January 17, 2013
By Sandra Varner
He was cast as David Palmer, president of the most powerful country in the world on the smash TV hit, 24; and, his commanding baritone voice can be heard daily in nationally televised commercials for All State Insurance.
On inauguration weekend, Bay Area (San Mateo) native Dennis Haysbert (Wreck-It-Ralph, Breach, Jarhead) costars alongside a band of celebrated colleagues in the new crime drama, LUV, touted as rapper/actor/advocate Common’s first dramatic lead.
LUV is a timeless classic with a contemporary, masculine gloss.
An 11-year-old boy gets a crash course in what it means to be a man when he spends a day with the uncle he idolizes in LUV, a poignant and gritty coming-of-age story featuring standout performances by Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton and newcomer Michael Rainey Jr.
With his mother in rehab and his father out of the picture, young Woody Watson (Rainey Jr.) lives with his grandmother (Lonette McKee) in suburban Baltimore and longs for his family to be reunited. His charismatic Uncle Vincent (Common) has recently returned home after eight years in prison, determined to straighten out his life by opening a high-end crab shack that will establish him as a solid citizen with a legitimate future.
One day, instead of dropping Woody off at school, Vincent decides to give the boy a tutorial on how a man gets things done. After a trip to a tailor to get Woody a custom-fitted suit, the pair heads to the bank to sign off on the loan Vincent needs to fulfill his dreams. But when his meeting with a bank officer puts the brakes on his plans, Vincent has no one to turn to for help but his former associates, including Baltimore crime boss Mr. Fish (Haysbert) and his brother Arthur (Glover).
A day that begins with a parking- lot driving lesson and Woody’s first oyster takes a desperate turn when Fish insists Vincent run one more drug deal to demonstrate his loyalty. Soon Vincent finds himself pulled back into the violent world he is trying to escape—and Woody has to decide whether to follow his hero…or become his own man. Running time is 94 minutes.
LUV is directed by Sheldon Candis from a script by Candis and Justin Wilson.
Additional cast includes Meagan Good (TV’s Deception, Stomp the Yard, “Californication”), and Michael Kenneth Williams (“The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire”).
My conversation with Dennis Haysbert:
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: LUV is an intriguing story with a fresh approach. Yes, we’ve seen the perils of poor decisions, miss-steps and predictable outcomes of drugs and the like. It all takes place in a 24-hour-period; certainly you have experience in storytelling. Share your analysis of this film.
Haysbert: Yes, as well miss-steps with relatives. Well from my perspective, Mr. Fish, my character’s perspective, he always treated Vincent (Common) like a son, at the very least, a younger brother that he brought up in the business. When my business gets popped, Vincent took the rap and went to jail for it. He’s released early, which leads me to wonder what he has done or said to get out so early. So I think he’s betrayed me. Thus, I send him out on a fool’s errand and I wait to see the results of that.
Talk2SV: You talk about what your character’s feelings are about betrayal yet so much of the story centers on trust; the trust that obviously Mr. Fish and Vincent once had until your perception of his betrayal blew up in Vincent’s face as well as in your character’s.
Haysbert: Yes, exactly. Mr. Fish is trying to figure out just how much damage has been done and Vincent’s not talking. Then he comes to me for a loan to start his own business, all the while saying how innocent he is; there is a lot of mistrust. You can go back to The Godfather (movies) for that same example. Actually, while doing this scene, I was reminded of a line in The Godfather that Michael Corleone says, “This is not personal, it’s business …,” so as soon as it becomes personal, then there’s a problem.
Talk2SV: That’s a great parallel; I think that this film is full of parallels. There are several resonant themes throughout; we’ve talked about two of them. But I also enjoy the platform of strong male personalities --in conflicted and restricted settings-- having to work out their problems. What was the tenor of the set when everyone came together, particularly at the dinner table scene when all of the problems hit the fan?
Haysbert: That was a lot like a chess match to me. Just seeing what these parties were working with. I think my character showed a lot of finesse and skill in getting out of the predicament he was in. It’s still not clear whether or not I sent Vincent to his doom, even though he’s being shot at in an attempt to kill him.
Talk2SV: What backstory did you give your character?
Haysbert: Well that’s supposed to be a secret until opening day (laughter). But I’ll tell you in broad strokes. I consider my character to be a Fortune 500 executive with street knowledge. I mean, you see a lot of black men in businesses now as executives, but when you think about Baltimore (the setting of the story) and some of your impoverished areas in the country, my character didn’t have a formal education, but he was a basketball player so he must have gone to college and was able to use that aspect of education to do what he does, to be his own boss, to run the streets and so forth. One has to have a kind of flare for the streets and you have to want that kind of life.
Talk2SV: As an established and successful talent, what inspired you to work with first-time filmmaker Sheldon Candis?
Haysbert: You know, as far as I’m concerned with movies, everything starts with a script. If the script flows, it makes sense and has a clear march towards a clear conclusion; I am in hook, line and sinker. Sheldon’s personality is such that it was very welcoming. If he wasn’t the kind of person that he is I probably would have thought more about taking on a role like this. You have to have somebody that is confident in what they’re doing in order to do a movie of this magnitude – and – to do it for as little money as they had. I was very impressed with that.
Talk2SV: Given the quality of your voice and your entire packaging, we’ve heard you in animated films and seen you on stage. Are you using your voice talent in particular in other areas?
Haysbert: Currently, I am narrating documentaries. I just completed three documentaries that are due in the coming months.
Talk2SV: What do you want your career footnote to reflect?
Haysbert: I want to continually perform strong leading roles that challenge me; that thoroughly entertains the audience and provides the opportunity to learn something.
Talk2SV: In summary, LUV posits a familiar tale in the hands of this cast of wonderful black male actors, lending to the film’s authenticity.
Haysbert: Thank you. I was ecstatic to be involved with these gentlemen and let me close by also saying Michael Rainey was incredible. He’s a fine young actor and I think he’s got a bright, bright future.
Read my interview with LUV’s director Sheldon Candis at www.Talk2SV.com.