Laugh if you want to, but funnyman Cedric the Entertainer is making serious power moves. His recent cinematic turn as Willie Dixon, one of the pioneering songwriters and musicians for the rock ‘n’ roll and blues era in “Cadillac Records,” is subtle yet effective. The actor and comedian continues to charter new territory on the big screen and will make his first directorial debut in an indie film next year. ESSENCE.COM caught up with the Ced to discuss his pseudo guitar skills, the economy’s affect on Broadway and his respect for New York women’s hustle.
ESSENCE.COM: Congrats on “Cadillac Records.” Your character Willie Dixon serves as the narrator for the film. What do you think is the significance of this film?
CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER: Besides great music, it captures the struggles that Black musicians went through back then. I love the idea of offering the perfect balance, because you have such a serious movie yet the complexity of the characters and their [plights] allowed us to get a glimpse of how these bluesmen had real lives, real problems but also enjoyed themselves, especially my character, who really loved music.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you think today’s artists will relate to this film?
CEDRIC: In this movie, it’s easy to make the parallel between the White businessowner who takes advantage of the people who are creating the art. To a certain degree, there was give and take. Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright’s character) had the experience of doing business with the owner of Chess Records (Leonard Chess, Adrien Brody’s character) as his artist and business partner, but he didn’t really care to learn the business. I think that’s one of the great lessons this movie offers, it shows how it all happens. Artists expect the record execs to take care of them, and then when business gets slower, they don’t understand why it’s not flowing the same way. They are too caught up in the bling-bling and extra goodies but don’t understand the cost that comes from somewhere. You can pay people what they earned in Cadillacs rather than Benjamins. It wasn’t just unfair to the artist, but the label owner also took some hits.
ESSENCE.COM: So you demonstrated some musicianship in the film. Did you learn how to play the bass?
CEDRIC: (Laughs.) Hell naw! I couldn’t do the main bassline. I learned three notes and I played them on every song and it never changed: doom-doom-doom. But everybody sang for real and learned how to play instruments. Columbus played the harmonica and Jeffrey the guitar. We had a few jam sessions.
ESSENCE.COM: That’s hot! Well, turning to some of your other projects, you recently appeared on Broadway in “American Buffalo,” but it was cancelled. What do you think happened?
CEDRIC: Between tough economic times and one bad review, that was all it took. This reviewer didn’t like the direction the play had taken and after that review the producers got scared with the financial crisis and it was a wrap. The play came and went so fast, like the next day after the reveiw was posted. But I’ll definitely do another Broadway play. The experience was great and I loved living in New York.
ESSENCE.COM: Exactly what do you love about the Big Apple and its women?
CEDRIC: It’s so much of a challenge. Everybody is moving and has something going on. In New York, you can get something done, but in Los Angeles that’s a waiting town. You call somebody and have to wait a few days before you get a response. Not in the NYC; it’s like, let’s get it done. That kind of pulse and speed motivates you and has you fired up, because of all the great energy, this town is very industrious. And the ladies? Well, they are all beautiful and they aren’t waiting for some dude to take care of them, because they are hustling and handling their own business. They buy their own drinks and they have the fly boots, purses, stockings and that kind of power is sexy. I just love the energy of it all!