One o One: Djimon Hounsou

One o One: Djimon Hounsou

Rarely does an actor gain an Oscar nomination for his very first starring role, but that is exactly what happened to 50-year-old Djimon Hounsou with his breakout role in Steven Spielberg's "Amistad." Fact is, the Benin, Africa native became the talk of Tinseltown in 1997, not just for his stirring portrayal of Joseph Cinque, the leader of a slave ship mutiny, but also for his rags to riches rise to fame. Homeless and living on the streets of Paris after dropping out of school at 13, Hounsou moved to Hollywood to pursue acting. A chance encounter with Spielberg and Debbie Allen at an open casting call for the movie would forever alter the course of his career. A string of credits followed on both the big and small screens including a semi-regular role on “ER” and appearances in “Gladiator” opposite Russell Crowe and “Blood Diamond” opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, “Biker Boyz,” “Beauty Shop” and most recently “Baggage Claim” and most recently “How To Train Your Dragon 2.”

One On One: Gugu Mbatha-Raw

One On One: Gugu Mbatha-Raw

31-year-old Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s first name means “our pride” in Zulu. And that’s a perfectly appropriate word for the blossoming actress that wowed audiences as the mixed-race daughter of an English aristocrat in the award-winning period drama “Belle.” Outside of her outstanding role, which is already generating the Oxford, London native some well-deserved Oscar buzz, the classically trained actress has also built a reputation for being articulate and easy-going. Her acting credits include a starring role in the TV series “Undercovers” with Boris Kodjoe, Fox’s “Touch” opposite Kiefer Sutherland, the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts film “Larry Crowne” and the Jude Law-helmed “Hamlet” on Broadway—and she is far from finished.


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.


One On One: Mekhi Phifer

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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.


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.


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.

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