Interview - Chatting w/ The Cast Of 'Black Nativity' On Adapting Langston Hughes' Celebrated Play
Photo Credit: S & A
Interviews

Interview - Chatting w/ The Cast Of 'Black Nativity' On Adapting Langston Hughes' Celebrated Play

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The beautiful thing about art is that it can be

reworked. In some cases it can even be recreated to serve another purpose for

another artist.

In 1961 the late celebrated writer Langston Hughes created

his version of the original Nativity story with an all black cast. Fast forward

five decades later, and the play is a common holiday staple for many university

groups, communities, and churches.  

In Kasi Lemmon’s modern adaptation of Black Nativity; two veteran

actors (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett), are grouped with a troupe of

others to give us their version of the story.

A few weeks ago, a press junket for the film was held in Los Angeles which I attended. Done in conference fashion, there were no individual one-on-one’s with the talent, as they were typically paired up with multiple members of the press at one time, all throwing questions at them. 

Therefore this is more of a summary of the junket roundtable conferences with the cast, than your typical person-to-person interview.

First, here are Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker:

How

they felt about singing in a film?

ANGELA BASSETT: I grew up singing on the church

choir, and on the gospel choir in college. But, I never had any solo’s

(Laughter).

FOREST WHITAKER: We were lucky. Kasi set it up so we

had great singing rehearsals. I sung all of my parts. There were a few songs

that were not in the final cut that I sung too.

Highlights of working on this film?

FOREST WHITAKER: Working with her (looks at Angela).

ANGELA BASSETT: Working with him (looks at Forest).

FOREST WHITAKER: It was a great challenge too; it’s

a musical.

On Forest

Whitaker’s first role where he is

singing and a pastor. 

ANGELA BASSETT: Every day, and every moment he’s

always trying to dig deeper. He wanted to discover more. How to build bridges

between characters; He’s always questioning.

FOREST WHITAKER: I studied the scripture as well as

this play to prepare for this role. I was fortunate that I was able to rehearse

well with the choir as well.

How Angela got into character for the role of first lady?

ANGELA BASSETT: I took a lot from the first lady at

my church is very poised and precious. But she is so warm and supportive. She

always tries to build up everyone. She’s always so proud of everyone.

On Black

Nativity being a film about forgiveness.

ANGELA BASSETT::Well I’ve had to deal with it personally

with my family. It’s like you think if I don’t say anything that it will all

just work its self on out. Or it will go away. But it doesn’t. The film was

able to open up those issues.

Forest

Whitaker directed Angela Bassett, the late Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon,

Loretta Devine and others in Waiting Exhale. Forest briefly discussed a possible

remake.

FOREST WHITAKER: It’s difficult to try to see what

we will do next with the passing of Whitney. We may find a solution to make it

work. I needed to step away from that project to reassess it.

How

the two co-stars created chemistry in the really intense scenes.

ANGELA BASSETT: We did spend time together with the

singers and dancers (other actors); they were so special and warm. It began to

feel like a family; as a church should be. And that what comes across on the

screen.

Black

Nativity will be seen by many audiences as a faith-based film. Forest shared why he believes those kinds of films are becoming more popular?

FOREST WHITAKER: There is an audience that follows

the films. They want an outlet to express their spirituality.

On the next page is a summary of the roundtable with Jennifer Hudson and Jacob Latimore.

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Grammy and Academy award winner Jennifer Hudson, and

newcomer actor/singer Jacob Latimore made an amazing mother and son team in

Kasi Lemmon’s Black Nativity.

The respect that they have for each other is evident

on screen and in person.

Was

Jacob familiar with the play before starring in this production?

JACOB LATIMORE: I wasn’t. I had to do my homework

after I got the role.

Jacob shares how he was cast.

JACOB LATIMORE: One of the producers on Vanishing on

7th Street recommended my name. And then I just went into the

audition and nailed it.

It was a really warm welcome on set. Angela is

great. Everyone in the film actually reminds me of someone in my family.

Jennifer reminds me of my mother; strong minded.

Jennifer

on how she related to her character.

JENNIFER HUDSON: As a parent; many will be able to relate

to my character. We all want to provide for our children.

Also, my baby makes his debut in the film. It’s in

the bus scene. We are sitting in the train station. He’s sitting on someone’s

lap. He’s only four so it’s a bit of a process whenever were on set.

Jennifer

on her character transitions between projects.

JENNIFER HUDSON: When I did Winnie; I was in South Africa

for four months. And then I came home and did a Weight Watchers commercial and

they were like you are using an South African accent. With Mister and Pete I

had all these tattoos and my son was like why do you look like that Mommie? So

it takes a while to come from that. But out of those three roles; this

character is closest to my real personality.

The

co-stars on how important music is to their lives.

JACOB LATIMORE: I’ve always been in music. I started

out in music and I will continue to do music. My father and my brothers are in

a gospel groups called the Latimore brothers. My cousin is Kenny Latimore. I

grew up around music. I am signed with RCA now. 

Acting is something I started doing 3 years ago.

JENNIFER HUDSON: You know what? I’m going to say it

like this. Someone once told me that singing is your gift and your acting is a

reward from God for using your gift.  I

love it and I hope that I never have to choose. I say if God places me

somewhere I have no choice but to be prepared.

Jacob

on how he relates to Langston, the character he plays in the film.

JACOB LATIMORE: I couldn’t relate to not having a

father or living with a single mom. So I could really only imagine.

Jennifer on writing her own music.

JENNIFER HUDSON: I wrote a song on my next album

called Moan, and it came from my mother. She said if something hurts you; you

should moan and it makes it you feel better.

On this next album, I’m working with Timbaland,

Pharrell, Jerry Wonder, Diane Warren and more.

Following on the next page, is a summary of Mary J. Blige’s roundtable chat.

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Grammy Award winning singer and actress Mary J.

Blige stars in Black Nativity as Platinum fro.

The character is an angel that connects

the estranged Cobbs family (played by Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer

Hudson, and Jacob Latimore).

Why

she decided to take on this role.

MARY J. BLIGE: I wanted people to see me a little

lighter. 

Her Platinum fro (laughter) and the fact that she brought the family together. 

On wanting to be in the film because of its Christian overtones.

MARY J. BLIGE: 

Christmas has always been about the birth of Christ. Walking like him.

It actually made me want to be in the movie.

Is

it hard in Hollywood for her to openly talk about religion?

MARY J. BLIGE: It’s a struggle; but you have to know

what Christ has done for you. You can’t judge anybody on how they live because

that’s how Christ lived. He loved even the people that killed him.

On working with Angela and Forest.

MARY J. BLIGE: It was a treat to work with Angela

again after working with her on Coretta and Betty. I know Forest and his wife

personally. Forest and Angela sang all of their parts. I was not there when

they did their part. Forest sounded really good. Angela did too.

Any

roles that she would want to play in the future?

MARY J. BLIGE: I wouldn’t know until it comes and then

I’m like wow; that’s it. With Betty and Coretta, I was about to back out

because the role of a woman that really needed to be represented. But it was a fear

I had to face and give this woman everything I had. I want to do more serious

stuff.  I want to do things that mean

things to people. I really want to study for it. I liked playing the role of

Betty. No horror movies. Roles that help people.

Her favorite Christmas story?

MARY J. BLIGE: A Christmas story. It’s just funny.

It’s hilarious.

And finally, on the last page, a summary of Tyrese’s roundtable.

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In this adaptation, singer and actor Tyrese Gibson plays

the absentee father of Langston (played by Jacob Latimore). The role may sound

stereotypical or commonplace; but the reason for his character’s absence is

interesting.

Tyrese admits to

stepping his game up because of the quality of actors that paved the way for

his generation of actors. His love and respect for Denzel Washington is unreal.

His admiration for Forest Whitaker is amazing.

In many ways his admiration reminds me that

Hollywood is a community; and although rarely talked about; it’s a community of

artists that are simply expressing, or creating something higher than themselves.

In this film, you play an absentee father; one that was actually forced

to leave his son and his mother. How did you prepare for the role?

TYRESE GIBSON: I focused on the circumstances that

forced him to leave. I had a lot of people uncomfortable on the set, because I

was not my normal self. I’m not a method actor; I’m not even trained. I just

jump into the scenes. I was so dark the entire movie. I just took it very

seriously. I was like Forest Whitaker is going to see this scene. 

On actually being a part of the film, with such a strong veteran starring cast in Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett especially?

TYRESE GIBSON: I’m humbled; even being here today.

It’s a very emotional day for me because I’m walking inside of answered

prayers.  The reason I started acting was

because of Denzel. I was not interested in acting before I saw the Hurricane. I

hope that he reads this. I don’t feel that I have made it as an actor until I

have worked with Denzel. 

The folks that I worked with in the past, are not who

they are today. Mark Wahlberg was not the Mark Wahlberg of today. Sofia Vergara

was not who she is today. Taraji Henson; no one ever heard of her before Baby

Boy. So working with Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, and Angela Bassett, who

are current; well respected actors it’s the greatest stage that I have ever

been on. To co-exist with powerful and intense actors in this space; is what I

have prayed for.

On how he originated the role, and having to sing in it.

TYRESE GIBSON: Kasi called me while I was doing Fast

6; she told me that she wrote this role just for me. And when I got the script

my characters name was actually Tyrese. 

I was like Kasi, I love you to death; but Tyrese isn’t playing Tyrese.

TYRESE GIBSON: No. That was the most challenging

part about this film. I’ve purposely stayed away from singing in films.

Below is a behind-the-scenes featurette for Fox Searchlight’s Black Nativity, which is set for a November 27, 2013 release.

The story centers on a young black teen from Baltimore, who is sent to Harlem by his mother to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged grandparents. The boy then learns the real meaning of faith and family when his grandfather delivers a Christmas Eve sermon. The film includes a stylized, dream-sequence retelling of the classic Nativity story.

The film stars Jacob Latimore, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, and Jennifer Hudson, in a work that’s based on Langston Hughes’ Broadway gospel musical.

Mary J. Blige, Tyrese Gibson, Luke James, and Nas round out the cast. 

Raphael Saadiq wrote music for it.

It opens tomorrow, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Go behind the scenes with the film’s key cast and crew in the video below, and watch the trailer after it:

Here’s the film’s latest trailer:

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