ED GORDON, host:
Usher Raymond is a superstar in the world of music. But this young, ambitious Grammy Award-winning artist has his sights set on much more. He's pursuing a film career and has just taken on his first starring role in a new movie called "In the Mix." He plays Darrell, a New York deejay who, after an act of bravery, is offered a job watching over a gangster's beautiful daughter.
(Soundbite of "In the Mix")
Mr. USHER RAYMOND: (As Darrell Williams): So let me get this straight. You want me to drive Dolly? Go wherever she goes?
Mr. CHAZZ PALMINTERI: (As Frank Pacelli): I can understand if you say no, Darrell. I mean, it's a very dangerous situation here.
Mr. RAYMOND: (As Darrell Williams) And I'd live here? And I'd be on call 24/7.
Mr. PALMINTERI: (As Frank Pacelli) Right. Of course, you'd be taken care of, but all the money in the world won't mean much if you're dead.
Mr. RAYMOND: (As Darrell Williams) I'd be a like her muscle?
Mr. PALMINTERI: (As Darrell Williams) Well, more like her human shield. And it won't be groupies coming at you. It'll be guys with guns.
Mr. RAYMOND: (As Darrell Williams) OK. I'm here.
GORDON: I spoke with Usher recently, and we recalled an interview we did many years ago. His ascension to superstardom had just begun, and he told me about the big dreams he had for himself.
Mr. RAYMOND: I can specifically remember an interview where I was bouncing all over the place. You know, `You sure do have great energy, you just all over the place.' I'm like, `Yeah, man, got a lot to be happy about. I'm allowed to do this and this and this.' And everything that I'd ever spoke of based off of the hard work that I knew I had to put behind it, you know, I knew that there was a payoff. So, you know, the fact that now I'm taking a new step into the acting world, you know, I'm headed down that road of someday going after that Oscar, man. You know, it starts--you know, who knows where it's going to start? Who knows where it's going to happen? But if you just look at the musical career that I've had and in 10 years what I've done, I only hope that, you know, within the next 10 years as an actor, I'll be able to obtain a great amount of success and awards for it.
GORDON: You know what I admire most you, man? You, unlike a lot of people who might be musicians, singers, etc., who want to go into acting, they simply say, `Hey, you know, I want to become an actor.' You set your sights high and say, `Look, I want to become a great actor and win an award, an Academy Award.'
Mr. RAYMOND: I had this goal called the Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Emmy. If I can get all of those, that makes the connection, man.
GORDON: Let's talk about the new project, "In the Mix." I was watching--"Lady Sings the Blues" came out on DVD last week, and I was watching that. And it was really a vehicle particularly for white America to find that matinee image in Billy Dee Williams. And this has been set up, I think, based on your throngs of female followers, as a vehicle for you not only to show your acting chops but to set up that matinee idol thing for you. Talk to me about the project.
Mr. RAYMOND: And along with the demographic of women that have endorsed me as an artist or as an entertainer, there's also, you know, adults. There's also senior citizens, believe it or not, and kids that go down to the age of about five to six years old. So I wanted to create a film that everybody, all color, race and creed, would be able to, you know, get something from, especially during Thanksgiving season in America, man. You know, and also kind of touch on a few of the issues that we deal with as blacks and Italians. You know, both being minorities, but yet we've had so much frustration between Italians to African-Americans and even African-Americans to Italians. But this is truly not a story about race. It's about love and how love is colorless.
And sometimes when you're making other plans, life happens, you know? I can contest to this, you know, the fact that, you know, I've for so long have been, you know, in pursuit of my dreams, I never even factored in a woman, you know, a marriage, someone that would complete my circle. That's what happens with this character. You know, he has it all made up. You know, 26 years old, deejay, doing his thing, trying to get hisself started and get a label started and finds himself caught in a situation where he goes in the total opposite direction, but he finds himself in doing it.
GORDON: It's been an interesting mix to watch you have an image that has become for many young ladies and old ladies too one that is based on the sex symbol image of Usher, yet you've not gone so far over the edge with that that it has become, as is all too commonplace for an old cat like me, too terribly vulgar. Is that conscious?
Mr. RAYMOND: Well, I'd say the coolest part about it is guys can get away with a little bit more than girls. You know what I mean?
Mr. RAYMOND: You know, but, I mean, I don't plan on every doing anything too vulgar. You know, all of this is an expression of creativity. You know, music--music has, you know, many tiers to it, whether it's, you know, intimately sexual between, you know, whoever you're talking to in your music, you know?
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. RAYMOND: (Singing) I just want to take it nice and slow.
But I've been very conscious to not go too far to the left. And, you know, I'd say the coolest part about acting is that I'm totally stepping outside of my character. And people know what at the end of the day, you know what I mean?
GORDON: Do you feel a responsibility, though, to hold up a image for black men because there are so few, quote, "positive images" for us out there?
Mr. RAYMOND: Yeah. And that's part of the reason why I decided not to go for, you know, too much of a hard image, you know, never to pick up a gun in the piece, you know. But yet it's there. This film is about the mob and my betrayal of Chazz Palminteri's character and getting involved with his daughter. But yet I still remained aware and conscious to not go too far left or go for the stereotype. There's so many films that, you know--when black actors do black films, it's either violence or something like that. You know, I just think that it's important to broaden the overall view of us as black males and as black females, man, you know? And I do not discredit films that are, you know, more violent because that is some people's story. But for the most part, like this season, this Thanksgiving season, this will be a film that everybody can enjoy and they'll walk away feeling like, `Oh, well, I don't feel like there was enough edge in the film.' No, there's just enough. It's not so edgy that it's too much. And the ladies get a little bit, too, you know what I mean? Everybody walks away happy.
GORDON: All right. The new movie is "In the Mix"...
Mr. RAYMOND: That's right.
GORDON: ...starring Usher. Hey, man, good to talk to you.
Mr. RAYMOND: No doubt about it.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. RAYMOND: (Singing) Up in the club with my homies, tryin' to get a lil' V-I, but keep it down in the low key...
GORDON: "In the Mix" opens in theaters tomorrow.
(Soundbite of "Yeah!")
Mr. RAYMOND: (Singing) I saw shorty, she was checkin' up on me, from the game she was spittin' in my ear, you would think she knew me. So we decided to chill. Conversation...
GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.
Mr. RAYMOND: (Singing) "Come get me," so I got up and followed her to the floor, she said "Baby, let's go,' that's when I told her I said, yeah...
GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.