Actor Morris Chestnut has welcomed a new challenge as executive producer and star of his latest film, “Not Easily Broken,” based on the best-selling novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes. In the movie, Chestnut plays Dave, a struggling plumber with a golden spirit who wants nothing more than to be everything to his wife and their future children. The challenges that ensue between Dave and wife Clarice (Taraji P. Henson) are what allows us to examine the ties that bind relationships. ESSENCE.com caught up with Chestnut to find out how he got involved with the film and how he keeps his own relationship tight.
ESSENCE.COM: How did you get to be the lead and executive producer of this project?
MORRIS CHESTNUT: I was doing a play in New York at the time and Bishop Jakes came to see it. He had a deal with Sony to make the film and I have a good relationship with the studio, so I was able to read the script and enjoyed it. He came out to New York and we had dinner and decided we’d work together. I’ve admired Bishop Jakes and respected him for years now. He’s a global icon and having the opportunity to work with him was something I was looking forward to. He also allowed me to be an executive producer on this movie, so it was also the ability and opportunity to grow beyond just being an actor and expand and diversify on what I want to do in this industry.
ESSENCE.COM: You have two very strong women in the movie—Taraji P. Henson playing your wife and Jenifer Lewis playing your mother-in-law. What was it like working with both of them?
CHESTNUT: Taraji was phenomenal. It’s funny when you make a movie, you have your wish list of the things and people you want. At the top of my wish list for a director was Bill Duke and Taraji Henson to play Clarice. She never complained. She was there on time. There were never any diva moments. She was extremely professional. I don’t have enough good things to say about her. Now, we met with several actresses, but Jenifer Lewis was at that top of our list as well. She was one of the people that we didn’t think that we’d be able to afford because her body of work is so extensive. But we found the money and obviously are very happy because she’s able to impact every single scene she’s in. Jenifer and Taraji have one of the most impactful scenes in the movie so we were just fortunate to have them both.
ESSENCE.COM: There’s a part in the movie where your character Dave has a close encounter with his wife’s physical therapist. Were you at all worried about including that scene?
CHESTNUT: You’re the first person to ask about that. It’s kind of the pink elephant in the room. You know, that was a big issue, and until the week prior to shooting that scene, we weren’t sure which way to go. We didn’t know if Dave was going to kiss Julie or not. We were taking polls on the set, asking women what they thought. We really had no idea, but I think it turned out for the best.
ESSENCE.COM: You’ve been married for 11 years. What’s your secret to making it work?
CHESTNUT: Communication, and I don’t just talk about it, I live by it. I’ve always been the kind of person to really watch and learn from other people. When you’re dealing with people you care about it’s important to keep that line of communication open so people don’t harbor things for so long that they become angry and bitter. Communication is one of the strong suits that has kept us together all these years.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s the ultimate message of the movie?
CHESTNUT: I think it’s perseverance. Anything worth having is worth working for and sometimes that takes hard work. Nothing comes easily in life, especially right now where people are losing their homes and jobs.