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August 2006
HALF NELSON: An Interview with Anthony Mackie and Shareeka Epps

HALF NELSON: An Interview with Anthony Mackie and Shareeka Epps
By Krista Vitola

August 7, 2006

Coming out this week is a film that started off as a short, known as “Gowanus, Brooklyn”, and went to the Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize. Finding the funds to develop the story into a feature film, the film was retitled “Half Nelson”. The film is an honest and elegantly understated drama about a disillusioned and self-destructive teacher whose relationship with a precocious student inspires him to reclaim his own wayward life. Epps plays Drey, a student who finds some common ground with her flawed teacher, played by Ryan Gosling, while Mackie plays Frank, the local drug dealer who keeps his eye on Drey and her mother since her brother is doing time for a crime Frank was a part of. Epps was involved in the short film as well. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Mackie and Epps spoke about what led them to work on this film and working with Gosling.

What led you to take on this project?

Shareeka Epps: Well, being that I did the short film with Ryan and Anna, “Half Nelson” was going to be something special to me. I wanted it to come out nice.

Anthony Mackie: When I saw the short and I saw Shareeka’s performance, and once I read the script, I wanted to be part of this.

Shareeka, what inspired you to get into acting?

Epps: I started with theater and school. I’ve done everything from 42nd Street, where I had to learn how to tap dance to “Guys and Dolls”, so that’s where I started from. Everyone wants to be on TV but I never thought about acting as a career.

Can you talk about working the Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck as well as working with Ryan Gosling?

Mackie: Working with Ryan Gosling was cool. He’s a very, very focused actor. He comes to work prepared. He knows what he wants and he’s easy to talk with because he communicates his thoughts and he’s very open to working with other actors. He’s a very giving actor, and it’s impossible for actors to give themselves and focus on talking.

Epps: He’s a cool guy like Anthony said. He’s very passionate about what he does and that helps a lot and he cares about who you are.

Mackie: You and he have a very good relationship (on-screen).

How different is working on this independent film than working on “She Hate Me” with Spike Lee?

Mackie: No different. Ryan Fleck is just like Spike. When Spike steps on the set, you just know. He’s very hands-on with every aspect of his film, from the wardrobe to the scenes; and Fleck, the great thing about it, is he knew what he wanted the movie to be. He knew the story he wanted to tell, so he was very open and understanding to collaboration. He would come to you and tell you what he was trying to get from you for the scene and he would ask you how the two of you can make that scene work. A lot of directors don’t have that security and their ability to work with actors instead of telling them what to do.

Do you think there’s a lesson to learn from this film?

Epps: We need more independent films.

Mackie: Good answer. I think the most important lesson from this film is that your choices will dictate your future. Like Shareeka’s character, I feel I was so blown away when I read the script because she is so well put together but all of her choices are very calculated; and a lot of people fly by the seat of their pants and she was focus on what she wanted it to be and she wouldn’t let anyone deter her from that. I think that’s the most important lesson coming out of this film.

What did your parents say when you were doing this film?

Epps: Well, one time, the scene that I did with Anthony where drugs were involved, my grandparents were sitting right outside and I was a little worried about them seeing me playing with what looks like crack. But my mom, she loved the movie. She’s great.

Mackie: And your mom was there like everyday.

Epps: Well like every weekend, but she was there every time she could be.

Mackie: Every time I looked up, she was there.

Anthony, you have a number of films coming out. Can you talk about them?

Mackie: “Crossover” is basically a movie about these two kids that are trying to move street basketball to the next level, being European or Canadian ball and hopefully to the NBA. It’s about this young kid who made choices that didn’t exactly influence his future right away and him trying to rebound from that. I feel that it came together really well. I’m very happy with the way the movie ended. It comes out in September. With “Haven”, it stars myself, Orlando Bloom, Bill Paxton, and an amazing ensemble cast and my storyline is about this young kid who’s trying to earn the respect of his strong-handed Jamaican father, but at the same time, he’s a young kid who also makes mistakes and everytime he tries to do right, he just screws it up. My other movie, “We Are Marshall”, is with Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, and David Straithairn; and that’s a great story because it truly revolutionized the way we look at college sports today. The whole Maurice Clarett thing is because of 1971 Marshall University and I play this kid who fights and fights and tries to get the university to keep the football program going instead of killing the program and everybody having to go to another school.

HALF NELSON opens on August 11th, 2006



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