Brandon T. Jackson, best known for his hilarious turn as Alpa Chino in Tropic Thunder, is back, still rapping but playing a very different character in Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son alongside Martin Lawrence. In the third film in the Big Momma series, Jackson witnesses a murder and has to adopt the drag disguise of Charmaine and accompany stepdad Malcolm Turner as he goes undercover at a girls’ school for the arts in search of a vital piece of evidence.
Jackson plays Trent, a wanna-be rap star who falls for a gorgeous new housemate (Jessica Lucas) but can’t let on since he’s posing as a woman. Complications, of course, ensue. “In this movie you have so many elements: the father-son story, the love story,” he points out. “The love story is great for me because I never thought I would get one. The goofy guy usually doesn’t get one.”
Spending four hours each time he transformed into Charmaine “wasn’t cool,” however, and he says he’s gained a new respect for what women do to look good. “I can’t believe you guys have to put on so much in the morning. What time do y’all wake up? It takes a lot to be a woman. Women have a lot to go through to present,” says Jackson, who tried his best to follow co-star Lawrence’s advice to chill out and stay calm and quiet between takes. “He was like, ‘Do your work, then go sit down.’ It takes a lot of energy out of you, and you don’t realize it until after the fact. I got off this movie and I was so tired. I was burnt out.”
Jackson also found walking—and running—in pumps to be a challenge: he broke a heel during a chase sequence. While he was getting his Charmaine makeup and prosthetics applied, he’d listen to hip-hop, but wouldn’t watch movies. “I have a problem with mimicking and didn’t want to do that in this movie,” he explains. He did, however, closely observe Lawrence for insight on playing a dual gender role. “I watched how he embodied the character and how he puts in all the elements that are hilarious. I like the back-and-forth, where you can see that there’s a guy under there,” he says. He's thrilled that he “got the chance to work with one of the greatest comedians of all time,” up there with Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy on his favorites list.
Jackson, a pastor’s son from Detroit, knew he wanted to be a comedian early on. “I’ve always been funny. I would take the mic from my dad in church and start going, at like six, and I was 14 when I knew I wanted to do it professionally. I’d promote my comedy shows in church.” Hoping to parlay his standup act into roles in Hollywood, he initially found film extra work and at 19 got his big break in Roll Bounce. Roles in movies like This Christmas, Tooth Fairy, Fast & Furious, and Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief followed. He learned to rap for Tropic Thunder, did it again in Big Mommas, and in a case of life imitating art, made a video with T-Pain called “Imma Do It Big,” now viewable online.
The actor-comedian, who will turn 27 on March 4, is currently unattached. “I never have time to date these days,” he says, noting that he’s busy getting material together for a stand-up tour. He did some club gigs while on Big Mommas location in Atlanta to keep his chops up. As for movies, he’d love to work with other stars he admires, everyone from Halle Berry, Natalie Portman, and Scarlett Johansson to Meryl Streep, Betty White, and Jimmy Fallon. We wouldn’t be surprised if he gets his wish.