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February 2008
An Interview with Andre Benjamin


An Interview with Andre Benjamin

By Wilson Morales

February 25, 2008

Ever actor has some sort of athletic skills and I’m sure each one of them would love to display it on the big screen. Whether it’s football, baseball, golf, and basketball, if there’s a role in a film that can have them show their skills and act, they are there. Just ask Andre Benjamin. We already know how talented he is musically, having won Grammys and other accolades with OutKast and he’s shown how good of an actor he is with roles in ‘Four Brothers’, ‘Be Cool’, and ‘Idlewild’, but now, with his latest film, ‘Semi-Pro’, Benjamin gets to show off his basketball skills.

Will Ferrell stars in Semi-Pro, an outrageous comedy set in 1976 against the backdrop of the maverick ABA - a fast-paced, wild and crazy basketball league that rivaled the NBA and made a name for itself with innovations like the three-point shot and slam dunk contest. Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder who used the profits from the success of his chart-topping song "Love Me Sexy" to achieve his dream of owning a basketball team. But Moon's franchise, the Flint Michigan Tropics, is the worst team in the league and in danger of folding when the ABA announces its plans to merge with the NBA. If they want to survive, Jackie and the Tropics must now do the seemingly impossible - win.

In speaking exclusively with Benjamin, he spoke about what attracted him to the film, showing off his b-balls skills, and working on his solo album.

What attracted you to do this film?

Andre Benjamin: I had never played or done a sports movie and I’m a big fan of Will Farrell. I wanted to be in a movie with him and this happened to be on his roster, and they had a position for an African American man. I went out for it and auditioned for the role and I just thought that I do a lot of comedy. I had only done ‘Be Cool’, so I thought it would be a cool thing to stretch out and showcase what I can do. This could possibly lead to other roles. I had mostly done dramas, but comedy is harder than drama to be honest with you.

Only if you have to carry a joke?

AB: Yeah, but the thing is with drama, the goal is to be real as possible and if you real at the moment then you don’t have worry about anything, but with comedy, you don’t know if you are funny until people in the theater are there. You are on unstable ground because you don’t know if you are funny; and I personally don’t think that I’m a funny man, so it was sort of like being on a shaky ground which makes it harder.

Your basketball skills on the big screen seemed pretty authentic. Did you practiced hard to get it right?

AB: Only neighborhood basketball. Never played organized ball. Only in the back of the church in my mom’s neighborhood. I’m not really that good. I can dribble and I’m quick, but that’s about it. What you saw on the screen is pretty much all I got. Even with some of the slamming stuff, when you look far away, that wasn’t me.

With the film centered on the ABA, and with you afro and the slammin’ moves, were you trying to channel Julius Erving?

AB: Yeah, I actually talked to him before we started shooting the movie. I wanted to figure out what it meant to be a Black man and playing sports in the 70s. He was telling me about what the ‘fro meant and the crazy moves, and it was still racial times, and a lot of the ‘fro stuff was sort of a rebellion and strength in a way. I was born in ’75 so I didn’t know a lot about the ABA. I had to watched documentaries about it and I knew even as a child that Dr. J was the poster child for that era. I knew that if I was going to the black man in a movie playing a black basketball player with the afro, that I would have to see him to reference him in sort of way.

What’s it like to work on a film filled with comedians and you have to come in and make your scene work with them?

AB: Honestly, I wasn’t trying to do that because when you are trying to be funny, it doesn’t really work. I’m just trying to play my character as real as possible. Sometimes I hope the funny comes out of the script with some of the ad-libs that I do, but to be funny, I don’t know how to do that. That’s kind of difficult.

Did you have to go through a lot of changes with the makeup?

AB: Oh yeah, it took a little more time, but it was the same in ‘Idlewild’ because you had to sweat yourself down. It was a lot of wig preparation. They had to put on the sideburns everyday; and I have a lot of tattoos, so they had to airbrush all of them, which took hours.

We seem to hear more about Andre Benjamin more so than Andre 3000 these days.

AB: The thing is that I still do music. There is this misconception that I have stopped doing music to do film. The thing is that there is more opportunity to do film. With music, even if you didn’t know OutKast’s history, we usually take two years before every album. It just takes that much time to conjure up something or go through experiences to build up something to write about; but during that time, you get a lot of scripts. I get ten scripts a month to see what’s good. It’s either the film or the character. The difference is that someone else is writing it and I’m showing up to perform it. With my music, it’s more of a personal thing. I’m the writer, director, and all of that. It takes time for me to do it all.

You mentioned before that you had two songs written in your head but you haven’t put it down on paper. Is it that challenging to come up with something new on your own since you and Big Boi are doing solo projects?

AB: Nah, even before then, I produced all of OutKast’s songs, and even when it said Earthtone III, that was pretty much me doing the production. That was just the team name, but it’s still the same formula. I’ve always recorded in the studio by myself. If I do music, I’ll give it to Big Boi and he’ll write to it. I’ve always started at home and then bring it to the studio and then build on it. The recording process is something different.

If you didn’t have a film career, would you have felt pressure to come up with the next album sooner than later?

AB: Not really. The pressure is to keep myself excited. I always have to find something interesting or something that really gets me going. After 13-14 years of doing this, you sometimes get beat, hence no performance and you get tired of it, and one day I can create a music and not perform it because even though I haven’t performed in five years on television or on stage, I know the fans would love to see it and I hate to have to pull it back like that, and never say never, but I hope one day to do it again.

What did you do during the strike?

AB: During the strike, we were filming this. We were doing pick up shots. I’m on the season closer of ‘The Shield’. My character is coming back and he’s actually running for mayor. It’s also the show finale. My character evolved over the years. He started out as a comic book owner. I’ve been working on producing a couple of films and projects and thank God the strike is over. Now we can get moving and I have a couple of things in the works. I have a personal clothing brand, ‘Benjamin Bixby’ that you would be able to purchase in the Fall.

With the hair being a wig, how long would it have taken to actually grow it that big?

AB: The last time I had one, it took me about 4 years.

Did you and the guys play pick up?

AB: Oh yes, we played pick up during sets and they didn’t like us to do it, but come on, it’s a basketball movie. We played pick up games and had challenges and free throws and all that stuff.

How was it working with Woody (Harrelson) again? Aren’t you guys in ‘The Battle in Seattle’ together?

AB: Yes. It’s great. It seemed like we were following each other. He’s such a cool person and really down to Earth. He’s funny and not pretentious about anything. To be on the set with him and the others is amazing. I respect their work.

What’s your role in “Battle in Seattle”?

AB: I play a protestor named Django and his role is pretty much easy in a group of other protestors. They shut down this convention so that the WTO couldn’t happen and it worked and this is based on true events. Even though it’s serious, my character tries to keep everything light. Even we were getting arrested and gassed; I’m always making it fun. That film comes out in April.

SEMI-PRO opens on February 29, 2008


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