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December 2006
DREAMGIRLS: An Interview with Keith Robinson

DREAMGIRLS: An Interview with Keith Robinson
By Wilson Morales

December 11, 2006

As the most eagerly awaited film of the year was being cast, many folks probably had their favorite stars in mind for the role of C.C in ‘Dreamgirls”. He was the brother who disappointed Effie when he sided with Curtis to let Deena, played by Beyonce, be lead of the group, the Dreamettes. Lots of names were toss around, but ultimately the role went to Keith Robinson, whose previous credits included the now-cancelled TV series, “Over There” and the film, “Fat Albert”, where he played a young Bill Cosby. Kids may know him best for role as the Green Power Ranger in “Power Ranger”. To play opposite Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Danny Glover must have been daunting, but Robinson held toe-to-toe with everyone as an equal. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Robinson talks about getting the role, working with the cast, and his musical aspirations.

How did the role of C.C. come about for you?

Keith Robinson: I basically went through the audition process which last about four months, which was a tough wait, but the first time I went in, I read, sang, did the scene with the casting director, and she thought I was pretty good. A week later I went in and read with Bill Condon, and Larry Mark, the producer. With a four month wait I was shooting the first season of “Over There” and they liked me and they were interested in a lot of other guys who were in same genre but they were anxiously trying to cast the role of Effie and after that they would go back to the role of C.C, so I shot the whole season with this in the back of my mind. I figured this would be the biggest role of my career if it comes through. It was a tough wait but at the end of the four months I found out ‘Over There” was cancelled and they called me back in, and I did a dance audition where I had to learn this routine in one hour and an hour later all the executives came in, Bill, and it was nerve racking and I did it with Fatima (Robinson) and AJ. We worked out really hard and when they got there, they stepped to the side and I had to do it all by myself.

Where did you learn how to sing and dance?

KR: Well, I’m not formally trained in either. Singing was just a natural thing. My mother was a singer, and I’ve been singing since I could remember, so singing was just a reflex for me. The dancing thing and me being an urban guy, I have a little ryththm. I think the most formal training at least with the dance was on this project and a few projects back. This was the third time that I have worked with the choreographer Fatima Robinson. That was where my most formal training came in on. I learned how to change innately by listening to a lot of records, a lot of growing up and everyday just singing and getting it in me. With this being Broadway, it’s a different type of singing, where it’s not as a lot of risk and the tricks you might do as a vocalist, you have to dialed that back and really communicate the words through your tones and keep it very brisk and very clean. That was training in itself.

With the both of you being newcomers in the business, can you talk about working with Jennifer Hudson?

KR: I think that both of us being new, that gave us some kinship and a basic camaraderie that we innately knew each other before we got here. I think we both represented the young artist who was getting a shot at (stardom) being around all these heavyweights and making their mark. It felt like we were really like brother and sister. We became really close and I’m just really proud of her. I have done a lot of TV and film, but for her and it being her first time, she really had an innate sensibility. She just knew what she was doing and it was one of those things that you have and she definitely has it.

How much did you know about the Broadway show prior to getting the part?

KR: I didn’t know very much. I knew the song, “I’m Telling You” and I knew that Dreamgirls was loosely based on the story of the Supremes, and that was basically the extent of it that I knew about this project. Fortunately, when I got into it I began to study it and break it down but for the most part, it was kind of on the job training as far as learning about the history of it. My first experience on Broadway was “The Tap Dance Kid”, which Hinton (Battle) was in. I was a little boy and I remember waiting to ask him for his autograph. I still have the picture and I showed it to him. Some 20 years later I get a chance to work with him.

I hear that you have an album coming out next year. Was that due to your part in this film?

KR: No, I’ve been trying to put out an album all my life, basically. I had a record deal. I’ve been a songwriter. This film brings both skills full scale to the forefront. The album is the reason I got into the entertainment business. Before I moved to LA, I was with two other guys and we were in a singing group and we left college and we got a deal and got out of a deal and we loaded up the car and trekked out to Los Angeles to try to get another record deal; and all this came once I got out there.

Of all the scenes that you filmed, which scene do you treasure the most?

KR: Probably the “Sing My Song”. We actually took the song out of the movie. It’s on the bonus DVD coverage. We shot it one time as a monologue and then we’d go back and shoot as a song and vice-versa. I think it’s the most intimate moment between me and Jennifer and I think it really spoke to everybody who has seen it and who was involved in it. I love the intimate moments in acting. You get a chance to communicate and everything is about you and the other person and that song really spoke to me just about staying together and us reuniting. One of the cameramen told me a few afterwards because he ended up working on another project with me that he hadn’t spoken to his brother in six years and when he watched us shoot that scene the whole day, he called his brother and they reconciled. For me, that makes my art, my craft really mean something and I think and at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about.

Why do you think C.C. chose to leave Effie and follow the path to stardom?

KR: I don’t think he necessarily chose it. I think he got swept away in the current. When you want something that bad and it’s right there and you see the logic in it, sometimes you don’t necessarily see who it’s going to hurt in the process until it’s too late. Fortunately he got a chance to redeem himself and realize what was the most important thing, but I, myself, and a lot of other young artists, when you see the spoils of success, and you can see you can do it, and you’re right there at it and the only thing stopping you is a piece of paper, then you’re going to sign that thing and you’re going to do things that you might not necessarily realize that you would. I think that’s what happened with C.C.

When you are working with such heavyweights as Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, and Danny Glover, do you try to compete with that?

KR: No. I think if you compete with that, then you’re not in the scene. You don’t have the right objective. I was never intimidated with the work because I feel that my skill level as just as everybody else otherwise I wouldn’t be there. I was chosen for a reason so that was never a thing. One thing that worked in the dynamic for example was my character and Jamie’s character was that I was an apprentice. I did look up to him. I did look to him for guidance. As C.C would ask Curtis a question, when they said cut, Keith would ask Jamie a question and really would want to know. The dynamic was very ironic in a lot of different ways the way they cast this movie. We never visit it, but C.C looked up to Deena’s character, because she was always the most beautiful. A lot of parallels that we saw as individuals off-camera were true with the characters on-camera.

Was there a moment were you and the guys bonded and got to know each other so the chemistry would be the same on-screen?

KR: I think it was throughout. Eddie was really focused and he didn’t communicate a lot in-between takes, but it worked for Jimmy Early because Jimmy Early was this big R & B star who was set apart from us. Jamie and I of course communicate all the time, and me and Danny communicated, so there were different times where we would get a chance to bond the necessarily amount off-camera but overall everybody from Eddie to Jamie to Jennifer, everybody was really cool and really excited about being part of this project so a lot of things that you might think usually creeps in the sets with egos, attitudes and all, they weren’t really there.

What value did you take away from being in this film?

KR: For me, the value was not so much about the role but the way that I got the role. I came to Los Angeles with two other guys and we just wanted to put out a record and that was our only goal. We were living in hotels and sleeping on couches and when I got the role I didn’t even have a phone and here I was on network TV some two weeks later and it let me know that it can be done. It’s possible. I was playing a superhero on “Power Rangers” and it was as surreal for my people at home as it was for me. I’m fighting aliens on TV. I was the kid if you drove by, I would be running around with the tablecloth in his shirt like a superman, but now, I’m actually getting paid for it. It was so amazing to me and it resonated that you can do this. It’s not that far away and you can touch it. I’m from Greenville, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia where Hollywood is only seen through the TV and through the movies. It seems like it’s so far away. Power Rangers let me know to think bigger.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

KR: I went to the University of Georgia and I studied marketing while I was there. I was there for two years; then I got into the show business. Marketing to me was probably the closest thing I can think of that had to do with Hollywood or something.

Has it helped you in terms of running your own empire?

KR: I never got heavily into the major. Real-life school helped me more than anything. College let me know what I didn’t want to do and did want to do. I condone everyone to go to school, but if you learn your life skills and figure out what you want to do and develop some type of determination, then you can see it through and that’s what college let me do. I love the campus life and all that stuff, but I was wasting mom and pop’s money. I knew I had to go get it somehow.

As the film gets ready to roll, are you ready for stardom?

KR: It’s been a gradual process for me. Since I’m the new kid on the block, I’m like the quiet storm, sort-of-speak. I think I’m as ready for it as someone who hasn’t had it before can be. They say you think you’re ready until it happens. Everybody has a plan until they get hit sort of; so I think I’m as ready as possible. My main objective is for this to be a successful movie and for me to get one more job and then when I get to that job to get one more job and just keep working.


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