Morris Chestnut has been making movies for 25 years, starting with his memorable debut playing Ricky Baker in Boyz n the Hood opposite future movie stars like Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr. His acting resume highlights a wide range of genre work on both TV and the big screen, from action films like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid and G.I. Jane to romantic comedies like The Best Man and Think Like a Man.
In his latest film, When the Bough Breaks, Chestnut plays John Taylor the husband in a young, professional couple who desperately want a baby. After exhausting all other options, they finally hire Anna (Jaz Sinclair), the perfect woman to be their surrogate – but as she gets further along in her pregnancy, she develops a psychotic and dangerous fixation on the husband.
Color Magazine took part in a telephone interview with Chestnut during a promotional junket for the film. When the Bough Breaks opens nationwide on Sept. 9.
Q: Being a key member of what they call Black Hollywood, how do you feel about doing this movie and how this fits in? Are the roles getting better and are the movie opportunities getting better for black actors and actresses?
A: I just think to be able to be working in Hollywood for a sustained period of time is just something; whether you are black, white or just Hollywood in general, is just definitely a blessing. In particular for Black Hollywood, I definitely think the opportunities are increasing, they’re improving in terms of television. I still feel that we could be doing a little bit better in films in terms of opportunities, but there are opportunities, nonetheless, in both.
Q: You’re executive producing and you’re starring in the film, so how was that experience?
A: It wasn’t my first time, but it’s always a great opportunity when you’re not just an actor in front of the camera. To be able to have some type of input into the overall process beyond just being an actor is something that I’ve been continually trying to do more and more of each time out. It was cool.
Q: What was it about this script that compelled you to be a part of it?
A: This script was different. It definitely had elements of other thrillers, but I felt it was unique in its own perspective and voice. So, I wanted to be a part of that. I knew Regina Hall was involved, so I was really looking forward to working with her. And also our director, Jon Cassar. I was familiar with his work from 24 and he had done a couple of miniseries and I was really looking forward to working with him after sitting down and discussing his vision for the film.
Q: What was it like to work with a young talent like Jaz Sinclair?
A: I thought it was great. I thought watching Jaz, the way she approached the job at her age—because this is a character that, if this character is not convincing and believable, I think the whole movie falls apart. Watching someone of her age, the way she approached the role and her professionalism and then the talent, it was a great experience.
Q: This film has some pretty dark subject matter. What would you say is the most difficult part of filming a movie like this?
A: Doing a film like this takes an emotional toll on you. As an actor, you have to be in that space day in and day out. It’s really draining, just being in that space when you draw from your life’s experiences to be in that mental head space. It was a relief to be done with it. I was looking forward to doing something that was fun and light afterwards.
Q: Was this more difficult to make, since you are a father, yourself?
A: Was it more difficult? I think, as actors, we really try to put ourselves in these types of situations, the situations of our characters, or a situation that we have to draw upon to where we need to have the same type of feeling and emotions of those characters. My approach to it was just to put myself in the situation to where if I didn’t have (my children), if I couldn’t have them again, how would I feel.
Q; A lot of Black celebrities have stated that they don’t like their films being described as ‘Black films’ because they don’t travel well. A lot of the movies you’ve been doing recently, have been universal, with The Perfect Guy and then even TV, with Rosewood. What goes into your decision-making process when you pick a movie to star in?
A: I like to start with the material, the script. I always say that Hollywood never sets out to make a bad movie. Most of the time, scripts have different revisions so it’s all about the execution. Regarding the idea of ‘Black films’ and ‘Black projects’, that is a challenge because I wish people would just look at films for what they are: it’s either a good film or a bad film. They want to see a thriller or they want to see a comedy. I wish it didn’t have that label of a Black thriller or Black comedy.
Q: For those who don’t know, can you all describe the difference between shooting for TV and shooting for film? I know the time constraints are different, but what else is different about shooting for television versus shooting for film?
A: Luckily we did have Jon, so he knew how to shoot scenes and shoot scenes quickly. When you’re doing a television show, you really have eight days to shoot 45 minutes or 42 minutes or what it is. Here we had 35 days to shoot 140-plus minutes. Say for example shooting the TV show, Rosewood. I have tons of dialogue each week (that) I literally forget after the scene is over because it’s like cramming for a test. You cram, cram, cram to get the dialog in so you can keep things moving, but it’s not the best, especially in terms of acting. I like it to sink in a little bit more so I’m not thinking about dialogue. Film provides you the luxury of being able to take your time and really dig deep into a character and become that character where television it moves so fast, at least in a one-hour drama, that it’s very difficult to really immerse yourself into a character.
Q: You have been very successful in transitioning between film and television. What do you think has been the key to your success and to your longevity?
A: People ask me the question about being around so long and having the opportunity to work for so long. I think one of the things that I feel is an element of success is you have to be courteous and respectful of the people you work with. When you’re standing around with someone for 14 hours a day, you really want to have—I mean, it’s already demanding in terms of the workload, but you really don’t want any friction. You don’t want any tension or conflict, so I think being respectful to the people you work with.
Q: It’s been 25 years since you’ve appeared in Boyz n the Hood. What was one of the best pieces of advice you received (back then ) in becoming an actor?
A: During that film, no one really gave me advice. I was always asking Cuba (Gooding Jr.) questions about his experience in the industry. If he came out of his trailer and he saw me walking towards him, he’d go back in because I was always asking him questions. So no one really gave me advice, everyone was really doing their own thing and I was just observing. I was just sitting there just soaking it in.