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Gift Wrapped in Wonderful

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Story by Yvette Caslin and Jason Thompson
Images by Michael Melendy for Steed Media Service
With everyone gearing up for this year’s holiday season, the one movie that is sure to warm the soul of the entire family is This Christmas. “If I never made another movie again, I would be happy I made this one,” shares filmmaker Preston A. Whitmore. Executive producer Mekhi Phifer and producer Will Packer agree that the story’s universal theme will garner cross-over appeal at the box office.


Screen Gems and Rainforest Productions did a superb job casting Regina King, Sharon Leal and Lauren London to portray the Whitfield sisters, and even though they bear no physical resemblance to each other, their personalities blend beautifully on-screen throughout both the dramatic and comedic scenes. Regina King brings pearls of wisdom. Sharon Leal is spunky. Lauren London is a budding actress whose charm captivates.


 



 
Regina King
When the witty Regina King enters the room at the W Hotel in Westwood, Calif., she utters “Good Mornting!” in Madea-speak and draws a few giggles with her imitation of the Tyler Perry character. King is down to earth and fun, winning qualities that illustrate why the L.A. native consistently lands roles.


She portrays Lisa the big sister and mother of two who finds herself in an unhappy marriage with an adorably handsome and unscrupulous husband (Laz Alonzo). A real-life divorcée, King trusts that her character will encourage couples to make good decisions. “We tend to stay in situations because we think it is the best thing for somebody else. You don’t have to stick with the plan … the plan can change. If the plan is to go outside, then it rains, you don’t just go outside without taking an umbrella,” she advises.


The svelte King’s spicy lingerie scenes left the male film crew in awe, according to fellow actress Lauren London. “I am representing for the 36-year-old … I work out normally [so] I didn’t do any extra preparation [for] the film. Chris Brown’s trainer Christopher came on set … I just wanted to get the muscles with just a little blood in them so they could be … [she grits her teeth and flexes], ” says King. She adds that the lingerie scenes were a big deal and they spent a lot of time at La Perla.


King, a seasoned actress, has more than 20 years of experience dating back to her role as Brenda Jenkins on the popular television comedy “227.” Although she’s widely recognized, and was the 2005 award recipient for “Best Actress” (BET) and “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (NAACP Image Awards), both for the biopic Ray, King still has to fight for good roles.



click here for Regina King and Lauren London’s interview
Despite Hollywood’s myopia, King continues to choose roles that fit her overall career strategy. “There are roles out there, but people don’t see us [black actresses] in them. I have been very selective; I have chosen not to do some of the things that I have been offered. It’s a blessing that I had enough sense to manage my money [so I could be] unemployed.”


Tracing her genealogy to Sierra Leone, King recently filmed two documentaries: Story of a Village, which chronicles L.A. residents who raised money for a school in the African country and the other is footage highlighting the country’s voting situation. She started the production company, Royal Ties, with her sister.


Rarely tabloid fodder, King steers clear of the gossip pages. A single mother, she quietly divorced her husband of 10 years, Ian Alexander, late last year. They have one son, Ian Alexander Jr.



Sharon Leal
As one of the film’s main attractions, actress Sharon Leal’s nuanced performance as Kelli Whitfield makes this film one that every family can identify with. “I think all families have drama. Hopefully, that’s the universal thing we all go through. We all go home with these perfect expectations of [being] home for the holidays and then somebody says something that they should not have said and somebody wants to go home a little bit earlier,” offers Leal.


A hot commodity in Hollywood thanks to roles in Why Did I Get Married? and Dreamgirls, the thespian and television sensation was thrilled with the opportunity to be part of a holiday film with such a strong, award-winning cast. Although the film depicts an African American family’s holiday celebration, Leal insists that the movie is for all to enjoy.


“It’s unfortunate that you can’t do an African American film without having the assumption ‘oh, it’s not for us.’ It is for everybody and it’s a holiday film. It’s something I think we all can relate to and I think it’s going to be key how they push it and let people know that it’s not a ghetto Christmas,” adds Leal, who falls in love with a classmate named Gerald, played by Mekhi Phifer.



Lauren London
No matter if she plays Turtle’s romantic interest in HBO’s “Entourage” or New New in Chris Robinson’s ATL, Lauren London makes sparks fly with her inherent good looks and youth. As she puts it, her beauty regimen is to “wash my face and keep it moving.” During our interview, she sits in King’s shadow, not because she can’t hold her own, but because she admires her so much. She shares, “It has been a dream of mine to work with Regina. Beyond being a great artist and an incredible actress, she is a genuine person. She’s like a big sister.”


London plays baby sister Mel, who returns home from college with her new beau Devean Brooks (Keith Robinson). They can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. When asked about her acting style, she shares, “As an actress I like to improv and I like to put my [own words] into it.” She isn’t interested in being bound by scripts, a trait shared by most actors.


London, an L.A. native, was home-schooled. She starred in Jay-Z and Pharrell’s “Frontin’ ” video.