SCREEN TIME: Morris Chestnut

Morris L. Chestnut never set out to be a star. He never wanted to be a leading man or a black sex symbol. All Morris ever wanted to do was act. “…when I started out, it wasn’t to be a leading man. I just wanted to get a job,” he says in sit-down interview. “To me, I just wanted to be known for something, ‘cause I just wanted to get more work. If they want to call me a “leading man,” I’ll take that. If they want to call me a “heartthrob” I’ll take that. As long as you continue to support, I’ll give back.”

In 1991, after his first feature film role in John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood, where he played doomed high school football player Rickey Baker, Chestnut's stand out duties evoking emotion to all who watched didn’t initially open more doors. Instead, it gave Hollywood a difficult time. They couldn't figuring out where to place an athletic young brother who didn't look like a thug. His flawless smile and lack of angry, sinister looks, made Hollywood wonder what to do with a black man that enunciated. “Even the film that people began to recognize me in Boyz N the Hood, I wasn’t a gang member, but it was a gang film,” Morris said, during a panel at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) entitled, “The Leading Man. “And because I spoke well, I really didn’t have a lot of opportunities.”

But that all changed. The Cerritos, California born, shy son of Morris and Shirley Chestnut, politely declined characters that weren’t in his visualized plan of thespian success. He instead accepted work that has added up to over 20 movie credits and reoccurring roles on five television shows. “People come to LA, Hollywood, they think they’re just gonna sit in a restaurant and be discovered. Or they’re going to hop on a reality show and that’s gonna be the end all be all. Some people just come to party,” says the 45-year-old. “I say just come and just work. Study your craft. And be serious about socializing. You can socialize for work or socialize just to socialize. A lot of people socialize to have fun and to party. But it’s not about that. It’s about the work.”

On a hot day in June, New York’s SVA Theater invited pandemonium by working with ABFF to screen Chestnut’s film Brakedown. Hundreds stood on line, impatiently dressed their best, to support Morris and his move to the next level directing his debut film about a 13-year-old attending her first school dance after dealing with life drama. “I’m directing, I’m producing, I’m doing a little bit of everything,” he says, about the new opportunity that came through American Family Insurance’s “Through a Black Lens” program.  “It’s a program that helps people fulfill their dreams. With me it helps me fulfill my dreams of going behind the camera and directing. It’s called Brakedown. I don’t want to tell everything that it’s about.”

In pure Chestnut style, always guarded about his projects, he drops vague hints across the Internet about The Best Man 3. “It will be…it will probably be the funniest of them all,” he told Vibe. “It’s going to have a lot of twists and turns, I just can’t tell you the storyline. “

But he does admit to working on a TV show at the moment, and a movie with Sanaa Lathan and Michael Ealy next month. “I’ll be producing a movie at the beginning of next year,” Morris says nodding his head. “It’s difficult for everybody in Hollywood. For me it’s about maintaining your integrity and being good at what you do. And just keep moving. You just have to keep pushing.”




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