Ben Vereen explains why he was eager to join Chris Rock’s ‘Top Five’



That was the brilliantly unpretentious response Ben Vereen gave when asked what motivates him as an actor. The veteran of stage and screen has worked steadily in entertainment for 50 years, initially making his name on Broadway, in the national touring company of Hair. Since then, he’s been a constant fixture entertainment, and he was understandably eager to co-star alongside Chris Rock in Rock’s new film Top Five.

“Like many people, I’ve known of Chris for a long time. I’ve always wanted to work with him,” Vereen explains. “Don’t know if he knew that. I found out that he was doing this film and I [met him] for it. We read through the part and for me, playing his father — I had to go to a certain place.”

In the movie, Vereen plays an alcoholic struggling to come to grips with his resentment toward his uber-successful son. For the role, Vereen says he brought his own experiences to the character.

“This guy was really dysfunctional. I remember my first day on the set, I felt like he was a little bit too dressed up. Chris and I broke him down, and he became this guy,” he says. “I play a character that’s so wrapped in his disease that he can’t get out of it. His anger is rooted in the fact that his son has gone on to be greater and he’s stuck in this place. And can’t get out of it. His son comes back to him, and he’s glad to see him but his pain won’t let him [show it.]”

Vereen says that Rock allowed him — and the other actors, including Rosario Dawson and Kevin Hart — to find the character; likening the director’s approach to Michelangelo.

“There’s a story of Michaeangelo going to the pope,” Vereen recalls. “The pope says ‘I’ve got a block of marble here, what do you see?’ And the other artist says ‘I see a block of marble.’ Michelangelo says ‘I see David.’ And he chips away what he doesn’t want and he had David. And that’s what we have.”

And for Vereen, the chance to explore addiction was important. He urges everyone who sees the film to take note of the pain of that reality and take stock of their own lives and behavior.

“The thing about addiction, it’s a choice in life,” he says. “There’s a [Scripture] that says ‘Choose ye this day who you will serve.’ You can serve your addiction or you can serve your wellness. You can serve your God or you can serve your devil. Even in this business, we choose to serve because we love this business that we do. We don’t choose the dark shadows—we go there to bring it back to you and say ‘This is what it looks like.’ Sometimes, some of us get stuck there.

“So choose ye, what you will choose today, the good addiction or the bad addiction. My [advice] for you? Choose the good.”

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