After nearly 15 years apart, Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Monica Calhoun and Melissa de Sousa reprise their career-launching roles in “The Best Man Holiday.” Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, the sequel and long-awaited next chapter to his groundbreaking hit movie, “The Best Man,” opens in theaters this Friday.
Throughout the years, there have been marriages, children and divorces – not to mention all the love and heartbreak that accompany a life well lived – but the group has not been able to manage a proper get-together since Lance (Chestnut) and Mia’s (Calhoun) wedding. But that’s all about to be remedied. When the college friends finally reunite over the Christmas holidays, they will discover just how easy it is for long-forgotten rivalries and passionate romances to be reignited.
At the film’s recent press day, we sat down with Chestnut and Calhoun to talk to them about reprising their characters, the film’s emotional storyline, preparing physically as well as emotionally for their roles, repairing the broken friendship between Lance and Harper, learning the dance moves for the rousing Christmas Eve scene, keeping a straight face throughout the complicated choreography, their real life holiday traditions, the proudest moment in their career so far, and the possibility of a third film.
QUESTION: This year has been really great for black filmmakers and we’ve seen a lot of really good films, like “The Best Man Holiday” and “Fruitvale Station,” releasing into theatres. African American men in these movies are portrayed as powerful but still vulnerable. Why do you feel that it’s important that we see these kinds of characters?
MORRIS CHESTNUT: I think it’s very important especially because sometimes the stereotypes that a lot of people have are of black men in jail or who don’t take care of their kids, so I think it’s always important to have that. This is a great time for black cinema because there are a lot of black films being made. “Fruitvale Station,” “The Butler” and “12 Years a Slave” are all great films, but they were actually made because they were about real people. Our movie is just a remake and it’s kind of refreshing to see.
Q: Both of you have really emotional storylines in this film. How did you channel those emotions?
CHESTNUT: For me it’s really tough because you have to go to that place where you really, really don’t want to go to or revisit. After the first movie, when I was crying at the altar, whenever I would think about it, I would get chills for months after the first “Best Man” because I had to go to that place. And then, here we are with this one, and we are going to that place again. It’s just extremely emotional to just have to keep revisiting it, but it can also be therapeutic.
MONICA CALHOUN: You know what I noticed? When we were working, that anger was still there. You carried a lot of the anger that I slept with your best friend, and so it was difficult trying to chip away at that wall that gets you to balance it out. You made me work for your warmth. You made me work for wanting to be friendly around everyone for the holidays. I saw that tension and the emotion that you are talking about, pulling and driving for what was to come a little bit later on. There’s so many things that we all go through in our lives that are pulled from that.
CHESTNUT: We really connected throughout the whole time. Just going to all those places we had to go to was tough.
Q: At what point did you decide that you wanted to come back and reprise your roles?
CHESTNUT: We all loved working with each other on the original. Obviously a lot of time has passed, but we all went to dinner with our director, Malcolm Lee, and talked about the storylines. He talked about where we were going to be in our lives, you know, X amount of years later and what we were going to have to go through. Even at that point, we were all like, “Yeah it would be interesting, it would be great to get back together and do this again.” But once we read the script, I think that just really solidified everything because the script spoke to me.
CALHOUN: The script spoke to me too because you’ve got to think about it. The college friends that met in college have stayed friends, and to see them years later and how their lives have developed I thought would be very interesting. Also, Mia’s and Lance’s journey and what they were going through, I thought that would be interesting and challenging for me as an actress.
CHESTNUT: Very challenging.
Q: Monica, you had your big scene where you kind of had to own up to your part in breaking up the friendship between Lance and Harper. How is that for you as a woman and for your role?
CALHOUN: It was cathartic to go through that process, to own up for the role of possibly or potentially destroying a friendship.
CHESTNUT: I remember when we were in rehearsals and we were going through it, because we rehearsed before we went to Toronto, and it’s more of the same. She and I had to deal with a lot of stuff in this movie and we really have to take ourselves there. It actually started in rehearsals, and just revisiting that piece of it all. Just the way Monica is and what she says and the way she looks at me, it really affects me throughout rehearsals and throughout the scenes.
Q: Morris, you have been known as a ladies’ man around Hollywood. As you’ve matured in your career, do you have to clear that stuff out of the way so you can work?
CHESTNUT: It was very difficult. With this particular movie, it’s 14 years later and the character still needs to be playing football, so it was really challenging for me physically to have to be in great shape. Then Malcolm said that he wanted me to take my shirt off, and there were a couple of other explicit scenes that we didn’t get to shoot. So it was tough for me emotionally and physically because I really couldn’t eat. I lost a lot of weight for that movie just because I still had to portray the football player who is still in shape. But fortunately, Malcolm gave me enough in this movie to where I could convey how far I feel that I’ve come, and I’m still growing as an actor in a lot of those scenes. It was really challenging. Even when I first read the script, I said, “Oh man. He’s really emotional and there are so many emotional things.” It’s really hard to do that in an ensemble movie because you’re there and everybody’s talking about, “Yeah we had a good time last night, and tonight were going to the club” and all that stuff, and I had to be over in my little corner just kind of focusing on what I needed to do to get to that place. But Monica and I were there together so I think it worked.
Q: We all heard that the dance scene you guys did in the movie was a quick study. Who was the most helpful in teaching you your dance movies?
CHESTNUT: Harold Perrineau, that dude can move! He went to Alvin Ailey (American Dance Theater in New York City) and he’s a fierce dancer. Taye (Diggs) is actually a really good dancer as well. They gave us some videotapes to watch, but the choreographer didn’t come until two days before we shot the film so we all went in to practice. Terrence was late, came for about 30 minutes and left (laughs). I was just trying to get the moves down, and then on that Sunday I had to call and say I needed some more help because it just doesn’t come easy to me. Nothing in this movie came easy to me. This was some tough work!
Q: How did you keep a straight face throughout that whole choreography?
CHESTNUT: To be honest, I was focused on Monica the whole time in the movie because throughout my performance everything was for her. Everything that my character did, everything that he was, was for her.
CALHOUN: And everything that she did was for him and to restore his friendship with his best friend.
Q: Some people think that watching this film will become part of many holiday traditions. What starts your holiday traditions?
CALHOUN: I haven’t designated a holiday tradition this year.
CHESTNUT: With me, my wife is big on holidays. Believe it or not, every year after Halloween she puts up Christmas decorations. That’s the tradition. I missed the pumpkin carving this year, but Christmas decorations are already up.
Q: What has been your proudest moment in your career so far?
CALHOUN: It’s really difficult for me to answer that question, because the past 20 something odd years, I’ve had a roller coaster effect. I’ve worked in the industry on several different levels, so the proudest moment I could say… I got several because each experience is different, but I will solidify this film as one of the proudest moments, because to go from knowing these folks when we were just basically kids and now we are grown and we’re able to have… Well, I’m still working on having grown up conversations (laughs) and I’m still working on creating a different sort of family life as opposed to the family life that I have right now. You have to hook me up with the traditions and a good handsome friend.
CHESTNUT: (laughs) You’ll want none of my friends.
CALHOUN: Okay, then never mind (laughs).
CHESTNUT: I think that this is definitely one of the proudest moments because it was 14 years ago that we made the original in Hollywood, and to still be able to make a film that you’re proud of and be relevant in Hollywood really doesn’t happen too often. Hopefully, I’ll be proud when the box office numbers come out, but even if the numbers don’t come out to what we expect, I’m just proud to be able to be a part of this film and just to have the impact and be able to do the work that we did in the movie.
Q: Malcolm has dropped hints that he has an idea for a third movie. Have you all signed up to do a third movie, or is that contingent on how this one does at the box office?
CALHOUN: I’ll come back as a ghost and whisper in everybody’s ears (laughs).
CHESTNUT: No, we are not signed up. If they want to do a third one, I would love to. That means this one did very well for us to do it. It’s also kind of funny because people asked me that question about “Boyz n The Hood,” “Are you going to do a sequel?” I mean, how do I come back?
CALHOUN: You can come back as a ghost and say, “Don’t go down the alley” (laughs).