July 2002
Morris Chestnut : Handling the Rock and Making Moves

Interviewed by Chika Chukudebelu

Morris Chestnut : Handling the Rock and Making Moves

CC: Was it a childhood fantasy of yours to play in the NBA?

MC: No, I actually wanted to play in the NFL. But, eh, it didn't work out in case you didn't know [laughing]. I didn't really start liking basketball until I was in my second year of college because I was so focused on football.

CC: Did you get any pointers from any of the NBA stars on the set?

MC: No, Reggie Theus was our technical advisor [on the set]. I play basketball all the time now because it was hard to get eleven cats and say, "Let's go play football." Everyone wants to go play basketball. All you need is a basketball and a [basket] and you can go play. So I play all the time now.

CC: Was it at all intimidating playing with NBA players?

MC: Not really because we shot a lot of [the movie] during the season. So whenever they came to play the Lakers or the Clippers, we'd get them for fifteen minutes. They'd come down to the set, shoot them and then get them out. So they really weren't there. And we really didn't get to play a lot of basketball. Most of the stuff that we did was staged. It wasn't like they'd roll the ball out and say, "Hey, go at it." That's what we wanted to do, but they didn't let us do that. I don't think they wanted anybody getting hurt.

CC: Do you think you guys gave any of the basketball players the acting bug?

MC: I think so. I just really respect all of them because they get paid millions of dollars to do what they do. Allen Iverson and Rashid Wallace are the "Bad Boys of the NBA". And they came, poked fun at themselves and just had a good time with it. So I'm just glad that they came out and had fun knowing that millions of people were going to see this movie. So it was cool of them to do that.

CC: What was it like working with Bow Wow?

MC: Bow Wow was great. He had a lot of hard work because he's in almost every single scene in the movie. In between takes he had to go back to school. So it was hard but he did a great job with it.

CC: Your role as Tracey was little different from the kind of suave romantic role that your fans are used to seeing you in. Do you think you've been typecast in these sexy roles?

MC: I think that, yeah, that's what they feel the public has wanted to see me in so that's what they've been offering me. So we're going to try to change that.

CC: What was it like being seen as a father figure?

MC: Oh, I didn't have a problem with that at all. You know I have a son of my own and he's five years old. So it was easy to go ahead and just tap into that for the character. To me it was just a fun, family film that my son would actually get a chance to see. You know all of my other movies have been rated R.

CC: Did you feel a fatherly bond with Bow Wow?

MC: I didn't feel like his father because, you know, he's fifteen years old. We hung out when we were on the set. He came in my trailer a few times and played Playstation. Like I said, he was really, really, really busy. In between takes he'd have to go back to school and go shoot a music video on Saturdays and Sundays. So he's really, really busy.

CC: Did you audition for this role and if so, what part of your audition do you think left the biggest impression?

MC: No, they actually just offered it to me. I was in Germany shooting a movie with Ja Rule and [Steven] Segal and they sent me the script.

CC: What attracted you to this role?

MC: It was a combination of things. I wanted to do a family movie. The movie with Segal and Ja Rule takes place in a prison. I was coming home from work everyday dirty. It's a lot of heavy action hearing explosions and stuff on set so I wanted to do something light when I got back. So when they sent me the script it was refreshing and it had some heartfelt moments in it and it was a fun family movie. Family movies have a history of making a lot of money.

CC: Do you try to purposely choose roles that are not stereotypical for African-Americans?

MC: I try to be positive in all of my movies except for the one I did with Segal. That was a departure from that. But I think I do respond to movies [where] the characters are portrayed in a positive light.

CC: A lot of women see you as a sex symbol and the teenage girls love Bow Wow. Do you think that will increase the appeal of the movie?

MC: Well I hope it does, knock on wood. Yeah, I think it's kind of cool. [Bow Wow] has a huge, huge female [following]. I think women like Bow Wow too. I hope it does. Whatever increases those sales to drive the movie. We're up against a monster [with Men in Black II] so whatever we can try to do to get a piece. No one expects us to win. I don't expect us to win, but if we just get a nice little chunk I think the studio will be happy.

CC: As an actor who's been in the industry for a while, have you seen any noticeable changes in Hollywood?

MC: Yes and no. There have been changes in terms of the amount of roles, but most of them do go to the rappers. There're very few roles that go to actors first. They'll go to the rappers or comedians before they go to actors.

CC: Do you think Halle and Denzel's win will have any impact in the number or availability of roles for African-American actors?

MC: Not necessarily. A studio's first objective is to make money. And if there's a character in the movie that happens to be Black that they feel is going to make a gazillion dollars then they do it. I think that it just happens to be that in this year, those two characters stood out enough to win the Academy Award. But I don't think when they set out to make Training Day or to make Monster's Ball they said, "We want to make a movie with strong Black actors to win an Academy Award." They just made the movie and it happened.

CC: Do you have an interest in independent movies at all?

MC: Obviously everyone wants to do studio movies because they get released. But if there's a cool independent movie that has a great character, I would love to be in one. The think about independents is that people are always making independents, but you don't see that many on the screen.

CC: What's next on your plate right now?

MC: I'll probably star in another action movie in November.

CC: Are there any actors that you'd like to work with again?

MC: I was trying to produce this movie with myself and Terrence [Howard], and it didn't work out, but I'd love to work with Terrence again. D.L. [Hughley] is great. You know if we do The Brothers 2, then maybe [laughing].

CC: You've worked with several talented leading ladies. Anyone in particular come to mind as great experiences?

MC: [Laughing] They were ALL great experiences. They were all great, true professionals. Gabriel [Union] was great. Vivica [Fox] was great. I had a great time working with them.

CC: Any projects coming around the corner?

MC: Yeah, I have a movie coming out with Ed Burns, Andy Garcia and Dustin Hoffman called Confidence. That'll be out in December. The movie is told through flashbacks. It's about four con artists: Ed Burns and three other characters and they con my boss. It's a Usual Suspects kind of thing and it opens up with me holding a gun to Ed Burns's head. That's the only thing that takes place in real time. The rest of the movie takes place through flashbacks as he's telling me the story. At the end, everything kind of comes together and reveals everything that's been going on.

CC: Are there any actors or actresses that you want to work with in the future?

MC: Yeah, actually Denzel Washington because I kind of want to steal everything that he knows about acting and say, [laughing] "Man, can you pass the torch to a brotha? Let me in on what's happening."

CC: What advice would you give to an actor just getting started?

MC: I'd tell them to focus on their craft and just become very good at what they do. Be persistent. I think a lot of times people want to become actors because they just like the whole idea of being an actor and not actually what's involved. They only see the people on "Entertainment Tonight" or at the parties and at the premiers and the guy who was the goofiest in high school is now dating the supermodel. They see all that but they don't really see the millions and millions of times that you're going to be rejected. It's not a great feeling so you have to really want to do it.

CC: Well thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

MC: Thank you.