Interview: Rob Brown

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On the strength of that performance, the talented teenager was hired to co-star with Samuel L. Jackson in Coach Carter. What is rather remarkable is that his first two pictures met with both box-office success and critical acclaim. In fact, each earned a spot on my annual Top Ten List. Currently, Rob is a senior at prestigious Amherst College, located in western Massachusetts.

Then 16 year-old Rob Brown burst on the scene in 2000 when he made a most-impressive screen debut in Finding Forrester, holding his own opposite a trio of Academy Award-winners in Sean Connery, Anna Paquin, and F. Murray Abraham. The Harlem-born high school student had never even acted before, and landed the role after answering a casting call for extras.

On the strength of that performance, the talented teenager was hired to co-star with Samuel L. Jackson in Coach Carter. What is rather remarkable is that his first two pictures met with both box-office success and critical acclaim. In fact, each earned a spot on my annual Top Ten List. Currently, Rob is a senior at prestigious Amherst College, located in western Massachusetts. He recently took a little time out from his hectic schedule to share his thoughts on third full-length feature, Take the Lead, a bio-pic starring Antonio Banderas as Pierre Dulaine, a ballroom dance teacher who in real life started a popular program which offers free lessons to poor kids in the New York City public schools.

BSN: How’s Amherst?
RB: It’s going well. Hopefully, I’ll be done soon.

BSN: What are you majoring in, drama?
RB: No, psychology.

BSN: I’m located in Princeton. Did you consider attending Princeton?
RB: I actually did. I visited and I liked it. The campus is beautiful. But the school was a little big. Amherst is a smaller school.

BSN: Are you planning to go to grad school or will you focus on acting after college?
RB: I have no idea. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing in the next five minutes, let alone after I graduate.

BSN: I know you played basketball and football in high school, but I assume between acting and classes, you’re not playing sports at Amherst.
RB: I’m on the football team. I play wideout.

BSN: Whoa, where do you find the time do everything?
RB: I really don’t know. To tell you the truth, I have a ton of schoolwork to do when I get back. I’ve been juggling it all pretty well so far. I just try to focus on the task at hand.

BSN: I almost feel guilty for asking you for an interview. How was it on the set making Take the Lead?
RB: I enjoyed it tremendously. I had a real good time, and I walked away with a lot of new friends.

BSN: And how was it working opposite Yaya DaCosta, who plays your dance partner?
RB: That was great. Obviously, she did a fine job. The whole cast got along well and got real tight. So, we’ve all stayed in touch.

BSN: You grew up in New York City. Did you attend a public school that had a ballroom dancing program like the one in the movie?
RB: No.

BSN: Had you acted at all before you tried out for Finding Forrester
RB: No, no, I never did any school plays or anything like that.

BSN: So, how did you even hear about the role?
RB: I actually got a flyer in the mail through a program that I was involved with at the time.

BSN: What was it like for you when that film came out?
RB: It was exciting and surreal at times, obviously, but I was still just in high school. It didn’t get crazy, because I had to all the things that high school kids do.

BSN: In Take the Lead, how did you decide how to play your character, Rock?
RB: I just drew on growing up in New York.

BSN: Is he a lot like you then?
RB: I’m not a lot like rock, but I know kids who are, and I used to see them every day. I had my own vision, but it was also a collaboration with Liz. [director Liz Friedlander] It all came about after sitting down with her to make sure we were on the same page.

BSN: There’s a lot of dancing in this movie. Do you have a dance background?
RB: No, I go out and party, but that’s about it.

BSN: So, how much time did they spend teaching you ballroom dancing?
RB: First, I spent a week in New York during my Spring Break and worked with Pierre for five hours a day. And then when we got up to Toronto, we rehearsed eight hours a day for three weeks.

BSN: So, Pierre himself worked with the cast. What’s he like?
RB: He’s a great guy, very polite, courteous, and caring about people. And whenever you’re in a room with him, you definitely know he’s there. He has a real presence about him. He has a way of commanding respect without demanding it.

BSN: He’s not the sort of guy you would expect to encounter in the ‘hood.
RB: Pierre really does walk through the ‘hood to get to the schools where he teaches.

BSN: How does this film compare to Mad Hot Ballroom, the documentary this movie is based on?
RB: The difference is that Mad Hot Ballroom was more about the kids, and this one was more about Pierre’s journey, though it’s also about the kids, too.

BSN: Do you have any advice for aspiring actors who want to follow in your footsteps?
RB: I guess it’s kind of hard to follow in my footsteps, because I don’t know really how I got into all this. I tell people, at the very least, to be resilient. Don’t give up is the best advice I have to offer. Everybody who I know in this industry has a different story. There’s no formula to it.

BSN: Both of your first two movies made my annual Top Ten List. What’s the secret of your success?
RB: I don’t know what it is, but hopefully, it’ll keep working.

BSN: Well, all I can say in closing is the same thing Sean Connery said to you in Finding Forrester, “You’re the man now, dog!�
RB: Well, thank you.


Speaking Truth To Empower.� To contact The Black Star News write editor@blackstarnews.com or call (212) 481-7745. Subscribe to this newspaper and advertise to build power.

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