Movie Interviews
11:21 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Terrence Howard And Sanaa Lathan Dish On 'The Best Man Holiday'

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 9:25 am

It's been nearly 15 years since movie lovers followed the romances and rivalries of college friends in The Best Man. There's Harper, the aspiring writer and "best man" of football star and husband-to-be Lance; Mia the bride-to-be of Lance; Robyn the girlfriend of Harper; Jordan the ambitious media maven; and Quentin the playboy.

Director Malcolm D. Lee's The Best Man became one of the top-grossing black movies of all time, and now the ensemble cast returns in The Best Man Holliday. The film opens in theaters Friday.

Stars Terrence Howard and Sanaa Lathan spoke with Tell Me More host Michel Martin about their roles, and if things have improved for African-Americans in Hollywood.


Interview Highlights

The cast's chemistry

Sanaa Lathan: I think the thing that really resonated with audiences is the real chemistry that we all have. We all really kind of like each other in real life, and have stayed friends over the years. So that kind of chemistry is palpable onscreen as well. ... I met Terrence for the first time then. He used to bring his guitar to set.

Terrence Howard: Everybody was scared of Sanaa. All the women were! [Lathan: Really?! Why?] Because we had never seen you that much. And you came in and basically owned every moment that you were in, and actually, you know, became the most standout female in that movie.

What the director did for audiences

Howard: Malcolm D. Lee did something that very few people had really aspired towards. You know, we knew there were upscale black Americans that were living real lives, but often times that was never depicted inside of films, even on television, you know. What he created back then gave everybody an opportunity to say, 'There is a true middle class black family. And this is their language. This is how they behave.' So you don't have to be, you know, a ... black person pretending to be white. And you don't have to be ghetto friendly. You can actually be, you know, extra medium [Laughter].

Lathan: I think audiences, especially African-American audiences, were hungry to see themselves or see people that they know onscreen. And I think that this movie — along with some other movies at the time, Love Jones was another one – really depicted people that we know personally. And I think that now, once again, 15 years later, there's still that hunger.

The growth of Lathan's character Robyn

Lathan: Robyn was kind of the outsider in the first one. She and Harper were dating at the time. And she was kind of like really positive. I would say kind of like a hippie. Her feet weren't on the ground. She didn't really know what she wanted to do. She was kind of dabbling in jewelry. She was catering. And her life was all about Harper. In this one, they've been married for 10 years. She's a successful chef. And she's way more grounded. And she's still the same essence that she was in the first one, which is kind of the glass half full to Harper's glass half empty. And she's nine months pregnant. ... They wanted me to put that big ol' bump on for the poster shoot, and I said no. I said, 'I gotta have a waist at some point!'

Howard's character Quentin: honest, fun and ... Harold Perrineau?

Howard: He believes in being honest. Even though he's not being honest with his inner feelings, he's honest about whatever he's doing. You know, if he's hanging out with the president, he's gonna try to get the president to smoke a joint [laughter]. I mean there's no consequences to him. That's what's entertaining for me. Because in all reality, when we first did the movie, a best kept secret is: I fashioned Quentin from Harold Perrineau, the real-life Harold Perrineau before he got married [Lathan: Oh! I didn't know that!] 'cause Harold was a pimp! Harold was slick! He had the dreads. He was a pimp! I would watch him a lot throughout the day 'cause he was brutally honest.

The push to get The Best Man Holiday made

Lathan: Basically he [Malcolm D. Lee] pitched the idea to us moment-by-moment, beat-by-beat, and by the time the pitch was over, we were like, 'Write it! We will do it!' And um ... [Howard: didn't hear nothing for six months] yeah, and then the script came in. It was in really good shape. I thought it was great, I was like, 'Okay when are we doing it?' And he said, 'The studio actually doesn't think it's funny.' That, in my mind, was kind of crazy because I thought it was funny. And so basically we all decided that we would show them if they couldn't get it from the script. And we had a rehearsal. They laughed, they cried, they were cheering. And by the time we got to our cars in the parking lot, they were budgeting the movie.

Hurdles for black filmmaking

Howard: Black filmmakers are often times afraid to go and make a black movie after they've had success with a so-called black film because they don't want to get stuck inside this box.

Loving their work

Lathan: It doesn't even feel like work. It's what I do. I love it. I want to do it until I'm a little old lady. But for me, it's really about having the right people around you, and just the commitment to the work. And then you deal with the business as a byproduct of that.

Howard: You know there is a great deal of joy in the work because we get to escape from, you know, the mundanities of life and this handrail of mediocrity that [laughter] everyone tends to hold onto to make it through because they're afraid. The idea of failing [Lathan: keeps you going?] keeps me going, you know, because it gives us something to pick up from. And at the end of the day, who cares? Nobody's gonna remember us a thousand years from now [laughter]. This is only important to us right now. Let's have a good time! Enjoy! And we love doing this! This is fun!

Will there be a trilogy?

Lathan: There is talk of a trilogy. I guess it'll all depend on how we do this weekend, right? It's all about numbers in this town. So we'll come back if people show us that they want us back by coming out to see the movie.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's been nearly 15 years since moviegoers followed the romances and rivalries of nine college friends, including Harper, an aspiring writer and the best man of football star and husband-to-be Lance. And who could forget Quentin, the playboy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BEST MAN")

TERRENCE HOWARD: (As Quentin) You know how many single honeys be at weddings? It's about to be a ho-asis in that baby, honey.

TAYE DIGGS: (As Harper) That's funny. If you put half the effort into your future as you do trying to impress...

HOWARD: (As Quentin) Hey, my [bleep] I am a pimp. So my future looks mighty bright, thank you very much.

DIGGS: (As Harper) That's cool. Everything straight for the bachelor party?

HOWARD: (As Quentin) Oh, hell yeah. Pops gave me the key to the penthouse suite tonight. I'm talking about this [bleep] is about to be ignorant off the hook.

MARTIN: That was Taye Diggs as Harper and Terrence Howard as Quentin. They, along with their female counterparts, made "The Best Man" one of the top-grossing and best-loved black movies of all time. And now they are back in "The Best Man Holiday." And joining us to tell us more about it are two members of the ensemble cast, Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard. He's also appeared, as you know, in "Crash," "Hustle & Flow" and "The Butler" most recently. Also with us is Sanaa Lathan who plays Robin. Many of you will remember her from one of the other best-loved movies of all time, "Love & Basketball." And they're both with us now from our bureau in New York. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

HOWARD: Thank you, Michel.

SANAA LATHAN: Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: So, Sanaa, let me start with you - ladies first. You know, "The Best Man" has become such an important film for so many people. I mean, they just love it. They watch it at home. They watch it over and over again. When you were filming it, did you feel like you were doing something special or was it just the day's work?

LATHAN: It was the day's work, but it was very exciting for me personally because it was one of my first kind of studio movies. And it was the beginning of my career. And I was working with all these fabulous actors, and it was in New York City. And for me, I was just happy to have a job and to be on a movie set. So I think the thing that really resonated with audiences is the real chemistry that we all have. We kind of really actually do like each other in real life and have stayed friends over the years. So that kind of chemistry is palpable on-screen as well.

MARTIN: Was it there then?

LATHAN: Yeah, it was there then immediately. I met Terrence for the first time then. He used to bring his guitar to set.

HOWARD: Yeah.

LATHAN: All the time...

HOWARD: Everybody was scared of Sanaa. All the women were.

LATHAN: Really? Why?

MARTIN: Why?

HOWARD: Because we had never seen you that much. And you came in and basically owned every moment that you were in, and actually, you know, became the most standout female in that movie.

LATHAN: Well, that's so sweet of you to say. But...

HOWARD: More akin to truth than flattery. I'm just being honest.

MARTIN: Well, Terrence Howard, what do you think it is that people have responded to over the years?

HOWARD: It was the commitment to truth. You know, Malcolm Lee did something that very few people had really aspired towards. You know, we knew there were upscale black Americans that were living real lives, but oftentimes, that was never depicted inside of films, even on television, you know. What he created back then gave everybody an opportunity to say there is a true middle-class black family, and this is their language. This is how they behave. So you don't have to be, you know, a high siddity white - you know, black person pretending to be white, and you don't have to be ghetto friendly. You can actually be, you know, extra medium. And...

(LAUGHTER)

LATHAN: That is so.

MARTIN: OK.

LATHAN: But I think audiences, especially African-American audiences, were hungry to see themselves or see people that they know on-screen. And I think that that - this movie, along with some other movies at the time - "Love Jones" was another one - really kind of depicted people that we know personally. And I think that now, once again, 15 years later, there's still that hunger because it's still not quite depicted as much as we would like it to be.

MARTIN: I could just tell you, even the opening sequence, there were belly laughs from people as we caught up with where each of the characters has kind of ended up, you know, over the years. So, Sanaa, will you please tell me about Robin and...

LATHAN: Well, Robin was kind of the outsider in the first one. She and Harper were dating at the time, and she was kind of, like, really positive - I would say kind of like a hippie. She's - her feet weren't on the ground. She didn't really know what she wanted to do. She was kind of dabbling in jewelry. She was catering, and her life was all about Harper. In this one, they've been married for 10 years. She's a successful chef, and she's way more grounded. And she's still the same essence that she was in the first one, which is kind of the glass half-full to Harper's glass half-empty. And she's nine months pregnant. So...

MARTIN: You guys have to help me out on what's OK to reveal and what's...

LATHAN: Yeah. It's in all the trailers.

MARTIN: OK.

HOWARD: Yeah.

LATHAN: Not the publicity picture, though. You're looking very svelte in the publicity picture.

LATHAN: Yes, they wanted me to put that big old bump on for the poster shoot, and I said, no. I said I've got to have a waist at some point.

HOWARD: Yeah, it's unnecessary.

MARTIN: I need to work again. So, Terrence Howard, tell us about Quentin. On the surface, he has traveled kind of maybe the shortest distance emotionally, but maybe not. You want to tell us a little bit about...

HOWARD: Well, I mean, in order to get anywhere, you have to start at the beginning. And you're going to end up back at the beginning at the end of the day. And he believes in being honest, even though he's not being honest with his inner feelings. He's honest about whatever he's doing, you know. So, you know, if he's hanging out with the president, he's going to try and get the president to smoke a joint.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I get the feeling he's a lot of fun to play.

HOWARD: I mean, there's no consequences to him. That's what's entertaining for me. You know, because in all reality, when we first did the movie, a best kept secret is I've fashioned Quentin from Harold Perrineau.

LATHAN: Oh.

HOWARD: The real life Harold Perrineau, before he got married...

LATHAN: Oh, I didn't know that.

HOWARD: ...'Cause Harold was a pimp.

LATHAN: I didn't know that.

MARTIN: Really?

HOWARD: He was slick.

LATHAN: Are you serious?

HOWARD: When he had the dreads, he was a pimp. I would watch him a lot throughout the day 'cause he was brutally honest, you know.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the new film "The Best Man Holiday." It follows those beloved characters from "The Best Man." It catches up with them nearly 15 years later. With us are stars Terrence Howard and Sanaa Lathan. So, Sanaa, let me play a clip from the sequel - from the "The Best Man Holiday" - between your character and Regina Hall's. She plays Candace - she was Candy. Now she's Candace. And here you are talking about another character, Jordan, played by Nia Long. She has a new boyfriend who - a little different than what people may have expected from Jordan. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY")

REGINA HALL: (As Candace) I'm just saying, Jordan's good people. You should get to know her.

LATHAN: (As Robin) What's to know. She's career obsessed and lives on her Blackberry.

HALL: (As Candace) True, but she's not some ideal from a piece of fiction.

EDDIE CIBRIAN: (As Brian) Julian? Brian. Nice to meet you.

HAROLD PERRINEAU: (As Julian) Nice to see you.

DIGGS: (As Harper) Good to see you again.

CIBRIAN: (As Brian) Hey, Harper.

HALL: (As Candace) Now her man on the other hand is iconic. If I went that way, that's what I'd get. A tall vanilla swagger latte. I like. I like. I like.

MARTIN: He's fine. I know you're still mesmerized by how fine he is. And I mean F-O-I-N-E, foine.

LATHAN: Exactly, foine.

MARTIN: Foine. He's fine, as is everybody in the cast.

LATHAN: Yeah, we're lucky.

MARTIN: Everyone's kind of unbearably gorgeous.

(CROSSTALK)

LATHAN: Lucky women. It was fun coming to set every day.

MARTIN: And so what do you think the film is saying about relationships and about kind of where things end up, like, 15 years later? I mean, people might remember from the film that Jordan was very kind of critical in the first film of anybody who kind of strayed outside the group.

LATHAN: The race.

MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah.

LATHAN: I think that it makes sense. I mean, this is 2013. It's, like, we live in the melting pot. You meet who you meet. In my opinion, love is a blessing. And Jordan is a professional woman at the top of her game, and she - you know, the circles that she moves in are very much integrated, and that's who she happens to fall for. And Eddie Cibrian is very easy on the eyes with those dimples and those squinty eyes.

HOWARD: And he's some swag about him.

LATHAN: And he has swag. He actually fit right in. You wouldn't necessarily expect, like, you know, a newcomer, especially the kind of a - I don't know - it's an all-black cast. We all know each other really well, and he just - you know, it was easy. Right?

HOWARD: Yeah. Not one day of uncomfortability.

LATHAN: He's a nice guy. Exactly, very down to earth. So it makes sense and works.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY")

HOWARD: (As Quentin) So, slim, is Jordan your first safari into the enchanted jungle?

CIBRIAN: (As Brian) Is he serious?

HOWARD: (As Quentin) I mean, how do we know that this ain't some "Django"-"Candy Land" fantasy?

CIBRIAN: (As Brian) Come on, man. I dated all kinds of women. But Jordan is - she's pretty special. You know, I'm surprised she got past all you guys.

HOWARD: (As Quentin) Who says she did?

MORRIS CHESTNUT: (As Lance) He's just messing with you, man.

(LAUGHTER)

CIBRIAN: (As Brian) OK.

CHESTNUT: (As Lance) Ain't nobody here been with her. You're straight.

PERRINEAU: (As Julian) Not that there wasn't an attempt, though. But - what?

CIBRIAN: (As Brian) Oh, really?

DIGGS: (As Harper) Why would you say something like that?

PERRINEAU: (As Julian) I didn't even look at you.

DIGGS: (As Harper) Shut up, Murch.

PERRINEAU: (As Julian) I'm watching TV.

DIGGS: Look man, we're honestly - we're brother and sister, for real.

CIBRIAN: Come on, man. No worries. It's all good. You have to be kind of a [bleep] to be concerned about her past like that, right?

HOWARD: (As Quentin) I like him.

MARTIN: Malcolm Lee, the writer, producer, director, in order to get the film made - I don't know if this is unusual or not - that he had a table-read even before he kind of got everything going. Should he have had to do that at this stage of things, given how successful the first film was?

LATHAN: No, he shouldn't have, but this is Hollywood and, you know, you do what you have to do. But basically he pitched the idea to us moment-by-moment, beat-by-beat. And by the time the pitch was over, we were like write it, we will do it. And...

HOWARD: Didn't hear nothing for six months.

LATHAN: Yeah. And then the script came in. It was in really good shape. I thought it was great. I was like, OK, when we doing it? And he said the studio actually doesn't think it's funny. That, in my mind, was kind of crazy 'cause I thought it was funny. And so basically we all decided that we would show them if they couldn't get it from the script. And we had a rehearsal. They laughed. They cried. They were cheering, and by the time we got to our cars in the parking lot, they were budgeting the movie.

HOWARD: Yepp.

LATHAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, congratulations on that. But I'm thinking, Terrence Howard, you were also in "Red Tails." And that was another film that you hear that, despite the fact that behind the film was a person with a tremendous track record of success, had to kind of fight to get the movie made. Is that the way it is for films in general? Is that the way it is for black films? Is that - what is that about?

HOWARD: We really don't have an international box office or that ability to get out there. So even a film like "Red Tails" that - you know, where the Tuskegee airmen were responsible for helping Europeans be free - you know, that the Europeans would not be interested in the men and women that contributed to their ability to have a free country right now, which is preposterous in its own nature. But that fallacy, you know, the same way...

LATHAN: It stops people before they even try.

HOWARD: A hundred percent.

LATHAN: And the truth is, I mean, I've had - I have a Japanese makeup artist. And over the years, she'll go to Japan, and she'll bring me back, like, DVDs that I've done with, like, you know, the black movies, all those romantic black movies that I did in the '90s, with Japanese subtitles. And I run into tourists, and they know me. And it's this perpetuated kind of idea that is not necessarily true. It's like - it's an excuse to not try.

HOWARD: Black film makers are oftentimes afraid to go and make a black movie after they've had success with a so-called black film because they don't want to get stuck inside this box.

LATHAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: How do you keep fighting, and how do you keep finding the joy in the work?

LATHAN: It doesn't even feel like work. It's what I do. I love it. I want to do it until I'm a little old lady. But for me, it's really about having the right people around you and just the commitment to the work, and then you deal with the business as a byproduct of that.

MARTIN: Terrence Howard?

HOWARD: You know, there is a great deal of joy in the work because we get to escape from, you know, the mundanities of life and this hand-rail of mediocrity that everyone tends to hold onto to make it through because they're afraid. The idea of failing...

LATHAN: Keeps you going?

HOWARD: Keeps me going, you know, because it gives us something to pick up from. And at the end of the day, who cares? Nobody's going to remember us a thousand years from now. This is only important to us right now.

LATHAN: Right.

HOWARD: So let's have a good time and enjoy it. And we love doing this. This is fun.

MARTIN: Do I hear sequel to the sequel?

LATHAN: There's talk of a trilogy. I guess it'll all depend on how we do this weekend, right. It's all about numbers in this town. So we'll come back if people show us that they want us back by coming out...

HOWARD: Yeah.

LATHAN: ...To see the movie.

MARTIN: Well, you can come back and see us anytime.

LATHAN: OK.

MARTIN: Sanaa Lathan and Terrence Howard are co-starring in the new film "The Best Man Holiday." It opens in theaters this Friday.

HOWARD: No, we're starring in it.

LATHAN: What did you say?

MARTIN: I said co-staring.

HOWARD: We are starring in it.

LATHAN: What did she say?

HOWARD: She said we were co-staring in it.

MARTIN: Well, how - I don't know...

HOWARD: We are the stars of it. Why do you think you don't have the rest of the cast on right now - 'cause you're talking to the stars.

MARTIN: Because there wasn't enough mics to fill up the room - that's right. Terrence Howard and Sanaa Lathan are stars of the new film "The Best Man Holiday." It opens in theaters this Friday. And we are so thankful that you were both kind enough to stop by our studios in New York to talk with us about it. Good luck with everything you're doing. Congratulations to you both.

LATHAN: Thank you.

HOWARD: All right, bye-bye.

LATHAN: Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.