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Russell Hornsby tells the truth in ‘The Hate U Give’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Russell Hornsby tells the truth in ‘The Hate U Give’
Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg and Common in Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Hate U Give.” Photo: Erika Doss

In George Tillman Jr.’s film “The Hate U Give,” actor Russell Hornsby brings to life magnificently the complex character of Maverick “Mav” Carter, a husband and father of three, who not only provides for his family, but also openly shows his deep love and affection for them.

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Hornsby, who was in town earlier this month promoting the film said, “You know Maverick was in me already. This is the role that I’ve been waiting a lifetime to play.”

Based on the critically acclaimed New York Times best-seller by Angie Thomas, the contemporary drama explores racism and police violence. The film stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter, who lives between two worlds — the poor, mostly black fictional neighborhood of Garden Heights and the rich, mostly white and private Williamson Prep high school she attends. These two worlds collide when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of a white police officer. Facing pressure from all sides of the community, Starr is torn and confused about what it means to find her voice and how to stand up for what is right.

“The Hate U Give” opens in Boston on Friday and in theaters nationwide on Oct. 19, and also stars Regina Hall, Issa Rae, KJ Apa, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, and Anthony Mackie.

According to Hornsby, it was the opening monologue that attracted him to the role of Maverick Carter. “That opening salvo of a father sitting down with his family having ‘The Talk’ and it being unvarnished and candid — that’s what sold me to be truthful. I said to myself, ‘If they keep this in this movie, we got something here.’”

Being truthful in life and in his craft is key for Hornsby. He described himself as one of those actors that has a deep emotional reservoir to pull from. He feels deeply, loves deeply and hurts deeply, he said. “This is just part of who I am, and it just so happens I’m an actor and I can substitute and exchange that energy,” explained Hornsby. “All those feelings, those thoughts, and those emotions I can put it someplace. It’s cathartic. It’s therapeutic.”

The Boston University alum admires actors from 20 years ago who “got to play rich, deep and complex characters,” such as Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Rusty Snipes, Howard E. Rollins, Jr. and Adolph Caesar. “That’s where I come from,” he said.

Best known for his roles as Edward “Eddie” Sutton on ABC Family’s “Lincoln Heights” and as Detective Hank Griffin on the NBC series “Grimm,” Hornsby said he approaches each of his roles with thought and intention. “It’s going to have context. It’s going to have references. That’s what it’s about, because this is my life,” said Hornsby. “This is not a hobby. I’m a craftsman. I’m an artist, as much as a writer is, as a visual artist is, as a painter is, as a sculptor is. It’s just that my art form is so collaborative.”

It’s the same manner in which he approached his character Buddy Marcelle in the film “Creed II,” releasing this November. He doesn’t believe in archetypes or in the ideas of character, he said. “I believe in people. I came with a true honest depiction based on what was in front of me, on the page, of who this character is.”

That’s what made Lyons, his character in Denzel Washington’s 2016 film adaption of “Fences,” so unforgettable. You felt and saw his pain, his loss, and most importantly, his humanity. As a husband and father of two young children in real life, Hornsby said he feels he has a higher calling. If he’s going to spend time away from his family, he wants to do something that’s impactful. He would like his work to have meaning.

With the success of “Fences,” which he said opened the door for him in Hollywood, Hornsby was able to land the role of Isaiah Butler in the Netflix miniseries “Seven Seconds” opposite Regina King, as well as the role of Maverick in “The Hate U Give.”

Now, Hornsby believes that the industry is ready for him “to come through and show that there’s a different way of doing it. Not a right and a wrong, but a different way of doing this work,” said the actor. “That’s what I want to show. It’s based on my theater work. It’s based on my love for our people, my love for blackness and my love to just tell the truth.”

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