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Close-Up With Morris Chestnut

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He's what chocolate dreams are made of -- flawless Godiva-rich complexion, barrel chest, pearly whites and succulent lips. Morris Chestnut is an actor in demand and he's taking it all in stride. At MTV's Manhattan studios, his gear is casual chic -- buttery black leather pant with a sky-blue, V-neck sweater that seemingly caresses his chiseled six-foot physique. And in the midst of the media frenzy surrounding his latest project, The Brothers (it opened in theaters nationwide March 23rd), Chestnut is pleasant and laid-back.

And oh, did I mention fine? Undoubtedly, Chestnut has blossomed since his debut as the doomed high-school athlete Ricky Baker in John Singleton's 1991 breakthrough flick, Boyz N the Hood. And if that screen credit doesn't jar your memory, how about Patti LaBelle's television series Out All Night, and 1999's blockbuster The Best Man, which garnered him a NAACP Image Award nomination?

Now, the 31-year-old Morris stars with Bill Bellamy, D.L. Hughley and Shemar Moore in the romantic comedy that chronicles the lives of four successful Black men as they navigate through love, marriage and commitment. ESSENCE.com recently kicked it with Chestnut, talking about his current role, relationships and how he manages to keep a job in this manic industry.

You play Jackson Smith, a brother who has a fear of commitment. Can you relate to him or do you think he's just trippin'?

[Laughs] No, I can relate to Jackson and the rest of the characters except Bill Bellamy's [the resident woman-hater]. Honestly, I brought my life experiences to the movie. I love that Jackson shows his vulnerability. Women don't know it, but [most] brothers are like, 'Oh, I'm cool; it's all good' and then go home and cry. It's great you get to see it in this movie.

Naturally, the ladies want to know if there's someone special in your life and if so, what do you love most about her?

That question gets asked quite a bit, but yes, there is someone special. [During our chat on April 3, the Hollywood hunk said he's married.] I admire a lot of wit, sensitivity, honesty and intelligence; I admire those things even among my male friends -- not to the point that I'm attracted to them or anything, but I think I'm just prone to being around people who are smart, witty and respectful.

What don't you like about being in front of the camera?


I love acting and the lifestyle it affords me, but I don't enjoy a lot of stuff that comes with it. The difficult part is I'm a shy person -- almost to the point of being introverted -- doing interviews and photo shoots are difficult for me. But I combat my shyness by hiding behind the characters and expressing feelings I would normally repress.

You're a 10-year veteran in this game. What's your secret for longevity?

A lot of times, people come out in a hit movie and then they fall by the wayside. It could have happened to me because Boyz N the Hood was my first movie and it was successful. You start thinking, 'Hey, this is easy,' and you get complacent instead of working on your craft. So, when it happened to me I said, 'Man, things aren't going the way I want', but I never blamed anyone else. Instead I said, 'Let me look at me and what I can do to sustain my career'. And I decided I needed to get better as an actor, and that's what I did. I started reading books on acting and focused on my work. I reevaluated me rather than feel sorry for myself. It's tough, but it's important [to hone your craft].

When's the next time we can catch you on the big screen?

I'm doing The Killing Fields (early this fall), the Showtime collaboration about the Attica prison riots, How to Make Your Man Behave in Ten Days or Less (early fall) with Vivica A. Fox and Anthony Anderson and Scene of the Crime (no release date) with Jeff Bridges and Noah Riley. So, I'll be pretty busy this fall.

Credit: © Suzanne Hanover
Morris Chestnut and Gabrielle Union in The Brothers.

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