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August 2005
Underclassmen: An Interview with Nick Cannon

Underclassmen: An Interview with Nick Cannon

By Wilson Morales

Since he made an incredible debut with "Drumline" a few years back, Nick Cannon has been on a roll and may have a similar transition like Will Smith, coming from the TV show, in the Hollywood system. After the success of "Drumline", Cannon followed up with the romantic comedy "Love Don't Cost a Thing" with Christina Milian, and had a supporting role in "Shall We Dance". Currently, Cannon is the host of a TV show on MTV called "Nick Cannon Presents: Wild N Out". At such a young age (24), Cannon is ready to go further in this business as he is co-producing and starring in his next film, "Underclassman", in which he plays Tracy Stokes, a cop in his early twenties who goes undercover in a high school to solve a murder investigation. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Cannon talks about serving as a producer in his film at such a young age.

So, what's the difference between being an actor and an actor-producer?

Nick Cannon: What is the difference? It's a lot like now my opinion really matters. At first it was just like you just had an opinion you would, you know, make suggestions and they might not necessarily have it addressed, but now its like okay, I think it's actually a good thing because a lot of times when you come from a place where you know, it's all about the character, about the story, the actor is probably the one that really has a lot of insight more than you know, the normal producers to kind of step in and be able to say no, I don't think they would do it this way, no, I don't think it looks right over here, maybe this isn't the right casting for this. It brings it a little bit closer to making the decision for the art more than about the finance.

Did you come in as both producer and the actor and act first and then produce?

NC: Producer first. It's just an idea that I created from a concept that I wanted to do; be as a young cop who goes back to high school that's where it all originated from and putting it together and finding the correct writers.

Did you want to play a detective? Was that the idea or did you like the hook of someone who's older trying to have to play detective?

NC: I think I liked a little bit of both. Obviously, I was a huge fan of you know Beverly Hills Cop, all the action comedies from Lethal Weapon, the Bad Boys, and I wanted to do my own, and my version of that - and then at the same time I loved the idea of a fish out of water comedy so I put them both together.

Do you see this more as a comedy?

NC: I would say it's a dramedy. I mean with action in it to where obviously it's not all about the comedic set pieces in it - it's a real story to be told and follow but the fact that I am a fish out of water is like a chance for the film to be funny.

With your own high school experiences, were you working as an actor at that point?

NC: No, not really. Not until maybe the last year of high school is when I started really doing standup like on the road and stuff as a career, but mostly I was just a regular high school kid and you know, experienced high school like any other kid.

Did you go to high school in the south?

NC: I went to high school in San Diego. I went to junior high and part of elementary in the south.

What part?

NC: Charlotte, North Carolina.

I read somewhere your father is a reverend.

NC: He had a televangelist show. He was an assistant pastor at a church and he had his own televangelist public access show.

What did you put into the script that you specifically wanted to give a lot back to your own high school times?

NC: Like in the cafeteria like sitting with the cool kids and you know I mean like it was definitely a lot - it was segregation you know, at lunch time is probably the most segregated place in America because it's like certain kids sit over here, certain kids sit over here, certain kids sit over here and I wanted to touch on that a little bit.

Did you think of the TV series, 21 Jump Street?

NC: Yeah, huge fan of 21 Jump Street and clearly that was an inspiration for this as well as to the Johnny Depp role, where he was really 23 but he was going to be 17 you know, the whole type, the same type of story, stolen cars, drugs and stuff.

As a producer on the film, what did you make of the student romancing the teacher?

NC: That was the most interesting part to me. I really liked that story line. That's every young male's dream is to you know, if you got a hot teacher in school, you know, make some kind of connection with the young hot teachers so we have to put that in there.

You think it makes a difference between whether they're 16 or younger, 17 I guess makes them legal, if they're 16 I guess they're a minor?

NC: Realistically I don't personally, I don't personally, as me - young guy got game. He can't help it. Put it on the teacher, that's every guy's wish. I didn't have any sexy teachers at my school.

How is when people look at you and may treat you like a kid although you have the ability to produce anything like this film?

NC: I think it's the same way my character Trey deals with it in the film. Clearly, I know I look young. I'm not even trying to get around that. I have to carry myself in a way where you have to command respect and you can do that and put it out there like you know what you are talking about and this is your vision, people, regardless of how young you are, will follow because people always want to be a part of making something happen.

Aren't you playing an older character in "Roll Bounce"?

NC: Oh yeah, I did "Roll Bounce" after "Underclassman" so it was probably like a year later. I had an afro and the whiskers were grown out. We did that unpurpurse as well just to age it up cause I think was to be in my mid-twenties in "Roll Bounce". The movie comes out Sept. 23rd. I play a character called Bernard and he runs the skating rink. The film is about a group of kids from 1978 and it's like a coming of age story where one skating rink closes down and they have to go to another town and there's this rivalry between skate crews and all that and I run the whole shop and I'm giving advice to all the kids.

What was it like working with Director Marcos Siega?

NC: Marcos Siego was really cool. Being a fan of his videos and he's been really innovative with a lot of things that he's done; even his television direction made us look him differently. I like what this guy sees and how he works and the chemistry on set was really cool because it was a collective thing and it allowed me to explored while he exploring at the same time.

In most of the films you have done, there seems to be a Latina actress as your romantic interest. You had Zoe Saldana in "Drumline", Christina Milian in "Love Don't Cost a Thing" and now, Rosalyn Sanchez in this film. How'd that come to be?

NC: I don't know haw that happened. It wasn't something we strategically did un-purposed. It just happened that way and I think it says a lot for cultural diversity in film because realistically in the two previous films with "Drumline" and "Love Don't Cost a Thing", it wasn't like the actresses were playing Latina characters. They were just playing regular girls. You didn't know what they were. They just happened to be Latinas.

Do you ever get feedback from African American fans about why can't you find a sister to play the love interest?

NC: Not really because I really don't think, in most people's mind, especially the average fan, they considered Zoe (Saldana) or Christina (Milian) not African American; because at the end of the day, they are still from African descent; they just happen to have Latin descent as well. Especially when dealing with that origin. A lot of us are grouped into the same bucket. I think it will be looked different if it were another nationality. I search for the best role and I take that same mentality when I think about the casting if I'm involved in it. We just want the best person. At no point in time, even for the role for the Spanish teacher, we didn't just look at Latina actresses. We went and looked at everybody and I think that fit the role got the job.

What's next for you?

NC: I'm continuing to create new projects and focus on my MTV show and my music.

To be continued...


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