INTERVIEW: DJ Qualls on "Hustle & Flow"
POSTED ON 07/25/05 AT 9:00 A.M.

By Jenny Halper in New York City

Nashville-born actor DJ Qualls has his most memorable role yet in "Hustle and Flow," a gritty southern indie from talented newcomer Craig Brewer. Qualls stars as Shelby, a white boy who surprises doubting pimp D Jay (Terrence Howard) with his prodigious music skills.

The actor, who is perhaps best known for scene stealing bits in "Road Trip" and "The Core," took time to talk to press about his latest role.

Q: This is the first movie you’ve done set in the South- was that part of the draw?

DJ: I’m a Tennessee boy. We’re all desperate to see the south as it actually is, and not as some mythological “Gone with the Wind” type place. So that’s why I wanted to do this movie. There’s a tremendous amount of misunderstanding about the south, as my very first role as an actor living in the south was telling Cicely Tyson she couldn’t sit at lunch table. And that seems to be sort of the perpetual thing, white people in southern movies or movies set in the south are always the buffoon or the racist.

Q: Do you have to tone down your accent?

DJ: No, not everyone in Tennessee talks like a pinto, my father does, but I think it’s dying. Obviously the rest of the world infiltrates everywhere, so I think it’s an American stereotype.

Q: How did you become involved in “Hustle and Flow”?

DJ: I was the second person attached to this movie. And so I’d been attached for two years by the time we started shooting. My manager sent me the script, Craig (Brewer) was aware of me, he’s from Tennessee also, so he sort of had me in mind. I read it and I met with him in a coffee shop and we had such a rapor, he got me, he got the fact that I’d sort of lucked into a career and I didn’t want to do just that my whole life. So he said, “I’d like to give you some opportunities to get away from that.” And I was like, “I would like to take those opportunities.” So it was natural for us to want to work together.

Q: What sort of preparation did you do to play Shelby?

DJ: I spent a week in the studio with Al Capone, a local Memphis rapper, learning how to operate an MP3 and learning how beats are made. And what you see in the movie is how kids across America are making hip hop in their basements. They have these little machines that they buy, and somebody comes up with a beat and a hook and some flow and then you’ve got a song.

Q: Do you worry about the camera while you’re acting?

DJ: Film is largely a director’s medium. It’s a tremendous amount of trust you place in your director, that they’re going to guide you, you know what you look like in your head but a lot of times it doesn’t add up. When I make a movie, I meet two or three directors before I agree to do a movie, because it’s really important to me. I need to trust their vision.

Q: Do you prefer comedy or drama?

DJ: Drama is so much easier, and people keep saying it’s so much harder to do comedy, but nobody respects comedians! Like, the movie “Philadelphia”’s a good example. It’s a great movie, but at the end of it I was just like die! I’ve got to go home. And then I started crying at the end because they put some children on a beach and started playing some music. And I was manipulated by the filmmakers into crying because that’s what they wanted me to do, so I would go away thinking it was really sad movie and I really enjoyed myself. But you can’t do it with comedy because if a joke fails, they know it. The audience knows that you’re off, it’s just not funny. But we’re not just comedic or dramatic actors, we’re whole people, we have this whole range of emotions. This life experience, and it lessens that when people put you in a box. There’s a nice balance in this movie for everybody.

“Hustle and Flow” opened on July 22nd.

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