Tag Archives: Djimon Hounsou

‘Whites Only’ Oscars? Not If These Tour De Force Turns Are Remembered

Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Djimon Hounsou

Will the 2010 Oscars be a whites-only club? Gregg Kilday and Matthew Belloni projected the possibility in the Hollywood Reporter back in September, and as this awards season has moved forward, indeed, the focus has been on a collection of Caucasian colossi.

Where are the faces of color? Minority stars have been busy cranking out big commercial movies this year rather than Oscar-type fare, goes the prevailing industry wisdom — Denzel Washington in “Unstoppable,” Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson in “Iron Man 2.” The dearth of African-American, Latino and Asian players in the critics’ awards picks is either 1) just a coincidence or 2)another result of the recession, as distributors fail to pick up independent films that feature minorities, and studios “play it safe.”

Before we get too carried away with this theme, however, the picture could still change. There are Oscar-worthy performances by non-whites in this year’s crop of films, performances that merit more attention than they’ve been getting, starting with Djimon Hounsou in Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest.”

Two-time Academy Award nominee Hounsou plays the enslaved island native Caliban as quite literally a force of nature, the offspring of a witch and the devil. The actor studied Butoh, an ancient form of Japanese dance that represents nature, to prepare for the role. He moves with raw, animalistic grace. He went through five hours a day having makeup applied to his nearly naked body, a process the actor admits always left him in a terrible mood — which he used in his performance as a not-quite-human being consumed by rage.

Taymor continues to have the artistic audacity to follow her own creative instincts rather than playing to critics’ or audiences’ expectations, which has resulted in a “Tempest” that’s excited passionate responses both negative and positive. That this film, with its flawless performances and unforgettable stark imagery, will stand the test of time is without doubt, whether the Academy pays more attention than critics’ groups or not. “The Tempest” opens tomorrow
(12/10).

Meanwhile, would Kimberly Elise be getting more notice for her heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman who submits to abuse in “For Colored Girls” if it weren’t for the fact that Tyler Perry directed the film, and critics don’t like Perry?

The flaws of Halle Berry’s “Frankie and Alice” — also opening, in limited release, tomorrow (12/10) — have been widely enumerated, but there is no ignoring the daring performance of Oscar-winner Berry as a severely emotionally damaged woman with two alternate personalities.

Almost certainly, Javier Bardem, another Academy Awards nomination veteran, will be remembered for his portrayal of a terminally ill criminal in “Biutiful,” which already won him Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival. That, at least, will add a dash of Spanish flavor to the mix.

Djimon Hounsou Goes the Extra Mile — and Then Some — for ‘Tempest’ Role

Djimon Hounsou as Caliban Touchstone photo

When Touchstone unveils Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest” Dec. 10, filmgoers will not only see Helen Mirren at the peak of her formidable powers playing the sorceress Prospera, they’ll also witness Djimon Hounsou in a gorgeously intense performance as Caliban, her slave.  The actor went through grueling physical stress to make that performance work — starting with “five to five-and-a-half hours a day of makeup, standing up.

“It was quite awful,” he admits, “standing there every morning being painted, having things glued to the body, you know, and you also have to be naked for the most part.  No matter how wonderful the day was, no matter how you felt when you began, after five hours of this, you’d end up eventually just being in a bad mood.  I came out ready to explode, to blow up at something or  someone.  So, given the nature of this character, I used it for the part.”

In Taymor’s dream-like interpretation of the island-set tale of magic and revenge — which cast member Tom Conti calls “Shakespeare’s ‘Lost'”– Caliban is nature personified.  Hounsou took weeks of lessons in Butoh, an ancient form of Japanese dance that represents nature, to help himself prepare.  He moves around like an animal, muscles tensed, in the film that shot in remote volcanic locations in Hawaii.

“You couldn’t give Caliban any limitations.  He’s a creature of his environment.  He was born wild on this island and he’s still wild, basically,” says Hounsou — an Oscar nominee for “In America” and “Blood Diamond,” who certainly warrants Academy attention again this year.  As for Caliban’s attempted rape of Prospera’s daughter, Miranda (Felicity Jones) that led to his enslavement, the actor feels, “He saw a woman and he attempted to acquire the woman for himself.  He didn’t feel limitations.  In that sense, he’s absolutely raw.  I don’t know how to better put it.”

The magical aspect of “Tempest” felt familiar to Hounsou, “being from Africa, a country like Benin, which is the source of voodoo and all of those things.”  It helped him define in his mind Caliban’s mother, a witch, and his “half nature, half human aspect, his life and the look he has.  All of that was pretty powerful.”

Powerful, too, was the Bard’s 400-year-old dialogue, which the actor found a steep challenge.  “With Shakespeare, no matter how many times you do it, no matter how well you say it, no matter how well you’re understanding the text, there are so many phrases that have double meanings, that imply so much, and there’s so much depth in his work — you look back and think, ‘I could do it again.  I could do it differently,'” he says.  “I obviously didn’t want to read it like a formal Shakespearean.  I tried to do the best job I could possibly do.”  And he did, delivering something extraordinary and fresh.

We caught up with the actor between camera calls for his currently-shooting film, “Special Forces,” which he describes as “sort of like the French version of ‘Black Hawk Down.'”  The team is shooting in Djibouti in East Africa, after having spent a month in the wilds of Tajikistan.  He has “about two more weeks” to go on the production.

“I’m so looking foward to seeing my kids, my wife,” he says, referring to Kimora Lee Simmons, their son Kenzo and her two daughters with former husband Russell Simmons.  “Being away from them has been the hardest part of this.  So I think it will be awhile before I think of doing the type of action film that takes you to very remote places where you can’t even have your family.”

After all this, perhaps a light comedy would be in order?  Hounsou laughs.  “That would be lovely.”