Battle: Los Angeles/ Ne-Yo Interview
Battle: Los Angeles
An Interview with Ne-Yo
by Wilson Morales
March 14, 2011
Over the past weekend, the sci-fi thriller ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ came in first place at the box office with a total of $35.6 million dollars, and for its stars Aaron Eckhart, who was in ‘The Dark Knight,’ and Michelle Rodriguez, having been in ‘Avatar,’ being in a blockbuster is nothing new for them.
For the other cast members, such as Cory Hardrict, Ne-Yo, Ramon Rodriguez, Jim Parrack and Adetokumboh M’Cormack, though, this is huge for their careers, especially for the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Ne-Yo.
Having appeared in ‘Save the Last Dance,’ ‘Stomp the Yard’ and in an episode of ‘CSI: Miami,’ the Arkansas native is still trying to prove to the world that he can contribute more to the entertainment field than some hits songs.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Ne-Yo talked about his role, the hard work to be an actor, and his upcoming projects.
How would you describe your character in the film?
Ne-Yo: Corporal Harris is a little bit conservative. He’s a little geeky for a marine. He’s kind of nerdy, to be honest with you. He is. He is definitely a family guy. He’s actually about to get married. His whole character background is that his wife is forcing him to put together- he’s about to go on leave. His troop is about to head out. So his wife is forcing him to put together their entire marriage in the two weeks he has left before they head out. So when you first meet Corporal Harris you meet him in a flower shop with his wife and his best friend picking out floral arrangements and talking about bridesmaid dresses and stuff like that. He’s a little bit of a tightwad. He’s just a very conservative guy and then all of a sudden, the proverbial shit hits the fan, and now he’s got to pull out his hardass abilities. He’s got to pull the Marine out and save the world.
What was the attraction to doing this?
Ne-Yo: The main attraction to doing this was, for one, I’m a huge sci-fi buff, a huge action film buff. I just love the creativity that goes into the sci-fi element of the film. On top of that the main attraction was the fact that it had nothing to do with music. It was not a movie based around music. It wasn’t about the music in the film. I didn’t have to be Ne-Yo in this movie. I could be Shaffer Smith the aspiring actor in this movie. So that was the main thing. Because after ‘Stomp the Yard’, which was my first film everything that came in was, ‘You’re an ex choreographer,’ or ‘You’re an aspiring jazz singer.’ And I told them, ‘If I’m going to the acting thing, let me act. Let me really do something that’s not me.’ ‘Stomp the Yard’ was a great film. It was a great film, great opportunity. It’s the reason I live in Atlanta to this day, that film. But as far as acting goes, it wasn’t very challenging. I played me. The character I played in the film was basically me. I played myself.
It’s funny that you’re saying that because just recently Rihanna said in an interview with OK Magazine that she’d rather not be considered for the remake of ‘The Bodyguard’ that they’re trying to do because she wants to act in films and not want to do a film that people will look at and say, ‘There’s no stretch there.’ so you’re echoing that same sentiment as well? You don’t want to do anything that’s going to involve music?
Ne-Yo: Not really. I mean unless it’s- the script has to be absolutely amazing. I would’ve given my right arm to do something on the ‘Ray’ film, the movie about Ray Charles. Or I know that my company, we just recently got- we’re looking at doing something about Sammy Davis Jr. something like that, sure. But as far as just the whole Nuevo, he’s an R&B singer who has aspirations and big dreams but he lives with his momma or what. Nah. I’m just not really- I feel like, like I said, if I’m going to act, let me act. Let me do something that’s not me. I’m not a Marine. I’m not the dude to come at if aliens should happen to come down and start blowing shit up. I’m under the table. I’m not that dude. But in the movie, yeah, I pick up an M-16 in a minute and, yeah. But in real life that’s not me.
This is an intense film. You’re working with a number of other actors in this. How was it like working with them and how was boot camp?
Ne-Yo: I was a student for this whole film; just watching because I like to learn through experience. I like to learn through doing. Let me make a mistake and then critique me on what I did so that I learn that way. And I gotta say, I have to give props to Michelle Rodriguez, Aaron Eckhart, Cory Hardrict. They were definitely there to catch me should I fall. There was a lot of telling me, ‘You never want to look like you’re acting. It needs to be natural. If in the scene you’re supposed to be scared, you need to think of something that scares you. If in the scene you’re supposed to be sad, you need to think of something that makes you want to cry.’ It’s because that’s the way that you get into the heart and mind of the viewer. They look at it and they see how serious it is for you so it becomes that serious for them. So I have to say I had an absolute ball working with them. I was just learning from people who are some of the best to do it. As far as the boot camp element, man, they told us ahead of time that, ‘We’re going to put you through a little boot camp scenario. We’re going to put you with top Marines that are going to show you how to be Marines.’ So we’re thinking, ‘Okay, they’re going to show us, you know, the right way to shoot a gun or whatever.’ We didn’t know that we were going to be sleeping outside and waking up at the ass crack of dawn and jogging six miles and calisthenics all day. And then we get into, ‘Okay, this is how you shoot the gun. And this is how you take the gun apart and put it back together. And this is how you clean the gun. And this is how you lace your boots up. And this is how you enter a room.’ And it was just a little bit overwhelming. It was. Especially because these cats weren’t treating us like actors. We were cadets. So it was like, ‘Get your ass out of bed. Get up right now.’ And the dude is right here yelling at the top of his lungs. And it’s like, ‘Bro, you are aware that if something really happened, I’m going to sue you all. I’m an actor, bro. I’m not really a Marine.’ But they were treating us like we were really preparing too go to war. And at the end of the day when you watch the movie it makes perfect sense. They were all about the small details. For example, there was one thing that they were very adamant about. You see shootouts in movies. You see the guy get shot at and he ducks behind a car. What is the first place he goes? He hides behind the door. Bullets will go through doors. It will pass through that door, through your body, and keep going. That’s what bullets do. Do not hide behind a door if you’re hiding behind a car. You hide behind the wheel well. You get in front of the wheel because there’s all kinds of steel and metal right there. That bullet’s not going to pass through all of that, so you won’t get hit. So were you to go back and watch the movie again, you’ll notice on the freeway if anybody’s hiding behind a car they’re hiding either behind the very back of the car where the wheel well is, or the very front of the car where the wheel well is. And they were really, really adamant about those small details. They said, ‘Were an actual Marine to come and see this film, there needs to not be anything that they can point out and go, “Oh, no. That’s fake. Nah, that’s now how we do that.”‘ It was very important to them.
Did you do any research for this? Did they come to you or did you go to them, in terms of the role?
Ne-Yo: They brought the role to me. But I told them, ‘I want to audition. I want to cold read. I want you all to really treat me like a person going out for this role. Do not give me this role just because I’m Ne-Yo.’ Because, to be completely honest with you, this role has nothing to do with Ne-Yo. Me being Ne-Yo is not going to help me in this film at all because I’m not dancing, I’m not singing, and I ain’t got a suit on. So there’s nothing about the Ne-Yo- there’s no elements of Ne-Yo that are going to help me in this film. So it wouldn’t make any sense to give me the role for that. So let me sit and cold read and really audition. So that’s what I did and they dug it. It was like, ‘There’s one or two things that we think you could be better at, but when you get with the other actors they’ll help you figure those things out.’
Now at some point, now that you’re acting and you don’t want to be recognized as Ne-Yo the singer, will you be like Ludacris (Chris Bridges) and The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) and go under your real name?
Ne-Yo: I don’t know. I don’t know. Perhaps at some point. At some point. I mean the world doesn’t know Shaffer Smith. The world knows Ne-Yo. So I think probably for the first few films I’ll keep the Ne-Yo moniker, but as time goes, you know what to be completely honest-
The Rock changed. Ludacris changed.
Ne-Yo: They did. They did. I feel like at the end of the day- because I don’t ever plan on ever stopping music. I’m going to do music until the world doesn’t want to hear me sing a song anymore. But it was never my intention to be like, ‘Okay, I’m done with the music thing. Let’s do this acting thing.’ That’s not how I’m doing this. I’m going to still do music. And I’m going to still be Ne-Yo doing music. So it almost wouldn’t make any sense for me to change the name.
You’ve got music, you’ve got films, and now you’ve got a family (daughter, Madilyn Grace Smith, with Monyetta Shaw) now. How do are you balancing all of those things?
Ne-Yo: A lot of people say, ‘One day at a time.’ I say, ‘One minute at a time,’ because nowadays every minute counts for something. Every single minute of the day counts for something. If it’s not on Skype seeing what Maddie is doing, it’s reading over this script. If it’s not reading over this script, I’m in the studio working on this song for this artist or working on a song for me. Or I’m at the rehearsal hall making sure that the tour we’re about to go on is all the way right. I’m sitting with the lighting guy going, ‘No. When this song comes on I need the white lights to come up and the blue lights to go down.’ Or I’m on the stage with the choreographer going, ‘You know what, that last step, I can’t really get that note out and do that step at the same time.’ So every single minute of the day has something in it. And there’s barely time to go to the bathroom. And it’s real. But that’s what life is. As much as you can for as long as you can. Because once your time is up, it’s up. You don’t get a do over.
What do you have coming after this?
Ne-Yo: I am personally waiting on ‘Red Tails’. ‘Red Tails’ is George Lucas’s film about the Tuskegee airmen. I play one of the fighter pilots by the name of Andrew Salem, aka Smoky. And he’s from Alabama. I had to develop a really thick Alabama accent. He chews tobacco. It’s really, really, really a character role. I actually shot that before I shot this, which is odd. But I mean George Lucas pulled money out of his pocket to pay for this film. So this is his baby. So the one thing that I do about George, I don’t know a lot about him, but the one thing I do know is that it’s not going to come out until it’s absolutely right.
Have you seen it in here?
Ne-Yo: I’ve seen bits and pieces of it because I had to do ADR, you know where they go in and you’ve got to re-say certain lines because they didn’t pick up. So I’ve seen different things but the whole body of work, no I have not seen.
What sort of role would you want to do next? A horror movie?
Ne-Yo: You know what, I love action. I love sci-fi. But I don’t want to get pigeon holed or typecast, you know. I do have a love for those specific kinds of films. I’m a huge martial arts fan. I studied martial arts for a little while. I would love to take some of that and incorporate it in the movie somewhere. That would be dope. But on the other side of that, again, if I’m going to do the acting thing, let’s go all the way across the board with it. Let me see if I can pull off a comedy. Let me see if I can pull off a drama, a romantic comedy, whatever the case may be. Maybe horror. Whatever. I just want to be the actor that can do it all. I look up to Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks can do comedy, can do drama, can give you a little bit of action depending on what the role is. Bruce Willis, action, can turn around and do comedy, turn around and throw the drama in there. That’s the kind of actor I want to be.
What’s the next single that’s going to drop? Next production?
Ne-Yo: I’m putting together a new album as we speak. The ‘Libra Scale’ album was my opportunity to do a little bit of experimentation. For some people it worked. For others it didn’t. It wasn’t a typical Ne-Yo album. But I can’t do typical. Typical gets boring. So I took a risk. Like I said, for some it worked. For others it didn’t. This next album is for everybody but it’s meant for those people who didn’t so much get what ‘Libra Scale’ was. So it’s kind of a back to the basics thing. There’s no complicated story to try to follow. It’s just listen to the music, vibe out, play it in your car, play as you’re cleaning your house on Sunday morning. Just vibe out to the music. That’s what it’s about. So be looking for that around September. Yeah, September.