‘Cadillac’ Actors Dig Deep to Rock Their Roles

One of the most highly anticipated films of the season opens this Friday when Cadillac Records bows in theaters, boasting both an all-star cast and soundtrack. The film premiered this week in New York and Los Angeles, with many of the cast members showing up to support what some would call (including me) a much better Dreamgirls. The common denominator for both projects, of course, is Beyoncé, who portrays R&B legend Etta James in Cadillac. Now, while Mrs. Carter didn’t exactly nail the role of the embattled songstress, I do applaud her attempt (See, I was nice). The standouts in the film were everyone’s favorite character actor, Jeffrey Wright, who portrayed bluesman Muddy Waters and does his own singing, and Mos Def (who, ironically played opposite Wright in Broadway’s Top Dog/Underdog in 2002 to critical acclaim) as rock and roll legend Chuck Berry. Aside from their undeniable talent (yes, even Bey) that radiates on screen, it’s the level of hard work and research invested by the stars, including Bey checking into rehab to research her role, Mos Def hitting the books (and laptop), and Wright, who does his own singing in the film, keeping the music really real.

  • Beyoncé spent a lot of time last year talking to recovering addicts at Brooklyn, NY’s Phoenix House to research her role as James. In the film, she has a scene where she supposedly overdoses on “smack.” Says the actress about Ms. James’ reaction to her performance: “…I know that in some interviews she was like, ‘I don’t know if she
    can play me.’ But when I met her, she said, ‘You are a bad girl,’ and I
    know that’s the ultimate compliment from her.” [SI/TS]

  • Mos Def actually used two resources in order to capture the talents and mannerisms of Berry: the legend’s self-titled autobiography…and YouTube. He spoke of how the autobiography was helpful, as it gave him an idea of how Berry spoke. The YouTube clips gave him the mannerisms and, of course the music. Says Def: “I think the lyrical aspect that
    touched Mr. Berry’s work is very unique and very distinctive; it’s
    something that really sets him apart from the generation of performers
    that he came up in and sets him apart in general.”
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  • Jeffrey Wright admitted to being uncertain when first approached to play Waters before being convinced by musician and good friend Steve Jordan, who scored the film. Said the actor: “For me, the insight into the character and into the story was the
    music. I’ve always been a fan of the blues…As
    an actor, I’ve always had an ear for language and so the language of
    the blues always spoke to me. At the same time I deeply respect its
    authenticity. It was the music that pulled me into committing to the
    film.” He went on to talk about how it was laying down his own vocals: “Singing for me is work. I would be in the studio until 5am just to make
    sure I got the tone and note right. The sound had to be real. I really
    worked hard to honor the legacy of his music.” [BV]

The film opens nationwide this Friday and also features performances by Columbus Short and Cedric The Entertainer. Tell us, is this one of the films you’ve marked on your calendars? And if so, whose performance are you most eager to see?

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