Usher Raymond IV was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on October 14, 1978 to Jonnetta Patton, a single-mom who encouraged him to join the choir she directed when he was only six. In 1990, they moved along with his younger brother, James, to Atlanta where Usher began entering talent shows.
A couple of years later, with his mother serving as his manager, he signed on with Diddy as an R&B singer, and the rest, as they say, is musical history. Besides selling millions of CDs and winning a couple of Grammys, Usher He is also a co-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This talented, teen heartthrob has been named one of People Magazine's 21 Hottest Stars under 21, and was more recently voted #1 on BET's list of the 25 Hottest Men of the Past 25 Years.
In 1998, he made his feature film debut in The Faculty, and followed that up with appearances in She's All That, Light It Up and Texas Rangers. Here, he talks about In the Mix, a cross-cultural Mafia comedy where he stars as a DJ who falls in love with the daughter of a mob boss.
Kam Williams (KW): What made you take a break from your demanding musical career to make this movie?
Usher Raymond (UR): I caught the acting bug a few years ago. I've been in a collection of about five movies, but this one tops them all.
KW: How so?
UR: This is the first time I've ever taken that step to a lead role.
KW: That shouldn’t have been too hard, given the amount of experience you've had performing as a headliner.
UR: Thank you. It is a natural evolution for us as artists to make that transition over to acting, from being in front of cameras, and interviewing, and obviously adapting to somewhat of an exaggerated lifestyle. You kind of get used to it.
KW: How different a discipline is acting from singing?
UR: Well, that's the point. This is one thing that I've found very difficult for other artists throughout the years. I've always tried to be different.
We, as artists, we adapt to this sex symbol or superstar image. But then, you have to return home and still somewhat have a touch of reality. When, you figure that out, that's they key of sustaining success. As an actor, it's the same. You adapt to this character, and before you know it, you have to get off to the next one. Actors have mastered that, and I look to hopefully be able to do the same.
KW: Generating chemistry between the leads is a big part of a romantic comedy. What convinced you that you would have it here?
UR: I didn't know. The only way I would ever know was to simply go after it with a very open mind. Being a part of the process from the beginning, establishing what the cast would be made it a lot easier. When we all sat at the round table, and read the script, you kinda’ just got a sense that this was going to be a great project. True, there were a few bloopers, sometimes we’d mess up lines, but you never felt that this was going to become more of a hassle than a pleasure. It was a pleasure to work with the entire cast.
KW: How important was your chemistry with Emmanuelle Chriqui to the success of this film?
UR: I think chemistry meant everything for this film. Early on, I had a conversation with [producer] John Dellaverson of Lions Gate who thought maybe we should cast somebody else. I was like, ’I'm telling you chemistry is everything. you're going to be happy that you go with chemistry over a name.’ And, luckily, he listened, because it turned out to be a great film, acting opposite Emmanuelle. It really showed me that you can put together a family that all have the same objective, which is creating a great film. The process really was educational for me, as I'm learning more and more as I go.
KW: How do you think your young female fans with crushes on you will react to seeing you fall for someone else?
UR: I don't want to talk about it too much, but I will say this: Being mindful of the entire demographic that I cater to as an artist I considered that with this film, every aspect of the screenplay. It remained very classy. It's not too vulgar, although there is a love scene, it's still appropriate. This is the type of film that you can take your kids to see, and also the type of film that adults would understand and enjoy.
KW: So, how steamy did it get filming that love scene.
UR: Like I said, from the beginning, we had chemistry and respect for each other as actors, although we played a lot. I think she's a very talented and a very professional actress. I did my best to sustain myself and kept it business-like.
KW: Did you have to set a boundary to make sure you never crossed a line?
UR: I think everybody was already mindful of it, when they presented that role to me, initially. There was an entire script, so they knew what they were doing before we even got started.
KW: Did you have a girlfriend when you made the movie?
UR: Well, I did have a girlfriend at the time.
KW: How did she feel about your shooting a love scene?
UR: She was fine with it. Of course, it's acting, and we as artists have to make certain sacrifices, and have certain arguments.
KW: What themes does In the Mix explore?
UR: There's the relationship and us keeping it a secret, there's the Mafia and their struggle for power, there the racial tension between blacks and Italians in the film. But, to me, it's basically a film that opens up the minds of men and women to understand each other a lot better.
KW: What about an interracial romance theme?
UR: I truly don't believe that that's what this film's about. It just focuses on two people from two different worlds who come together through an uncommon situation, and find love.
KW: Have you ever been in a relationship in real-life that you had to keep secret?
UR: Every relationship I get in is a secret. [laughs]
KW: Seriously, what kind of challenge is that?
UR: We, as entertainers, try to have as much privacy as we possibly can. It never works. It's a part of success. It's a part of what this is.
KW: Do you ever feel like a prisoner of your own success, despite having a new movie and the best selling CD in the country?
UR: No, it's encouraging. If you can do it with CDs, hopefully, you can do it with movies.
KW: It's been rumored that you're going to be in the screen version of Dreamgirls opposite Beyonce’. Is that true?
UR: There are a lot of films that I've been considered for that I've unfortunately had to walk away from because of scheduling. As it is, it's very hard to balance being somewhat of a Renaissance Man. You got basketball, you got the new label coming, you got the soundtrack, you got the movie, you got your next album, and then you got your life. You know what I mean?
UR: The clothing line, all of the above. So, it's kind of hard to balance it all. And if it doesn't perfectly fit into my schedule, like a puzzle, I might have to pass up on it.
KW: At this point, how far ahead of time is your schedule already being blocked out?
UR: Right now, I'm making plans for 2009. I plan ahead.
KW: Are you still close to your mother?
UR: One of the greatest gifts that I have ever been granted was to have a mother like mine. And a manager who was willing to fight for what she believed in. I recognize her as a woman and a person before a mother, because, I've watched her, as her son, go through all the issues she has to deal with as a black woman in America. It's not easy for women in America, period. And it's easy for a black woman, even more so. So, observing her has been very encouraging to me. I definitely say that without her, I probably would have made a lot of mistakes. I am the man that I am because of her.
In The Mix Movie Review