By// Chantell Black
First time director Sheldon Candis returns to the crime-riddled neighborhood in Baltimore he grew up to film his debut movie, Luv. This time he brought along acting heavyweight Dennis Haysbert, Common, fellow Baltimore native Charles Dutton and young rising star Michael Rainey Jr. The movie, which received critical acclaim at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, is about a young boy who spends a day with his ex-con uncle and what started as a boys’ day out takes a dark and dangerous turn. JETMag.com caught up with the cast at a press junket round table to discuss how the movie affected them in different ways and one actor who was specially connected to the film before he even met the director.
Was the story based loosely on things that happened in your life?
Candis: The funny story is when I met with Charles [Dutton] I told him his character will be based off of my uncle Vernon. He looked at me like he saw a ghost. He said, “what was your uncle’s name again?” I told him “Vernon.” He said, “I just helped your uncle in his pursuit to get out of prison.” I never knew any of this and he said, “Whatever you need, we’ll make it work.” He was the first to sign on the film, with no money.
Dutton: His uncle and I grew up in the penal system as kids as well as adults. We got charged for inciting a prison riot together. This may sound rude or harsh, but his uncle didn’t do anything that wouldn’t have been done to him. That doesn’t justify anything, but that’s the world. That’s my good friend.
You normally play the good guy in your movies. How was it playing a character on the other side of the law?
Haysbert: It was very interesting and challenging to play this role for me because it was outside of what I normally do. But I read the script and I embraced it. I met Sheldon [Candis] and he told me Charles [Dutton] was going to be in the movie and I said, “I gotta do this.”
We hear there’s a story behind how Michael was casted.
Common: There was a young man initially who Sheldon and the casting director thought did a good job and I thought so too, but I was like we need that undeniable, amazing, fall out the sky kid. When Sheldon met Michael and his mom, he brought them to Baltimore because that’s where we were prepping for the movie. We had a dinner at a friend’s house and I got to talk to him. It was divine. We all know certain things when you know it and I knew he was the kid.
Why is it that young boys are still being taught negativity and violence is what it is to be a man?
Common: Whether people think it’s right or wrong, these are the things a lot of us have learned and some of it comes from the streets and not having a father. Father figures are our street figures so when this is your way of learning, you’re going to pass that on to the next young man whether it’s a son, nephew or little homie from around the way.
You are a real-life example of someone who turned their life of crime completely around. Do you think it’s possible for more ex-cons to reform once they get out?
Dutton: Yes you can reform. There are a slew of them out there in Baltimore. I’m one of them. But the change has to be complete and unequivocal and absolute, or else you walking a fine line.
Candis: The movie is full of crime and sadness, but that’s not what the movie is all about. If you approach this movie as it’s just a violent movie then start the conversation there, I feel like you’ve missed the great reward in the film. I always come back to lack of education and lack of opportunity is a big part of what happens in our community and I also feel like broken homes take a role in that. I hope at the end of the film the conversation gets started about how boys need their fathers and children need role models and they need a complete home. Unfortunately, I came from a broken home but by the grace of God I was able to find myself. It’s all about all of us who have survived these things in our lives and how it shaped our identity.
The end was left open to interpretation but what would you say happens to Woody at the end of this story?
Candis: I tell people he finds himself in California and enrolls at USC School of Cinematic Arts and he becomes a filmmaker, because in essence, I am Woody.
Luv hits theatres on January 18.