Monday, October 12, 2009

Michael Jai White: The “Black Dynamite” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: White Dynamite

Michael Jai White was born in Brooklyn, on November 10, 1967, but raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut where he attended Central High School. He started studying karate at the age of 8 and had already earned a black belt by the time he was 12. The beefy hunk continued to practice a variety of martial arts disciplines while in college, and also added acting to his repertoire.
Michael made his screen debut in 1989 in Toxic Avenger II, and followed that up with appearances in action flicks like Universal Soldier and Full Contact. His big break arrived when he landed the title role in Tyson, a made-for-TV bio-pic about boxing great Mike Tyson. He subsequently played Spawn in the screen adaptation based on the popular comic book series of the same name.
More recently, White received critical acclaim for his work in The Dark Knight and in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married. Here, he talks about his two new releases, Black Dynamite, an homage to the Seventies’ Blaxploitation Era, and Blood & Bone, a revenge flick which went straight-to-DVD.

Kam Williams: Hi Michael. Thanks a lot for the time.
Michael Jai White: Hey, no problem.
KW: What inspired you to write and to star in Black Dynamite?
MJW: I came up with what I though was a funny idea for a movie. So, I wrote it, found the money to produce it, and it’s been a ball from start to finish.
KW: How would you categorize the movie as a spoof or as a drama?
MJW: It’s absolutely a comedy, a period piece set in the Seventies.
KW: What’s your favorite Blaxploitation Era film?
MJW: It would have to be The Mack. The Mack is on par with any drama. I challenge people to see The Mack, and then watch Hustle & Flow, which is the same type of movie. But The Mack addressed much deeper subject-matter. You have to realize that when that Era first began, those movies weren’t exploitative at all. Many were quite well done. The exploitation came later, when Hollywood realized they could throw very little money into the preparation of these movies and still have an audience that would frequent them over and over.
KW: Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I gave myself the nickname Goldie, the same as the character Max Julien played in The Mack, after I saw the movie.
MJW: I’m not surprised. How strong were those images? It was the first time that black people were being shown in such a positive and strong, alpha male image. There aren’t any images around like that anymore today. If you really look, you’ll find very few unapologetically, ass-kicking black males in existence in the media. But back then, black stars were based on the same criteria as white ones. The leading male was attractive, smart, got the women, kicked ass, and won in the end. This meant something to me when I was quite young. To be a kid and looking up at images of Jim Brown and Fred Williamson and Billy Dee Williams as representative of black manhood, how could you do better than that? Where do you see anything like that today? And Max Julien? I’ve chosen to name my child after him. Max Julien was an amazingly charismatic actor with a great mind.
KW: What would you say is Black Dynamite’s message, then?
MJW: It’s a love letter to Max Julien and other stars from that Era. And it’s an homage as well.
KW: Do you still fight competitively?
MJW: No, but I fight with competitive people. I spar with martial arts champions, even thought it might not sound like it makes a lot of sense. I still do that.
KW: What interested you in making a revenge flick like Blood & Bone?
MJW: I received the script about 5 years ago from the writer [Michael Andrews]. After I read it, I promised him I’d get it made. And eventually, we got it done.
KW: Was your character, Isaiah Bone based on anyone?
MJW: No, this is a fictionalized character in the tradition of the old Charles Bronson films. Two of my favorite films of his are Hard Times and Once upon a Time in the West. This a kind of a hybrid of those, and a throwback to movies like Clint Eastwood did back in the day, where you didn’t know quite that much about the lead character, and that was part of the whole intrigue.
KW: What was it like fighting against Bob Sapp and some of these other Mixed Martial Arts greats in orchestrated stunt scenes?
MJW: Bob has been a friend of mine for years. I actually used to train Bob, years ago in Japan. Later, I got one of my best friends, Frankie Liles, to take over because I was focusing on films. Now, Frankie is one of the most popular trainers in all of MMA. He’s trained some of the most dominant champions.
KW: How is the fighting we see in the film different from an actual fight?
MJW: A real fight is not as beautiful. Here, you have to keep the camera in mind and try to control the elements while making it feel organic. And clearly, you can’t really hit each other, but you have to make it look like you’re hitting each other.
KW: Have you ever participated in any of the sort of underground streetfighting depicted in the film in real life?
MJW: Yeah, there was a time when I was younger when fighting was my most favorite activity. Whether it would be on the street or in a ring, it was just the thing that I thought about and dreamt of.
KW: In Blood & Bone, there’s a streetfight with a $5 million purse. What’s the biggest prize you ever saw for a real streetfight?
MJW: I don’t quite know. Some clubs will shut down and have almost like a rave party with MMA type of fighting. That’s gone on for years. And usually the fighters are paid a specific fee. I have friends who’ve been offered as much as 10 grand.
KW: What path did you take to Hollywood?
MJW: I bounced around a lot because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I attended U. Conn and ended up teaching school and doing some acting on the side until I realized that I owed it to myself to pursue the acting seriously to see if I could do it.
KW: How do you keep yourself in such great physical shape?
MJW: If I had a religion, taking care of yourself and training would be the cornerstone of it.
KW: What type of diet and exercise regimen are you on?
MJW: It changes constantly. I never liked much junk food. And I like to feel good. So, I pretty much eat healthily. But that’s my preference. If you handed me some cake, I wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s not like it’s a discipline thing, since I happen to like to eat things that are good for you.
KW: How did you meet your wife, Courtenay. She’s a doctor, right?
MJW: Yeah, we’re cut from the same cloth. She works out even more than I do. She’s often in the gym twice a day. She gets up at 4:30 in the morning to workout. In fact, we met in the gym. So, that was something about her life that was very similar to mine. And there are many other ways in which we’re compatible.
KW: I saw that you recently finished shooting the sequel to Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married. How did it go?
MJW: Yeah, that reunion was a lot of fun. We were all good friends on that set, and I think it shows in the performances.
KW: Is there any question no one has ever asked you, that you wish someone would?
MJW: [Hesitates] Wow! That one snuck up on me? I’ve never thought about that. Yeah, no one’s ever come up to me and asked, is this your $10 million I just found on the ground?
KW: Tasha Smith, who plays your wife in Why Did I Get Married asks, Are you ever afraid?
MJW: Only in water, since I can’t swim. Although I did try snorkeling a few weeks ago. So, I guess I’m not really that afraid of it.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
MJW: Very!
KW: Teri Emerson would like to know, when was the last time you had a good laugh?
MJW: Last night.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
MJW: “The Measure of a Man,” Sidney Poitier’s autobiography.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to?
MJW: I’ve been playing a song non-stop. It’s call Beggin’ by Madcon.

KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
MJW: Myself.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
MJW: Bob Moses.
KW: Who is he?
MJW: A civil rights leader as significant as Dr. Martin Luther King, but in an under the radar fashion. There’s a book about him called “And Gently He Shall Lead Them.”

KW: I’ll Google him.
MJW: Prepare to be amazed.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
MJW: By supporting my films.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
MJW: I see a continual work in progress.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
MJW: For me to cook? To actually, physically cook myself?
KW: Yeah.
MJW: I can’t cook worth a damn
KW: What’s your favorite to eat, then?
MJW: Fried rice.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
MJW: Find your own footsteps. [Chuckles]
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan is curious about where in L.A. you live.
MJW: In Sherman Oaks.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
MJW: As a great father and husband, and as a loyal friend.
KW: Thanks again, Michael, and best of luck with both films.
MJW: Thank you very much.

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