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‘Best Man Holiday’ revives Morris Chestnut’s lure

By Jessica Herndon | 11/22/2013, 6 a.m.
Back in 2012, while filming "The Best Man Holiday,’’ Morris Chestnut and Nia Long became increasingly nostalgic.
Morris Chestnut, Nia Long and the entire original cast of "The Best Man’’ _ Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Harold Perrineau, Regina Hall, Monica Calhoun and Melissa De Sousa _ return in the Christmas-themed ``The Best Man Holiday,’’ now playing.

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Morris Chestnut is more than a movie hunk.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) - Back in 2012, while filming "The Best Man Holiday,’’ Morris Chestnut and Nia Long became increasingly nostalgic.

It had been 14 years since the release of Malcolm D. Lee’s 1999 hit, "The Best Man,’’ and 21 years since the actors were first-time co-stars in John Singleton’s street-life classic "Boyz n the Hood.’’

"There was a moment when we were shooting in a limo and Nia looked at me and said, 'You are a man now!’’’ recalled Chestnut with a chuckle during a recent interview. "We are in such different places in our lives and careers now. We’re fortunate to still be here.’’

Chestnut, Long and the entire original cast of "The Best Man’’ _ Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Harold Perrineau, Regina Hall, Monica Calhoun and Melissa De Sousa _ return in the Christmas-themed "The Best Man Holiday,’’ now playing.

Although other follow-up films have come years after their originals - September’s "Riddick,’’ for example - the long-awaited "Best Man’’ reunion is a relatively rare feat, especially for a predominantly African American cast.

"When the DVD market went down (in 2009), there were less and less urban movies getting made,’’ said Chestnut of the lack of black ensemble films. "Tyler Perry was the only one really making (these) movies.’’

Lee, "The Best Man Holiday’s’’ writer-director, struggled to get his sequel backed by a studio. The heartbreaking nature of the story-line, which was far from the jolly tale distributors were expecting, didn’t help his cause.

Still, Universal Pictures went for the film, but only after the entire cast came to the studio for a reading.

"They understood what the movie was and what it could be,’’ said Lee of the studio’s response to the reading. "However, we know it’s hard to get people to go see a film with a primarily black cast that doesn’t star Will Smith or Denzel Washington.’’

With advanced good word-of-mouth, the film busted out of the gate with a $30.6 million opening last week only succumbing to the already blockbuster hit “Thor: The Dark World”. The box office take surprised Universal and Hollywood observers.

When Chestnut portrayed Ricky Baker in 1991’s "Boyz n the Hood,’’ he became a talked-about young actor on the rise. After landing a few supporting parts in films like "The Inkwell’’ and "G.I. Jane,’’ he won leading roles in "The Brothers’’ and "Two Can Play That Game’’ and was soon type-cast as the heartthrob.

"At the time, I didn’t realize I was doing all romantic comedies,’’ said Chestnut. "But I’d go to set and not really respect what I was doing. I didn’t see it as a challenge. It was like, 'Go sit there and kiss Vivica Fox. Go sit there and joke with Gabrielle Union.’’’

Though he became a household name among African-Americans, Chestnut didn’t have the box office draw of a Smith or Washington.

"I woke up one day and was like, 'OK, I had fun, but I didn’t really fit anything meaningful in there,’’ Chestnut said. "It was a lesson learned.’’