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Interview: Chatting w/ Tyrese Gibson About His New Film ‘Shame’ & Taking on Darker Roles

Interview: Chatting w/ Tyrese Gibson About His New Film 'Shame' & Taking on Darker Roles

Shame is a powerful emotion, it aids in secrets, lies and deception. The constant need to cover up humiliation can be overwhelming, causing you to sabotage other aspects of your life. The problem is that secrets can only remain hidden for so long. Tyrese Gibson’s new short film “Shame”; which was produced by Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, embodies all of these emotions. Set in Detroit, Michigan in 1968, Gibson plays Lionel Jacobs, a nightclub singer whose world is rapidly unraveling due to his rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Though he’s married to one of his background singer, Bobbi Ann (Jennifer Hudson), Lionel’s demons and indiscretions are beginning to catch up with him. “Shame” is a quiet film; it allows the audience to indulge in Lionel’s depressing late 1960’s world until it explodes; along with the life that Lionel has built for himself.  It’s a film about moments, reflections and unforeseen consequences.  More than that, “Shame” forces its audience to confront the sins we often try to keep hidden.

Though Gibson first appeared on the big screen in John Singleton’s 2001 film, “Baby Boy”, his most recent projects have been action films like the “Fast and Furious” and “Transformers” franchises, his character Lionel shows a much grittier side of the 36-year old actor. Gibson recently premiered “Shame” overseas at the Aruba International Film Festival.  Here is what he told Shadow and Act.

On the Inspiration Behind the Film:

Well the movie is directly inspired by my song “Shame”, from my most recent solo album, “Black Rose.” I’ve been living with this song and I was in a relationship for five years and when the relationship ended, I was devastated. So, I went in the studio and the first song that I recorded was “Shame.” After living with the song for a long time, all of these characters popped up in my head. Everything that you just saw was in my head, because I played it over and over and over. So, I got the director in place, and I asked Jennifer Hudson who was featured on the song if she would do the movie with me, and that’s when we also landed Denzel Washington. It was really just a labor of love. I tell people all the time, especially my supporters and fans, all of us have great ideas, and all of us are very creative. If you allow ideas to pop up in your head, and then you allow them to go away; or when you talk to people about it and then they laugh at you, you’re stopping yourself from impacting the world. This was in my head and I was obedient. I made it happen and I followed through.

On Lionel’s Faith, Humanity and Demons:

You know it’s interesting; almost all of us have things that we struggle with.  I don’t drink or smoke or anything like that, but I also don’t judge people who do. My mother was an alcoholic for 27 years, so I grew up with drugs and alcohol, and a lot of family in and out of jail. I grew up in the ghetto in South Central, LA so a lot of what you see are images that I was exposed to growing up. I didn’t want this character to be so far away that people can’t relate to him. I wanted Lionel to be relatable. I also wanted people to be able to say, I may have a drinking problem, I may use drugs here and there, but I need to leave it alone because I might end up looking like [Lionel].  It’s that good and that evil that most of us struggle with. That’s why I don’t judge anyone, because good and bad have various levels.  Lionel became very popular in Detroit singing at the nightclub, and his popularity made him powerful.  But then, he became abusive with his power. So, the thing is, we all have power but a lot of people become abusive with their power and that’s who Lionel was. He thought that it was OK to be married to Jennifer Hudson’s character, and to be having an affair with another background singer. He thought it was acceptable. If anyone tried to get in the way of that, he would shoot, stab and kill and then run to Jesus afterward.

On Putting the Film Together:

Well believe it or not, even though it was a short, we shot the film in two days.  Before we got to the set, the director Paul Hunter and I knew exactly what we wanted to do.  We knew what every moment was going to be. On film sets, I’m very aggressive; I don’t like people sitting around. I’m there to work, get it done, and focus. Paul and I have been friends for over 20 years, and he was very instrumental in creating Lionel’s psyche. We watched about 30 movies for inspiration before we even got to the set.  He was like my coach, and he really got me into my zone and got me to focus because I wanted to do something uncomfortable.  I was very nervous because when you create something very different, you’re not sure how people will accept it. I’m just very humbled by the support and love.

On the Writing Process For the Film:

(Laughing) I wrote this movie in my iPhone, and it took me about 11 or 12 minutes.

On “Shame” As A Form of Healing:

You know, I feel like healing is a good analogy. I wasn’t necessarily healing from “Shame”, because [Lionel] isn’t me. That’s not what I do. But, I do feel like it’s a form of healing for people that see it. See, the beautiful thing about movies is the art of them. You get to see yourself in movies. You can relate to it if it reminds you of your mother or your father, or your uncle who might be drunk everyday or abusive. It’s a process, it starts affecting people in a very different way, and that’s when change happens.  You can be talking all day, trying to get through to someone, but until they see it for themselves, the healing process doesn’t start.

On Relating to “Shame” Personally:

There was a time when my mother was drinking so much, I had to cut her off for about a year and a half. She would call me or call people in my circle, but I refused to return her phone calls. She eventually hit rock bottom, and I showed up and she couldn’t believe I was there. I came in the middle of the night and she was stunned. But, that’s when she finally went to rehab.  So sometimes, when you’re always around trying to help, people listen to your voice and what you’re saying becomes no big deal because they get too familiar with your voice. Sometimes you have remove yourself from the situation so that when you do pop up again, they’re ready to listen. My mother has now been sober for almost ten years. So in that way I can relate to the film very personally.

On Preparing For Such A Dark Role:

(Laughing) Well, growing all of my hair out was a part of it.  Yeah, I don’t like hair. So just having facial hair was the start of getting uncomfortable. To be honest, I’m not a method actor. (Actors who literally “become” their characters.) I don’t believe in going quite that far. But, for a very dark role like Lionel, I do place myself in a very uncomfortable space, and I’m not necessarily a lot of fun to be around.  I’m just not going to be in serious space cracking jokes and being my usual self until it’s over. Also, in that scene where my character throws Jennifer Hudson’s character against the wall, my boy was in the room smoking weed. I never smoked, but I was like keep going.  It helped me to get into that zone a bit. (Laughing). It was an uncomfortable role, so I had to go very dark plac to be honest. I had to just pull from my mother, my father and all of the people that I’ve ever been around that have been drunk, high on drugs, physically abusive, in and out of jail. I come from a lot so when I travel and I met people, I still have trouble adjusting to all the love I receive because I come from the bottom. I feel so blessed and I’m reminded that after being in pain, and feeling stuck, God has allowed me to have all of theses wonderful opportunities from around the world.

Watch music video for the song ‘Shame” which inspired the film below.


Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: or tweet her @midnightrami

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