Morris Chestnut is that dream man for many of the ladies. He's handsome, talented and always appears to be the perfect gentleman.
In his latest film, Not Easily Broken, Chestnut is a dedicated family man struggling with the challenges of life. However, the former Boyz 'N the Hood star is going beyond acting and is the executive producer of this latest project. With his co-star Taraji P. Henson, this urban romantic comedy tackles love from a male perspective, which you can credit to T.D. Jakes, who wrote the script.
In a chat with BET.com, Chestnut talks Not Easily Broken, being a sex symbol, and race in Hollywood.
Talk to me about playing the role of "Dave Johnson" and why he resonated with you.
It’s something I can relate to, being a married man myself, just going through the trials and tribulations of marriage. Every marriage has its ups and every marriage has its downs. You just have to hope the ups far outweigh the downs in order for it to be worth it.
Not Easily Broken is a film about the tests of faith. When has your faith ever been tested?
[Laughs] Yeah, I think that has happened to everyone. I don’t really want to be too specific about that. Just being human and enduring life. There comes a time when you have to deal with people and your faith in that person — your faith in a relationship is going to be tested.
What do you think this film says about the male perspective in relationships?
This film definitely comes from a male perspective. A lot of other relationship films have been told from a woman’s perspective. It gives people insight: when we grow up as young boys and we are playing sports, you get hurt and your coach says, “Suck it up — you’re not supposed to cry!” So we often go through our life as men ... taught to hide our feelings. This film expresses pretty much all that is going on in my head and my feelings at the time. That’s very unique as opposed to a lot of other movies.
Taraji P. Henson has blown up so much since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. What was it like working with her?
She was phenomenal. We knew what she had. A lot of people knew her from Baby boy, Hustle & Flow, but we really felt she was extremely talented. She was at the top of the list when it came to cast this movie. She was just a joy to work with; there was no drama on set, she was always on time, always knew her lines. If there was a perfect casting, I would definitely say Taraji was it.
Do you feel comfortable being identified as a sex symbol?
When I started off in this industry I just wanted to be recognized for something. You want to try to get a job, try to be recognized to continue to work. I don’t want to say I’m uncomfortable with it. I don’t want to say I’m too comfortable with it. I’m just glad people are recognizing me for something.
I’ve heard some people say, “Morris Chestnut helped bring dark-skinned brothers back in style!” Whatever that means. But people say, in the 80’s, according to pop culture, it was all about light-skinned dudes. Do you think you helped bring "chocolate" back?
[Laughs] Well, Wesley Snipes, he definitely kicked that off. But, Barack Obama is changing everything on a number of levels!
There is an idea that it is harder for dark-skinned black actors in Hollywood. You are considered a sex symbol, but have you had challenges?
It was an issue growing up; everything was about "light-skinned and dark-skinned." In the [film and television] industry? There have been times where it’s been an issue. I’ve never focused on that. I’ve always focused on the positive and try to continue to strive forward. I’ve never let any minor or major setbacks take me out and get me out of focus from what I want to do.
In previous interviews, you've been open about having movies that were huge hits and some that weren't. As an actor, do you know when a movie isn't working in the middle of it or do you not realize it until you see it for this time?
Man, you never know. I have friends or just hear people talk about certain films and they say, “How could that actor do that movie? How could that director do that movie?” The fact of the matter is, Hollywood never sets out to make a bad movie. They only want to make good movies. Sometimes there are so many chefs in the kitchen, they just go array sometimes. You can never really tell. I’ve worked on movies where I felt good about the people I was working with and I felt everything was going fine, but the end result didn’t turn out too hot. I worked on films where it’s like, “I can’t wait to be done with this.” Then all of sudden, it does well. You just really never know.
Your first film was Boyz 'n the Hood with Cuba Gooding, Jr. Some in the Black community have labeled Cuba as a "sell-out" for his subsequent film roles. Do you think the Black community turns on you if you're too successful?
It seems like it’s always going to be something. They call Cuba a 'sell-out,' they call some people 'gay.' I’ve been called gay. I think people just like to talk about certain things. That’s the nature of the business, being in the public eye for an extended amount of time — even a short amount of time — people are going to talk, whether it be good or bad. Eventually, if you are around long enough, you are going to have your good and bad. It just comes with the industry.
Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind with these actors you’ve worked with: Queen Latifah ...
Beautiful talent, beautiful person. Just very talented, very driven, a lot of respect.
Nia Long ...
I’ve had the opportunity to work with her on a few occasions. She is a good friend. I’ve had a great time working her.
Demi Moore ...
Demi was one of the most driven, hard-working actresses I’ve ever worked with. During GI Jane, talk about driven — we’d work on a set for a long time, then at lunch time she’d run like three miles! She is very driven.
What is it about Not Easily Broken that you think will resonate the most with audiences?
I’m very proud of this movie. We have great performances — Taraji is spectacular, Kevin Hart is "bust-a-gut laughter" with his comedy. When we’ve had private screenings of this movie, everybody laughs. Some people cry; there is a beautiful scene between Taraji and Jenifer Lewis. Everyone feels it, that’s why I’m really proud of this movie.
Not Easily Broken is in theatres tomorrow.
(Photo: Mark Sullivan/WireImage)