s Caribbean Jamboree and it was a lot of singing and dancing. We learned just enough Japanese to welcome the guests and introduce ourselves. My agents thought I was crazy. To them, I was disappearing for a year. To me, it was a chance to travel. I was confident enough that I could come back and pick up where I left off. Sebastian was my second real paying job before I got “Rent” on Broadway.

Q: Does being a dad change what you pick as far as subject matter?
A: Now that I have a 4-year-old boy, location is always a factor, because I want to be as close to my family as possible. But after that, I look at if it’s a role that I haven’t played before. I’ve changed as a person, so being a father has changed my outlook on everything. I know that the older you get, the more excited you are to do a project that you would either want to see or be proud of. As far as how or why I would choose a role based on my own standards, that hasn’tll changed.

First Ladies High Tea
November will mark the 20th Anniversary of our Annual First Ladies High Tea, honoring the contributions of female leaders and women of faith to the Los Angeles community. For more information, visit www.firstladieshightea.com
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