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Exclusive Interview: Morris Chestnut, Ryan From the New "V"

Actor Morris Chestnut, recently signed to play the character of Ryan on the new “V”, has been acting since 1990, splitting his time between television and film appearances. One of his most recent projects has been the drama Not Easily Broken (on which he also serves as an executive producer), which has just been released on DVD.

By Edward Gross


Morris2   Not Easily Broken follows a marriage in turmoil, with Chestnut playing Dave Johnson, a man who is growing increasingly frustrated with his life, particularly his marriage to Clarice (Tarajil P. Henson). Things reach a critical mass and the question is whether or not their marriage will survive.


   In the following exclusive interview, Chestnut, who was born on New Year’s Day 1969, discusses both Not Easily Broken and “V”. Be warned, though, there are some SPOILERS on both projects.


VISITORS AMONG US: Where did you have to dig in to find the character of Dave Johnson? Was there a part of yourself that you were able to tap in to?


MORRIS CHESTNUT: There definitely is. This summer I’ll be married 13 years and I’ve had a lot of experiences during that time. Fortunately we haven’t had problems to the extent that the characters do in the movie, but every marriage needs work and every marriage has problems, so I had a lot to draw on.


VISITORS AMONG US: Look, I’ve been married for nearly 22 years now….


MORRIS CHESTNUT: [shock in his voice] In LA?


VISITORS AMONG US: No, I’m in New York.


MORRIS CHESTNUT: New York’s not easy, either. That’s great! Congratulations!


VISITORS AMONG US: Thank you. What happens, and I think it’s one of the reasons this movie struck a chord with me, is you do go through those periods where you feel like the two of you are drifting apart, but a lot of people give up on their marriage rather than fight to get back what they had.


NotEasilyBroken325 MORRIS CHESTNUT: Exactly. People are always looking for the perfect this or the perfect that. If you have a checklist of 10 things in your relationship, if you get seven out of the 10 and they outweigh the negative three, then you’ve just got to work at it to make it better. It’s going to take work.


VISITORS AMONG US: When you got the script for this movie, what was it that made you feel you could connect with this guy?


MORRIS CHESTNUT: Apart from being an actor in the movie, one of the things that attracted me to the project was being an executive producer and being able to wear different hats; to step behind the scenes and behind the camera and make some decisions. Help cast, help develop the script — when I first read the script, it was good, but it wasn’t where it ended up being. It was also an opportunity for me to expand my own experiences.


VISITORS AMONG US: A lot of the power of this film comes from how close this guy came to the brink; to throwing everything away, but somehow he comes back from it; he finds the strength to continue fighting for what he believes in.


MORRIS CHESTNUT: We actually shot the ending a couple of different ways. We didn’t want to have them [the husband and wife] hug and go off into the sunset; it didn’t feel right. Instead we realized that, emotionally, it would all just be overwhelming to him and that’s how I tried to play it. We shot it several different ways, some of which are in the extras on the DVD.


VISITORS AMONG US: Not sure if there is a smooth transition from a relationship film about a marriage in turmoil to an alien invasion action-adventure, but how did you get involved with “V”?


V-logo MORRIS CHESTNUT: They sent the script to my agent. I haven’t done a TV show in a while, but this seemed like something different. I remember everyone talking about the old mini-series, but that was the ‘80s. Technology is a lot more advanced now, a lot different. The producers told me that they wanted this to be an epic large-scale production. Everything they told me got me excited and I said, “I’m in.”


VISITORS AMONG US: What’s your feeling about your character, Ryan, who The Hollywood Reporter revealed was actually a Visitor?


MORRIS CHESTNUT: Without me giving too much away, Ryan is going to be doing a lot of different things and wearing a lot of different hats, so to speak, which is what got me excited about him. I think there are a lot of possibilities in terms of what can be done with him.


VISITORS AMONG US: Once you were cast, did you go back and watch the original miniseries?


MORRIS CHESTNUT: Yes I did. It was very powerful. I think the hard part of watching it now is that technology has advanced so far since then. But it was still very engaging, because it made you open up your mind to the different possibilities. Who knows what’s out there in the universe?


VISITORS AMONG US: The original dealt with World War II and the Holocaust, which is obviously that much further removed from today’s generation. I guess tying it into terrorism is a smart way to go with this new version.


MORRIS CHESTNUT: Exactly, it a way to tie it all a little bit closer to where we are now. I think a lot of the strength of this is going to be in the execution of it. A lot of green screen, a lot of special effects are going to be involved, combined with strong scripts and interesting characters. Hopefully we can pull it off.


VISITORS AMONG US: I know you said there are all kinds of possibilities, but the fact that Ryan’s torn between what he really is and the life he’s trying to build on earth, as an actor I would imagine that gives you a lot of opportunity.


MORRIS CHESTNUT: Without giving away too much, there are going to be a lot of challenges from what the producers and writers have told me. That was one of the things that drew me to it. This show is not a straight down the middle show, it’s not a procedural show. It’s not a cop drama or a lawyer drama. There are a lot of things that we’re going to be able to do with this show, and my role in particular, some of the challenges I’m going to be presented with as an actor, is something I’m really looking forward to. This is my first true science fiction project. I keep using words like exciting and intriguing and challenging, but it really is. Like I was down there on the set last week, and you see all these half space ships and you’re shooting against green screen and there’s nothing behind you and you’re wearing a space outfit – like I said, it’s all very exciting!


VISITORS AMONG US: Is it tough as an actor to work with the green screen; to deal with things that aren’t there?


MORRIS CHESTNUT: It’s very challenging, because you really have to draw on your acting when there’s nothing else there. You’re used to feeding off of the other actors, or even your environment. Here I’m running down the street and there’s supposed to be this huge spaceship that’s not there.


VISITORS AMONG US: When you’re shooting, what’s missing?


MORRIS CHESTNUT: In that particular scene, we’re actually there on the street. The buildings and everything are there, but the ship is missing. There are some people there, but I’m sure there will be much more when they’re done with the visual effects.


VISITORS AMONG US: I would imagine when everything has been added, you’re going to be as amazed as everyone else when you finally see it.


MORRIS CHESTNUT: That’s the fun and exciting part about it. And it takes some getting used to. You do what you do on the actual day, and then you have to see it in the context of the visual effects and everything. That may change the way I do certain things in the future; there are so many different and intriguing things about doing this as a TV series.


VISITORS AMONG US: Hey, if this takes off are you ready to become part of a cult following?


MORRIS CHESTNUT: [laughs] I don’t really go out too much. I’m pretty much a homebody, so I don’t think I’ll have to worry about it.



We are gradually transitioning over various news items from our sister site at www.visitorsamongus.com. To check out stories on "V" both then and now that have made the "trip" yet, just click below.

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EdGross
3/27/2009

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