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August 2006
STEP UP : An Interview with MARIO

STEP UP: An Interview with Mario
By Wilson Morales

August 7, 2006

With rappers and singers entering the film business, it’s a question whether they have the chops to really have a second career or are they just eye candy for the screen to make money for others. For Mario, it’s chance for us to see him in a different light. Having started his music career while in his teens, Mario quickly blazed into today’s hot sensations since Usher and he hasn’t stopped. His song, single, "Let Me Love You", became an international hit. While working on his next album, which comes out later this year, Mario has diversified his talents by becoming an actor. In “Step Up”, Mario stars along with Channing Tatum, in a film about dance and music. While speaking to blackfilm.com, Mario talked about the opportunity of acting and learning to grow in the business as well as with next album.

What role do you play in the film?

Mario: In the film, I play a character by the name of Miles and Miles is friends with Nora, who’s played by Jenna Dewan and basically, he’s like a young Quincy Jones. He’s creating music. He came from a rough area, but music has always been his love and he’s been given the opportunity to do something that he loves to do and that’s to create music.

How did the role come about? Did they come to you or did you audition for it?

Mario: Well, they actually came to me for the role. It was weird trying out for it because it was my first film role but the tryout wasn’t by the casting person; it was by the director. I met with her (Anne Fletcher) and she told me I was perfect for the part. She was really energetic and told me to just be myself and that’s what I did. I could really relate to the character just in terms of him being very dedicated to his music. He’s very laid back but yet still aggressive when it comes to what he wants.

Had you acted before?

Mario: Nah. This is my first time acting. This is a feature role for me.

What kind of preparation did you go into this knowing that you would acting instead of singing or dancing?

Mario: The preparation was more mental, just knowing that I was going to have to be really focused and used methods to help me to portray the character of Miles and it was just doing research from my own experiences; to understand where he was going and what he experiencing in his life. I got a lot of help from other actors in the film like Channing. We fed off each other and I fed off him. A lot of it came naturally.

Did you talk to other musicians who are also actors for advice?

Mario: I really didn’t talk much of anybody as far as my peers are concerned, but I did talk to Alicia (Keys) and she has a couple of films coming out as well. She was telling me how it was for her. I also had an acting coach too that helped me focus on the role and what the primary important parts of Miles were. Also, the film was shot in my hometown of Baltimore so that put me in a comfort zone. Some friends would come by set so I had a lot of support.

What the most challenging aspect on working on this film?

Mario: I would say the most challenging thing was staying in character throughout the whole film being that I’m a singer. People were seeing me act, but they also wanted me to sing. Just staying in character and trying to separate the two, and with the film being about music, I wanted to sing so bad and I wanted it to be a part of the film and it did. There’s one part of film where I end up singing.

What do you about the knock that rappers and singers get when then enter the film business as actors?

Mario: One thing that’s different from acting and music is that your work speaks for itself and for me, my work says who I am. I plan to take it serious and do the best that I can do in this industry and make sure that before that I go into a role, I’m well prepared for it so that there aren’t any room for people to have negative comments. Only time will tell.

Which other actors do you admire?

Mario: When I look at films, I admire people like Will Smith. I admire like Al Pacino. I admire people like Brad Pitt and Eddie Murphy. These are people who I saw growing up. LL Cool J, who’s also an artist, has done certain film projects that I admire. I admire Beyonce for doing what she did and watching her grow as a female actress and having good roles. Picking good roles is a part of having a good career too. You have to learn how to pick good roles. An actor can be in a great film but it may not the role for him. Picking a good role is very essential as to how people will see you as an actor.

Being in a film about music that you can relate to, what else would you like to do?

Mario: I would like to do more films that are more mysterious, more intense, and reaching in the mental minds of people; stuff like ‘War of the Worlds” or “I, Robot”. Films that more intense and deal with edgier situations, real-life situations, but I don’t mind doing fiction.

Do you have anything else coming up?

Mario: I just finished a Paramount/ MTV film called “Freedom Writers” that will be coming out next year on Martin Luther King’s Birthday. Hilary Swank is in the film and the film is basically about how her character helped change the lives of a class of students raised into ethnic social society that deal with a lot of problems and she used her own method of teaching these kids how their lives relate to each other in that fighting and killing each other is not the right way to go. This is a film that all ethnic groups can see and all age group should go see because it’s relative to everybody’s life.

What have you learned from working on these different films?

Mario: One thing that I have learned is that acting is not as easy as it seems. There are definitely methods that are to be used and should be used. There are so many different responsibilities and jobs that go into making a film as far as being a director, being a producer, being a writer, being a casting director, and anyone behind the scenes, it’s amazing what goes into a making a film project. Just how the film itself will appeal to people and how it change people’s lives; I could remember watching films that made me happy and films that made me think about my life; all types of things like that I’m happy to be a part of.

When is the next CD of your coming out?

Mario: My CD is coming out in December.

Do you have a title for the album?

Mario: As of yet, I don’t have a title but I can you one thing. The album’s turning out to be a masterpiece and really big in terms of growth. There’s a big difference between the two albums.

Will the title of the songs tell about the growth of you as a singer?

Mario: There are more confident and more passionate and mature in the sense that there’s no doubt. Not that there was doubt in any of my other songs but you just feel that intensity in what I’m saying and how I characterize my words and the phrasing of each song.

Any collaboration on this album?

Mario: I’ve been working with artists on the writing tip. I work with Akon. I work with Nelly. I’m going in to work with Alicia Keys this week. I worked with Sean Paul. I still have a month to go on the project but that’s just to name a few.

How much fun did you have on the set learning and acting?

Mario: Everybody was cool. I didn’t have any problems with anybody. We all got along. Channing and I connected. I admire his skill and wisdom. He practiced three weeks before the film shot to get the choreography done.

Was there any particular scene that stood out for you?

Mario: The performance scene at the end. I basically composed the whole orchestra and that was really intense because everybody worked together on that. Everybody was in that scene at once so we all kind of fed of each other but at the same time, we were in our own world. We had our own positions to play that made the whole masterpiece come together.

What are you reading now?

Mario: Well, I’m actually reading the script to “The Great Debaters”.

That’s the film that Denzel Washington wants to direct.

Mario: Yes, I just started and I’m looking forward to maybe be a part of that film and Oprah (Winfrey)’s part of the production and I’m a big fan of hers and follower and supporter and that would be a great project for me, but I’m also very open to receiving other scripts.

Why should folks go see “Step Up”?

Mario: This film will inspire you to step up to your challenges and it will inspire you to look at why those challenges will get you to the next phase in life.

STEP UP opens on August 11, 2006




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