Actors Alexandra Shipp, Jordan Calloway and Letoya Luckett discussed their latest film “Drumline: A New Beat,” which will air on VH1 on Monday, October 27 at 9 p.m.
Film Synopsis: “Drumline: A New Beat” will capture the sound and spirit of the first film while welcoming a whole new class to the Atlanta A & T drumline. The new story is all about girl power; it follows Danielle “Dani” Raymond (Alexandra Shipp), an upper class Brooklyn girl who defies her parents in order to attend Atlanta A & T so she can join – and revitalize – their once-prominent drumline. Dani’s quest to become the first female section leader will be hampered by upperclassmen, including her cousin Tyree (Jeff Pierre), her feelings for fellow bandmate and rival Jayven (Jordan Calloway), and the school’s crosstown competitors. Tasha (Jasmine Burke) and Josh (Scott Shilstone) round out the freshmen drumline and bring their own ambitions to the field. Sean Taylor (Leonard Roberts) from the original “Drumline” will return as the new Band Director looking to make his mark on his alma mater while navigating some ghosts from his past that include the Dean, Dr. Nia Phillips (LeToya Luckett), his brother Kevin Taylor (Deray Davis) and original Drumline favorite, Devon Miles (Nick Cannon).
Tell us what this modernized version means?
Letoya: Well it’s obviously very current. I don’t like to call it a sequel or part 2 either because it’s a totally different experience. Of course it’s centered around the “Drumline,” which I’m a super duper huge fan of, being from the south of course. Marching bands, that’s our thing! the Labor Day Classic, the Bayou Classic, I was there … This is just something totally different, it’s fresh, it’s new, a whole new storyline, new characters and I think it’s exciting. I think more attention needs to be brought to these campuses. We need to get more attention to the HBCUs. We need to let them know that ‘hey we need higher education’. We need to fund these these bands and you guys need to experience more of this.
Jordan: To me I think it’s just in the name of the title, it’s “Drumline,” it comes from the archetype of the original, which is Drumline, but it is a new beat and I think all of our production team and everyone who was affiliated with the project wanted to make sure that was clear that it’s going to be a whole new different type of experience. However, it’s going to be the same spectacle that you want it to be.
“Drumline” is a classic for a lot of people, were there any hesitations or reservations when signing up to do the film? Like the big shoes that you had to fill?
Alexandra: For me it wasn’t necessarily about filling anyone’s shoes, I know that a lot of people see it as Dani filling Nick’s shoes, but they’re completely different people. I think that Dani is confident, but I don’t think that she’s over-the-top, she wants to be a female section leader and that’s her goal and so it is a little nerve wracking because Nick Cannon and Leonard did such a great job on the first movie, but I think we came pretty close.
Letoya, you and Alex did a lot of college tours when it came to promoting this film. What was the reception like?
Letoya: Yeah, not only on the college campuses but on twitter, when we first made the announcement it was like ‘Drumline – well hold up, that’s my movie don’t touch that.’ Yeah we got a lot of that and when I tell you, no lie I will call my brother on speaker-phone right now, I was the biggest fan and still am the biggest fan of “Drumline” the original movie. I watched it like 2, 3 times a day. I’d be sitting at the house with my cousin, ‘what do you wanna do? Shoot lets watch it again.’ That’s how it was, so I understand the pressure and I understand a lot of people when they’re so passionate about something they don’t want to open their minds to something different and I feel you should. When you watch this you have to open your mind and be willing to accept the experience, let us in! It’s different, it really really really is and of course the kids, they’re gonna have their own things to say about it, but I think after they see it, they’ll see exactly what we’re talking about. It is a different experience.
Jordan, bringing this cultural art to the masses one more time, you being a part of the “Drumline,” was it intense? Were you nervous? Were you ready?
Jordan: Of course it was intense. Just being on the field, it definitely was nerve-wracking especially when you have those that are in band, those that have done this and it is their craft. As an actor, as musicians, this is our craft, this is what we have passion for. Even when we were in the training, the extensive 2 weeks of training, we were just in our head like ‘ok guys, we gotta get this right’. Even when we got onto the field and we were filming, when the cameras were off, we were like ‘we gotta go over this’ because it’s a matter of respect, respect to their art and their craft.
Leonard Roberts said, in an interview, for the first “Drumline” he immersed himself and participated in a music academy to really get a feel of the music. Was that something you guys did in preparation?
Alexandra: In a sense, at the end of the movie when you saw all of the judges saying who won the final classic, those were all of our band coaches. It was kind of cool that they were able to do a little cameo in the movie, a lot of them worked on the first movie, some of them were in the first movie actually. I was just a lot of fun and nerve-wracking. In the first movie they had four or five months, whereas we only had two weeks. It was like crazy boot camp, it was all about learning marching, all about learning the cadences, we learned many stick tricks. We were trying to make it look as accurate as possible because that was our goal and we had really great coaches.
Jordan: If you had a camera to watch what was going on behind the camera, when we were doing our performances on the field, you would see our coaches saying ‘ alright remember that, remember that, that one, hit that, hit that.’
When you look at black classic films in the early 90s, throughout the 90s and early 2000s, they were really keen on showing that urban inner city youth stereotype – fight this economic struggle to make it through. Now this film was slightly different and slashing that stereotype, not every black person has to go through economic struggle, like this was a different story. Alex can you talk about that ?
Alexandra: Yeah, my character Dani, her dad and mom, they were doctors and lawyers and they wanted her to do something like that and something more practical, but for her, the practical thing was to do what she loved. That’s what they always told her. Her parents loved what they did and they were like ‘find something that you love’ and she was like ‘what I want is drumming’ and they were like ‘well hold on, maybe not drumming’ and she’s like ‘no I’m gonna do it because you told me that I could do whatever I wanted in life, so this is what I’m gonna do.’ When you instill that in your children, the sky is the limit and so not every African-American who goes to these colleges is trying to find themselves or comes from a huge amount of strife, but there’s still pain. Dani loved what she did and didn’t understand why her parents couldn’t see that. They couldn’t see her passion. Granted in the ending they do, but it takes them a minute and I think it takes a minute for all parents to realize that they’re kids are going to do what they want to do, whether they like it or not.
Are there any other stereotypes that you felt this film helped knock down?
Jordan: One of my favorite characters is Leon, played by Rome Flynn, he was phenomenal. Actually this was one of his first roles, so he did a phenomenal job and him breaking down the barrier about homosexuality, I loved it. I loved seeing him step up to that. Another one was Jasmine’s character, I loved. I loved the fact that she was an intelligent black woman, I mean an intelligent woman. She had that fear of ‘ok I don’t wanna be personified by being a strong intelligent black woman, so let me just fall back onto what I have,’ but believe it or not, it was somebody, Josh, who saw that as a negative goal that nobody else did and so that took her being able to see that in realize that as well. I’ve got three older sisters so I mean seeing that is just amazing. I love it.
Talk to us about the energy Nick Cannon brought on the set. He had a lot of roles in the film, starting off with the audition process.
Letoya: It’s crazy because me and Nick have known each other since we were 15, 16 years old. He’s always been that funny guy, you know the one with all the energy, great personality, but to see him at work is something completely different. Like he’ll sit around and have fun with us, but when he puts that producer hat on it’s something else. He goes to the video village and watches the screen and goes over the scripts and his whole energy changes. It wasn’t negative or anything, but it was like this is a boss! This is a businessman and I can do nothing, but respect that. He’s a great actor, of course he did a phenomenal job with the first “Drumline” and for him to say ‘you know what people need to see more of that’ and he took a stand and decided to come out with “A New Beat,” that says a lot about him and that says a lot about his passion for HBCUs and for these marching bands and for these kids that stand out in the field for hours and hours and hours sweating whether it be cold, whether it be hot, whatever it is in these heavy suits, because they look hot. I was sitting on the bleachers drinking lemonade, but they just look really hot, but for him to pay his respects to them by doing a movie and making sure people put more eyes on that says all a lot about him and who he is.
How was he on set?
Letoya: Funny, yeah that’s what I’m saying. You would literally see him go from cracking everybody up to *silence*.
Alexandra: He’s Nick Cannon you know, he’s silly, he’s funny. He’s a comedian.
Either Nick or Leonard, did they offer any of you guys words of wisdom in completing this film?
Jordan: Tons. On set was such a gold mine and gosh, so much wisdom. It wasn’t even in things they would just talk to me or explain to me, but there was one point in time when we were all rushing trying to get a shot, trying to get the next scene set up and I see Nick he’s walking by and there’s this family just there and a little kid is just looking at him, and I guess he’s been drumming for a while and he’s just looking at him and not saying anything, but Nick stops everything and is like ‘hey how you doing’. So he takes pictures and that right there was something that sticks with you. Leonard, he’s just humble. He just always continued to exude that ‘let me give, let me make myself available’ and that always stuck with me. Being able to work with the two of them was a blessing.
Alexandra: Leonard just told me that, well it’s not that I’m new to this, but I’m new to being a lead role and he told me ‘look people are going to love this movie, it happened to me, all you can do is stay humble and stay grounded’ and I was like ‘ok yeah I’ll stay humble’. Then we were doing press and Leonard is hanging out with us and it was like it was really true and I was humbled by the entire experience. He’s like the king of humility, he’s just so sweet and so genuine and such a great actor and such an amazing energy to be around, to work with and that in itself was like ok that’s a professional, that’s an actor, that’s someone who takes his craft very seriously. He does his job and goes home, it’s not about the parties, it’s not about the Hollywood life, that’s not his jam and you gotta respect someone like that.
I think it’s a clichéd question to say Alex how are you like Dani, instead of doing that let’s let each other answer the question.
Starting with Toya, how is Toya like Nia Phillips?
Alex: Letoya is a fantastic actress and she’s also very determined and super talented and when it comes to Dean Phillips, she has a passion for her students and you can tell in the way that she handled the situation with Dani, how much she really cares about her school and how much she would do anything. She’s dealing with a lot. She brings her ex back, do you know how much it takes for a woman to bring her ex back? That’s a lot for anybody and so she just fights through it because she knows what’s best and Letoya is like that, she knows what’s best. She comes on set and she’s ready, she’s in it, she is is doing it, she’s not even acting, she’s reacting, she’s just so passionate about her work and it’s so true it’s exactly like Nia.
Jordan: The thing about Letoya is, like I’ve told her before, she’s grown, especially over the press junket; you’ve grown to be a sister, so wonderful, so sweet. She’s grown to be a sister, more so in the good ways than the bad ways and I mean that. Nothing but love and I know she’s got a bright future, so just don’t forget us little people.
How is Jordan like Jayven?
Letoya: I’m sitting next to an awesome human being with a great heart, a man of God. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff and he doesn’t even know I see it. He’s a flirt, y’all saw the lip biting. He really does the lip biting thing and I have to stay on him as the big sister, but come Monday, when these little hot mamas see this, you’re gonna need to make a run for it. His Instagram is about to be so turnt up. I just feel like watching all the levels that you had to hit, with this character, watching you hit them and going from this confident guy to a man that’s really broken on the inside, that’s a hard thing to play and for this being one of your first major roles like this, I feel like you carried that thing through.
I’m lucky and blessed to be in between these two, they were both gifted and worked very very hard and I see big things for y’all and if you continue to have that humble spirit that I see you do — I mean we went to a couple campuses and y’all can only imagine the girls that were coming up to him and didn’t care about me and they cared about Jordan and the muscles and he was so sweet in the way he just carried himself. It’s not young, immature thing, he’s like a real grown man and it’s not a lot of times you see a man in his position that can still be level-headed, smart, he uses the biggest word, he’s a dictionary. He’s very well-spoken and educated and that’s awesome. I’m so proud of you.
Please tell us about that Jordan’s eyebrow?
Letoya: You saw it, I said you learned that from the Rock and it’s something with the jaw bone thing that he does when he gets really angry. He has so many great little – look at his face, he starts blushing but he is a great guy, he’s a flirt, he’s a macdaddy, he’s gonna be in trouble, but it’s because he did the hard work and once again I am proud of you.
Photo Credit: Rowena Husbands