For months, I walked past the lines of crew vehicles that lined Amsterdam Avenue and the brownstones that make Convent Avenue so picturesque. The impressive church on the corner of 141st Street experienced the most exciting elements because it was used as the Rev. Cornell Cobbs’ “spot” for the annual nativity musical pageant.
What I leaned is that “Black Nativity” is a labor of love, paying homage to Harlem-loving poet Langston Hughes and his version of events surrounding the birth of Christ.
All this cinematic magic and musical exuberance was happening right up my block, and I didn’t have a clue until the minds behind the Fox Searchlight Pictures, Maven Pictures and Wonderful Films production invited me to experience the holiday joy in a series of junkets and special media events.
Falling in love with Kasi Lemmons and her team was easy. I’m fans of most of their superlative bodies of work. What has remained with me is how lovingly supportive they are of Lemmons and how gracious they’ve been when describing the lead actor, newcomer Jacob Latimore.
I caught up with Latimore in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was excited by all of the media swirling around him and was sublimely gracious when receiving the accolades about his performance.
Was this poised young man acting or is Latimore as nice as I think he is? Here’s what Latimore had to say about starring in a Hollywood holiday musical.
Amsterdam News: Director-screenwriter Kasi Lemmons assembled a cast of heavy hitters from the film and the music world. Jacob, you’re a rising R&B singer, and you sing in this film. What did you feel being surrounded by such diverse and award-winning artists?
Jacob Latimore: The sensation was overwhelming at first—like watching a movie that you’re just a frame away from being in. Dreamlike at first. But the cast, they were just regular folks, and they made me feel welcome.
AmNews: Cool. But you worked with Jennifer Hudson. She plays your mother. Did you dare dream of such an opportunity?
JL:(Laughing) No. One of the most rewarding things about “Black Nativity” was getting a private concert from Jennifer like every other take. She reminded me of my mother. She’s stern like my mother. I mean she won’t take mess from anyone. It was incredible to see her perform up close every day. Loving and tough.
AmNews: Anything memorable or fun happen on set?
JL:Every day was fun. OK, Forest [Whitaker] banged his head on a boom mike during his big pocket watch scene and the camera was tight on my close-up. Happy to share no one laughed until Kasi yelled, “Cut.” Oh, Tyrese [Gibson]took the police car for a short ride, but he couldn’t go too far—no gas, I think. Tyrese is really smart and generous—different than [I] imagined and really giving.
AmNews:Director Lemmons called you a “trifecta” because you sing, dance and act. As an actor, you’re a lead in a musical. Has this dawned on you? Your character, Langston, makes the movie work. It’s his journey.
JL:I think you’re making it clearer. Wow. Langston really goes on a big journey meeting his grandparents and leaving his moms. That is right. He’s looking at New York City and Harlem with fresh eyes. But at the same time, he’s trying to figure out why he’s never met them, and he’s learning about faith, forgiveness and redemption.
AmNews:Faith. Forgiveness. Redemption. These are big themes resting on your shoulders. Well said, by the way. It’s hard to believe that you’re only 17. What’s the young person’s point of view? Share and vent.
JL:Vent. (laughing) I will just share. I think the most important thing people will see in this film is a family reuniting. Langston is someone who feels he has to be hard on the outside, but he has a real sensitive core. He learns that it’s OK to express how you feel, and that’s something that made this role important to me.
AmNews:Are you raised by a single mother?
JL:Yes, but I have two parents. My mom and my pops, they are good friends. Like I can’t imagine them like a “couple.” I hope it will encourage the fathers out there who haven’t been there for their kids, and I hope it will encourage teens out there to express their true emotions.
AmNews:Anything you want special for the holiday season besides peace on earth, etc.?
JL:Yup, I want cologne. I keep dropping hints to everyone. Can you add that?
Consider it added, Jacob, along with a happy holiday wish to you and your loved ones.
“Black Nativity” is now open in theaters.