Story by Ivory M. Jones
Images by Michael Melendy for Steed Media Service
A little over two years ago, a fresh-faced 16-year-old from Tappahannock, Va., sang and danced his way up the charts and into the hearts of teen girls around the world. Now 18, Chris Brown is well on his way to superstardom thanks to his sophomore album, Exclusive, and his latest acting turn alongside Idris Elba, Columbus Short and Loretta Devine in This Christmas. Both the album and the movie debuted at the top spot on both the Billboard Top 200 and at the box office, respectively.
With the world at his fingertips, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when Brown wasn’t so sure that his star would shoot to the top. “The success is surprising. I always doubted myself,” he admits. “Now, it’s just like, ‘How did I do all this? How are all these people attracted to me?’ I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different from what everybody else is doing. I just don’t question it anymore.”
With so much on his plate, Brown doesn’t have time to question it. He’s already signed on to star in Phenom, a movie that focuses on a high school basketball star who goes to the NBA. Although casting for the film has yet to be completed, Brown will portray the movie’s lead charachter. Phenom is set to begin filming in late spring. He is also in talks to star in the big-screen adaptation of Dragon Ball Z.
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The first thing Brown takes into account when considering a new movie role is whether or not the role will challenge him. “I look for different things or roles that people are not normally gonna’ see me in,” he says. “Like This Christmas challenged me because I had to pretend that I didn’t know how to sing at first. Then the argument between me and my [on-screen] mother [Loretta Devine] was a challenge.”
Despite the challenging aspects of his role, Brown’s character “Baby,” the youngest in a family of six kids, wasn’t too far a stretch for the heartthrob. While the character hid his aspirations as a singer from his family, the role still gave him a chance to flex his vocal chops while tackling, not one, but two soul classics. In two pivotal scenes in the movie, Baby performs Sam Cooke’s “Try A Little Tenderness” and “This Christmas,” which was made famous by Donny Hathaway.
Although he tackles both songs with ease, he admits that “Try A Little Tenderness” was not his first choice to sing. “It wasn’t my personal favorite, honestly. When I first talked to Screen Gems, I told them I wanted to do ‘This Christmas’ and ‘Cupid’ by Sam Cooke,” reveals Brown. “But then they were like, ‘Well, we like ‘Cupid,’ but you should do ‘Try A Little Tenderness.’ I wasn’t opposed to it, though.”
Once the decision was made, Brown was faced with the task of doing justice to both songs, while making them his own at the same time. “I just wanted to do something that was kind of different from what my fans were used to. Like still bring my flavor, but still keep that old flavor to it. So that when people that are over the age of 45 or 50 can hear it and still say, ‘OK, he did his thing on that record.’ I wanted it to appeal to everybody, not just a younger demographic,” he says.
Doing the songs justice wasn’t the only part of the movie that intimidated Brown. He also admits that he faced some serious jitters about acting alongside acting vets such as Elba, Devine, Delroy Lindo and Regina King. “Oh man! I was so nervous because I thought they’d be like, ‘Uh? Who is this dude who can’t act?’ he confesses. “I think I felt like the underdog and an outcast until we got on set.”
Once on set, however, Brown realized that none of his co-stars were judging him. “It was such a great environment,” he says glowingly. “Nobody had a chip on their shoulder. They were real cool about it … it was like a family.”
Even with a chart-topping music career and a burgeoning acting career under his belt, Brown discloses that there’s another role he’d like to add to his ever-growing résumé — that of film director. He already has two directorial credits to his name. He co-directed the video for his hit single, “Kiss, Kiss,” alongside director Eric White. He also stepped out on his own to direct the video for “This Christmas,” his single from the movie’s soundtrack. Brown says it was important for him to take the reigns by himself. “I just wanted to do this by myself and show people my talents as well on the director’s side,” he says
For Brown, taking his turn in front of and behind the camera is all part of his plan to make history one day. “With my music, I just want to be the biggest entertainer to ever do it. Acting is a plus; I just want to show people I can. So let’s just say, Chris Brown is doing his thing musically, but then next year, I come out with a big movie. That’ll make people say, ‘Man, he’s gotta be taking something!” he laughs. “I just want to always have people on their game and let them know that they can do anything they want to do if they put their mind to it.”
But with so much fame and fortune at an early age, Brown makes it a point to remain humble. He says that the main thing that keeps him grounded is the close-knit circle that he surrounds himself with. “I think it’s definitely about having the right people around you all the time. I keep my homies and my mom around,” he says.
Although his mom stuck close by during the early part of his career, Brown reveals that as of late, she’s been giving him his space. “When I was like 16 or 17, she stayed around me most of the time for chaperone reasons and to make sure that nobody was messing with her baby,” he laughs. “But now, she sees that I’m [able] to handle a lot of stuff. For the most part, she just chills and relaxes now.”
Though he’s putting in a lot of long hours, Brown is enjoying the fruits of his labor. The heartthrob has treated himself to four cars. “I have an orange Corvette with orange rims. I have a blue Lamborghini with blue rims. Then I’ve got a black Range Rover with black rims and a cream Expedition with custom interior,” he boasts.
With such high-priced splurges, what else could a guy want? The only thing he’s asking Santa for this Christmas is a little R&R. “What I wanted when I was younger was just a whole bunch of clothes, a whole bunch of shoes and some nice cars. Now that I have those things, I really don’t look forward to getting anything else,” he says. “Hopefully, I’ll just have a chance to relax. For the holidays, I’ll have like two or three days where I won’t be doing anything. I’m just going home.”
After the holidays, however, it will be back to the shrieks and screams of his adoring fans. Even though he loves the attention, he says he has had to make some changes in his day-to-day routine. “Things are a little bit more hectic now. I used to be able to go to the mall and just hang out for hours, but now I have to pull my hat down and just go in, get what I want and leave,” he laments. “The worst part is the airport, though. Sometimes you get there and you just have to wait at your gate. It’s a lot different now.”
Despite small inconveniences such as being mobbed by overzealous fans at shopping malls and airports, Brown wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think success is fun. I think if I wasn’t successful and didn’t have anything to do, I’d be bored,” he states. “I just make sure I keep having fun with it. I look at it like it’s all smoke and mirrors. Sometimes I still feel like it’s just a dream, but I’m not ready to pinch myself just yet.”