"The Wire's" Wood Harris Weighs In on Lupe vs. Chief Keef, the State of Black Cinema and His New Movie "Dredd 3D"
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the debut of "The Wire", still one of HBO’s most-popular original series', and an iconic part of the Black on-screen lexicon. Yet, the critically-acclaimed show never won an Emmy. Still, it was a show that brothers and sisters of all colors watched and fell in love with - its realness and imagery of 'hood life in Baltimore depicted the city's plight, which still has not changed much since the show went off the air.
So, why was it great? Well, there are few Black actors who are so integrated into Hip-Hop culture that their characters seem to take on a life of their own beyond the show. But, if you're counting, one of those actors would have to be Wood Harris, and "The Wire's" incomparable "Avon Barksdale."
Harris, in his role as the drug kingpin, was not unknown to Hip-Hop audiences, he appeared as Ace in the cult-classic, Paid in Full and as Motaw in Above the Rim. A classically trained actor, the Chicago native also holds a Master’s degree from the prestigious NYU Tisch School of the Arts. A passionate artist and lover of Black culture, Harris is now experiencing a career resurgence, including a run in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, and portraying Malcolm X alongside Angela Bassett in the forthcoming Lifetime film, Coretta & Betty.
In Dredd 3D, Harris recently played Kay, a prominent member of a drug-dealing syndicate arrested by Judge Dredd after a homicide. His arrest, which could stand to topple the MaMa gang, sparks a building lockdown and an attack on the judge that spans the entire film. The movie, which features new 3D technology, is a mix of gruesome action scenes, and interesting dialogue and subplot. While AllHipHop.com enjoyed the movie, we also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and sit down with Wood Harris:
AllHipHop.com: I loved the movie. I thought it was great. It was action-packed, and yet had some tenderness. I wanted to get your take on that.
Wood Harris: It did. I think it beautified the gruesomeness as well as the 3D; because of the slow-mo and the cinematography, the 3D is actually the third element there. In a technical sense, it pulls the film together in such a way that really is masterful. The 3D puts you in the room, instead of just objects coming at your head. Our cinematographer (Anthony Dod Mantle) is an Oscar-award winner developed some of the technology in the film, which is why it’s unique in this film. This film is a novelty.
AllHipHop.com: How do you think the remake…
Wood Harris: It’s not a remake. Dredd is one of the top comic heroes in the world. The movie prior is like part of a sequence. They could do many interpretations of the character.
AllHipHop.com: Another thing that occurred to me, and was interesting to me, was that you spent most of the film in handcuffs. How was that?
Wood Harris: That was very uncomfortable. I just wanted it to be authentic. I didn’t necessarily have to be all of the time. But I hate faking it. So, I was handcuffed the whole movie, pretty much. My stunt man broke his femur bone during the movie because he was handcuffed.
AllHipHop.com: What do you want people to take from the movie?
Wood Harris: I hope it creates a dialogue, because this is something that can truly happen. It’s a police state. Dredd is a Judge, a Jury, and a Cop. That’s possible. He can pull you over on the road, and in two seconds, get the information on you with a chip, and in two seconds, execute you.
AllHipHop.com: What do you think is the state of Black Cinema?
Wood Harris: I think that Black Cinema is in an evolution. I think Tyler Perry has something to do with it, in a good way and a bad way. His business ability is just phenomenal, simply phenomenal. It’s Tyler Perry’s ball to carry. Black Cinema is, at the moment, controlled by whoever makes the most money in it. That is definitely Tyler. Black Cinema is at a pinnacle of evolution, the interest is there. The flip side is just when a brilliant director might come out. We can make a movie, the five of us in this room, because the technology is available. But as the technology makes it so more people can do it, Hollywood changes the rules, and there are more locks on the country club door. But, they will let Nene Leakes in, and that’s a problem. Because it dumbs down the artist.
We have to be careful not to let the artists get dumbed down because the artists will be the missionary, the message holder, and the activist. But, now, people get famous doing something silly on TV, and they run with that ball. I’m an artist, and I’m not insulting Nene Leakes, but I think more than half of television is reality TV now. I’m friends with Mos Def, we want to talk about something. That’s what’s gone when Tupac is gone - there’s nobody who says, “Dear Mama,” there’s nobody with his complexity as an artist. I love Lupe, that’s my brother, my Chi-Town brother, but he’s retiring, and he was retiring before the Chief Keef situation. And that Chief Keef situation is extremely sad. Now they can sell sad. Interscope is selling sad. I don’t care what the lyrics say; I don’t care for it.
After the thing (shooting Above the Rim), we stood in a circle and everybody was rapping; it wasn’t just Tupac. I think that’s what we got when we lost Tupac, there is no culture leadership in Hip-Hop, and it isn’t anywhere else (in the Black community). Because y’all don’t care about Jay-Z saying nothing to y’all, we don’t care too much about Nas either. I do, I care about both of them; I like them both as people. For the general people, who they listen to is Lil’ Wayne, Waka Flocka. Not against them either; they are rags to riches stories.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think they understand the platform that they have?
Wood Harris: I think they might understand it, but what sets a precedent of understanding is money. And power. When you get bread like they have it, and you can get any girl, your esteem grows from material things. They don’t want to see the walls fall down around what they built. It takes some braveness to pull a Lupe.
Dredd 3D - a great, action-packed movie - hit theaters on September 21. Connect with the film on Twitter (@LionsGateMovies #Dredd3D).
Follow Wood Harris on Twitter (@WoodHarris), but he’s only tweeted four times, and the last one was over two years ago!