Interview: Robert Ri'chard and Imani Hakim on Child Stardom to "Chocolate City"
Photo Credit: S & A
Interviews

Interview: Robert Ri'chard and Imani Hakim on Child Stardom to "Chocolate City"

null

In theaters and On Demand May 22, "Chocolate City"

takes viewers into the world of black male strippers. Robert Ri’chard ("Coach

Carter," "One on One") plays Michael, a young college student

struggling to make ends meet who meets a strip club owner that convinces him to

give amateur night a try.

We spoke with Ri’chard and Imani Hakim ("Everybody

Hates Chris", "The Gabby Douglas Story"), who plays Michael’s

girlfriend Carmen, to talk about the movie and their transition from child

acting to building their careers in adulthood.

Imani Hakim on

joining the "Chocolate City" cast:

IH: I’m always looking to do things that I haven’t done

before. I think that’s all a part of growth when it comes to your career, to

challenge yourself. And going from "The Gabby Douglas Story" to

"Chocolate City," it’s a very different vibe.

This is something that kind of just happened. I was out and

about and didn’t even really audition. My manager called and said the director

wants to see you for this film, so I ended up going in to meet with the

director and he really liked me. So I wasn’t intentionally looking for

something like "Chocolate City." It just happened to fall into my

lap, which is awesome.

Robert Ri’chard on

relating to his character:

RR: I think everyone in America understands hustle, and the lengths

that you’ll go to for your family. My character Michael, he’s flipping burgers,

he’s willing to clean floors for his mom to keep her lights on. And we see him

applying to go get a bartender job to take care of his mom. But it’s not a

bartending job, it’s amateur night at a strip club.

He’s totally not about it, but this brother’s like listen.

It’s one night, it’s for your mom, someone that you love. Go on stage in your

little tighty whities, shake your heinie and we’ll see what happens. And all of

a sudden he’s a hit and decides to do it full time, and that’s where the access

point is for Michael stepping into this world.

null

Working together as a

couple:

IH: Robert’s great to work with and gives you amazing stuff

to feed off of, so the chemistry was there on camera. We thought we were

actually dating.

And it’s pretty dope to be doing a film with Robert. I grew

up watching him on "Cousin Skeeter" and "One on One." I

think when he was on "One on One" I was on "Everybody Hates

Chris," which is weird because there’s an age gap there. So it’s funny

that 10 years later I’m working with him.

On the age gap

between much younger actresses and older actors:

IH: Originally Romeo Miller was cast to play the lead role,

and Romeo and I are a little bit closer in age. It didn’t work out, I think due

to scheduling conflicts, so Robert was cast. So as long as Robert looks young

and I look old enough we just make it work. It’s just great that though Robert

may be a little bit older he’s still able to make this happen and it’s convincing.

RR: Don’t call me old! I’m infinite! [laughs]

IH: At the end of the day it’s our job, just like anyone else’s.

We pretend to be these characters and there happens to be an age difference

sometimes, but we’re telling a story.

RR: I think women are the most beautiful things ever

created. So of course I get the luxury of having the gorgeous Imani Hakim playing

my girlfriend in the movie, but also I get the gorgeous Vivica Fox playing my

mom. I get the whole spectrum. And we want everyone to say, I see myself in

this film. I see where I fit in, in the storyline.

Chocolate City

Getting comfortable

with dancing and stripping in the film:

I think that anybody would be a little bit nervous or

intimidated, so I got with a dance coach and just worked on overall body

awareness and body movement. But the funny thing is, I remember standing

backstage. It was Michael’s first time on stage and my real first time on

stage. And parting the curtain and walking out there, I realized that I’m a man

and these are all women. It’s like the same sense of I’m a lion and these are

all gazelles. You can have all the confidence in the world because these are

all your prey. The confidence shoots through the roof as you walk out there and

it’s actually an experience that I’ll never forget.

On the pressures of

being a child actor:

RR: I think there’s a certain level of responsibility. When

I was 13, 14 years old I was working a 60-hour week, 12 hours a day on set with

other adults and expected to perform at a certain level of professionalism. A

typical day on set is 16 hours, but we’re shooting in 12 hours because when

you’re underage the government says you can’t work more than 11 or 12 hours. So

a lot of the things you’ve seen in my career are literally first takes because

we’re working so fast and so clean.

To relate it to sports, it’s like I walk out onto the field

and hit a homerun and then move onto the next thing. So I think it made me more

proficient, to have so much pressure on me. I think it made me sharper because

I’d always have to perform at a high level in a limited amount of time.

Managing career and

image as an adult:

IH: You just have to take it step-by-step I guess. I have a

great support system and people behind me. They do the whole managing thing and

I just make sure I don’t do anything too crazy. Because we’re living in the era

of social media, I try to be aware of what I put online and what I choose to

discuss.                                                                   

And then also when it comes to choosing projects, I choose

what I feel comfortable with. They’ll give me the list and I’ll say okay I’ll

go out and read for that, or no I don’t really feel comfortable reading for

that. So there’s a team meeting every time.

What audiences should

expect from "Chocolate City":

IH: It’s just a really fun film and I think that people are

really going to have a great time. Who doesn’t like half naked men who are all

oiled up? And there’s a story behind it and a struggle that everyone can relate

to.

RR: Personally, I want everyone to know how clean it is. I

saw the movie, and that’s the best thing that Jean-Claude LaMarre was able to do in the editing process. Whenever

you’re at the movies sitting next to the person that you love, whether it’s

your husband, your daughter, your best friend, your sorority sister, it’s

important that there’s no cringe factor. There’s no point in the movie where

you’ll say, I wish that I wasn’t watching this film while I’m sitting next to

the person that I love.

Comparisons to

"Magic Mike":

RR: The comparison that I make is hotels in Las Vegas. You

have the Bellagio on one side of the street and then you have the Wynn

properties on the other side. And in both scenarios we’re on the same

boulevard, we’re tracking the same customer. Let’s go to war.

And I love "Magic Mike." Channing [Tatum] is one of my best friends. We did "Coach

Carter" together and he literally learned to act on "Coach

Carter." I support his film. But now you have a different version of that,

a coffee version, a chocolate version. And what woman doesn’t love chocolate?

null"Chocolate City" will be in select theaters and On Demand May 22nd in the U.S.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

© 2023 Shadow & Act. All rights reserved.