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Nick Cannon tackles urban violence in ‘Chi-Raq’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Nick Cannon tackles urban violence in ‘Chi-Raq’
Nick Cannon (Photo: Da Chi Pictures, LLC)

Colette Greenstein

Nick Cannon is truly a renaissance man. The multi-talented actor, producer, television host, rapper, businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist has accomplished and done more in his 35 years than most people do in a lifetime.

Host of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” co-star on BET’s faux reality series “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” executive producer of “Wild ‘N Out,” and as of this week, the new chief creative officer of RadioShack, Cannon stars in Spike Lee’s latest film “Chi-Raq,” a modern day adaptation of the Greek comedy “Lysistrata” written by Aristophanes. The film opens nationwide in theaters today.

Set against the backdrop of Chicago’s South Side, Lysistrata (played by Teyonah Parris of “Survivor’s Remorse” and “Mad Men”), girlfriend to rapper and gang leader Demetrius ‘Chi-Raq’ Dupree (Cannon), leads a group of women on a sex strike from their men after a child is murdered in their neighborhood in the hopes of ending the on-going violence.

Cannon, who was in New York earlier this week in support of The Salvation Army’s #RedKettleReason campaign and for the premiere of Chi-Raq, spoke to the Banner about his role in the film and working with director Spike Lee.

You were on the Today show as part of Giving Tuesday with the Salvation Army. How did the collaboration come about?

Nick Cannon: I actually grew up with the Salvation Army in my life and in my family’s life in times of need. When I heard that the Salvation Army was continuing on their amazing mission for their holidays and wanted me to be a part of it, I was like ‘absolutely, 100%’.

What drew you to the role of Chi-Raq?

NC: First of off, before I knew what the role was or even read the script Spike Lee said ‘he wanted to save lives on the South Side of Chicago’ and I said ‘you know what, I’m in. Whatever I gotta give, let’s do it. Let’s make it happen.’

How did you prepare for taking on this role?

NC: I actually consider myself an artist and someone who’s always aspired to be a character actor and with that process it’s all about finding the authenticity. I just dove into the community and got with some guys who really live their life in a kind of different way, and really heard their stories and their struggles, and they allowed me to get into that space.

This is your first film with Spike Lee. How was it working with him and what was it like being on the set?

NC: It was phenomenal. Spike Lee to me is one of the greatest filmmakers ever. It’s always been a dream of mine to work with him. He’s inspired me since the 80’s when I was watching School Daze and Do the Right Thing. And, man, I’d think I’d love to be in a film with him one day and work with that amazing director. Cut to today and we’re right here.

It must have been pretty amazing to be on set with him and some of his regulars like Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes and Roger Guenveur Smith, to be part of that crew must have been a great feeling?

NC: So beautiful, so amazing. Working with people that you’ve admired and looked up to and acting for so long, and to kind of be able to call them peers is a dream come true.

Being in this film and with everything you’re working on, do you foresee taking on more roles?

NC: Oh, absolutely. I’ve never stopped my love for acting. I’m actually just in the middle of a post for a film that I completed in Jamaica that I starred and directed called King of the Dancehall, so that will be coming out and then several other projects that my company is producing as well

This past Sunday [November 29], the HALO [Helping and Leading Others] awards aired for the 7th year on Nickelodeon. When you first started it, did you think it would be as huge as it has become?

NC: You know what, I did. I wanted to put the spotlight on young people doing some amazing and outstanding things in their communities and making the world a better place, and the fact that we’ve been doing it for more than seven years is really exciting.

Getting back to the movie it’s such an interesting role. You bring such an authenticity to the character. Have you changed in any way since making this film?

NC: You know I just always love focusing on the art and my spirit as an artist. So, I definitely feel like I’ve evolved, and continue to, but definitely being someone who’s a real pillar in the community and someone who really cares about not just the South Side of Chicago but every disenfranchised area in America, and kind of making it my mission to do as much as I can to possibly change the scenario.

What do you hope that people take away from this film?

NC: I hope people understand that a life is a life and we got to respect it, and as Spike always says ‘it’s time to wake up.’