Lyriq Bent is captivating. At six-feet tall, the dashing actor exudes warmth and maturity on screen and in real life. Since stepping into the entertainment industry in the early 2000s, Bent has been gaining momentum, starring in everything from the infamous Saw franchise to the acclaimed mini-series, The Book of Negros and more recently, in Spike Lee’s Netflix joint, She’s Gotta Have It. However, Bent’s latest venture, starring opposite Taraji P. Henson in Tyler Perry’s R-rated crime thriller, Acrimony will reveal a different side of the Kingston native.
Ahead of the film’s premiere, Bent and I sat down to chat about the flick, working with Perry, and why he and Henson just clicked. Though he’s been in the industry for some time, Bent hadn’t had the opportunity to work with Perry until now. “(Acrimony) was so different than what (Tyler Perry’s) normally done,” he explained. “The opportunity to help him create a beautiful story in a different genre was important to me because I can see we have to tell our own stories, and Tyler’s done more than his part in trying to do so. Now that he has so many films under his belt, he felt it necessary to change genres, so I felt very lucky that he thought that I was capable or that he had the confidence in me to make that crossover.”
For Bent, Acrimony is much more than a tale of an embittered, unhinged woman out for revenge. The foundation of the film was grounded in a young romance between Bent and Henson’s characters Robert and Melinda which blossomed over time. “I liked the fact that it’s a story about human nature,” he revealed. “It’s about emotions. It’s about two people who love each other and try to build a life together, and they go through an emotional rollercoaster. They try to bring it all back home at the end of the day.”
Instead of forcing Henson and Bent to age down, Perry chose to bring in younger actors to play the college-aged versions of their characters – a move that aided in the realism of the film. For Bent, collaborating with Antonio Madison who plays young Robert, was vital in how he chose to approach the character. “That process is always interesting,” he said. “Antonio Madison is a great guy, and I think he did a great job with it. We basically got together and we sat and talked about Robert. The last thing you want is two actors giving two different opinions of a character. I thought it was important to have that talk to discuss Robert and talk about the things that (Antonio) saw in him. Based on what I wanted to do regarding personality and characteristics and all these little nuances that make a person interesting, I was gonna build it off a foundation of what Antonio did because he is playing the younger version. I wanted to hear from him what he thought as opposed to just trying to get in my opinions of it because I’m coming from a different era in Robert’s life. We decided on the little nuances that you’ll see throughout the film with Robert from younger to older. I think that helped tell the story and it was also emotionally consistent with how he talked and how he treated Melinda. It was important that you could see the arc — the emotional arc of the relationship between Robert and Melinda. These are things you might not think about, but they’re important because you don’t want to tell multiple stories about one character. You come in knowing who that character is. I think we pulled it off.”
Once Henson was attached to the project, Bent knew that he and the audience would be in for a treat. If there was anyone who could get down the nuances of Melinda as she teetered between affection and rage – it was the Empire actress. “You know, Taraji, if she had a problem, it would be that she’s too damn great at what she does,” he chuckled. “She’s a perfect actress in the sense that she knows that she’s not perfect. So with the broken parts of the character, she allows herself to be broken. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who would like to stereotype the angry Black woman — but for me, I think (Melinda) has an incredible hurt and pain. You don’t necessarily know how to deal with those emotions, so you mask it with anger. We see somebody who is losing their marbles, but it’s pain. When I was working with (Taraji), she lent that pain so well. She was very giving of it, so it was hard not to be moved by it and to be pulled into it and at the same time, fight it. That’s not my space. That’s not where my character necessarily wants to be at times. You just take the good with the bad. She does so well playing Cookie, that when you see her in another emotional space, you’ll be so impressed and moved. Working with Taraji was a treat. Just to have that force come at you, and not know that it’s gonna come at you so intensely and fiercely.”
With such strenuous work schedules Bent, Henson, and Perry never really had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the script. From day one, the cameras were rolling, and everything they did was simply off of instinct. “We didn’t talk about anything because of the schedule,” the Rookie Blue alum explained. “We just showed up, and I introduced myself like, ‘Oh, how you doing? Nice to meet you.’ and ‘Action.’ It was literally like that. It was great to know that from my standpoint as an actor that we were on the same page concerning what needed to happen from scene to scene — from moment to moment. What you see is just raw, natural interpretations of what we got from Tyler Perry in terms of the script. We did not get to rehearse. We did not get to go over the script and do the script reading. We didn’t do any of that stuff. We were able to make such an incredible film, and I think that’s gonna resonate, too, because it’s not formulaic. It really isn’t. People are gonna watch it, and they’re gonna relate to it at times, and they’re gonna feel like, ‘Oh, wow. That was quite the roller coaster ride.’”
Though Melinda operates in a state of hostility for much of the film, it was important for Bent that she was not merely cast as an angry and spiteful Black woman. “The whole stereotype of the angry Black woman was never part of our dialogue because we weren’t functioning or operating from that angle,” he reiterated. “There’s enough of that going around that we don’t need to perpetuate that or compound that. You follow the story which is slowly, almost simultaneously, showing both characters’ point of views. (Melinda’s) talking about what she’s doing or what he’s doing and you’re seeing the visuals. So you’re seeing something that maybe doesn’t really fit what she’s saying because she’s missing out on the nuances. The approach is totally different, so you don’t think of her as attacked. Again, you see the pain; you see the hurt — you feel it. You sympathize with her, and you sympathize with Robert, or I did anyway. You’re just gonna have a lot of beautiful, emotional moments that will shatter that angry Black woman type of image because there’s so much more to Melinda than anger.”
With Acrimony, a sophomore season of She’s Gotta Have It, and several new films including Astronaut and Nappily Ever After coming up, Bent is extremely busy — but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I like storytelling,” the 39-year old reflected. “If I were thought of as a funny guy, maybe I would have been doing more comedy. I like to keep it real. I think we have a lot of stories, especially in the Black community to tell, and I like telling them. I want to tell more of them. I want people to see themselves on screen. I want them to see their situations on screen. Movies are not just an escape to pass the time or live through someone’s life. Films really try to answer questions that people have. Sometimes we just need to know that someone else is going through the same thing, and this is how they’re doing it. I like to tell real stories that people can relate to — that they relate to in real life, not just fantasy where it’s just so far out that people will never see themselves. Sometimes it’s about pain and sometimes it’s about informing. Other times, it’s about laughing, or just being scared –that moment of terror in a safe environment, where people will see what thrills them in all emotional aspects of the term. I try to mix it up. I purposely try to mix it up because I don’t want the boring minds of Hollywood to put me in a box. There’s a certain responsibility on my part to make sure that I understand that for myself.”
For now, at least until She’s Gotta Have It begins filming again in April, it’s all about Acrimony. “For Acrimony, I think women are going to lose their minds, no pun intended, with the film,” Bent explained. “Taraji’s going to definitely make people say, ‘She’s got a gift.’ And Tyler, he’s gonna be very, very happy that he took a chance with something else.”
Acrimony premieres Friday, March 30th.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s 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 find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami