Legendary Actor and Filmmaker Robert Townsend Stars in Playin For Love

Legendary Actor and Filmmaker Robert Townsend Stars in Playin’ For Love
An interview with Robert Townsend
Interviewed and written by Aaron Robinson - Editor
Photos courtesy of UPtv
Extensively known for creating classic films such as The Five Heartbeats and Hollywood Shuffle, filmmaker Robert Townsend will star in the UPtv premier Playin’ for Love, in which he directed, produced and co-wrote with Michelle Amor and Cheryl L. West.
Playin’ for Love is a romantic comedy about life and basketball. Robert Townsend plays Coach Niven Banks, a high school coach who gets a superstar player, where as the mother of the superstar player tries to take over his team. The film also stars Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Jenifer Lewis, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Esai Morales.
In the future, Robert Townsend looks forward to remaking the movie Brewster’s Millions. I (Consciousness Magazine) had the opportunity to interview a man of integrity and humbleness. Here is what the legend, Robert Townsend, had to share regarding his latest movie Playin’ for Love, which will premiere on the UPtv on Sunday, July 12 at 7 p.m. EDT / 6 p.m. PDT.
Aaron Robinson: Hey Mr. Robert Townsend, it’s an honor to interview you sir.
Robert Townsend: Aw man, thank you for taking time to talk with me! It’s an honor. Whatever you want to ask me, I’m here.
Aaron: You play Coach Niven Banks in the UPN movie Playin’ for Love. To you, what was special about playing this role?
Robert: It brought together a couple of loves of mines. I love basketball and I love that side of it. There’s a movie I grew up on called Claudine about a single mother. Diahann Carroll is in it with James Earl Jones. I always wanted to do a love story about a single mother and a guy…an unusual love story. It brought together the need that I had to tell a story, a love story.
Aaron: You starred, directed, produced and co-wrote the film Playin’ for Love. As a filmmaker, you wear so many hats, how do you keep everything balanced?
Robert: Anytime you create, you gotta have a great team. It really was the team around me, my DP, John Demps who always keeps it together… Lydia Nicole, my producer. When you really have a good team, it makes life easier. The real beauty of this team is that it was done in the community. This film went into the hood of Overtown and it’s really hit by a lot of violence. I got the students together of Overtown, 20 kids, plus another 30 kids from the University of Miami and we all kinda came together. [I taught] them how to make a movie and we made a movie together. One part is parliament to see. The kids got to be in the movie. Some got speaking parts and some are extras. The film couldn’t be made if the community didn’t come together and make it happen.
Aaron: What type of gratification did you receive from being a part of these kids life at the moment?
Robert: You know, when I think about the kids…I come from the Westside of Chicago. The neighborhood that I came from was really a rough neighborhood. I think it’s needed to have mentors that can give hope to kids because you never know who those kids are going to be. I was one of those kids. I think I turned out okay, but it was a lot of people that helped me, supported me and believed in me. And I think for me as an artist, it’s important to give back.
Aaron: As you mentioned earlier, the film was shot in Overtown, Miami, which is one of the roughest neighborhoods in Miami. Why did you choose this neighborhood to shoot and what was your experience like filming there?
Robert: I’ve been working with the American Black Film Festival for 19 years now. What happened is that we were at South Beach at the Ritz- Carlton Hotel. The former commissioner, Michelle Spence-Jones, she approached me and said, “Hey Robert, in Overtown all these kids are dying from violence and gangs. If you can teach them about making a movie, it will give kids hope. If you can come into the community, it will give them some hope.” I said, “I will teach them and we can make a movie!” That’s how it all started. It was really all her idea. I just lined up and said, “Hey, it’s whatever I can do to help the kids because I come from a neighborhood like this.” 
Aaron: What was some of the most valuable information that you shared with the youth regarding how to make a film?
Robert: One thing is that… like this one girl, she started crying the day I interviewed her. She said, “Nothing really ever happens in my neighborhood. This is the first thing that happened in my neighborhood that’s good.” She said, “Today is the anniversary of when one of my friends was killed in front of me.” She then starts crying. I was like wow! She said, “This means a lot that’s you’re here.” I think for the kids, one part of it was that you have the Hollywood people in their community walking down the street and eating at the restaurants. It kind of makes them look at their dreams and say, I can do that! I could, if I put my mind to it I could win. I think a part of what I really wanted to do was hopefully inspire and give the kids some hope and the young adults there as well. I think we were successful.
Aaron: You also worked with a great cast. What was your experience like working with Salli Richardson-Whitfield and the rest of the talented cast?
Robert: Salli is an amazing actor, she is really good! She’s a wonderful individual; she’s wonderful in the movie. Jenifer Lewis is on “Black-ish.” She just makes you laugh all day long. Esai Morales gave me a cameo in the film. It was just great to have him to be a part of it. I’m truly honored that Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs agreed to be a part of the film because it was his movie Claudine that made me want to do a movie like this.
Aaron: What may viewers expect or connect with from watching the film?
Robert: It has morals and values. It’s funny, it’s touching, [and displays] some of the things the kids are going through right now. I think in a lot of ways, it’s a film for now. It’s a classic love story in a lot of other ways. It’s gonna make you laugh, it’s gonna touch your heart.
Aaron: I had the opportunity to interview Isiah Thomas numerous times and also do media for him at several of his events in the past. He is a great guy. While doing my research I noticed that he is one of the executive producers. Would you like to elaborate on this?
Robert: Isiah, I gotta say this; he has such a big heart! To tell the truth, we grew up in the same neighborhood, so we share that similar background growing up in the inner-city, understanding all the struggles of a kid trying to grow up around there. I think the beautiful thing with him coming aboard as Executive Producer is when he had basketball tryouts; he took the kids through NBA drills. Everybody wanted to help out and try to make the movie. The Miami Heat’s, Pat Riley gave us the American Airlines Arena to have basketball tryouts in. We had close to 5000 kids that came out to tryouts. They all got a chance to run on the Miami Heat floor and Isiah took them through basketball drills and that was the most amazing thing. He also talked to his friend at the American Federation of Teachers and got them to come onboard to help make the film. So he’s truly a man of character, because of course, his heart is sewed into it.
Aaron: Do you have any advice for upcoming actors, directors, producers, etc., who are looking to make a living in any of the above mentioned?
Robert: The thing that I would say to anybody that wants to be in show business is you gotta have a passion for it; you gotta love it. I guess the true thing is you can’t do anything but be in it. If you really want it, there is no other option. I think that sometimes people get a little discouraged because things don’t go as they would like them to go. I think a part of that is really understanding you’re gonna have ups and you’re gonna have downs. If you can have the same joy in your heart when things go wrong as you have when things go right, you’re always gonna win.
Aaron: Would you like to add anything in closing before we end the interview?
Robert: You know, I really want the film to be well. I want many people to tune into the UP channel when it premiers on this Sunday. I’m really proud of the movie.
Aaron: Mr. Townsend, it was an honor to speak with you sir! I really appreciate you.
Robert: Thank you so much!
For more information on the UPtv premiere visit www.UPtv.com
Follow Robert Townsend on Twitter: @Robert_Townsend
The document Believe captures behind-the-scene making of the film Playin’ For Love. To watch the trailer and to donate to support the completion of the film visit www.Believedocumentary.com


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