Most women swoon over his masculinity and sexiness, but Morris Chestnut’s quiet nature makes him more of a guy next door than an Adonis. After 16 years of film credits, Chestnut, who has starred in cult classics such as The Best Man and The Brothers admits he’s still trying to find his way as an actor and producer. This month, the former bank teller-turned-thespian co-stars in The Perfect Holiday, a feel-good Christmas tale about the power of love and family. Essence.com talked to the actor about dodging urban romantic dramedies, the stigma of off-Broadway plays and his so-called divorce.
Essence.com: In The Perfect Holiday, you play Santa Claus. As a father, have you ever dressed up as St. Nick?
Morris Chestnut: (Laughs) Oh nooooo, I’ve never gone that far! I give them gifts like Santa Claus, but I’ve never dressed the part. I love seeing their faces when they open up their gifts. The holiday is all about the kids, family and the good feeling you get, just like the movie.
Essence.com: We’re happy to see you and Gabrielle Union reunited on-screen for a fourth time. How was it this time around?
M.C.: Aside from her obvious good looks, she’s a good person. That’s important because a lot of times you are working 12 to 14 hour days and she just makes it easy.
Essence.com: In ESSENCE’s December issue, Gabrielle admits that while you and she could continue to do romantic comedies and pay the bills, it would stifle her growth as an artist. Do you agree?
M.C.: I’ve been making movies since 1991. I’ve seen a lot of people come and a lot of people go, and just to still have the opportunity to be making movies is a blessing.
Essence.com: So do you feel typecast?
M.C.: Yeah, of course. When you think of an urban romantic comedy, you think of Morris Chestnut. But when you are a struggling artist you just want to be recognized. You want the studios to take notice of you. So once they take notice of me as this romantic leading guy, for me to then say, ‘I wish they wouldn’t take notice of me that way,’ is...well, let’s just say I feel that I’m blessed for them to notice me at all.
Essence.com: Understood. So are there any roles you regret doing?
M.C.: (Laugh) Well, without being specific, there are movies and things as an artist you don’t believe turned out the best. Hollywood doesn’t set out to make a bad movie, but sometimes there are so many chefs in the kitchen that the projects don’t always turn out the best. People have pitched roles and you read the script and it sounds great, but they don’t execute it well. There are still things I’d like to accomplish. I feel I could get better as an actor.
Essence.com: There’s a stigma associated with off-Broadway plays. A lot of folk are thinking, ‘His career is over!’ Has your role as star and producer in Love in The Nick of Tyme had a negative impact on your career?
M.C.: Yeah, that’s the funny thing about [doing those plays]. It was easy for me to do because when I did that, I had three movies out, including a supporting role opposite The Rock, the lead role in Holiday, and then I produced and starred in another movie that will be out next year. It was just an opportunity to try. I had never given it a try before.
Essence.com: Hot! Which film are you producing?
M.C.: I produce and star in a Screen Gems film called Not Easily Broken. It’s an inspirational love story, co-starring Taraji P. Henson, who plays my wife, Jenifer Lewis, Kevin Hart and Wood Harris.
Essence.com: You’ve been married 11 years now with two children. As a husband and father, do you have a hard time balancing career and family?
M.C.: There’s a lot of downtime in-between films, so I like to be at home. I’m not hanging out at the club.
Essence.com: So is that the secret to ensuring your privacy?
M.C.: Most definitely. To be quite honest, a lot of celebrities want their home life and what they do off-set to be public because people strongly believe that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, in other words, any publicity is good publicity. I always wanted my personal life to be private and my work life to be public.
Essence.com: You have a daughter, 9, and son, 10. Have either of them been bitten by the acting bug?
M.C.: My daughter is expressing interest but she’s too young. This industry is tough for adults to deal with, let alone children, so she’s gonna have to wait until she’s done with high school before I would really let her pursue.
Essence.com: It’s no secret that the ladies love them some Morris Chestnut. Do you have any stalker tales to share?
M.C.: No, I’m not out a lot, so when people do see me, it’s really brief. I don’t get myself into situations where I can’t get out of it. If I go to the mall, I’ll go in on the side that I know is closest to the store I’m going to. And if I sense that it could get crazy if they recognize me, I’ll just leave.
Essence.com: What’s the wildest rumor you’ve heard about yourself, and how did you confront it?
M.C.: I heard I was getting divorce. People were calling me from all across the country telling me about it. A local radio DJ said it and I called into that station and just set the record straight.
Essence.com: How did the missus take it?
M.C.: (Laugh) She didn’t really care for it too much. I tried to explain to her that you can’t really confirm or deny every single rumor, but I definitely spoke out on that one.
Essence.com: What do you hope your legacy will be?
M.C.: I got into this business because I thought I’d enjoy the lifestyle it would allow me to lead.
Essence.com: Now that’s honesty anyone can appreciate. You didn’t give a rehearsed response speech about how you did it for the love of the craft...
M.C.: Nah, it was never about that for me. But it’s time I start thinking more about my legacy.