“I say we’re responsible for everything in our community. We have to take responsibility for us, and for our own.” – Nick Cannon
Nick Cannon is a multi-faceted entertainer who wears many hats: comedian, executive producer and host for television, film star, director, entrepreneur, philanthropist and author of children’s books. Cannon made his first appearance on the big screen alongside Will Smith in “Men in Black II,” and was later seen in “Drumline” and “Bobby.”
More recently, he wrote, directed and produced his first studio film, “School Dance,” and produced the sequel, “Drumline: A New Beat.” And he is currently in production on the reboot of the TV-series, “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.”
The San Diego native began performing at the age of 8 after his grandfather left him several instruments as a gift. Shortly thereafter, he took to the stage to perform his music along with stand-up comedy.
Cannon currently hosts NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” which kicked off its 10th season last May. While his professional endeavors keep him busy, Cannon has always made the time to use his resources and his voice as a philanthropist to giveback to the community and those in need, working with such charitable organizations as Feeding America, Boys and Girls Clubs, Do Something, Toys for Tots, Stomp Out Bullying, the Lupus Foundation of America and the National Kidney Foundation, to name a few. He is also an active member on the Board of Directors of New York’s St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital and he runs the Nicholas Scott Cannon Foundation.
Here, Nick talks about playing the title character in Spike Lee’s new film, “Chi-Raq,” a modernized adaptation of Aristophanes’ classic Greek comedy, “Lysistrata” which is in theaters now.
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I’ll be mixing their questions in with mine. What interested you in “Chi-Raq?”
NC: Even before I read a script, Spike Lee came to me and said, “I want to save lives in Chicago, on the South Side.” And I was like, “I’m in! I don’t know what that is, but I’m in.” Then, when I saw how he made the brave artistic choice to take Aristophanes’ 2,500 year-old play, “Lysistrata,” and set it in modern times, I thought that was brilliant and I felt honored to be able to be a a part of the project.
KW: Were you aware of Lysistrata before making this movie?
NC: Yeah, I was definitely familiar with Lysistrata and other works of Aristophanes, and had heard the play’s plot referenced in various ways over the years.
KW: What did you think about all the rhyme in the dialogue?
NC: I thought it was outstanding that this film was in verse. I love how Spike remained faithful to that original format while mixing in spoken word and hip-hop and conveying an emotional message.
KW: To what extent do you think we blacks are responsible for the violence in our communities?
NC: I say we’re responsible for everything in our community. We have to take responsibility for us, and for our own. Right now, I feel like it’s about reconditioning the community. We let this generation down, so we have to step back in and do whatever we can be the real pillars and the real leaders. Ultimately, these young people are hurt. They’re in pain. And instead of pointing a finger at them, we need to get involved and do something about the situation.
KW: How did you prepare to play Chi-Raq?
NC: I really got to be a part of the community through Spike and Father Michael Pfleger who introduced me to some young peacekeepers, some reformed gang members turned leaders in the South side of Chicago. I lived with them. They came to my hotel and said, “Yo, let’s go!. Let’s rock! We going! We have to show you every aspect of who we are and what we do.” I was able to jump in in a big way, and that’s what it was all about.
KW: That’s quite a cast Spike assembled for “Chi-Raq.”
NC: Yeah, that just shows the power of Spike. People love him, and will come out for him to be a part of one of his projects. He always puts together a phenomenal cast, especially when the film is designed to deliver such an important, positive message. That made everybody jump in wholeheartedly.
KW: How would you describe that message?
NC: We want people to appreciate the value of life. A life is a life, and, like Spike says, “If we save one life with this film, then we’ve done our job.”
KW: You are involved in the music industry as an entertainer, host and producer shows. I really think there is a need for another TV show like “Soul Train.” Are you interested in developing, producing and hosting a program like that which would give aspiring musical artists a chance to be showcased?
NC: Yes. In fact, for the last couple of years, I’ve been developing with the “Soul Train” brand a show that could be very powerful for our culture. We’re putting something together that’s been in the works for quite a while.
KW: “America’s Got Talent” is enjoying great ratings, while “American Idol” continues to decline and is preparing for its final season. How do you explain the success of your show?
NC: It’s a family show you can watch with your children and your grandparents. At its core, it’s just true to what entertainment’s all about. It’s simply watching people display their talents in front of an audience.
KW: Did you feel any heavy burden playing the title character in a Spike Lee film?
NC: I didn’t see it as a burden. I welcomed it as a challenge. I also saw it as an honor for Spike to choose me for the role and to afford me a opportunity not only to display my skills as an actor but to be a part of a movement which really cares about people.