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8 Nov 2013

Feels So Good: In The Best Man Holiday, cast is reunited

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November 8, 2013 Category: Entertainment Posted by:

In 1999, when The Best Man topped the box office on its opening weekend, audiences fell hard for a group of college friends named Harper, Lance, Mia, Shelby, Murch, Robyn, Jordan, Quentin and Candy (Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Monica Calhoun, Melissa DeSousa, Harold Perrineau, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Terrence Howard and Regina Hall).

Writer/director/producer Malcolm D. Lee explains that when he created these roles, he wasn’t thinking about a renaissance of African American cinema, he simply wanted to watch his world represented on the big screen. He says: “The impetus of making the first movie was that I didn’t see myself or people I knew represented on screen. I wanted to write characters who spoke to the people that I could relate to. We all know somebody who is a Harper, Quentin, Lance, Shelby or a Mia; that’s what’s great about the relatability of the characters.”

As moviegoers grew attached to The Best Man during its theatrical run and subsequent life in home entertainment, Lee grew to understand just how identifiable and beloved the characters he dreamt up were becoming. The filmmaker admits that he thinks of these friends as an amalgam of archetypes that he’s encountered, not specific persons whom he’s met. “I know these people, and I love these people,” he says. “They’re certainly influenced by friends I went to college with and people who I grew up with, but they take on a life of their own.”

Moving Forward:  Characters Then and Now

When last we saw Lance, he had forgiven Harper for his indiscretions and married Mia, the love of his young life. Now a successful football player, Lance is on the verge of breaking the NFL’s all-time rushing record in his final season with the league. He is also a proud husband and father to four children.

According to Chestnut, Lance’s priorities have changed considerably now that he has settled down with Mia and has children. The actor explains: “Lance has matured. Now, it’s God first in his life, then his family, then football. Those are the three things that are most important to him, in that order.”

It didn’t take long for Chestnut to access the right frame of mind to play a more mature Lance. Even so, the football player had one stumbling block that was a challenge for the actor portraying him. Chestnut shares: “I try to find certain elements in me and pull them to the forefront. I relate to Lance, but the emotional aspect is always the hardest part. I don’t show my emotions too often, and Lance goes through the whole gamut of emotions in this movie. It was tough to go there.”

In the holiday spirit, the soft-spoken Mia, played by Monica Calhoun, invites the entire group to spend Christmas at her family’s home, with the intent to open the door to reconciliation among the friends. Calhoun delves into Mia’s intentions: “Mia has her own family now. She has maintained the relationships, though her friends have their own lives. One purpose of the holiday season is to strengthen friendships, learn the value of love and mature in our relationships. Mia really just wants everyone to be together in harmony.”

When last we saw them, Lance and Harper’s friendship was tenuous at best, due to Harper “loosely” basing two lovers in his best-selling book upon Mia and himself. After Lance found out about their tryst, he and Harper had a knockdown, drag-out fight at Lance’s bachelor party, which Quentin had to break up. Even today, those tensions reverberate among the tight-knit group. Chestnut explains: “We try to resolve our issues, and then things happen again. It’s going to be tough.”

For the sake of story, Diggs appreciates that this long-brewing rivalry is far from over. He says: “That’s another facet that I enjoy about this script. It’s realistic that they’re still dealing with the fallout. Lance and Harper still keep in touch, but it’s not forgotten.”

Unfortunately, Harper’s troubles are not confined to his shaky fraternal relationship with Lance. His life has become complicated. His writing has stalled, and due to budget cuts, the Harlem resident has lost his university teaching position. Diggs welcomed the challenges, appreciating that Harper’s issues are grounded in reality: “These characters are just experiencing life. Careers have dipped, and there are peaks and valleys. You pick up on what their lives are like now.”

Our story begins as Harper and Robyn are finally expecting their first child, after a long series of fertility treatments and heartbreaks. Lathan reflects on her character’s evolution: “Look at me now. I got my little bun in the oven!” Robyn has evolved and grown, yet there are glimpses of her younger self. “Robyn’s a successful chef, but there’s still a part of her that’s a little unsure. She is a strong woman, but she puts a lot of her self-worth in her man. If he’s going through something, she’s going to go through it as well.”

Given the Jordan-Robyn dilemma in which Harper found himself the last go-around, Diggs believes his character chose well when he decided to marry Robyn rather than continue to pursue Jordan. The performer notes: “Jordan and Harper are driven, competitive and cerebral. All of that aside, Jordan is not the type of person that Harper could settle down with. Robyn calms Harper, which is why he adores her and ends up with her.”

Lathan adds that the characters’ admitted duality has strengthened their marriage over the years: “Robyn always looks on the bright side, and Harper needs that. They’re opposites, but she lifts him up.”

The storied history between Harper and Jordan is a classic case of timing never being right. They have realized that, although sometimes the chemistry is spot-on, they are just not right for one another for the long haul. Nia Long, who plays Jordan, describes the complex relationship: “Jordan and Harper constantly challenge one another, but there is mutual respect. Sometimes they act like brother and sister, and sometimes they bicker like husband and wife. Ultimately, the little spark between them never dies. Jordan’s wish is for Robyn and him to live happily ever after, even if it hurts…just a little bit.”

When we last saw Jordan, she was a hotshot producer for BET whose career was No. 1 in her life, but all of that came at a big cost. She focused so much on her job, but she had no one with whom to share her life. Although Jordan seems to have it all, Long describes where her character is at both in work and in love: “Jordan is the director of programming at MSNBC but realizes there is something still missing in her life. She’s the last to commit to sharing her life with someone from their group. The events in the movie catapult her into doing so. Jordan realizes there’s more to life than her BlackBerry, powerful position and Prada bag.”

Jordan finds love with someone who shocks even her: a man named Brian, who just happens to be white. This is yet another demonstration of how her character has evolved over the past 15 years. In The Best Man, she was very judgmental of anyone dating outside his or her own racial group. “Jordan widened her net and is dating outside the race,” says Diggs. “That’s a fun and contemporary way to demonstrate how we’ve progressed. It’s not a big issue in this movie…beyond a little ribbing.”

Long offers that as time has gone by, her character has become much wiser: “Love is colorless and ageless. Love should be genuine and balanced. When Jordan introduces Brian to the group, she is reluctant at first, but soon realizes that he fits right in. Jordan is finally vulnerable to ‘love’ and finds Brian’s presence comforting.”

Fortunately for fans, Jordan, Harper and Robyn’s love triangle isn’t the only one explored in the sequel. Discussing his arrested-adolescent character of Quentin, Terrence Howard admits that he considered this to be a definitive role. He states: “Malcolm gave me the freedom to be Quentin, and Quentin has been so quintessential in my entire career.” Coming back to the part of the man-child, Howard observes: “The fact that Quentin’s in his 40s and he doesn’t have a family, and everyone else around him has a family, says something about his underdevelopment. Yet, he still hasn’t found himself. Somewhere in this movie, he figures out his place in life.”

Much to audiences’ delight, the fractious relationship between Quentin and the pot-stirring Shelby continues in this chapter. Howard explains: “Quentin loves Shelby and hates her at the same time. He is always afraid that Shelby is about to ‘Murch’ him—meaning, Murch used to be the man in college, and somehow he got with Shelby and lost all his manhood. Our relationship is on and off, but it’s a beautiful thing. We balance each other.”

Reflecting on the odd couple’s pairing, Melissa De Sousa, Shelby herself, sums: “They are two of a kind. They are both strong personalities who come together because they understand each other. It’s weird how sometimes the person you least expect is the one you usually go to in the end.”

Since the humiliation of being dumped by Murch for an exotic dancer, Shelby has reinvented herself as a successful businesswoman in a popular housewives television franchise. Shelby juggles between a lucrative career and being a mother to Kennedy (Isis Moore). De Sousa reflects on her character’s evolution: “In the first movie, Shelby needed Murch to define her. She needed that perfect picture. But when she comes back this go-around, she is her own woman and standing strong on her own. She’s now a force to be reckoned with.”

Lee admits that because Shelby is so unpredictable and hotheaded, she is one of his favorite characters to write. He laughs: “I love Shelby. She’s still a little bitter about being taken out by what she calls ‘the stripper.’ Still, what’s interesting about her character is that she’s got all these fabulous things and is a television star, but she’s not happy in her own life.”

Perrineau’s Julian (aka Murch) has also changed since the first film. He is now happily married to Candace, formerly known as Candy, and together they are raising two daughters—Keisha (Allison Augustin) and Kelly (Shai Pierre-Dixon)—and running a charter school. Like the rest of the cast, Perrineau has embraced his character and his director. He praises: “Malcolm embodies a lot of what he has written for Julian, so I just watch him for inspiration. The chance to work with him again has been an absolute honor. He’s a true collaborator, and I’m in awe of the way he works with people.”

Perrineau susses out the differences between Julian’s past relationship with Shelby and his current relationship with Candace. He shares: “Julian and Candace are having the great romance that most people dream of. When you see them you’ll see how much they love each other, even when there is strife. The first relationship was about Shelby and her insecurities, and this one is about these two people and the family that they’re creating.”

Reprising her role—now as Candace—Hall relished the opportunity to join the other cast members for further exploration of their signature roles. She shares: “Being reunited with this ensemble is so exciting because we had a lot of fun in the first movie. I didn’t get to work with everyone the way I do now, and getting to see each other another time and relive our characters has been an amazing experience.”

Among the group, Hall’s character transformation since we saw her last may take the proverbial cake. As Hall explains, her character has gone from Candy the exotic dancer to Candace the educator: “Candace was a stripper, but she was also in school. Educating young girls and boys from disadvantaged homes so they can succeed is her new focus. She is learning from her mistakes, and she’s inspired by what she’s able to give people. Her daughters and her husband inspire her, too. So she’s got quite a few motivations.”

As they were in The Best Man, friendships are once again tested in The Best Man Holiday. When the truth is revealed about Candace’s past, Harper’s career difficulties and the real reason that Mia invited everyone to her home for Christmas, drama and comedy arrive in abundance for our friends.

Lathan shares her thoughts on why audiences relate so well to the characters’ journey, through good times and bad: “The film is about true friendship and no matter what challenges friends go through, the love that you have for your friend will get you through to the other side. That’s depicted so well in the first film and again in this one.”

New to the franchise are John Michael Higgins and Eddie Cibrian, who portray, respectively, Harper’s literary agent, Stan, and Jordan’s boyfriend, Brian. In particular, the character of Brian was a flash of genius for Lee. He shares: “When we cast the part of Brian, we had to make sure that we had somebody who could fulfill both of those roles: somebody that both women and men would like. It’s very easy to put the token white guy in a role where he is the token white guy, and it’s not that way because Brian’s just a guy’s guy and a lady’s man.”

Even though he’s the new kid on the block, Cibrian wasn’t worried about fitting in; he had worked previously with Long and Chestnut. Indeed, that flexibility is a trait he shares with his character. Cibrian explains: “Brian is very comfortable in his own skin, comfortable in any environment. During the read-through at Universal, I think Malcolm saw something in me that was very similar to Brian: that I’m at ease in any environment. That’s what he wanted for this character.”

Cibrian finds the interracial relationship between Jordan and Brian to be very realistic. He says: “Yes, there are still probably some people who view it as taboo, but we’ve come a very long way. I’m Cuban and playing a white guy. Everybody comes from a different background. I love that this movie is able to express the reality that love can be between anyone, any race.”

As his ensemble gave its all to the performances, Lee couldn’t have been happier with their work. He sums up what his actors have brought to the film: “This cast is a very talented bunch who has grown as artists and as actors. I knew they’d be able to embody the roles. I had to write something that was going to be up to par with them and was going to challenge them. I had to give them the direction that I thought would match my vision. The good thing about their getting better is that they were able to step up to the plate and embody the roles and the emotions that it took to deliver drama and humor.”

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