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Kevin Phillips: 'Notorious' Newcomer

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Most might remember Kevin Phillips as the around-the-way brother who took a plunge as the inner city swimmer in "Pride" opposite Terrence Howard. Nowadays, the Brooklyn native has been making waves on the big screen and most recently in the biopic "Notorious," which chronicles the life of Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace. Phillips portrays Mark Pitts, Biggie's manager and friend, who was just as instrumental as Diddy in putting him on the map. ESSENCE.com caught up with Phillips to discuss his "big brother" Mark, why he initially shunned the film, and what's next for him.

ESSENCE.COM: Congrats on the film. You portray Mark Pitts, Biggie's manager and friend. What did you learn about their relationship from this film?
KEVIN PHILLIPS
: Coming up in Brooklyn, I'd always heard Mark Pitts's name associated with Ciara and Chris Brown. When I started inquiring about this film, the one thing I discovered about their relationship from Ms. Wallace was that Christopher and Mark were like brothers. I think people will see that during the car scene where they realize they share a similar experience which becomes very emotional. That is the moment that they truly connected and formed an eternal bond.

ESSENCE.COM: What did you learn about Mark Pitts?
PHILLIPS
: I didn't know how influential Mark was, but as I got to know him, I grew to love him like a big brother. Everybody knows what Puff did, but no one truly knows what Mark contributed to Biggie's legacy. Mark has a high moral fiber, he's honest, vulnerable and loving and he'll always have a fair exchange with you. We always joke because we're so much alike and call one another "Mr. Sensitivity." I used to deny it all the time and put on that manly persona, but I can cry and become emotional when I'm being an artist and I might even have a moment in the corner.

ESSENCE.COM: You've appeared in great films such as "Pride." Sometimes urban films have a stigmatism to them. Were you concerned about doing an urban film about a hip-hop legend?
PHILLIPS:
Honestly, I didn't want to do the project because I felt that I was up and coming and trying to build a brand and didn't know who was involved in the project and I wanted tomake sure that I was doing a project that was going to be respected across the board. They wanted me to play the role of Puffy and I didn't think that was right because I look nothing like him. I get a call from the casting director who says, "So you gonna just let Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie do this film without you." Once I heard who was involved I flew myself to New York for the audition. When Jamal and I read together it was magic.

ESSENCE.COM: Indeed. Well, what's the one thing folks might be surprised to learn about you?
PHILLIPS
: I clench jaws. It's a habit I've had for a long time and you can hear my teeth grinding. And I've always been a confident person; it's a part of my swagger. Also, I want to start a fatherless foundation to help those children who might need encouragement and [guidance]. No disrespect to my father, because we have a cool relationship now, but growing up it was me, my siblings and my mom. I carry that on my shoulder and I want to use my talent to help others.

ESSENCE.COM: Gotta have swagger in Hollywood. What do you hope your legacy will be?
PHILLIPS
: Well, everyone should have a prototype and my first prototype was Denzel Washington, but now that I've gotten to know him and Will Smith, if I can bridge that gap betweent their talents and become that actor, I know I can do so many other things.

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