Michael Jai White in hilarious bad-ass comedy action
Kung Fu kick in the New Year with some hilarious bad-ass comedy action as Michael Jai White (Blood & Bone), stars as the gun-toting, nunchuck-wielding, ladies man and soul brother BLACK DYNAMITE, released on DVD on 24 January 2011 from Icon Home Entertainment.
Shot in Super 16 Film, this rib-cracking spoof of blaxploitation films from the 1970’s blends the likes of Black belt Jones, Shaft, Bruce Lee and Dirty Harry. Alongside a sterling bad ‘mo-fo’ performance by Jai White, stars Arsenio Hall (Coming to America, Harlem Nights), Kevin Chapman (Mystic River, Blow), Nicole Ari Parker (Boogie Nights, Remember The Titans) and Salli Richardson-Whitfield (I Am Legend, Bones).
“This Is Flawless Spoof Comedy – Go See It. Brilliant.” Total Film
“This Could Be The Funniest Film You’ve Ever Seen.” The Daily Mirror
“Very. Very. Very. Very. Very Funny.” News of the World
Talking to Michael Jai White
How did Black Dynamite get started?
About three years ago, I was in Bulgaria doing a movie called Undisputed 2. I had my iPod on. I was listening to a mix, and on came James Brown’s Superbad, and I got this idea of doing a throwback type of movie. I’d grown up seeing these blaxploitation movies as a child, and I thought they were quite funny – but they also had a spirit to them. It was the spirit of the 70s. The movies back then, they were so politically charged, they were so sexually open. It was a lively time. So I thought it, “Wow. I’d love to do that. I’d love to make a movie that evoked the same feelings as those movies did back then.” So I embarked on this mission, basically.
What was the first thing you did about it?
When I got back to the States, I did a photo shoot and rented some costumes – incidentally, I rented the exact costumes that I wear in the movie. I was pointing a gun, I had some nunchucks, and that photo shoot pretty much designed the template for the movie. Right there, the line was drawn: at first glance, it looked really badass. But if you looked a little closer, the nunchucks made it look ridiculous. But you had to discover it. And that’s pretty much the tone of the movie. After that, Scott Sanders came to me, about another movie that he wanted me to do, and he asked me what I was up to. I showed him the photo shoot. I said, “I’m pulling this thing together.” And Scott just flipped. He was like, “Oh my God, I’ve gotta get involved in this.” We hadn’t worked together for ten years, and he’s one of those people that really has to love a project to be able to work on it. So we decided to work on it together. And the rest is history.
When did you first work with him?
I worked with him on his debut movie, Thick As Thieves, which starred Alec Baldwin and Rebecca DeMornay.
How did you find the character of Black Dynamite?
I had the idea of the character when I listened to the song Superbad. He was kind of a combination of Shaft, Superfly and The Mack. The way I thought about it, I wanted the agenda of the movie’s screenwriter – well, the movie’s supposed screenwriter – to be pretty transparent, like this 70s screenwriter had created this ultra-alpha male character. It’s like they wanted to get their political views across and everything else, y’know, as most of those most of those blaxploitation movies did at the time. It’s like the wet dream of this screenwriter. So I approached it in that manner.
And did you always know how the story would go?
Well, there’s a checklist of ideas for a blaxploitation movie. I’d say 95 per cent of them hit this checklist. You’ve got to have a conspiracy – you have to have a quotient of black paranoia. You have to have the evil white man, and they must be depicted poolside. (Laughs) There’s always an anti-drug theme, even when the characters are drug dealers. Which I think is hilarious. Because when I started thinking about it, I thought, “Man, how funny is it that?” I mean, you have these movies, and you have these characters like Superfly, The Mack and Willie Dynamite. And these guys are the heroes. But those guys were pimps! How screwed up is that? So I thought, “This is quite hilarious. The lead character is a pimp and hustler – and it’s not questioned!” And I thought that to hit on all those levels would be a really funny thing to do today. So the more accurate you are, the funnier it is. You just treat it as they treated it back then. They were dead serious.
What kind of blaxploitation films made the biggest impression on you?
One of the films I borrowed most heavily from was called Three The Hard Way, and this movie united Fred Williamson, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly – three serious black action stars. And the movie plot was about an evil white scientist who created this concoction that, when emptied into the water systems of Chicago, New York and LA, would kill all the black people. One litre each! (Laughs) In the entire water system! Which is absolutely hilarious, but they didn’t intend it to be funny. It wasn’t intended to be funny. So that really tells you the mindset back then. That this was acceptable. So to do it nowadays is extra funny.
Were you conscious of paying homage to those actors, like Williamson, Brown and Kelly?
Oh, absolutely. We paid homage to Rudy Ray Moore, too. To Pam Grier, to all these icons.
Did you ever want to put any of them in the movie?
No. Black Dynamite is supposed to be the age that Jim Brown was in those movies. So if the real Jim Brown showed up as an older Jim Brown, it would take you out of the movie.
Was it hard to keep a straight face?
Well, a few times, especially in the pimp scene. You’ve got all these incredible comedians there, and a lot of them are improvising. Like Cedric Yarbrough, who is just so funny. He did the best improv of the entire movie. Most of the movie is scripted, but that line – when he says, “But Black Dynamite, I sell drugs to the community!” – that came out of nowhere. That’s one of my favourite lines in the movie.
How did the scriptwriting break down in the end? Who did what?
Myself and Byron Minns, who also plays Bullhorn, we did pretty much the lion’s share of the writing of the script. Scott’s particular talents come in the form of editing.
Black Dynamite is unusual in that it also works as a martial arts movie…
That was an homage to those Bruce Lee-type films, where the camera is mainly static and the performer is doing everything, from head to toe. There’s not a lot of cutting away, so you have to know what you’re doing. It’s very much like a Fred Astaire movie: he would be shot from head to toe, because he’d be doing all the movements. So it’s kind of that flavour, which lends itself to speed when you don’t have much time. It’s great when you can shoot it all in one take. Have you always been a martial artist? I started practising martial arts when I was seven and I just kept it up. I got different black belts in different styles, I still practise pretty religiously even today.
Didn’t you ever want to pursue martial arts full-time instead of acting?
Well, to me, they’re two specific things. It’s like if I played the piano – I don’t think one has to do with the other.
The music in Black Dynamite is very interesting, especially in the way it tells the story… (Laughs) That’s a staple of these movies, that I find so hilarious. There’s a Fred Williamson movie – Black Caesar – and there’s a scene where he’s is at his mother’s funeral. And there’s a song on the soundtrack by James Brown called Mama’s Dead. It’s so dead-on, it’s hilarious. And in Three The Hard Way, in the middle of the movie, there’s a song that, if you listen to it, actually tells you what’s gonna happen next. It wraps up the entire movie! (Laughs) Now, clearly that song was designed to be in the closing credits, but somebody, in their wisdom, said, “Hey, let’s put it here!”
Do you have a massive collection of blaxploitation movies that you drew upon?
Oh yeah. I picked out a bunch of different scenes and I edited them together. One day I hope that I can make a movie as funny as these clips that I’ve amassed. All the actors in Black Dynamite, I’d bring them to my house and I’d show them these idiosyncratic moments in all of these movies that I’d pulled out. And there would be nobody with a dry face. People would be crying, just because of the seriousness of them. There are some bad-actor deliveries that are just outstandingly bad and funny.
What kind of things make you laugh, personally?
My influences growing up were Monty Python, more than any other entity at all. I mean, my two favourite performers were John Cleese and Peter Sellers. Their physical humour, to me, set the standard. Those guys were my biggest influences.
Did you always want to be an actor?
No. At first I was a schoolteacher, although, through college, I’d always enjoyed acting. I liked the social part of it – to be able to walk in other people’s shoes was fascinating. I’ve always been interested in how other people see the world. But I didn’t have the desire to be an actor at first. I was teaching school, and I thought I’d dabble in it in my spare time. I didn’t wanna be a guy who made a living playing make-believe! (Laughs) But then I wondered, “Well, what if I can make a living at it?” So I took a leave of absence from teaching and decided to find out. I was living in Connecticut at the time, and it was hard. It took time. I had to pay a lot of dues. I started on off-Broadway plays, I was doing theatre in New York, and eventually I pursued a more serious acting career in LA.
Were you offered roles as tough guys?
I’ve actually resisted doing the martial arts type of stuff, all those B-movies I was offered. I didn’t want to be known as the martial arts B-movie star. I resisted that because I thought, “No, I can make a living as a actor, and if I can fuse the two together later on, I’ll do so.” I wanted to be established as an actor first.
Have you ever thought of doing stand-up comedy?
Well, kind of. I have friends who are stand-up comedians who are always trying to get me to do stand-up. And I kind of, in a way, do a bit of it already. I do a lot of motivational speaking for at-risk kids. My degree was in at-risk abuse cases, and to this day I do a lot of motivational speaking. There are elements of it that are kind of comedic.
Do you get recognised much?
Yeah. The tougher guys know this movie I did called Blood And Bone, so I get called ‘Bone’ a lot in some of the rougher areas. But Black Dynamite has just eclipsed everything else. The weirdest thing is, I walk down the street and I look nothing like Black Dynamite – but I do look like Bone. Every day I run into this. Someone will say, “Look! That’s Black Dynamite!” and someone else will say, “Nah. It can’t be the same guy.” Which I feel happy about. If I looked like myself, doing Black Dynamite, it wouldn’t be too good for my career. It’s like Leslie Nielsen. If he appears in a drama, forget it. People are gonna laugh, because that’s the nature of his comedy. Luckily, I don”t look like Black Dynamite, so I’m not branded with that.
Is Black Dynamite showing signs of becoming a cult?
It’s got this cult thing going on for sure. There are theatres in the US here that have committed to showing it for an entire year. There are people showing up to screenings in 70s regalia, quoting lines from the movie, which makes us quite proud. For so many years I was called Spawn, because of the movie I made in 1997. I’d be walking down the street, and people would shout, “Spawn!!!” (Laughs) So it feels really great to be called Black Dynamite, because that’s something I created.
Are you badass in real life, or is it just for the screen?
Oh, it’s pretty much just for the screen. I’m a really nice person. I think! (Laughs) But I look really intimidating. I could be thinking about gumdrops or whatever, but it would still look I ‘m about to kill you, just because I have this appearance, But I’m only badass if I have to be. I think life is to be enjoyed. I’m far more jolly than anything else.
Do you have any plans for Black Dynamite 2?
Oh, absolutely. There’s lots of things we didn’t get a chance to do in the first one. I’ve had the idea for Black Dynamite 2 for quite a while now, and it’s gonna start where Black Dynamite left off. And you know how Black Dynamite just grows in ridiculousness. Well, this will be a fitting sequel.
BLACK DYNAMITE IS RELEASED ON DVD 24TH JANUARY 2011