A gifted student-athlete, Rob attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he majored in psychology while playing on the varsity football team. This year, Rob graduated and moved back to New York City, and he was named the national spokesman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Light the Night Walk, an annual event designed to raise funds for a cure and to bring hope to patients and their families.
Here, he shares his thoughts about handling his first title role in The Express, a bio-pic about the late Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. Although the young gridiron great succumbed to leukemia before he had a chance to turn pro, his heroic efforts both on and off the field are nonetheless destined to continue to serve as an inspiration for generations to come.
KW: Hi, Rob, thanks for the time.
RB: No problem. What's going on?
KW: Last time we spoke, you had just done Take the Lead, and I interviewed you in while you were driving back to Amherst.
RB: Yeah, I remember that.
KW: Since then, you've graduated from college. Congratulations!
RB: Thank you, I graduated in May.
KW: How does that feel?
RB: It feels like a weight was taken off my back. Finally, I'm done and enjoying being a graduate.
KW: Have you relocated to Los Angeles?
RB: No, I moved back to Brooklyn.
KW: Did you move back home, or did you get your own place?
RB: Both. I'm trying to take advantage of this market. I just bought a two-bedroom apartment, and I'm making offers on some others.
KW: You went from playing football in college to playing football in The Express. How did you enjoy making the movie?
RB: It was like a dream come true. It was such an honor to get to play the character. And I basically got to play football everyday when I showed up for work.
KW: You must have been tough during the filming on your fellow actors who weren’t used to that physical contact.
RB: No, we had doubles for guys who didn't know what they were doing. So, we figured it out.
KW: How was it working with director Gary Fleder and the cast of The Express?
RB: Gary was definitely hard on me, but I think that was necessary to get to the bottom of Ernie. Gary ran a tight ship, and I think it shows. He made a great film. And the cast was great. We had a real tenured group of guys in Dennis [Quaid], Clancy [Brown], and even Charles [S. Dutton]. Then we had a bunch of young actors including Nicole Behaire who's playing my love interest in her first film. She's excellent. And of course Omar [Benson Miller], he's great, too. Nelsan Ellis is incredibly talented, and Darrin Dewitt Henson who plays Jim Brown does a fabulous job.
KW: Did you read Robert Gallagher's book, ’Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express' that the movie is based on?
KW: How did you feel about the adaptation?
RB: I'm just glad that we had the flexibility to tell the story in our own way. Part of our challenge was in figuring out how to get to the essence of Ernie Davis while maintaining that respect for his legacy. We didn't want to take too many liberties. I think we did a good job, and I have the support of Mr. Jim Brown and also Ernie's family who I met recently, so I can't really ask for much more.
KW: What do you expect audiences to get from this film?
RB: Well, I think they’ll walk away with a lot more than what they expect to see from a quote-unquote football film. But what I want to get across to them is the essence of Ernie. I just want them to learn about him in general. It's surprising that no one knows about him. So, it's about time that his story be told.
KW: Yeah, I remember hearing his story back in the early Sixties when I was growing up, but it sort of faded away over the years.
RB: It somehow got lost unfortunately. It seems like it got lost in that era.
KW: Do you expect The Express to be compared to pictures which explored similar themes, movies like Glory Road, We Are Marshall and Brian's Song?
RB: Oh yeah definitely, that's just natural. But while people might go in expecting those films, but by the time they walk out of the theater they’ll realize it was a different picture which offered a lot more.
KW: Ernie Davis' nickname was ’The Express.’ Do you feel any extra burden playing your first title character?
RB: That's not where the extra burden came. The burden came with playing Ernie, not with playing a title character. It's more about just making sure we respected him, his family, and the organization that he was a part of. That's where the responsibility lay. Sure, I guess a title role's more responsibility, but I figured I've been doing this long enough that that wouldn’t be the issue. The real responsibility lay with playing Ernie.
KW: How does it feel to be playing college-aged characters here and in Stop-Loss after playing a high school kid in Finding Forrester, Coach Carter and Take the Lead?
RB: That's just a natural function of my getting older. So, I think at this time we're through with high school.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson’s question: What was the last book you read?
RB: Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream by Carl Elliott?
KW: Actress Tasha Smith's question: Are you ever afraid?
RB: Just in general? Yeah.
KW: Music maven Heather Covington's question: What's music are you listening to nowadays?
RB: Hip-hop and R&B, although I have been on this weird little kick where I've been downloading some Eighties music, like Michael McDonald.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
RB: That's a tough question to answer.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
RB: I would like to be remembered as a responsible human being who handled business while also taking care of his family.
KW: Sounds great. Best of luck with both, Rob. you're the man now, dog!
RB: Thank you very much.
KW: And may I say as Sean Connery told you in Finding Forrester: ’you're the man now, dog.’
The Express: Film Review by Kam Williams
To see a trailer for The Express: