‘Best Man’ revives lure of Morris Chestnut


BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — 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, opening Friday (see review on Page 2).

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,” Chestnut said 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,” Lee said 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.”

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 such as 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,” Chestnut said. “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.”

He’s since appeared in films such as Think Like a Man, Identity Thief, and Ladder 49, and on TV shows such as V, American Horror Story, and Nurse Jackie. But he still fights for roles.

“It’s a never-ending story,” Chestnut said.