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August 2004
Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid : An Interview with Morris Chestnut

Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid: An Interview with Morris Chestnut

By Wilson Morales

Morris Chestnut is no stranger to romantic comedies. Having played in four Urban films of that genre with The Best Man, Two Can Play That Game, The Brothers, and recently Breakin' All The Rules, one can say that it's one too many. He also played an athlete Boyz N the Hood and in Like Mike. Although the focus wasn't on sports in the former, the latter was. He's constantly looking for projects where he can reinvent himself and now he's found one. The genre is familiar territory but for Morris, it's a new game and he's willing to play. Morris's next film is Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid in which a group of corporate executive travel to the jungle of Borneo looking for what they believe is the fountain of youth. Little do they know that there are snakes of massive sizes in their path to glory. Morris recently spoke to blackfilm.com about the reason he took on this film and how the production shoot wasn't a pleasant shoot, but he had fun anyway.

There's always the running joke about African Americans being the first to die in these genre films, but lately, they are starting to make it out alive. Could that happen here?

MC: We're making progress.

Have you ever been in a situation where you did a job simply for the money and then something happens and then you start to think about the human element and address your reasons again?

MC: I've been in a situation where I was after the money. That's on a daily basis. It's not always about the money.

So, what led you to do this film?

MC: The money. (He laughs). I just wanted to do something different, and in a different genre. I thought this was an opportunity to get a feel for it.

How is different from the romantic comedies you've done?

MC: It wasn't pleasant, but it was a change. You go from movies where you are wearing nice clothes and you're trying to smell good to a movie where you are in water and you are wet all day, and you are dealing with that elements, it gets rough, but it was definitely something I wanted to try.

How did you handle the production of the film?

MC: I hate being cold and I hate being wet and around 80% percent of this film I was cold and another 60% I was cold and wet, so it wasn't the best shoot for me.

Are you a prima donna?

MC: Nah, I'm not a prima donna, but I just don't like being cold and wet. None of us liked it. It was not fun in the least bit, but we dealt with it.

Was that the worst part of the shoot?

MC: Without a doubt. No question. It's hard when you see a scene where it's raining, and we have the rain machine, and you see it for 5 minutes, but that scene takes all day to shoot, and you do it with rain, and the dry off, and go back and do it again. It goes on and off again several times, and you can never really become comfortable with that because the water that is coming out of the rain machine is cold, and once they stop the rain machine, you're cold, and so you're always cold and wet. It's like sitting in the rain, but this time it stops and starts over again. Then there was a scene where we walking in water waist deep and that water was cold, and it's cold outside as well. We shoot the scene, get out, and dry off a little bit. Don't warm because if you get into the tent and get warm, you still have to get back in the water. People were getting sick. I'm not complaining. I enjoy what I do, but it's more challenging than people think.

What do you think about snakes?

MC: I don't like snakes. The thing about snakes is that how do you defend yourself against a snake if you don't have a weapon. You can't strangle it. If a dog was coming at you, you can probably kick it in the head, or in the stomach, but when a snake is coming at you, how do you defend yourself? It the snake attaches itself to you, then it bites you, and it can strangle you. What can you do? You can't just hit it in the head and knock it senseless and defend yourself. I just understand them and that's why I have a fear of snakes.

How was working with Eugene Bryd?

MC: Eugene is a funny character. I really enjoyed working with him. Even on the set and off camera, he was the comic relief. We needed a lot a he provided it.

Can you talk about your next film, Ladder 49?

MC: That's film that we shot in Baltimore about these firefighters and that was a fun movie to do and it was challenging as well. The physicality of it and going to the training camp and everything, but it was fun.

Did you actually have to put out a fire?

MC: Yeah. There was fire there. Even when we went to the academy for two weeks, we actually put out fires. I can't say that we went through the academy because we weren't being tested and we knew we had a job, but we did set some fires and put them out.

Does John Travolta have a dance scene in the film?

MC: He actually does. There's a wedding scene where he dances.

Do you have a good part in the film or are you just another fireman with no back-story?

MC: I am just another fireman because the story focuses on Joaquin Phoenix's character, but I play Joaquin's close friend and I get burned up a little bit, but I don't die.

Did you do any research for Anacondas?

MC: Nothing. This film is what it is. It's a campy thriller horror movie where you go and have fun. With these types of films, you can't take it too seriously. They are what they are.

What can you say about "The Cave"?

MC: "The Cave" is going to be a nice film. It's a thriller. It's almost like Aliens in a sense. There are a bunch of cave divers who go underground and we come across these aliens and it's about survival from that point on.

Who's in the film with you?

MC: Cole Hauser from "2 Fast 2 Furious", a guy by the name of Eddie Ciprian, who's in the TV show, "Third Watch", Piper Perabo from "Coyote Ugly", Lena Headey, and it's directed by Bruce Hunt. He did a lot of second unit stuff for "The Matrix".

What do you of Mos Def being nominated for an Emmy for his work on "Something the Lord Made"?

MC: I think it's good in general to have some people of color be nominated.

Of the many rappers that are out there acting in films, who do you think is the best?

MC: I think that Mos Def is the best actor, but when you talk about rappers in films, I don't really think the quality of the acting is most important because most rappers are put in movies because of the personality and people want to see that. It's done great for other actors.

You've been in this business for over 10 years now. Are you happy with the roles that you are getting?

MC: I would like more challenging roles. I definitely would like to something that's more challenging. I'm just happy to be working consistently. There are a lot of people in this business that don't work consistently. People make a lot of money doing one movie and then you don't hear from them for 10 years. It's tough. It's a tough industry.

As you look for projects, and you have almost done each genre, would you consider doing an independent film, whether it's a starring or producing role?

MC: The thing about independent films, and you have to be very careful, because there are a gazillion independent films done every year, but then you don't want to be a part of that one that goes straight to video because it hurts your marketability. I did a film which was considered an independent movie with Dustin Hoffman and Andy Garcia called Confidence, and that's the type of film I was willing to take a chance on that because of the caliber of people involved with the film. I've been approached with a lot of independent movies that I haven't really have had the time to focused in on. Maybe eventually I will take a chance on one.

What do you think about the state of African American films?

MC: I think that we have to hit the mark, and once we hit that, a trend develops in order for a lot of those types of films to be made. When "New Jack City" and "Boyz N the Hood" hit the mark, that was the gangster trend. When "Best Man" hit the mark, that was the romantic comedic trend. So we haven't found that next tend yet. Now it's a struggle for a lot of us to be working and that why some of us are doing TV shows now. I don't know what the next trend will be, but it's tough. At the same time, what do you consider an African American film? One with a predominantly black cast or predominant black leads because a lot of the black stars such as Will Smith, Denzel Wasshington, and Eddie Murphy lead films, but not "black" films. So you really have to think about what are black films.

How do you balance the work with your family?

Morris Chestnut: I just it a priority. When it's about work, it's work. Family will always come first. We shot this film in 3 months, and they came down for the first 3 weeks and after they left, I was able to focus on the film.

Would you want your kids to go into this industry?

MC: I would never want any of my kids to go into this industry; not until they are old enough to understand and if this is something that they really want to do. This industry is very make-believe and you caught in a false sense of what reality is. You start making movies and people start seeing when you go to places, and all of a sudden you are getting clothes for free and all of a sudden you are getting food for free. People are catering to you when you are on a set like "Can I get you this or can I get you that?" Unless you are really grounded and have a true sense of reality, you can get lost in that and a lot of people do and that's why you see so many people with successful careers but with destructive lives.

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