September 2001
Morris Chestnut : An All-Star in Hollywood

Interviewed by Midas

Morris Chestnut : An All-Star in Hollywood

It was only 11 years ago that audiences felt bereft with grief when the character of Ricky was gunned down in Boyz N the Hood. As one of the main characters in that film, Morris Chestnut’s ascent to greater acting heights has been a steady climb. He is now one of the most sought after African American actors in the industry, but in no way has that gone to his head. had an opportunity to talk with Chestnut for 2 Can Play That Game. The actor reveals in this interview his new film and playing “good man” Keith and his continued desire to test the levels of his acting ability, but his love for his children, his unique college interests, and his love for sports.

MC: I want to introduce my daughter Page. She is 3 and my son is 4. I am going out of town today and wanted to spend as much time as possible with them before I left.

Keith, in this movie is the object of controversy and is picked on a lot.

He is very misunderstood in the movie. It was a fun time playing Keith in this movie, but I think everyone, if they have been in a relationship has come up on the short end of the stick. At this time, Keith is coming up on the short end of the stick.

M: There is a line in the movie that suggests that Keith is a good man. Do you think that sums him up?

MC: He has been disrespected to a certain extent. It is true that he is a good man and he know that, but in certain situations you have tell people that. Sometimes people take advantage of that. You have to point it out to people that you are a good man and that there is somebody out there that will appreciate that.

M: Is the character of Keith taking advantage of Shante by being on the dance floor? What is his motivation for choosing to be there?

MC: What’s he doing there? It’s funny that you ask that because the back story to that scene is that he was at work and this particular woman had been after him for a while. He did have a stressful day at work and he went with her to get something to eat. His favorite song came on and he went out on the dance floor to dance with her. He knew that was one of Shante’s favorite spots. In his mind he really felt like he wasn’t doing anything wrong. That’s the back story that never really came out because of scheduling.

M: What drew you to this role?

MC: I have done romantic comedies, but I was interested in this because it was funny. I had always been the one going through emotional turmoil. So I wanted to play this role.

M: Did you feel like this was the flip side of The Brothers?

MC: It is, but there is a lot that is different in this movie. Vivica breaking the 4th wall, the rules etc. The Brothers could have been the flipside of Waiting to Exhale. This is not Waiting to Exhale.

M: Do you see yourself continuing with comedies?

MC: I have been offered several comedies that I have turned down. The next film is going to be an action film.

M: What got you started in the industry?

MC: Well, I wanted to be a professional football player and so basically I said if I did not get a scholarship to a college, I was going to try something else. Because it is too hard to walk-on at a college. Didn’t get the scholarship as you probably figured. So I started going to the library looking at the occupational handbook and it would break down what was required for certain jobs and what not. Things like how much money you would make and 10-year projections for that job. Then a buddy of mine in an English class invited me to see him in a play. I was like that seems interesting so I took Drama 101 and I liked it.

M: Didn’t you also major in finance?

MC: That was my major.

M: What does the capital asset pricing model have to do with acting?

MC: My day job for many years was as a bank teller. I always felt that I could not go into something without doing my research. I would always read about people in the industry, and I found that it was very common that most actors had not majored in drama. The only major artist that had majored in drama was Bruce Willis over at the University of Southern California. So I was like, I don’t have to do that to be successful so why not concentrate on something that I could use as a day job. There were a number of options that I could have pursued. Manager at a bank, pursue finance and become a substitute teacher for a couple of years.

M: There are some very funny comedic moments in the movie. Was it more enjoyable to be the funny guy than it was to be the serious, brooding character?

MC: It is more fun. To come to a set and. . . .I did this movie after I did the Attica movie. To come to set and have the opportunity to be free, it is so much easier. When I was in The Best Man I got chills for a week because your mind gets messed up being so involved as the character. I was like this is more fun being in a comedy, I’ll have to do this more. Plus comedies make more money.

M: Do you have your next movie lined up?

MC: Yeah, basically it is going to be with the same studio. We are in negotiations right now for a particular script.

M: Are you going to be a regular on ER?

MC: This past season it was supposed to be a character for me, but they thought they knew when I was going to be free. Someone on my team misled them about my availability. When I came back from shooting Attica in Montreal, I only had a week before I began shooting this other movie called Scene of the Crime and the producers on ER thought I had three weeks. I don’t know where the miscommunication came from, but there may be something coming up.

M: Are you going to be a replacement for Eriq LaSalle, who is leaving?

MC: You never know. They are so tight-lipped about things, but I wouldn’t mind doing that. If they do 23 episodes, I wouldn’t mind doing 7.

M: What role did you play in ER?

MC: I was a nurse who impregnated Ming Na’s character.

M: You say comedies draw more attention and considering your extensive track record with other films, do you this film having crossover appeal?

MC: Out of the last 3 films that I have done, all of them have been universally themed, but the difference here is that the cast is predominately black. When you talk about relationships that transcends race, age, gender. Will the public respond to it? You never can tell. Keep your fingers crossed and hope that it does but you never can tell.

M: Why do you think it is so difficult to cross racial boundaries?

MC: For the most part people respond to characters that they know. A large part of the society is not black. If you are not black and you see an all-black cast on the screen you may not be able to relate to it.

M: Are you disappointed that you got an “R-rating” for this film?

MC: Know what? Not really, I mean I think this film is going to do the business whether it is and R-rating or a G-rating.

M: Are you concerned that the elements that are deemed necessary for an R-rating detract from the film? You have children are these elements important for the film and are they cutting off a potential younger audience segment?

MC: Well, sometimes if you take out a specific scene it can change the whole complexion of the film. There are films that have been curious concerning their rating. Was American Pie a G-rating? That should have been a X-rating. They made $45 million. The public responded. To a certain degree, the rating matters, but on the other hand it also is not going to stop people from going and seeing what they want to see.

M: Can you talk about working with Vivica?

MC: We had worked together on the television show Out All Night and at that time, we were young in the industry. I had seen her out at All-Star games and stuff like that and it was just really fun working with her again.

M: What about Anthony Anderson? Do you ever wonder why the characters who do not have significant others know so much about relationships?

MC: That’s way it usually is because they have more time to think about it. When you are in the eye of the storm, you sometimes need a person outside of it to guide you through it. That was Anthony’s case.

M: What was he like to work with?

MC: I learned a lot from Anthony because most of his films have been comedies. Some of my films have been comedies, but I had never been the comic relief. The first thing with him is that he is not a stand-up comedian, he’s a trained actor. So he also gave me a lot of support and I learned a lot from him.

M: Would you like to work with him again?

MC: Most definitely. I thought we had some good chemistry and I would definitely love to work with him again.

M: What is your take on the character in the Attica movie?

MC: It was so character driven. I had done films like The Best Man and The Brothers and this character was gritty. It was a true challenge for me and it was great to work with Alan Alda.

M: Was it difficult playing a real person?

MC: It was, but although he is a real person, he is dead. However, you want to do justice to his character and you want the people who know him to say Wow! He was just like that.