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Interview: Brandon T. Jackson of 'Tropic Thunder'

August 13th, 2008 9:57am EDT
Tropic Thunder(Hollywoodchicago) – For “Tropic Thunder” star and Chris Tucker protégé Brandon T. Jackson, the fictional Booty Sweat literally is his Hollywood calling card.

The Red Bull-like energy drink is a scripted creation of writer, director, producer and star actor Ben Stiller in the new comedy. The film’s talent list, which includes both “A”-list actors and up-and-coming actors, is longer than two or three typical films today combined.

Tropic Thunder

Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller, left) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr., right) are shooting an epic war movie and wind up in a real battle in the action-comedy “Tropic Thunder”.
Photo credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace




Along with recognized actors Robert Downey Jr. (who plays the memorable role of an actor who surgically blackens his skin), Ben Stiller, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Nick Nolte and rising actors Danny McBride, Bill Hader and Steve Coogan, director Stiller takes a chance on newcomers Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel.

“Tropic Thunder” serves as the first major roles for both Jackson and Baruchel. The film also features cameos from Jason Bateman, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alicia Silverstone, Jon Voight and Tyra Banks.

While the film is an offensively complicated picture that certainly has figured out how to whirl about a laugh around every corner, so does its complication sometimes force the story to tug about in many different directions.

“Tropic Thunder” sometimes feels like it clearly knows where it’s going and at other times is completely lost in the black hole of Stiller’s uniquely melodramatic brain.

Along with Justin Theroux and Stiller, the film also lists Etan Cohen as a co-writer of the film’s screenplay. This Cohen is not to be confused with Oscar-winning phenomenon Ethan Coen (the brother of Joel Coen) of “No Country for Old Men,” “The Big Lebowski” and “Fargo” fame.

Tropic Thunder

Left to right: Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) are actors shooting a war movie who get caught up in a real battle in the action-comedy “Tropic Thunder”.
Photo credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace




While the drink Booty Sweat is a smash hit in the film and merely serves as one of its comedic asides, in real life the liquid isn’t nearly as renowned. It’s currently selling at novelty stores such as Spencer’s Gifts (as well as Amazon.com) and is one of many ways the movie is drumming up buzz.

Still, it’s trying to explode virally for the film at BootySweat.com and Alpa-Chino.com. Clearly borrowed from actor Al Pacino, Alpa Chino is Jackson’s character name in the film. In addition to Chris Tucker, Jackson names Jim Carrey as another comic inspiration.

HollywoodChicago.com recently interviewed the 24-year-old Jackson about his breakout role, today’s struggle to best the masses competing for Hollywood work and why he’s trying to build his own “star brand” that’s nothing like Kanye West.


Tropic Thunder

Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller, left) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr., right) are shooting an epic war movie and wind up in a real battle in the action-comedy “Tropic Thunder”.
Photo credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace




“I know how to be funny to black audiences,” Jackson told HollywoodChicago.com, “but the challenge in ‘Tropic Thunder’ was having universal appeal.” He added: “It’s very difficult getting work in Hollywood right now especially for a young black comic. I’m trying to build a brand. I’m not just doing one-off projects. I’m always doing comedy and will never hit up a 9-to-5 desk job.”

Cody (Danny McBride)The Detroit born and bred Jackson makes the clear differentiation between how he’s crafting his nascent “star brand” as a “young black comic” in stark contrast to “all that hip-hop stuff” in which people like Kanye West are rolling in fat rolls of dough.

Jackson also says he’s continuing to use the concept of a “class clown” in his branding that he just hasn’t been able to shake since high school.

In 2005, Jackson was also seen in the lesser-known, coming-of-age comedy “Roll Bounce” about rollerskating, which was filmed in Chicago and also starred Mike Epps, Bow Wow and Meagan Good.

The young comic describes his first role of prime Hollywood prominence in “Tropic Thunder” as his “most proud and challenging role” thus far. As for working for director Stiller (who also directed 2001’s “Zoolander,” “Reality Bites” and a few others), Jackson said: “Ben knows what he wants. You’d better be funny or go home.”

We spoke with Jackson at a time in his career where he describes being in “mystery mode”. He’s attempting to delicately navigate a balance between “taking any work I can just to get paid” and “being selective” with the roles like in “Tropic Thunder” that’d get him the biggest bang for Hollywood’s buck.

While 2008 still has many more performances left to see, in Jackson’s view the two he’d pick for an Oscar would be Robert Downey Jr.’s role in “Tropic Thunder” (yes, he’s biased) and Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker in the epic film “The Dark Knight”.

While Jackson was mostly business in our Chicago interview, he also enjoyed lounging about in the hotel room’s plush couches. He left us with the following line in describing his favorite aspect of being in film as compared to stand-up comedy: “The best thing about doing film is the food. It’s just magical.”

“Tropic Thunder,” which is directed by Ben Stiller, stars Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Steve Coogan, Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel with cameos from Jason Bateman, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alicia Silverstone, Jon Voight and Tyra Banks. The film opened everywhere on Aug. 13, 2008.

ADAM FENDELMAN
By ADAM FENDELMAN
Editor-in-Chief
HollywoodChicago.com

© 2008 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com


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