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Interview: Robert Ri’chard and Imani Hakim on Child Stardom to “Chocolate City”

Interview: Robert Ri'chard and Imani Hakim on Child Stardom to "Chocolate City"

In theaters and On Demand May 22, “Chocolate City”
takes viewers into the world of black male strippers. Robert Ri’chard (“Coach
Carter,” “One on One”) plays Michael, a young college student
struggling to make ends meet who meets a strip club owner that convinces him to
give amateur night a try.

We spoke with Ri’chard and Imani Hakim (“Everybody
Hates Chris”, “The Gabby Douglas Story”), who plays Michael’s
girlfriend Carmen, to talk about the movie and their transition from child
acting to building their careers in adulthood.

Imani Hakim on
joining the “Chocolate City” cast:

IH: I’m always looking to do things that I haven’t done
before. I think that’s all a part of growth when it comes to your career, to
challenge yourself. And going from “The Gabby Douglas Story” to
“Chocolate City,” it’s a very different vibe.

This is something that kind of just happened. I was out and
about and didn’t even really audition. My manager called and said the director
wants to see you for this film, so I ended up going in to meet with the
director and he really liked me. So I wasn’t intentionally looking for
something like “Chocolate City.” It just happened to fall into my
lap, which is awesome.

Robert Ri’chard on
relating to his character:

RR: I think everyone in America understands hustle, and the lengths
that you’ll go to for your family. My character Michael, he’s flipping burgers,
he’s willing to clean floors for his mom to keep her lights on. And we see him
applying to go get a bartender job to take care of his mom. But it’s not a
bartending job, it’s amateur night at a strip club.

He’s totally not about it, but this brother’s like listen.
It’s one night, it’s for your mom, someone that you love. Go on stage in your
little tighty whities, shake your heinie and we’ll see what happens. And all of
a sudden he’s a hit and decides to do it full time, and that’s where the access
point is for Michael stepping into this world.

Working together as a
couple:

IH: Robert’s great to work with and gives you amazing stuff
to feed off of, so the chemistry was there on camera. We thought we were
actually dating.

And it’s pretty dope to be doing a film with Robert. I grew
up watching him on “Cousin Skeeter” and “One on One.” I
think when he was on “One on One” I was on “Everybody Hates
Chris,” which is weird because there’s an age gap there. So it’s funny
that 10 years later I’m working with him.

On the age gap
between much younger actresses and older actors:

IH: Originally Romeo Miller was cast to play the lead role,
and Romeo and I are a little bit closer in age. It didn’t work out, I think due
to scheduling conflicts, so Robert was cast. So as long as Robert looks young
and I look old enough we just make it work. It’s just great that though Robert
may be a little bit older he’s still able to make this happen and it’s convincing.

RR: Don’t call me old! I’m infinite! [laughs]

IH: At the end of the day it’s our job, just like anyone else’s.
We pretend to be these characters and there happens to be an age difference
sometimes, but we’re telling a story.

RR: I think women are the most beautiful things ever
created. So of course I get the luxury of having the gorgeous Imani Hakim playing
my girlfriend in the movie, but also I get the gorgeous Vivica Fox playing my
mom. I get the whole spectrum. And we want everyone to say, I see myself in
this film. I see where I fit in, in the storyline.

Getting comfortable
with dancing and stripping in the film:

I think that anybody would be a little bit nervous or
intimidated, so I got with a dance coach and just worked on overall body
awareness and body movement. But the funny thing is, I remember standing
backstage. It was Michael’s first time on stage and my real first time on
stage. And parting the curtain and walking out there, I realized that I’m a man
and these are all women. It’s like the same sense of I’m a lion and these are
all gazelles. You can have all the confidence in the world because these are
all your prey. The confidence shoots through the roof as you walk out there and
it’s actually an experience that I’ll never forget.

On the pressures of
being a child actor:

RR: I think there’s a certain level of responsibility. When
I was 13, 14 years old I was working a 60-hour week, 12 hours a day on set with
other adults and expected to perform at a certain level of professionalism. A
typical day on set is 16 hours, but we’re shooting in 12 hours because when
you’re underage the government says you can’t work more than 11 or 12 hours. So
a lot of the things you’ve seen in my career are literally first takes because
we’re working so fast and so clean.

To relate it to sports, it’s like I walk out onto the field
and hit a homerun and then move onto the next thing. So I think it made me more
proficient, to have so much pressure on me. I think it made me sharper because
I’d always have to perform at a high level in a limited amount of time.

Managing career and
image as an adult:

IH: You just have to take it step-by-step I guess. I have a
great support system and people behind me. They do the whole managing thing and
I just make sure I don’t do anything too crazy. Because we’re living in the era
of social media, I try to be aware of what I put online and what I choose to
discuss.                                                                   

And then also when it comes to choosing projects, I choose
what I feel comfortable with. They’ll give me the list and I’ll say okay I’ll
go out and read for that, or no I don’t really feel comfortable reading for
that. So there’s a team meeting every time.

What audiences should
expect from “Chocolate City”:

IH: It’s just a really fun film and I think that people are
really going to have a great time. Who doesn’t like half naked men who are all
oiled up? And there’s a story behind it and a struggle that everyone can relate
to.

RR: Personally, I want everyone to know how clean it is. I
saw the movie, and that’s the best thing that Jean-Claude LaMarre was able to do in the editing process. Whenever
you’re at the movies sitting next to the person that you love, whether it’s
your husband, your daughter, your best friend, your sorority sister, it’s
important that there’s no cringe factor. There’s no point in the movie where
you’ll say, I wish that I wasn’t watching this film while I’m sitting next to
the person that I love.

Comparisons to
“Magic Mike”:

RR: The comparison that I make is hotels in Las Vegas. You
have the Bellagio on one side of the street and then you have the Wynn
properties on the other side. And in both scenarios we’re on the same
boulevard, we’re tracking the same customer. Let’s go to war.

And I love “Magic Mike.” Channing [Tatum] is one of my best friends. We did “Coach
Carter” together and he literally learned to act on “Coach
Carter.” I support his film. But now you have a different version of that,
a coffee version, a chocolate version. And what woman doesn’t love chocolate?

“Chocolate City” will be in select theaters and On Demand May 22nd in the U.S.

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