Idris Elba and Columbus Short Interview, This Christmas

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up with Idris Elba and Columbus Short at the Los Angeles press day to promote their new film, “This Christmas,” a dramedy full of surprises written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II (“The Walking Dead,” “Crossover”). With enough holiday cheer to light a thousand Christmas trees, “This Christmas” is destined to become a yuletide classic. A poignant drama laced with laughter, music and suspense, the film tells the story of a family that is at once utterly unique and surprisingly universal.

This year, Christmas with the Whitfields promises to be one they will never forget. All the siblings have come home for the first time in years and they've brought plenty of baggage with them. As the Christmas tree is trimmed and the lights are hung, secrets are revealed and family bonds are tested. As their lives converge, they join together and help each other discover the true meaning of family. The remarkable ensemble cast features Chris Brown, Loretta Devine, Idris Elba, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Mekhi Phifer, Keith Robinson, Columbus Short, Sharon Leal, and Lauren London.

Whitmore based Claude, the middle son, played by Columbus Short, on himself when he was in the Marine Corps. “I went in when I was 18 and got out when I was 21. He represents a younger, more disciplined Preston Whitmore. A very patriotic person and a good guy.”

Short, already an accomplished dancer and the star of “Stomp the Yard” and “Studio 60,” was particularly interested in the role because it gave him an opportunity to show the world what he could do as an actor. “I signed on to play a three-dimensional character,” says the actor. “Claude is a very poised, calm, cool, and collected guy, but with a short fuse. And that’s how a lot of Marines are. Preston was a Marine, and this whole movie is basically Preston’s family story. We have somebody at the helm who knows exactly how to keep the authenticity of it.”

British import Idris Elba is best known as the calculating de facto leader of a Baltimore drug empire in HBO’s critically acclaimed original series “The Wire,” and he is quickly making his mark as an actor to watch in Hollywood. After starring in “The Gospel” for director Rob Hardy, Elba was seen as the lead in Tyler Perry’s dramatic feature “Daddy’s Little Girls.” Following that he co-starred opposite Hillary Swank in the thriller “The Reaping.” Most recently, he co-starred opposite Denzel Washington in Ridley Scott’s crime thriller “American Gangster.” In “This Christmas,” Elba plays Quentin Whitmore, the eldest son, a talented Chicago-based jazz musician who hasn’t been home to see his family in several years.

Idris Elba and Columbus Short are fabulous guys and we really appreciated their time. Here’s what they had to tell us about their new film:

Q: Where’s your cap, man?

COLUMBUS SHORT: I don’t know. I don’t wear caps for team support. I wear a cap for fashion only.

IDRIS ELBA: We can see there’s a bit of yellow in the green.

COLUMBUS SHORT: There’s a little bit of a mantra-ish. Straight away you know he’s matched by the green in the shirt.

Q: There better be green socks.

IDRIS ELBA: What?

Q: There better be green socks then if you’re gonna make…

COLUMBUS SHORT: Green socks? Straight away you know it’s green socks. It’s a pretty good match.

IDRIS ELBA: It’s alright.

COLUMBUS SHORT: It’s alright. Alright, let’s do it. How are you guys?

Q: We’re amazed so we’re asking everybody. We got the feeling that you guys lived in a house for two months to get the chemistry because frankly you don’t look like brothers and sisters but you all made it work.

COLUMBUS SHORT: We’re all brothers and sisters.

IDRIS ELBA: Yeah, we are. We’re all brothers and sisters. That’s actually great that’s coming across, you know, in the film because that was what it was like when we were making this film. We had such a great synergy together. I don’t know. I don’t have any brothers and sisters in real life so I could just imagine this is what my brother would be like.

COLUMBUS SHORT: Right.

IDRIS ELBA: Naturally, you know what I mean?

COLUMBUS SHORT: I’m the oldest of three brothers. I’ve got two little brothers and our family is not as big as that, of course, but I feel like the biggest part of what made this movie work is just what you said and for that to translate was just completely, 100% a credit to the cast and just us wanting to make a good movie and there was no egos on that set. Everybody was like, “My man, we’re going to go into this. We’re going to make a great movie” and we all loved doing it with each other. That was what was great.

Q: So who had the best dance in the dance line?

COLUMBUS SHORT: I think Regina, Regina, Regina got it…

IDRIS ELBA: She hung in there, didn’t she?

COLUMBUS SHORT: But then Keith Robinson got it.

IDRIS ELBA: Ronnie, Ronnie, Ronnie…

COLUMBUS SHORT: Ronnie got it with the dreads. He got it with the coat.

Q: He pulled up his pants so…

IDRIS ELBA: That was it for me. I was on the floor.

COLUMBUS SHORT: I was on the floor dying.

IDRIS ELBA: But that was one take. That was like all of us just going in and having fun and that was how long those scenes were with all this. There was a lot of complicated dialogue. Everyone’s being in one frame shooting and you have to really team with your people to make that look as naturalistic as possible. He’s really, really good at doing that. He beats naturally. He’ll pick up on a cue and make it sound really natural and then I do it in a way. Everyone in the cast does that well and that’s what I think helped this gel because we were like, ‘This is like theater right now and we’re rehearsing.” You know what I’m saying?

COLUMBUS SHORT: Everybody really has a feist. Every person in that movie has a level of feist and bite. So it was like Loretta who don’t let (high pitched voice) “Ooooh, babe. Oh Loretta…” [Laughter] Loretta’s for real so you got everybody. Regina’s a firecracker. Sharon Leal [whistles]. You understand? So you got everybody just constantly there was cracks going on back and forth. You know what I mean? It was great.

Q: You weren’t stepping on each other’s lines either because with improv sometimes people get on each other.

COLUMBUS SHORT: The greats do it well. Think about it. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, they improv all day and they know how to. It’s like music. When you have a jazz band, you’ll have three musicians who’ve never played together come and do a jam session and they know when to fall back. When the guitar player is soloing, I’m going to fall back a little bit. I’m going to know when to riff and do it tastefully. I feel like that’s what you get when you work with veterans. You got a bunch of people who aren’t trying to compete for the spotlight but make something to put into a pot to make a product great.

Q: Columbus, were you in the service because you held yourself right?

COLUMBUS SHORT: All my family’s in the service. Both my uncles, my aunts, they were all in the service. I honestly just play one of my uncles. [Laughs] That’s what I did. Like the way they talk to me and everything. They just don’t have…they love you but they just don’t have the emotional chip that civilians are necessarily wired with. You know they’re jarheads. They’re wired differently. They’re just like [swings arms robotically] “I love you.”

IDRIS ELBA: You know, Columbus, no pun intended, but he can do the soldier boy dance as well. [Laughter]

Q: Columbus, the gun scene, when you read the script for that, how did you really feel about acting that part out?

COLUMBUS SHORT: Actually that was my only like “Uuuuhhh.” Really. And my teams too. They were like, “You just came out of nowhere like that.” I always like those challenges because the challenge of an actor is not to perform great written scripts and great wit and everything perfect because then we don’t have a job. You know when I was doing Studio 60, my job was simple because I had to just say freakin’ perfect dialogue all day so everybody says Aaron Sorkin dialogue like they’re really cool anyway because you just feel cool when you say it. So when that scene came, it was a challenge to just how are we going to make this real and how are we going to make this feel like it came from a real place? After we did the scene I felt okay, but when I saw it in the movie, I was like “It works.” It really worked because he has a hot temper. He’s hot headed. You know what I mean? And he brought out…our relationship showed that as well. You know what I mean? Once he left, I felt like I was kind of the oldest and then he comes and we had that little bond.

IDRIS ELBA: Right.

Q: You were with Chris in “Stomp the Yard,” right?

COLUMBUS SHORT: Sure was.

Q: Was the dynamic different because this was lighter? What was it like reuniting with him?

COLUMBUS SHORT: Chris was a lot more serious in Stomp the Yard even for that small part and Chris is a goofster. This movie embodies really who Chris is. He had us laughing. That’s another reason why I think the movie works. Chris just had us laughing all the time.

IDRIS ELBA: Sure did. He was so good. His timing for the comedy was crazy.

COLUMBUS SHORT: Crazy.

IDRIS ELBA: Naturally crazy.

Q: That doesn’t seem fair, does it? He’s only 19.

COLUMBUS SHORT: Like where’d you get all that charisma. He makes grown hard dude movement. Chris Brown was telling me man.

IDRIS ELBA: He sure does. He’s a charming kid, man. My girl loves him. [Laughter]

Q: Are you in “Whiteout” with Kate Beckinsale?

COLUMBUS SHORT: Yeah.

Q: Can you give me a brief description?

COLUMBUS SHORT: Basically I discover the first murdered body in Antartica and then I get Kate and Gabriel Macht is in it and she’s a U.S. Marshal and we have to figure it out in four days before whiteout in Antartica.

IDRIS ELBA: That sounds cool.

Q: Idris, I spent three seasons of “The Wire” thinking that you were native.

IDRIS ELBA: Me too.

Q: Your Baltimore was so great. What kind of regimen do you have to go through to perfect American accents?

IDRIS ELBA: Honestly, you know, because I’ve lived here for a while and I soaked the accent up. I’m a mimic. Honestly, I’m constantly listening and just registering and you know in the case of Baltimore, I was there a lot. I lived there. When I got the job, I spent a week there just on my own just soaking some of the idiosyncrasies of the city and the people and generally that’s what I do. I don’t think that I’m perfect with accents. I just have an ear for it and I want to be better. Like now I want to start trying to hone in on regional really bringing in some of the texture and tones of some of these intricate American accents that I want to get.

Q: Were you really disappointed when you got killed off?

IDRIS ELBA: On “The Wire”?

Q: Yeah. We miss you.

IDRIS ELBA: No, I wasn’t. Absolutely not.

COLUMBUS SHORT: He’s got a film career. He’s like, “Kill me please!” [Laughter]

IDRIS ELBA: There are two reasons. One, it did bring me to open my career up. And two, quite honestly Stringer Bell was great but he’s a gangster. He’s a drug dealer and death is…

COLUMBUS SHORT: It’s an inevitable end.

IDRIS ELBA: And I loved the fact that HBO wasn’t afraid to show that. They took one of the most celebrated gangsters on TV that we’ve seen in a long time and shot and killed him at the height of it. So, to me, that’s good. It ain’t…

COLUMBUS SHORT: It ain’t all glam.

IDRIS ELBA: Right. Let’s not all celebrate this gangster too much.

Q: You’ve been getting blown away quite a bit lately. You got shot in “American Gangster.”

IDRIS ELBA: That’s the thing, you know. Crime doesn’t pay. [Laughter] Crime doesn’t pay.

COLUMBUS SHORT: I would let Denzel blow me away though. Seriously.

IDRIS ELBA: And death is something we have to face. I don’t like dying in films actually. When I see it, I’m always disturbed by it. So I want to stop doing that I think. [Laughter]

Q: This movie is full of music in the home. It’s a big part of their home. When you guys were growing up, was music a big part of your life?

COLUMBUS SHORT: Yeah, definitely, especially Christmas. Well I remember Christmas. I was a little newer so a little more contemporary than way back but Boyz II Men Christmas album, whooooo. [breaks into song singing the lyrics] It had it all. Silent Night, Boyz II Men.

IDRIS ELBA: Killin’ ‘em, Killin’ ‘em.

COLUMBUS SHORT: Killin’ ‘em. But I come from a musical family in Kansas City in the Midwest so music is huge, a huge part of my DNA I think.

IDRIS ELBA: The music worked in this film.

Q: What was your group listening to over there?

IDRIS ELBA: Over there on the other side of the pond. My parents are from West Africa so I grew up on a lot of African music, you know, Senegalese music in actuality. It’s really beautiful guitar. Congolese music as well. And then my dad used to buy a lot of records. He bought a lot of the Marvin Gaye classics, all of those records, and at Christmas time music was on all the time, all day, all night. Records, music, records, music, so when I saw the film, the music worked for me.

COLUMBUS SHORT: Yeah, the opening Santa Baby was great.

IDRIS ELBA: Yeah.

Q: And you’re closing with “Having a Party.” The audience is going to be dancing in the aisles in the theaters.

IDRIS ELBA: Hopefully.

COLUMBUS SHORT: You open it great. You close it with the Soul Train line. There’s nothing… I’m sorry. Some of y’all before might not get the hint, but when you watch this, when Black folks see a Soul Train line from ’65, they’re all…. You know what I’m saying? [Laughter] Touche, touche.

IDRIS ELBA: But you know what’s crazy about it, I think I said this earlier, this film is good even without the holiday spirit kind of kicked in yet. Halloween is next, Thanksgiving. You’re watching this film now and going, “Wow, that’s a good film.” Imagine what it’s going to be like when the festivities kick in, man. I’m gonna go see it just for that. I want to be in New York freezing with a big old coat and a scarf and go watch that movie. You know what I mean?

Q: We all were thinking about all our family members and going “Oh that’s Harry.”

COLUMBUS SHORT: Oh yeah. That’s exactly what you mean. You’re calling out now. That’s all Tamika. Everybody has a crazy uncle, cousin. You know what I’m saying? Everybody has got the crazy cousin. Everybody has the hard nosed sister. A bad marriage.

IDRIS ELBA: Oh yeah, you always have that.

COLUMBUS SHORT: You always have that and you know there’s always a couple kids running around. So I think this movie was very true to the vein of what a family is but also I think it followed in the footsteps of “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” the shows that showed affluent African American families dealing with regular issues.

IDRIS ELBA: Regular issues.

COLUMBUS SHORT: So I’m proud of this movie. I’m proud to be a part of it.

Q: What’s next for both of you?

IDRIS ELBA: I’m going to do a film with Jada Pinkett Smith. She’s directing a film called “The Human Contract.” It’s her first film – she’s written it and will direct it. I’m going to do some work with her. I’m looking forward to that. “Prom Night,” which is the slasher movie over at Screen Gems. Really good. Brittany Snow’s in that. Very smart. I play the hero. I can’t talk too much about it. And then Guy Ritchie’s film called “RocknRolla.” That comes out next year and I get to do my own accent in that. Love that. [Laughs] Loving it.

Q: Ludacris was just talking about that.

IDRIS ELBA: Yeah. Ludacris is in that too.

COLUMBUS SHORT: He’s got a big year.

Q: Besides what we just talked about, what else is coming out?

COLUMBUS SHORT: “Whiteout” comes out in October and then I do “Quarantine” next month with Jay Hernandez, Jennifer Carpenter, Johnathon Schaech. Wow, it’s annoying because I try to make this sound fresh and new every time I say it.

IDRIS ELBA: But I noticed you changed the names around lately. Like now. [Laughter]

COLUMBUS SHORT: Yeah. And then right after that I go into “Armor” with Matt Dillon. I start that in January. It’s basically a blue collar heist movie. I’m a young rookie armored truck driver. He’s a veteran truck driver and they coerce me into stealing $42 million but I don’t want to do it. So most of the movie I spend in the back of an armored truck with them trying to get me so it’s like… It’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be exciting.

IDRIS ELBA: An action script. I’ve seen it. It’s very good.

COLUMBUS SHORT: I’m trying to get all it and the gang. He won’t die. [Laughter] We’re gettin’ him now.

IDRIS ELBA: No, no, can’t answer that.

COLUMBUS SHORT: That’s it. I’m really excited about this movie. I’m excited about the prospect of our cast, everyone. You’re going to look back in a few years and be like wow. Sharon Leal’s blowing up. You know what I’m saying.

IDRIS ELBA: She’s gorgeous.

COLUMBUS SHORT: She’s blowing up. She’s a great actor. She’s strong. Keith Robinson, he’s another one.

IDRIS ELBA: Oh yeah.

COLUMBUS SHORT: A full talent. He can sing, can sing sing, can act, charming. We have Lauren London. You just have a group of movie stars in this movie that you’re gonna look back and be like “Wow, they were all in that movie together.” And it wasn’t a Black film. It was just a good film. That’s what I want people to lead out saying. I think I said this last year when we did this “Stomp the Yard” thing. We just wanted to make a good movie. No titles.

Q: Do you think this film has the real potential to become one of those appointment viewings every Christmas?

COLUMBUS SHORT: I guarantee it’s going to be that. I guarantee it. This is the only one. I don’t know of another Christmas movie that’s specific to our culture.

Q: We were just saying “Preacher’s Wife.”

COLUMBUS SHORT: That was a good movie and we watched that movie. It comes on every year, every holiday season. But I think this gets everybody. This is going to get the grandmothers and it’s going to get the little girls screaming for Chris Brown.

Q: And the older ones.

[Laughter]

IDRIS ELBA: And the older ones. [Laughs]

COLUMBUS SHORT: Oh, that’s funny. [Laughter] Silence is golden.

Q: What are you guys doing for Christmas?

COLUMBUS SHORT: I’m taking a break because I’m going like non-stop and the only break I’m going to have is the break everybody gets in America – that two weeks.

Q: Are you going home:

COLUMBUS SHORT: I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’ll probably fast or do something just to clear my mind of that movie and wash myself of that and then to open up for the new. Because you can’t carry…when you’re doing movies that close together, you don’t want to be the same character, you know. You want to empty yourself out and then download the new stuff. So I’m gonna probably just chill.

Q: Idris, where are you going?

IDRIS ELBA: I’m not sure. Maybe a vacation. I’m gonna spend Christmas in the sun this year. That’s what I’m gonna do.

COLUMBUS SHORT: Yeah. Sounds like a good idea.

IDRIS ELBA: That’s what I might do. That’s what I might do.

COLUMBUS SHORT: [inaudible] Alright guys.

IDRIS ELBA: Thank you. It was great talking to you.

“This Christmas” opens in theaters on November 21st.

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