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How a Sundance Breakout Turned the Attention Into a Career (Springboard)

How a Sundance Breakout Turned the Attention Into a Career (Springboard)

Indiewire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the film industry worthy of your attention.

Jacob Latimore’s passion for performance showed itself early. Signed for a recording contract at age 13 after a childhood love affair with gospel and R&B (as inspired by his equally talented family), Latimore was initially reticent to dive into acting, but his interest in directing his creative passions in new ways eventually led him to try his hand at film and TV.

With small roles in “Ride Along” and “The Maze Runner” under his belt, Latimore’s breakout role came care of this year’s Sundance offering, “Sleight,” the feature debut of filmmaker J.D. Dillard. The film casts Latimore as Bo, a young street magician whose skills eventually turn into something very different when he’s forced by outside pressures and his massive ambition to evolve, both personally and physically. Latimore’s work in the off-beat riff on the superhero story pushed him quite suddenly into a new stratosphere; he recently wrapped work on the Will Smith- and Kate Winslet-starring “Collateral Beauty” and signed on for William H. Macy’s latest directorial outing, “Krystal.”

Indiewire recently sat down with Latimore during a brief break from filming “Collateral Beauty,” and the rising young star sounded off on his work, all in his own words.

I grew up in a household where there was a bunch of singers, a lot of rehearsal, stuff like that. My dad and my uncles were my gospel quartet. We added my brothers. When I was young, they let me sing R&B music, then we signed with MCA Records. I sort of absorbed all of that, then just started getting into it on my own.

At the age of nine, I got into the studio. It wasn’t forced upon me. It was something like, “Jacob wants to sing. He can sing. He’s 9 years old and he can sing.” At that time, acting stuff started coming my way. As a younger kid, I was like, “No, I don’t really want to do that stuff. I’m not really interested. I want to do music.” As I got signed with the music, I got signed at 13 years old.

My first film was at age 11, and called “Vanishing on 7th Street,” with Hayden Christensen and Thandie Newton. Once I did that film, I started impressing directors and producers. I started surprising myself. Even with the crying scenes and emotional scenes, I go, “I’m good.”

Getting signed at 13 was a big thing for me. That was wild because I was signed to a label where all my idols were signed as well: Justin Timberlake, Usher, Chris Brown. I felt, not that I was up there in their level, but I could be that. It made me feel accomplished, and that’s when the work really came in.

As I got older, I just started trying different things. With the music, acting things came along, so I was just like, “Let’s just do it. Let me try it.” I started doing small, local stuff around the city of Atlanta — commercials, little voice-overs, really small stuff. My first movie audition came. I just booked it. Now, I’m on my seventh film.

READ MORE: Watch: Keep Your Eyes Peeled to the ‘Sleight’ of Hands in Exclusive Sundance Clip

I never went through serious acting training. Everything was really brief. When people say my acting is so natural, effortless, I’m super-grateful for it and thankful. I think I always looked up to great actors.

I read the script for “Sleight,” thought it was really cool. It definitely had that superhero origin inside the film. I wasn’t expecting that until I got to the end of the script. I was like, “Whoa, okay, this could be something.” I went and auditioned, took direction from J.D. after doing it a few times, and he just loved it. I was just like, “I’m down, got a dope script, I’m in L.A. Let’s do it.” We shot the film in about 2-1/2 weeks.

I felt like I was in a film that I always wanted to be in. If you asked me before the film, “What type of role would you like?” I wouldn’t be able to really answer. “Sleight” is like the dream world. 

I was really shocked at the buzz the film has. I think I didn’t really realize how much of a chance we had at Sundance until I saw the film, literally, two days before we went to Sundance. I was like, “Well, this is a film.” I mean, I knew it was going to be a great film, but it looked awesome at the screening.

Auditioning is just a routine. It’s just second-nature. When I get a script, I just go in, like it’s any other job. I approach every audition the same, with that preparation and hard work.

READ MORE: Critic’s Notebook: Here’s Why You Should Care About the Sundance Film Festival

It’s been incredible, just working with these amazing actors. I think what I’m learning from them is that they ask a lot of questions. They never try to read anything without understanding it. That’s what I love about this cast. They’re like, “I don’t understand this. I don’t get this part. What is this, explain this.” 

I had this scene where I had a paragraph full of lines, and because this script changes a lot, because we have very intellectual opinions on things, I really don’t even try to memorize the lines until the day of. It was a scene where me and Kate [Winslet] are outside. I’m just trying to figure out these lines, and I’m like, “Man, I keep messing up.” Then, it was one take, I got it so perfectly. She just gives me this huge hug, and she’s just like, “Oh my God. You did so great. I love it.” The director, David Frankel, comes over and he’s like, “Superior.” I’m just looking at them like, Rose from “Titanic” is giving me a hug around the neck, tightly, like she’s choking me. I love it. It was awesome.

I love challenging myself. I love stepping into different things. I don’t want to be boxed in. My dream role is to be like some Navy SEAL or something like that. I’ve always been watching movies like that. Any role that comes my way, I try to relate to it in some way and try to make the best of it.

Check out a clip from “Sleight” below:

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