Born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 19, 1982, Columbus Keith Short, Jr. started entertaining at the age of three by putting on shows for his folks' enjoyment. Whether impersonating relatives, dancing or just making people laugh, everyone sensed something special about the boy. Fortunately, his family later relocated to Los Angeles where, by his early teens, Columbus had landed work in such television commercial campaigns as Mountain Dew, Denny's Restaurant, NIKE and Pizza Hut, to name a few.
As a senior in high school, he was offered an opportunity to graduate two months early in order to see the world with the traveling production of the Broadway show STOMP! And after a couple of years on the road with that famed dance troop, he would parlay his professional success into a stint as the choreographer of Britney Spears' In the Zone tour.
However, when rumors of his conducting a clandestine affair with the pop icon surfaced, the tabloids were quick to make much of the illicit liaison. For, by then, Columbus was not only married but his wife was expecting. This didn't sit well with Britney's mother who didn't like her daughter being labeled a home-wrecker. So, mom dealt with the case of Jungle Fever by firing him and finding another dancer.
Though a very versatile Renaissance Man who is also a writer, musician and director, Columbus came off the road to pursue his primary passion, namely, acting. His motion picture credits include You Got Served, War of the Worlds and, Save the Last Dance 2. In addition, he has guest-starred on TV shows like ’ER,’ ’Judging Amy,’ and ’Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.’
But his big break arrived earlier this year when he played the lead role of ’DJ’ in Stomp the Yard which was #1 at the box office two weeks in a row and grossed over 73.4 million dollars. Now one of the most sought emerging talents in Hollywood, Columbus can next be seen in a lead role alongside Lauren London and Mekhi Phifer in a holiday film called This Christmas. Furthermore, he recently wrapped a starring role in the Warner Brothers thriller Whiteout opposite Kate Beckinsale.
When not working, Columbus loves football, basketball and snowboarding. Here, he discusses all of the above, and Britney's lackluster performance at the MTV Awards.
The This Christmas & Britney Spears Interview with Kam Williams
KW: Thanks for the time, Columbus. What have you been up to?
CS: I'm writing a pilot for a TV show that I'm trying to get off the ground. I've been diligently working on that about 12 hours a day for the past couple of weeks.
KW: Are you going to star in it?
CS: No, no, I'm really keen on producing, and doing projects with my company. And this is one that I really wanted to create.
KW: You act, dance, choreograph, write, play music, etcetera. How do you decide what to focus on when you've been blessed with so many talents?
CS: I've learned that I can't do it all at once. So, you have to figure out your angle of attack. Coming in on the acting front, acting is a passion of mine. It's a true love. Dancing, I kind of just fell into. Choreographing, the same thing. But making films, producing and directing, that's the heartbeat of my existence.
KW: How did you come to choreograph Britney Spears?
CS: Honestly, I don't know, Kam. It's just one of those things in my life like, ’How did that happen?’ First, I got hired as a dancer for her by another choreographer who was later let go, and one thing led to another. Here I was 20 years-old, and I was running the tour for the biggest pop artist at the time. Jumping into that was overwhelming, but I learned so much, and it was great to have that experience. I'll never forget it.
KW: What did you think of Britney's recent performance at the MTV Awards? Judging from her performance, it looks like she could use your help again as a choreographer.
CS: Oh man, I felt bad.
KW: Who's to blame for such a disaster?
CS: In terms of that, it's not the choreographer's fault. It's not the label’s' It's not her management’s' It's not her team’s' I guess MTV can take part of the blame for exploiting her like that, but it's basically Britney's fault. She knows the drama that would be surrounding a highly-anticipated, return performance in front of the masses. Yet, she wasn't ready to do her job. So, I blame no one, because there's no one else to blame. I say my prayers for her, and hope that she can pull it together.
KW: Yeah, it seems like she's been spiraling out-of-control for a couple of years now. From not putting her kid in a car seat to divorcing her husband to not wearing panties in public to substance abuse to attacking the paparazzi to shaving her head impulsively to having to re-enter rehab.
CS: All I can say is, this business is tough, Kam. You never know who or what's real. That's why you've seen it with everybody. It's tough when you get in this business, if you have no grounded foundation other than Hollywood, because this business isn't real. we're getting paid to do what we love, but it isn't real. If everybody could remember that, they might not take it for granted, and hold strong.
KW: What was it like for you when you were in the tabloids and romantically linked to Britney?
CS: At first, I thought that was the dream, to be chased by paparazzi. I thought that was the life, to be jet-setting around the world with a pop star. But once I was immersed in it, I honestly didn't have a moment of happiness, Kam. I don't think I was happy even one day when I worked for Britney, simply because it was all too much. It was my family calling me, editors calling my family members and friends I hadn’t talked to in years. It was so much, it almost completely broke me.
KW: How did you get involved in the first place?
CS: The scandal was manufactured by these magazine publications that have to make money, so I can't be mad at them.
KW: But I remember seeing photos of the two of you kissing.
CS: I don't know why they singled me out, because all the dancers were giving her hugs after rehearsals. And there were ten other dancers. So, when that first photo came out, it made me laugh, because they made it look like we were kissing. But there's no way that would be happening during a rehearsal. Then, it kind of spiraled out of control from there, because I was hanging out with her all the time. I didn't realize that it was going to be scandalous when you hang out with someone who's followed by thousands of cameramen, especially when, my friend, you're a black man, and she's the hot blonde princess. It was a recipe for $50,000 photos. That's all that was. I kind of laugh at it now.
KW: How do you feel about her today?
CS: I'm so far removed from that past, that I look at Britney like everyone else does. I don't know her.
KW: How has the experience change you?
CS: Going through that thing with Britney showed me what's real. But it was tough. I won’t even lie. Now, I'm just interested in doing good work, and in earning the respect of my peers.
KW: Did your marriage survive the controversy and constant exposure?
CS: No, my marriage was already finished before that.
KW: How's your relationship with your son?
CS: My son's four now, and my relationship with him is what keeps me grounded.
KW: Jimmy Bayan reminded me to ask you where in L.A. you live now.
CS: I live in the Valley, but after that triple-digit heat wave this summer, I'm out of here. I think I'm going to moving to Santa Monica, and maybe get a place in New York.
KW: How's your upcoming release, This Christmas?
CS: It's a great movie. It's one of those classy, black family films we haven't had in a long while. It's the embodiment of class. Remember what the Cosby Show was like back in the day? It makes you feel good to see an affluent African-American couple doing well and having regular problems.
KW: Tell me a little about your character, Claude.
CS: Claude, I hate that name. I'm actually playing a marine who goes AWOL from the Coast Guard just because they weren’t going to let me go home for Christmas which is my family's tradition. The story unfolds when I arrive home with a little surprise. And each character in the film has so many layers that it makes for a rich, wonderful experience.
KW: What do you think of your co-star Lauren London? I thought she was marvelous in ATL.
CS: She's so beautiful and so talented, I could talk about her all day. I think she's the future of African-American leading ladies. She's a raw talent and someone to keep your eye on. Mark my words.
KW: Well, tell her I'd love to interview her.
CS: She's a close, dear friend of mine, so I can hook you up.
KW: I'd appreciate that. What was it like for you starring in Stomp the Yard and having it hit #1 at the box office last January?
CS: It was really shocking. I mean, I knew it was going to do well, but it was still, A, overwhelming, and B, life-changing. Man, my life changed after January 12th. The response has been overwhelming how people embraced it.
KW: Are you ever in fear of being typecast as a dancer?
CS: Yep, and I'm fighting against it with the fervor of a thousand-man army, my friend. Kam, it's so hard in this business to convince studio heads to give me a chance to show my other abilities.
KW: Is this due to racism?
CS: No, this is not a race card at all.
KW: In your case, it's a dance card.
CS: Exactly. It's hard for minorities, not because studios don't want to give African-Americans a chance, but because they’re making movies for the masses, and it's kind of hard to change that mold.
KW: Do you think Hollywood's getting close to adopting colorblind casting?
CS: I think that the landscape is changing, but they only let a few of us in at a time. Good talent can't be kept a secret for very long, and eventually it’ll break through. So, it is still a fight, and it can be disheartening, at times. However, if we want complete freedom to play any role, then we have to be prepared to afford the same option to other actors, like what happened with Angelina Jolie playing Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart.
KW: John Singleton told me you signed on to make the movie Tulia with Halle Berry.
CS: Yeah, when that goes forward, because Halle's pregnant. Congratulations to her.
KW: Has that picture been shelved?
CS: No. We were supposed to start in October, and now we're going to shooting in the Spring, so I'm trying to line up a couple of other things. And the delay also gives me enough time to focus on this TV show I'm trying to get off the ground.
KW: What do you do to unwind?
CS: I just can't relax. That's my problem. Everybody who knows me is like, ’Dude, you've got to chill out.’ I can't not work, given where I want to be. I can never settle. I have the mentality of a great athlete. I have to train harder, get up before everyone, and stay up later. And that's going to be my attitude towards this business, till I win.
KW: Is there any question you always wish somebody would ask, but they never ask you?
CS: You know what I really never hear anyone ask is, ’Are you happy?’
KW: Are you happy?
CS: I can say with full sincerity that I am happy. I'm happy because I'm doing what I love and I'm not selling out. And I can sleep at night because I'm at peace with it.
KW: That's a great question. I think I'm going to start using that one with everybody for now on. Thanks, Columbus. And thanks for the interview.
This Christmas Film
Review by Kam Williams
Regina King: The This Christmas Interview with Kam Williams
Lauren London: The This Christmas with Kam Williams
Lorette Divine: The This Christmas / Dirty Laundry with Kam Williams