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December 2008
CADILLAC RECORDS | An Interview with Columbus Short

An Interview with Columbus Short
by Wilson Morales

December 3, 2008

From ‘Stomp the Yard’ to ‘This Christmas’ to most recently ‘Quarantine’, Columbus Short is certainly an actor on the rise, playing troubled, energetic, and heroic souls. With his latest film, ‘Cadillac Records’, ready to hit theaters on December 5, he will show another side of his talent that has yet to be seen. His role as Little Walter shows his musical skills.

In this tale of sex, violence, race and rock and roll in 1950's Chicago, "Cadillac Records" follows the the rise and fall of Chess Records and the exciting but turbulent lives of some of America's musical legends, including Muddy Waters, Leonard Chess, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf and Elvis Presley. Chess, who co-founded the label with his brother Phil, was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Besides Short as Little Walter, the film has Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Emmanuelle Chriqui as Revetta Chess, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Beyonce Knowles as Etta James, Gabrielle Union as Geneva Wade, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf, Eric Bogosian as Alan Freed, Marc, and Bonan as Keith Richards.

In speaking exclusively with Short, he spoke his role, working with Jeffrey Wright and his upcoming roles.

What attracted you to the film?

Columbus Short: First when I read the script, I said that this guy (Little Walter) was like Tupac before Tupac. He was wild, but the character is what challenged me.

How much did you know about the blues and Little Walter before you took the role?

CS: Nothing. I knew a lot about the blues, but I knew nothing about Little Walter. He was like a best kept secret until earlier in the year when he got inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I didn’t know much about him at all. Once I started doing some research, I immersed myself in the blues and his world and try to develop the character that was going to be both authentic and relevant to the film.

Was there anything in his background that struck you the most?

CS: The fact that he was abandoned and that he wasn’t supposed to end up as a legend. He was a street kid from Louisiana but his music is the reason the harmonica is part of Chicago blues today. He created that sound of blues. Against all odds, he made it. He was a fascinating character.

How was working with Jeffrey in this film?

CS: Jeffrey is my man! If there is one actor that I wanted to work with in my career, I’ve always said Jeffrey Wright. When I finally got the chance to work with him, it was everything I thought it would be. Little Walter and Muddy’s relationship sort of mirrors what our relationship has become. He recognized an ability in me and I recognized all his abilities. We just pushed each other to be better in the film. It was a wonderful experience.

How was working with the rest of the cast?

CS: I had a scene with literally everyone in the cast. One of my scenes that got cut out was one with Mos Def. They are all talented individuals; from Mos to Eamonn to Cedric to Beyonce and Jeffrey and Adrien of course. I was just soaking up everything.

Is there anything in Little Walter’s background that you can compare with yours?

CS: I don’t know if we have similarities but I think we can relate to his strength, his emotional vulnerabilities, as far as abandonment issues. You can sort of understand why someone would act out the way he did. He had no rules. He had no guidance. With that you can figure who that man was and how he ended up the way he did.

Did you know going into this film that you would have to play an instrument?

CS: I figured that they wouldn’t let me. I thought they would just show someone’s hands, but then I thought I should learn how to play. I was playing all day, going to blues clubs, and playing with blues band until I was authentic.

What did you get from working with director Darnell Martin?

CS: Her camaraderie surpassed everything else. It allowed me to explore the character safely and without judgment. So, it was productive and we developed a symbiotic relationship from it that I think helps the emotion in the movie.

Why do you suppose we hadn’t seen films on any of these icons individually?

CS: I don’t know. It would have been wonderful to see a Little Walter film or a Muddy Waters film or a film just on Leonard Chess. Blues might not have been savvy at the time for those stories to be told in cinema. Of course, there have been plenty of rock and roll stories, but never how rock and roll started. Who cares about slave music? But I think now, with the way it was presented and the actors that are playing these roles, people are having second looks.

What did you learn after you did the film?

CS: I learned that these men and women were the pioneers of blues and rock and roll. People think Elvis (Pressley) was the king of rock and roll. No, it was Muddy Waters. Chuck Berry was an outcast among outcast. He wasn’t playing the blues and he wasn’t playing the white man music either. He made his own sound. I learned so much about the source and Jeffrey says all the time, ‘Research the source.’ I found the source and it’s in my music.

You have some films slated for release next year. What’s your role in ‘Whiteout’?

CS: In ‘Whiteout’, I play Kate Beckinsale’s partner and I discover the first murdered body in the Antarctica. We have a week to find the murderer before it goes dark there for six months.

What’s about ‘Armored’?

CS: ‘Armored’ is exciting. It’s my second follow up to ‘Stomp the Yard’ as a lead and film that I carry. It’s a little different because it’s an action thriller. It’s a heist film and I’m working with some great actors like Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, and I’m excited about that one.

I had read somewhere on the web that you were being considered for a role in the next installment of the ‘Lethal Weapon’ franchise?

CS: Yes. Basically, I was offered a role to be in the next film. Joel Silver, who produced ‘Whiteout’, told me he wanted me in the film, but unfortunately Mel (Gibson) didn’t want to do it, so it’s not happening. Sony Pictures is developing an action film for me and Channing Tatum where we are two undercover cops in New York. The title may change but for now, it’s


Why should anyone see ‘Cadillac Records’?

CS: Go see it to get educated. Be aware of the music that you listen to now and see how it all began. Follow the lives of the folks who made it and why the lyrics are what they are. Also, if you want to see great acting performances, go see this film. Everyone is outstanding.




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