Since his breakout role in Steven Spielberg's 1997 film "Amistad," Benin-born actor Djimon Hounsou has been a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. With two Academy Award nominations under his belt, a vast and diverse resume that includes everything from "Gladiator" to "Furious 7", Hounsou brings depth and compassion to every role that he's cast in.
In his most recent film, "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," Hounsou stars alongside Charlie Hunnam in Guy Ritchie's take on the Medieval fantasy epic and legend of Excalibur. In the film, Hounsou portrays Bedivere one of Arthur's key advisors who becomes a Knight of the Round Table once Arthur takes the throne.
Recently, at a quiet hotel in downtown New York City over cappuccinos, I chatted with Mr. Hounsou about "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" his career trajectory, returning to Benin, his directorial aspirations, and what's next.
Aramide Tinubu: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a stunning film to watch. You’ve done a ton of epics prior to this film including “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Legend of Tarzan” among others, so why was “King Arthur” different?
Djimon Hounsou: “King Arthur” is everybody’s story. That’s why it’s so different. It’s every man’s story. In essence, this portrayal of King Arthur is even better because we get to see his journey. Nobody does anything by themselves; nobody becomes King by themselves. In the film, we can see how instrumental some of the knights were in helping him achieve that legacy.
AT: What was the most challenging aspect of making this film? Guy Ritchie throws in so may different elements in this movie.
DH: Well I think the most challenging aspect had to be Guy Ritchie himself. He’s a force to be reckoned with, and he’s a dynamic director and storyteller. He’s very animated to the point where he can just give you the scene. He has to know what he wants and where he is going with this story. So, that helped, but it was a complete surrender to his directions. (Laughing) I was obviously confused at times while were making it.
AT: The non-linear timeline in the film insane!
DH: Absolutely. It was foggy, and I didn’t know where I was for the most part but at the same time I completely surrendered to Guy Ritchie. When you hear that Guy Ritchie is attached to a story, you think, “Ooh, that’s going to be an interesting story.” That’s the notion you get when you hear his name.
AT: He’s an auteur.
DH: Yes. He’s becoming such an iconic director because when you see a film, you can say, “That’s Guy Ritchie’s style.” But, at the same time, I’m not sure if he has a style.
Djimon Hounsou in "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword"
AT: You have such a wide variety of films on your resume from “Blood Diamond” to “How To Train Your Dragon,” how do you choose your projects?
DH: I don’t know if you choose the projects or if the projects just find you. You kind of surrender to the time and what is present in Hollywood. Again, as much as you want to make great films and you want to be part of great stories; it’s the stories that are available then and there, so you just manage. I’ve done a couple of bad movies as well, whether they were movies that did not do too well or movies that did not live up to their expectations. But, [“King Arthur”] has a ton of expectations and Warner Bros. was kind enough to us to make sure we had everything at our disposal in order to make this film. They left [Ritchie] alone to execute his vision.
AT: Do you feel like there are more opportunities for you now since we are in this renaissance of Black film and TV and there is such a big push towards diversity and multiculturalism?
DH: Yes, but that’s consciousness or a new awakening of the world consciousness. When you mention America, you think it’s diverse with a mix of ethnicities that make this country because none of us belong here.
AT: It’s true.
DH: It’s not ours; it belonged to somebody else. As we shot this film, I’d have this kick sometimes because the story resembled so many African kings. Real true kings like that.
AT: Everything comes from somewhere.
DH: From the Wet Coast of Africa, from Niger to Ivory Coast, Senegal and so on. We have great Kings throughout that coastline.
AT: Speaking of these great Kings in Africa, would you ever return to Benin and shoot a film there?
DH: Yes, I would go back to Benin. I have a story idea that has to do with one of our Kings interestingly enough. There is a story that I’m trying to put together, that comes from the Kingdom of Dahomey. There was a twin, and his twin was a girl, but that is unheard of in the Kingdom to have a King with a girl twin. But, in our cultural traditions, twins are revered beings; precious beings. So, when we dressed one a certain way, we dress the other one exactly alike, without regard for gender. Now the King perished at war, and they tried to hide what happened, so they dress his sister as him.
DH: That’s where your early Amazon women come from. It comes from that kingdom.
AT: That’s amazing.
DH: Fast-forward to Haiti where they speak of the first women warriors, they come from Dahomey.
AT: Would you also take the reigns and direct this film?
AT: You don’t have any directorial aspirations?
DH: I do, but I’m still intimated by the idea of directing.
AT: Why is that?
DH: It’s a huge undertaking, and obviously I want to deliver an amazing film. But you have to have a personality for it, and you also have to be catered to. It takes a village to make a movie. You have to have all the right moving parts too. You have to do what’s necessary financially and have the power to go along with that. You also have to have a profound story. So, maybe it would be fun to direct, but I’m not seeing the fun so far. (Laughing) I’m tip-toeing my way there, so maybe I will direct one day. But for now, I do have stories that I could see somebody else directing. The one I saw myself directing I’ve made a structural vision for it, but it’s a huge undertaking.
AT: What’s next for you after “King Arthur”? I know you’re doing “How To Train Your Dragon 3” in 2019.
DH: I’m shooting a film this summer with Matthew McConaughey, it’s a sports fiction film. Then I’m going to be promoting, “Same Kind Of Different As Me.” It’s a film where I play a Southern homeless guy, and that’s supposed come out sometime in November. So it’s a good-hearted film.
AT: Wonderful. Thank you so much for speaking with me Djimon.
DH: Thank you.
"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" premieres Friday, May 12th.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami