September 2002
Less is Good : An Interview with Djimon Hounsou

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Less is Good : An Interview with Djimon Hounsou

Djimon Hounsou is one of those actors who doesn’t have a lot of films on his resume, but is fortunate to star in films that have a huge impact. After modeling and appearing in the Janet Jackson video, “Love Will Never Do Without You”; he made a career change and went into acting. After appearing in small roles in “Stargate” and “Unlawful Entry”, he then leaped into stardom with the role of “Cinque” in “Amistad”. He garnered a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. He followed that film with an Oscar winning film in “Gladiator”. Now he’s back on the big screen with another major role in Shekhar Kapur’s “The Four Feathers”. In an interview with, Djimon talks about working with Heath and not being selective in choosing roles.

WM: Since most of your scenes are with Heath Ledger, did you and he have time to get to know each other?

DH: We did click from the beginning, but with the nature of things, if we didn’t click, we still had to make it work. He was quite available, meaning he was so open to communicate and we had a great time on and off screen.

WM: Did you get to go to parties with him?

DH: There was nothing to party for when you are in the desert. To tell you the truth, everybody was begging not to have a day off. So you can imagine that if you are in the middle of the desert for 12 weeks and you hope and pray not to have a day off, it says a lot.

WM: Being that you were in Morocco for “Gladiator” and now this, are you tired of the place?

DH: Yeah, but I’ll go there again if it’s a great film.

WM: Is it true that you were discovered in a Janet Jackson video?

DH: I don’t know. I think that whatever you do in life, even the smallest things propel us to bigger things and I think maybe the video propelled me to where I am today.

WM: Is it true that you taught yourself the language used in the film?

DH: That’s pretty big to say that I taught myself the language, but yes, with the help of a lot of documentaries. I learned a lot by watching documentaries. I learned how to speak English by watching TV. Sometimes a documentary is graphic enough for you to figure out what’s going on. That’s how I learned.

WM: How would you describe the relationship between your character and Heath Ledger’s character?

DH: I’m the guardian angel and that was the approach of my character to the story. It was also a way of defining and deepening the character Heath played.

WM: Did you enjoy modeling before you turned to acting?

DH: I enjoyed modeling for the time I did it. I was making a living of it.

WM: You’ve had the pleasure of working with top directors (Spielberg, Scott, and Kapur), can you compare their styles?

DH: You can’t compare somebody’s style. By doing so, you limit their ability of telling numerous stories. Styles in reference to various pictures, is something I can’t compare. They’re all great storytellers.

WM: Did you do anything to prepare for this film?

DH: Not necessarily. I had boxed for many years so my physical condition was somewhat there and the exercise I do keeps me in shape.

WM: Were any of the scenes fun to do?

DH: Some were fun at times. Being out there, you didn’t want to hurt yourself doing the smallest of things. They (the producers) didn’t want to see any of us get hurt. The physical condition that I needed to put myself into was not needed for this role. But it’s nice to think that your guardian angel looks that fit.

WM: Have you been selective in the roles offered to you and have you tried not to be exploited or typecast?

DH: I wasn’t necessary avoiding it and I wasn’t being that picky. People think that we get lots of offers. We do get a bit of offers but a lot of the things that come across your table have been to the tables of others just as well. We are fighting and hunting for the same exciting and compelling stories.

WM: Are there certain roles you would turn down such as a drug lord or a serial killer?

DH: Serial killer? Definitely not. It’s all relative to the theme of the story. If it’s to tell a non-constructive story about the world of drug use and drug dealing, then I’m not interested. Obviously you want to be part of something that’s a bit educational.

WM: Not so long ago, you were coming out with a French film on “Mandela”, why did you choose that film?

DH: It was because I was offered something great and that I wanted to do it and I didn’t care for anything else. This was the life story of Nelson Mandela. That’s how I met Shekhar the director. I tested for him for that role. That’s how I know him. But the film didn’t happen and it was pushed back. I was supposed to play a younger Mandela and Morgan Freeman would have played the older Mandela.

WM: Is there a difference between shooting a French film and an American film?

DH: Besides the language barrier, everything else is the same. There are great filmmakers in France. Understated great filmmakers.

WM: Where’s home for you?

DH: For now, home is in Los Angeles, California.

WM: What’s next?

DH: I have a few films done already but don’t know when they will be released, so I don’t know.