Friday, January 30, 2009

Djimon Hounsou: The Push Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Djimon a Daddy?

During an interview with me last year, Djimon Hounsou prematurely broke the news that he planned to pop the question to his girlfriend, Kimora Lee Simmons. The casual comment might have landed the Benin-born actor in a little hot water because the model-turned-fashion magnate wasn’t yet divorced from hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. That might explain why Djimon remained button-lipped about the rumor currently circulating in the tabloids that Kimora is now expecting their first child.
Despite my polite prodding about the pregnancy, the two-time Oscar-nominated actor (for Blood Diamond and In America) with the help of his publicists directed the focus of this tete-a-tete back to his new movie, Push. The riveting flick is a harrowing mindbender which successfully blends elements of X-Men, The Matrix and Memento while adding some of its own unique sci-fi flava.
Set in Hong Kong, it revolves around a group of psychic American expatriates on the run from a U.S. government agency seeking to harness their superpowers for its own nefarious purposes. The film co-stars Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle and Chris Evans.
FYI, besides making movies, Djimon is famous for parading his hot chocolate bod in tightie-whities as the pitchman for Calvin Klein underwear.

KW: Hey Djimon, thanks again for the time.
DH: My pleasure, man. How is your son doing?
KW: Very well. Thanks for rasking. He’s a sophomore at Princeton.
DH: That’s cool. I remember the first time we talked he was still in junior high school and he knew so much about my country. And not too many people know about Benin.
KW: Yeah he had done a project about it in grammar school.
DH: Tell him I said, “Hi!” and I wish him well and a very successful year, and that I hope all his wishes will come true.
KW: Well, what about you? I understand congratulations are in order for you and Kimora.
DH: [Hesitates] Well, er…
KW: Are you free to talk about it?
DH: Not really.
KW: The rumor’s flying all over the place. You gotta give me something for my readers.
DH: [Sings] There’s a lot of love in the air! [Laughs]
KW: The headline for my last interview with you was: “Djimon Announces Plans to Pop the Question.” I had no idea that she wasn’t divorced yet.
DH: [Laughs]
KW: Let me ask you this. If Kimora were pregnant, do the two of you have any names picked out for the baby?
DH: Shhhhh! Sorry, I have a group of nervous publicists behind me shaking their heads saying that question’s a no-no. But we’ll tackle it another time.
KW: Can you tell me when you’re going to pop the question?
DH: [Hesitates] Hmmm… sometime soon. I mean, it’s been done already, in a different fashion.
KW: Congrats! Okay, let’s talk about Push. What interested you in making this movie? It reminded me of a mix of X-Men, The Matrix, Memento and a movie you were in, The Island.
DH: Yes! And also Constantine. The premise is obviously the one thing that’s bringing all those references you mentioned together. And it was probably that same thing that attracted me to the project, the signs of an occult world that we don’t seem to grasp or comprehend at all.
KW: How would you describe your character, Henry Carver?
DH: He’s a government operative who basically hunts down anyone with the psychic ability to see into or alter the future, and then he helps them weaponize that trait for tomorrow’s war.
KW: You had a similar sort of role in The Island, right?
DH: Yeah, I did some bad things working for the sake of the government.
KW: What was it like working with Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle and Chris Evans?
DH: It’s always a pleasant journey when you’re working with an actor who takes all the elements of the production to heart. Here, Chris Evans was always watching out to make sure the story flowed and that all the dots were connected. To come to a setting where a fellow actor is so dedicated only enhances your overall understanding of the project and inspires you to do your very best, too.
KW: Sounds like he’s a future director.
DH: Yeah, I really think this kid has all the ingredients to be a great director. So, I hope it takes a shot at it.
KW: Coincidentally, one of my readers, Laz Lyles, wants to know whether you have any plans to direct.
DH: I’d love to, but I’m so aware of everything involved in directing that it discourages me from seriously considering it. There are so many elements in making a movie which have nothing to do with directing. That would be too much of a headache for me. I don’t think I have enough patience for that. But I like the idea of producing stories that move me.
KW: What would you say was the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in your career?
DH: There’ve been so many. [Laughs] Which one was the biggest? My coming to America, moving here all by myself, just me, myself and I, with no background in the language and having to learn it on the spot in order to work in English.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman was wondering how you improved your English after making Amistad?
DH: The same way I was doing even before Amistad, which was by a combination of watching documentaries on television and reading books. I would keep watching and reading even when I couldn’t understand a word. With documentaries, depending on what you’re watching, what is described is pretty much what is happening in front of you. That can really help you grasp the language on some level. And then you go out and mingle with crowds to learn the everyday language used on the street, which is different.
KW: Speaking of mastering English, I heard you’re doing Shakespeare soon, appearing in a screen adaptation of The Tempest.
DH: We just wrapped that.
KW: How did it go?
DH: It was quite a production. That’s the least I can tell you. [Chuckles] Caliban was an intriguing character to play, and it was very challenging going through four hours of makeup daily. But I loved working with a cast of such a high caliber: Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, and so many other great actors.
KW: It’s usually impossible to assemble such an impressive cast like that simply because of conflicting schedules. How did director Julie Taymor pull off that miracle?
DH: She was smart. She got everybody at the right time.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
DH: Yes.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
DH: Sometimes.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
DH: Things Fall Apart.
KW: By Chinua Achebe.
DH: Hey, you got it!
KW: Yeah, in fact, my wife’s book club is reading both Things Fall Apart and The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad this month. So, at the meeting next week they’ll be comparing the two authors’ characterizations of Africa.
DH: Wow! Please let me know how the discussion goes. I really want to call you and find out.
KW: Will do. Is there a question no one ever asks you that you wish someone would?
DH: Yes, but how do I put this. It really has to do with the way how people view Africa, when Africa is addressed. Because I think the generic way of looking at Africa is like it’s just a bunch of people in loincloths running around chasing gazelles and stuff. That’s the issue, but I don’t exactly know how to phrase that as a question.
KW: No, that was good enough. Rudy Lewis asks: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
DH: Nelson Mandela, although I have a few other people in different domains.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
DH: A combination, really. Tribal music… hip-hop… reggae… I’m sort of cosmopolitan as far as music is concerned.
KW: Djimon, thanks for a great interview, as usual,
DH: It’s been a pleasure! Thank you very much. Give my best to your family and Happy New Year!
KW: Same to you!

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