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January 2006
FREEDOM WRITERS: An Interview with Mario

FREEDOM WRITERS: An Interview with Mario
By Wilson Morales

January 5, 2006

After making a splash with the hit film, “Step Up”, R & B singer Mario is really giving the film business a go. While it’s one thing to come into the business and play a character who’s passion is music, it’s quite another when your music background is not involved and you have show and prove to everyone that you have range as an actor, which is exactly what Mario is doing with his next film. In his next film, “Freedom Writers”, Mario plays one of several students who come from bad environments and neighborhood and have to learn from school how to respect themselves and others. Playing his teacher in the film, Erin Gruwell, and inspired by a true story is Oscar Winner Hilary Swank. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Mario talks getting cast in the film, and how the story relates to his upbringing.

What character do you play and how did this role come about for you?

Mario: I play Andre and he is a very aggressive character. He has a lot of built-in emotion that were hidden and Hilary Swank’s character makes a connection with him. She made a connection with the kids and it was amazing to see how she helped them transitioned from hurting each other to helping each other. She opened their eyes to a lot of things. They were all going through a struggle and so was Erin (Hilary’s character). She sacrificed her life for them. I think it was a huge learning experience, and it’s something I can relate to. I went through a lot of things with my mother and her drug addiction. You can handle anything. You just have to put face forward and go on an odyssey.

Was their more to the story of Andre that we didn’t see on-screen?

Mario: Absolutely. They showed briefly his fight with drugs and how he had to sell drugs to survive and all that type of stuff, but there was a lot more to that. His father was a pimp who left home when he was very young and he had to take care of the household on his own; him and his mother, who was very sick and had used drugs her whole life.

What led you to take on this role?

Mario: Because I could relate to it.

Did you audition for it did they call you in for it?

Mario: I auditioned for it. I think they had heard about my background and my mother and where I grew up in Baltimore and they taught that I would be able to play the part. They told me that, “There is no other artist that can play this role better than you” after what I gave them in New York. I gave them a very emotional audition. I gave a lot to it.

Did you feel more confident going to this audition after doing “Step Up”?

Mario: Not really. Even the biggest actors and actresses go on auditions and at times are turned down. Everything is a revelation. Every audition is different. Every director is looking for something different, which is something that I learned. I couldn’t really take that mentally. I have to think of this as my first job. Even when I am stage, I think of it as first assignment. The excitement and freshness of being on stage is the same method and experience and I use it to my advantage, but it’s also different in some forms.

After filming was complete, did you follow up on the Freedom Writers?

Mario: Yeah. We actually know the Freedom Writers. We actually met them after we show the film, which was really cool because we had a chance to make a connection and really saw what they thought about the film. The guy who Andre is based on, was speechless. He told me that he thought he was reliving his life all over again.

How was working with Oscar winner Hilary Swank?

Mario: It was challenging. A lot of the scenes were challenging, but it was fun and a great education and experience at the same time when it comes to the acting part of if. She was very helpful in helping me to find my space and find where I was able to jump in and out of my character but still be a character without being in the shot; so I learned a lot about method acting. If you use method acting and practice it, it will be a great tool for you every time you go and shoot a film.

How was it working with the rest of the cast?

Mario: It was amazing. We got a chance to make a connection about two weeks before we started shooting and we talked about our characters and how we felt and we will perform them. Instead of going in and reading the whole script one time, Richard was smart to make sure we all had a connection. He gave us the tools to figure out where our characters belonged and make the performances believable.

Is there any particular scene that you like shooting?

Mario: I really liked the “Toast to change” scene.  It was scene that really summed up the movie and it explained why Erin was doing the things she did. If you look at the transition they made from the beginning of the film to that point of the movie, and the things she had already accomplished with them, their mentality had changed.

Will you have anything to do with the soundtrack?

Mario: Well, it’s a little political right now. I do have a song on my album that is inspired by the movie called “Do Right”, and basically it talks about making important decisions as a young man and how the decisions you make will change and affect your future.

When is the album going to come out?

Mario: My album, called “Go”, is coming to stores in March.

How different will it be from the last album?

Mario: The whole vibe of the album is different. It’s more mature. It’s about love and relationships, and lost love. It’s about a lot of different things. It’s more emotional and offers more than the last album.

Do you have any more films lined up after this?

Mario: Actually, I’m reading scripts right now. It’s a really tough process for me. I’m really having a tough time finding the right script that I want. It has to be a well balanced film. I don’t know if I’m looking to star in a film, but I’m looking to do another role with well known, well experienced actor or actress, but a role that allows me to challenge myself at the same time.

Why should people go see “Freedom Writers”?

Mario: Folks should go see “Freedom Writers” because it’s going to change their view on they look at education. As parents it will influence them to really understand and know who’s teaching their kids and know who’s in the classroom with them; and also know what they are teaching them, and what their relationship is with the students. As a student, it will inspire you not to judge people after meeting them. It’s going to inspire you and push you hard to overcome anything. It’s a very heartfelt film. One way or another, you will find a way to relate to the film.

FREEDOM WRITERS opens on January 5th,  2007



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