The star of George Lucas’ Tuskegee Airmen biopic, Red Tails, and 90210 talks about actor boot camp and trying to make it in music without his cousin Jay-Z’s help.
This feature appears in Complex's December 2011/January 2012 issue.
When I first met George [Lucas], I was like, “Yo, this is the guy who created all of my favorite movies! Star Wars! Indiana Jones!”… But the people I was most intimidated to meet were the actual Tuskegee Airmen. We sat down and talked with them, trying to understand who they were and what they went through. We all wanted to get their blessings to do their story and, at the end of the day, they gave us the thumbs-up.
If I ever had an ego, doing boot camp would’ve knocked it out the park. For five days, two very strict drill sergeants told us what to do, what to eat, what to wear, and we had to do everything in a timely manner, precisely and perfectly. Our lives were in their hands… But the worst part was the workouts. I had to lose 10 pounds before shooting started; the drill sergeants made sure I did. I did a lot of running. A lot.
There weren’t many black guys in Croatia or Prague, where we filmed Red Tails. They looked at us like we were different. They didn’t know what it was… But I think it helped to film the movie there because there is such a cultural barrier. There’s the language, of course, but they even eat differently. It set up the whole movie for me, the sense of being looked at as different. And the girls definitely loved us.
I’m very close to Jay-Z. I’m a cousin, but it’s like twice removed. He treats me like a nephew. It’s the greatest thing ever... But one thing I’ve learned from Uncle Jay is that he’s adamant about making your own mark, so that’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve got to pursue a music career on my own. I want to be where he is one day, but I definitely have to work at that and I gotta be the best me.
(STYLING) Kyle Blackmon. (GROOMING) Paul Wilds. (CLOTHING) Suit and shirt by Topman; Shoes by Lanvin.