Richard Roundtree Tells Jarod Hector The Latest Shaft Movie is ‘The Best’, Plus The Franchise’s Future, Working With Samuel L. Jackson, And The Large Pool of Talented Black Actors in HollywoodRead Now
The fifth installment of the Shaft movie franchise premieres today, Friday June 14th. We’ve come a long way from the blaxploitation film in 1971 directed by Gordon Parks starring, then 29-year-old, Richard Roundtree as John Shaft.
Roundtree reprises his role as John Shaft Sr. father to John Shaft II, played by Samuel L. Jackson (also reprising his role from the 2000 film), and we have a new character, the youngest member of the Shaft family John “JJ” Shaft Jr. played by Jessie Usher.
Roundtree, the sage veteran actor that still embodies all the cool of Shaft sat down with Black Sports Online prior to the premiere to talk about the franchise, why he believes this is the best one yet, as well as how far Black actors have come in Hollywood, and how much further they still have to go.
This is the second installment…
No. This is the fifth Shaft movie, let’s not get it twisted.
Yes. This is your fifth movie. The second of the new era is what I mean. How does it feel for you to have this franchise still going on after all these years?
To be truthful with you. This is so elevated, past what has been seen before. This is the best [film] since the first one. Without diluting my hero, Gordon Parks, who brought such class to the first two films. This is such a joy for me, to see three generations of this character. Passing the baton on to my [character’s] son and ultimately to my [character’s] grandson. To see the transition that my grandson goes through, that nerd that he exemplifies initially. To see the turn, and him owning his name...is perfect.
Talking about the generations of characters. How important is it to see that on screen for Black people and Black culture?
When you have this paint job (touches the skin on the back of his hand), to see the joy of the parent. The parental passing of the torch and to see Jessie’s transition...I mean Sam (Jackson), he’s already there. Sam is Sam. But to see Jessie as my grandson, who I’m so happy to see, because he’s been estranged from us, as you know. It is powerful to see that all come together.
Tim Story (director) and Sam have done an incredible job. I’m so proud of this film. It bodes well for yet another installment.
That’s what’s so interesting. You as the sage veteran, Sam is Sam as we said. Regina Hall who plays Maya, JJ’s mother. That all could be daunting for someone like Jessie walking on set. I mean, acting is kind of like a competition in some ways right?
Yeah, yeah. But this young gentleman has handled it very well. He knew what was supposed to happen. The beats. I think he’s done an incredible job. I’m proud and happy to see that he’s embraced that and made it work. When you have to work with Sam day to day, boy you better be ready. I marvel at the fact of Sam’s peripheral vision. He knows what everybody on the set is supposed to be doing, and if you’re not bringing it, he’ll call you on your shit.
I’ll make a sports analogy. Sam is like Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul in many ways. He knows where everyone on the court is supposed to be. If you are on his team and you are not in the right place, he will get on you and chew your ass out about it. That’s Sam, right?
So, what is the process like as an actor to prepare to come to the set, so that you are in the right place at the right time? Whether you use method or not, at some point, you have to put Richard Roundtree to the side and become John Shaft, right. How does that work?
That comes with time. Time put in. I marvel at Sam’s peripheral vision. My school is not as broad. I want to come to the set, ready to work, know my lines, and hit my spot because I’m dependent on everybody else on set knowing their job. I don’t know what their total responsibilities are, and I’m assuming. Sam comes to set and he’s...you know ‘ay, you ain’t doing this right.’ I’m very impatient, but Sam doesn’t want to do more than three takes on any given scene and it bores me to tears to do anything more than three or four times because someone is not on their J-O-B. Now, I won’t call you out, but Sam…’hey motherfucker, that’s not the line!’ That’s the difference.
How great is it to be back in Harlem now as we do this interview, and how important was it to film the movie in Harlem? This city is as much a character in the film as any of you. We’re on 125th and Lenox at the Red Rooster!
Come on! I do not come back to New York City without coming to this restaurant. I should scale that back a little. I am a huge fan of Ethiopian food, number one [Ethiopian chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson owns the Red Rooster]. Having worked in Ethiopia, having met Haile Slaessie. Having seen Haile Salessie on Lenox Avenue when I was a preteen. Having an audience with him in Ethiopia and him telling me I would have a long career. How prophetic is that? Come on! [Haile Salessie was Ethiopian Regent from 1916-1930 and Emperor from 1930-1974].
And, Gordon Parks having the genesis of the Shaft movie emanate from Harlem and these streets? This is magic.
You are at the stage of your career where you can pick and choose the types of roles and projects you want to do. But you had to toil and pave the way for many of the young Black actors behind you. Is there a feeling of gratification when you see other Black actors shine?
As long as we have this paint job it’s going to be difficult. What is beautiful at this point in time is the participation of this paint job, with the incredibly talented people that are coming along. You look at someone like Viola Davis. These are talents that can stand alone, who are beasts, that can make demands and be heard and listened to. They can put out incredible projects with no apologies. It’s not just standing in a corner or being an afterthought. They drive the narrative. It’s wonderful to see. We have people today, like Sam, who when they put their name on a project and it will sell. Back in the day it was only one or two “oh yeah, what’s his name?” Today, the Sam’s, Denzel’s [Washington] and Viola Davis’...
What’s next for Richard Roundtree?
Well, we could see another Shaft movie, now that we have Jessie as the next generation. Hopefully he’ll have his grandad around. I’m happy to still be gainfully employed. We talking about the third quarter, but…
You still love it!
Richard, thank you for the time.