On Friday, the George Lucas-produced film about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails, is finally arriving in theatres. Over 20 years in the making, the 20th Century Fox film stars Terrence Howard, Ne-Yo, Nate Parker and Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr.
In a one-on-one with the man who made the phrase "Show Me the Money!" part of the pop culture lexicon, the native New Yorker talks being inspired by Red Tails, Black history, why he said no to Steven Spielberg and more.
You were in the HBO Tuskegee Airmen movie in 1995. What did you learn about the Tuskegee Airmen during Red Tails that you didn't know back then?
Everything. The first time I did it, I was 21, 22 years old, so I really didn't know anything about them — that was kind of frustrating. I just finished my schooling and I didn't know about Black history. This time, it was 13 weeks in Prague and Croatia, everyday with at least three to four Tuskegee Airmen — telling stories, instructing us, advising us. What they accomplished, I believe, kicked off the civil rights movement.
Is it challenging as an actor to play a role based on a sad time in American history?
Yes and no. When I'm doing my job, I want to feel that. I want to be connected so much in the character and my frustration that I don't even feel like I'm acting anymore — it's personal. Not to say I'm looking to tell that specific story, but I'm looking to have that kind of connection with my character.
Is it true that you turned down Amistad because you didn't want to play a slave?
[Laughs] Yes, I did say that to Steven Spielberg. But what I went on to say is, I was so caught up in the hype of "Show Me the Money" [Jerry Maguire]. There is no excuse for it. I was young, I won an Oscar and I was very protective of my legacy as an African-American actor. What I tell actors, especially these young kids that are winning these Oscars — just work! Don't worry about the role, just work.
If you are flipping through channels and Boat Trip comes on, do you change the channel or watch it?
I watch it! I thought that movie was hysterical.
We thought it was funny, too!
Thank you! I had fun with it. Now, if my daughter's in the room? I flip right past it. [Laughs] That's me being insecure and defending the movie. I don't watch my films. My sons do. I'll come in the screening room and go right out the door. I don't want to sit and watch my own stuff, especially with them. [Laughs] As an actor, you're very subjected to how people are experiencing your work. I can't sit and enjoy my films with someone else.
Red Tails comes out Friday and Black History Month is weeks away, how do you feel the two intertwine?
When I first started in this business, I didn't know anything about my Black history. I knew that there was Glory, but that had Matthew Broderick helping the Black man. I knew that there was The Color Purple. I knew Roots — we were slaves. The stories we are telling today, this is brilliant. We are talking about Blacks who are self-empowered and doing for themselves.
Red Tails is in theaters Friday, January 20.
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Check out an exclusive BET.com sneak peek of Red Taiils.
(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for PCA)