A RAISIN IN THE SUN
An Interview with Sean “Diddy” Combs
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A Dialogue with Diddy
Born in New York on November 4, 1969, rap mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is the CEO and founder of Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group, one of the preeminent urban-oriented conglomerates. The company encompasses a broad range of businesses, including recording, music publishing, artist management, television and film production, apparel and restaurants. The 38 year-old, multiple Grammy Award-winner is also widely-recognized as a music producer, performer and solo artist. On the big screen, he’s previously appeared opposite Halle Berry as her husband in her Oscar-winning performance in Monster’s Ball. Now, Diddy breaks new ground by both producing a TV adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and reprising the lead role of Walter Lee which he brought to Broadway in the play’s 2004 revival. Here, Diddy touches on many aspects of his career and addresses the rumor that he’s changing his name for the sixth time, to Sean John. Over the years, his memorable moniker has been altered from Puffy to Puff Daddy to Puff to P. Diddy to just Diddy.
KW: Hey, Diddy, how are you?
SC: Good; how are you?
KW: Have you changed your name again to Sean John?
SC: No, I didn't change my name. That's just a rumor.
KW: Well, then, what is your official name right now?
SC: My name is Sean Combs.
KW: Fine. What about “A Raisin in the Sun” made you want to bring it to Broadway and now to TV?
SC: You don't read scripts like that these days, especially for African Americans. I just felt so thrilled and blessed, that I jumped at the chance to do it. On Broadway, I was blessed with an acting coach who knew the passion that I had to become an actor. And she knew I was studying extremely hard. After doing a quick role in “Monster's Ball,” she knew I wanted to take another route besides the cliché roles which you would expect of a rap artist that's transitioning into acting. She said, “If you really, really want to get serious, I have the perfect role for you.” Then, she told me about possibly playing Walter Lee Younger, Jr. And I was like, there's no way I can do that. I'd never even been on a live stage. But she said, “You can't have any fears,” and so I just really jumped at the chance to do it without knowing how difficult and tough starring on Broadway was. It was a dream role for any actor, but it was one of the most challenging things I've ever done as an artist, and it like truly changed my life.
KW: Did you draw on any of your childhood experiences from Harlem and Mount Vernon in creating Walter Lee?
SC: Yes. Ironically, some people think that maybe I may not be able to relate because I've had a little bit of success. But I feel I was destined to play this role because my father was killed when I was three years old and I grew up in a house with three women, my mother, my grandmother and my sister. I went through those years of having to watch my mother and my grandmother work two jobs and not being able to take care of my family and seeing the look on my mother's face when I would ask for things that she couldn't afford. And the stress we went through when I was going to Howard University and me just having a dream of being in the music industry kind of related to Walter Lee's dream of having a liquor store. Everybody looked at me like I was crazy back then the same way Walter Lee is treated in this movie. And so, some of the anxiety, the way you feel, the pursuit of the dream and how you're constantly hitting obstacles and it's getting deferred and how you just have to keep that passion and motivation and can't stop is something that I truly was able to tap into and relate to from my life.
KW: Why don't we see more scripts like this for African-Americans?
SC: That's a good question. I think that things are changing for the better. You're seeing African-Americans get more power as far as being executive producers, so I think a lot of work that Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and a lot of the black actors are doing right now are really opening up doors for actors like me. Still, there hasn't been an abundance of roles that really look into all of the dimensions of a black man, but I do think that things like that are changing. You don't see as many gang-banging movies as you used to.
KW: What about the original play by Lorraine Hansberry touched you?
SC: I hadn't really read another script where almost every single word from beginning to end means something. I think that her understanding of each character's motivation was genius. That's what makes this work still relevant today and so timeless. When people ask, “Why do this again?” I say because it's important that the story lives on just like Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” lives on.
KW: How was it working with Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Lathan and Audra McDonald?
SC: Oh, to be able to work with three incredible actresses that are so vulnerable and so real you can't but help tell the truth when you're looking into their eyes. It comes very easy with actors like that. You can't help but get better. You can't help but nail the scene because they're so believable from their years of experience.
KW: Diddy, did you speak to Sidney Poitier, who originated your role on Broadway back in 1959, in preparation?
SC: Yes, yes. When I got offered the role, I immediately called Sidney Poitier, reached out to him, because I just wanted to tell him myself. And he was very excited and he's been very supportive. He just literally passed me the baton, and we went out to lunch in L.A. He really supported me and gave me confidence, and so did Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis. They took me under their wing, because they felt it was important to share this story with a new generation.
KW: Troy Johnson was wondering, what’s the last book you read?
SC: The last book I read? Let me see. The last book I read was “From Good to Great,” a business book.
KW: By Jim Collins. Oh, I reviewed that book. I loved it. The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
SC: Am I happy? Yes, very happy.
KW: And Jimmy Bayan, realtor to the stars, wants to know where you stay when you’re out in L.A.
SC: The Beverly Hills Hotel. But don't tell nobody.
KW: Mum’s the word. Your secret is safe with me. Speaking of secrets, what is the secret of your success at juggling so many different responsibilities?
SC: One of the secrets of my success is my professionalism. I think, for some reason, a lot of people, are surprised by that. I guess I use it to my advantage because this is just the way I am. I couldn’t have all of these companies running successfully if I wasn't a professional. I come from the world of hip-hop, known for the bling bling and the money and the champagne and all of those things that become very, very blown out of proportion. But most of the time, I’m just in my office working or in the studio. And when I do go out, a lot of things get magnified.
KW: Do you especially expect your character in Raisin to resonate with black males?
SC: Yes, definitely. I felt his pain because I was going through that pain and I think everybody feels his pain who wants to take care of their family. I think that's why so many people relate to this and especially to be able to tell this story from an African American man's perspective so people could try to understand the pain and the anxiety that a lot of African American males are going through, being born into conditions where it's like their life is predestined for failure. They're born into all the statistics on what they're going to become and how they're not going to become anything. That's very painful.
KW: What message does Raisin have for members of the Hip-Hop Generation?
SC: Oh, my. I think the core message for this generation is love of family and that, at the end of the day, when things are rough, and the chips are down, your family is going to be there. And to never give up hope, to keep on pursuing your dreams because this generation has gone through this story in more of a widespread way than I think it was like when the play was originally done. Now, it's not just African-Americans that are touched by this. Whites and Latinos and other impoverished communities are going through this same story. You have the line in there about “Money is life.” That's something that this generation kind of believes because this is the world that we were brought up in. And I think this brings it down to that reality, just like it's brought a lot of hip hop stars, even myself, to the reality that there is more than that, that family is life and love is life.
KW: Do you like the fact that the film is coming on TV during Black History Month and at a time when we have history in the making with Obama running for President of the United States?
SC: You know, I think that the timing couldn't have been any better, especially given what happened, earlier this year with a lot of the racism that we saw trying to stick its head out. But America has said we're not going to have that anymore.
KW: This movie’s going to air on ABC the night after the Oscars. Does that mean you’ll be a presenter at the Academy Awards?
SC: If ABC sets that up.
KW: Who in the cast of Raisin was the most fun on the set?
SC: Me. Oh, man, one of the things that I was able to do was make sure that when we weren't in front of the camera, we still kept our family vibe. I did the same thing on Broadway. It was a continuation, so it was a lot of work, but we had a lot of fun.
KW: You wear a lot of hats: actor, rapper, producer, etcetera. Which is your favorite?
SC: I just like being an entertainer. I just view myself as an entertainer and I really try to look at myself as the entertainers of old. They did many different things. They had albums and they acted and they also had some side businesses. I like entertaining people and pushing the culture of hip-hop forward, so that we can do other things that aren't maybe written for us to do that are not very typical. And maybe that way we could raise our culture up.
KW: Because you've broken so many new artists, I was wondering how you know when to sign someone who's going to be the next new sensation?
SC: I think that you know that was one of my blessings, so that's why after all these years, I'm still here. I just signed a new artist, Janelle Monae, and it's just a feeling that I get. I just get this certain feeling when I see an artist, I can't really describe it. It's just like, you know, if it touches me emotionally and it has certain unique tones. I love vulnerability and rawness, but if you go like on My Space and look up Janelle Monae, you'll see my newest artist and she's really groundbreaking.
KW: Is music still fun for you?
SC: You know, I still do love music, but I am transitioning, you know, as an artist from music to acting right now.
KW: You're such a trendsetter. What do you have on the horizon in terms of clothes – anything new?
SC: Right now, this is one of the biggest weeks of this year for me because I'm returning to the runway for the first time in five years. I haven't been to sleep in like six days and probably got four more days to go, and I'm just finishing up all my clothes now.
KW: How do you balance so many responsibilities? Isn't it stressful?
SC: This is a stressful time, but it's a good stress. I'm blessed to have these opportunities and so I think it has a blessing. Anytime I get stressed or tired, I just think about how blessed I am even to have these opportunities and how so many men and women would love to be in my shoes. I just try to take advantage of this so more doors are open for other people.
KW: Have you been able to keep up your exercise routine, too?
SC: No, I haven't in the last couple of weeks, but I have to. That's very important, I'm trying to get back into that.
KW: Thanks for the time, Diddy. Best of luck with A Raisin in the Sun and all your other ventures.
SC: Thank you very much. I truly appreciate you're taking out the time to speak to me. I just really appreciate it, thank you.
KW: Same here, bro.
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