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July 2007
HAIRSPRAY: An Interview with Elijah Kelly

HAIRSPRAY: An Interview with Elijah Kelly
By Wilson Morales

July 16, 2007

With musicals being a big thing these days with “Chicago”, “Rent”, “The Producers”, and more recently, ‘Dreamgirls”, there’s always a new talent waiting to be discovered. Look what happened with Jennifer Hudson last year. It was her first film and she was an Oscar! It could happened to anyone in this business, and Elijah Kelley hopes it happens to him as well. Kelley, who was seen in “Take The Lead” with Antonio Banderas, has a prominent role in the film version of the Broadway musical, “Hairspray”.

Sixteen years after the release of the original film, New Line Cinema is bringing a feature film adaptation of the Tony award-winning Broadway production "Hairspray" to life. Featuring new and original material based on John Waters' 1988 cult classic about star-struck teenagers on a local Baltimore dance show. Kelley plays Seaweed J. Stubbs, the black love interest to Amanda Bynes’s Penny Pingleton. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Kelley talks about landing the role, using all his talents (singing, dancing, acting) on the film, and getting out of the tight pants after filming wrapped.

How did you go about in getting the part of Seaweed J. Stubbs?

Elijah Kelley: Once I got the audition, I just seized the opportunity. That’s all that is. I just needed an inch and I just promised myself that I would fill it and I had to dance and sing in front of the producers and the director. I was a real great experience.

Had you seen the show prior to shooting the film and if so, how many times did you see it?

EK: I saw the show when it came to LA, right before they shot the movie. That was the only time I saw it. To see it one time and then shy away from it, I didn’t want to recreate the part from Broadway. I wanted to go ahead and do my own thing.

Where did your musical background come from?

EK: I grew up singing in church. I’ve been doing that since I was 3 years old. Singing was a blessing for me to do. Being in a movie where you can all of your talents on a platform and your able to exploit them, I got my inspiration from Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Caesar, and a lot of the old quartets like the Winans and others.

What was like on the set when you are meeting and acting with veterans like John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Christopher Walken?

EK: When I met them, it was so great. There are people that we grew up with and with Queen Latifah, I watched her in the hip hop days, and watching her and listening to her music and watching John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer, who went from “Scarface” to being here, it was amazing. It was a chance for me to solidify myself with these people. I really felt it was a challenge and I really had a chip on my shoulder to prove to them and everybody else what I could do. I think we did pretty well at that.

The show as well as the movie deals with racial tension and I wanted to know how much you know from that time period?

EK: I’m from Georgia and I’ve only been in Atlanta for two years and a short time ago, I was able to pick my grandparents’s brain and my uncles and my aunts and my older cousins and my mom and dad because they are one generation removed from that stuff and they were able to see and experience those types of things. I got a first hand account from it being down in Georgia and I’ve experience some things with Georgia being one of the last states to hop on the bandwagon on the integration frontier. I’ve had close calls experiencing it. The subject is near and dear and real to me.

Let’s talk about the wardrobe and your hairstyle in the film.

EK: Man, I can’t tell you how glad I was to take them tight pants off. Those things were ridiculously tight. When you put them on, you just transform into the ‘60s time and doing the hair and having a single wave. Putting all those chemicals, I actually had to perm my hair to do the movie. It was really funny with people asking, “Why do you keep your hair like that?” You try walking down the street with that hairstyle in 2007 and see how it goes.

With these film and “Take The Lead”, do you want to be known as someone who is musically inclined as well as your acting?

EK: I want to be known as a triple threat. I have aspirations to win as Oscar and a Grammy and I also want to win a Tony. I want to be one of those guys like Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis Jr. that crossed all those barriers of entertainment. With singers like Chris Brown and Ne-Yo braking in movies, and Hilary Duff and Beyonce, you have to be a triple threat. I want to be known for doing everything that’s equal and being equally talented on every level. That’s why I love being a part of Hairspray. “Take The Lead” was a wonderful film but the notoriety from “Hairspray” is far greater than anything I have ever done. For people to see me act, sing, and dance in one performance is really a good thing.

You have another film coming up, “Party Up”. What’s that about?

EK: “Party Up” is like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” crossed with “House Party”. It’s basically about this kid, my character, who’s this smooth, intelligent kid who’s petitioning to throw this big end of the year bash house party and so he goes and manipulating different people and ruining lives. He somewhat has a selfish heart but he’s a nice guy. It’s like Ferris throwing a house party.

Before you got “Hairspray”, were you struggling to get work?

EK: I can’t say it was a struggle. A lot of the parts that are out there I don’t want to out to go out for, and the ones that I want to go after, there’s a process and I really don’t feel that one or two doesn’t make my career. God got me to this point and I feel that he will take of me. Everything that has come my way has been fruitful to me and anything that hasn’t come my way has been for a reason. “Hairspray” definitely came in at the right time. I’m also doing an album right now.

What’s the music going to consist of?

EK: It’s like Earth, Wind and Fire meets Usher. It’s like the perfect Soul and Pop mix.

What was the best scene you shot from “Hairspray”?

EK: The best scene I shot had to be “Run and Tell That”. I put work in the whole movie, but there was a different and a greater concentrated work on those particular days I had to shoot the film. It’s all about you at that particular point quite frankly.

Why should folks go see “Hairspray”?

EK: It’s a fun movie. It’s a bright movie. You have about 30 years of experience of screen time experience on the film with John Travolta to Zac Efron. Also the message consists of loving everybody and respecting everybody regardless of color or creed or sexual preference or anything like that. If anything, it’s just a fun loving movie.



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