Toronto based actor and hip hop artist chatted with us about stepping into role of Damon Dash in Lifetime’s Aaliyah: Princess of R&B biopic.
How did you land the role of Damon Dash in the Aaliyah biopic?
AG: Through my agent, my agent in Toronto. I was sitting at his desk, and I had just finished shooting another show called The Listener. He said hey man they’re doing the Aaliyah biopic and I submitted you for the role of Damon Dash. So got the appointment, I had to do the audition in front of Debra Chase the producer as well as Bradley Welsh the director. Just fabulous people. Yeah man I just got into the zone and things played out well in my favor.
How familiar were you with Damon before landing the role, how did you prepare for the role?
AG: Well I knew of Damon, I didn’t know him, and I actually still haven’t met him yet. We have some people in our circles that know each other, so hopefully that can happen. But just knowing Damon and Jay Z story, watching that. I’m also an artist myself so I do understand production, I’m a producer and what not. Just remembering their whole story with Rocafella it really helped me. But I think one of the biggest things is this was my first time playing a character of a real person. So it’s more than just a character and just having to research the mannerisms and bring it across the best way I could onscreen. But one of the key elements was for whenever you do a role as an actor you have to justify their point of view to see where they’re coming from. Just listening to Damon talk and kind of getting a mood of where he is, I was like “Yo I could relate to this guy the stuff that he is saying is real”. That helped me just finding the position, point of reference that hey I actually believe in some of the things he’s saying. So that taking in the fact that I’m an artist, producer, putting that together. Then the biggest thing since the story is about Aaliyah, so how does she affect him. So looking at some of the interviews I’ve seen about how he spoke about his love for Aaliyah, and just seeing the connection they had when they were walking together how they’re holding hands and how playful they are. That was real to me to, to see how affected this man was affected by that type of love. So that was the great thing about doing this project was I want people to see how love really affects you, this is the part of Damon that I don’t know but don’t think a lot of people have seen.
How was it working with Alexandra Shipp on the film?
AG: She’s a very talented actress, and she’s a very nice fun person, and that’s the greatest thing when you’re working. Just speaking on behalf of the cast just working with good nice people who are very professional is rewarding. Just like any other job you have, you want your people to be on the same page and you’re not bumping heads, so it was really good. And I know the director his thing was that, the innocence of this love really really needs to be there. So it was real fantastic working with her and everyone else.
Did you meet with Christopher John Farley the author of Aaliyah’s biography while filming?
AG: I did not get the chance, because at the time he wasn’t onset when I was on set. I did reach out to him on Twitter, and I just told him fantastic story. Very beautiful story, just what he brought to it. It was an eye opener for me, like wow. I’m talking about the upcoming of her life, pertaining to this strong young woman who accomplished so much, had been through so much and she was just solid like a rock. Michael Elliott who was one of the writers on the project, I had a chance to speak to him, he had been around Damon, and there’s a few people as well. They were my point of contact to say yes, yes, yes. Just to vibe with them worked out well.
You have a song “Notice Me” in the film, how did your song became apart of the film?
AG: First thing is I’m very spiritual, so I’mma give it up to God, and he made this all possible. As an artist I ‘ve always tried to find the uniqueness and balance between doing two things and making sure I do them to the best of my ability and be a real competitor in this game. So with that it was timing. I of course being on a set I’m always thinking how my music could be a part of something. But do one job first, and my job was to act and really impress them. Fortunately the director met with me and we had a listening session, that’s how Notice Me, caught his attention. It’s an edgy love record, it’s almost like the answer to Janet Jackson with most respect when she said what have you done for me lately. Then it’s like maybe you haven’t noticed me, like everyone wants the attention. It’s a give and take thing. So this song that’s how it got noticed, but it’s getting a good look in the project. I can’t say too much about it, but it’s coming out this Saturday in the movie at 8pm on Lifetime.
Did acting or music come first for you?
AG: My brother, Michael Grant, he passed away he’s forever missed. I bring him up because he was my influence with music. Music and basketball and entertainment in general, he really brought me up to listening to guys he was listening to and I really got an understanding of where hip hop came from. Then actually I stopped doing music for a little bit when I was like 11, I started young, and I got into basketball. I came to be nominated All- American point guard, which was something I worked so hard to obtain. I got injured and that injury pulled me back into the studio doing music. I got bit by the acting bug at a pretty young age, I was 15/16. I remember saying to myself I can do this. I said well ok if I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do this the right way, so I started to take acting classes. I used to live in Jersey City right across the water from New York and would travel every single weekend going to this classes when I was going to the studio. Initially it started with music and then it branched over into film because at the end of the day it’s all about entertainment right.
Can you speak about some of your other film projects?
AG: When I first started doing acting, my thing was I wanted to tackle projects that I’m gonna have a lot of dialogue, so I could really get my acting chops up to par. So that’s when I said I’m gonna do independent stuff. New York Film Academy they have a lot of good stuff going on, they have a lot of up and coming directors, writers etc, so I hoped on a lot of those projects and I was getting those done. I knew that I’m ready. So I was fortunate to work out a good relationship with my agent. One of the projects I did recently was Rookie Blue, which is pretty big cop show in Canada also in NY where it’s doing very well. I did an episode with them at the beginning of the year and episode that’s premiering in 2015. I play a character named Boz. And this show called Lost Girl where I play a football player. I did a show called The Listener it’s a very successful show in Canada. Also costarring in this movie The Lake on Clinton Road premiering in select theaters in November.
Being from Toronto, what’s the difference between the Toronto and US entertainment scene?
AG: Right now I love Toronto, I really do there are so many inspiring artist. You guys have seen what Drake has done. He’s done a crazy solid job, the guy’s really talented. When you walk through Toronto you’ll see so many different productions on one block you go a couple of blocks down you’ll see another tv show or movie being made. It’s like it’s own Hollywood. People are definitely getting it in. Now NY of course, I would say there are so many more people chasing the dream if you want to say. So the one thing I will say about Toronto especially in the film world, is it is a little bit easier to weed out the bigger productions from the smaller productions. It is a smaller city that’s doing a lot of great things but it’s easier to get through that filter system. I’ve done some independent projects that I haven’t seen yet. That was my one issue with doing independent projects, where your commitment as an actor is done, but then there is the commitment of the director and editors to finish it so we can have the project.
What are your goals in regards to your entertainment career?
AG: The type of actor I am, I’m open to tackling different types of work. I don’t want to be typecast as that guy that’s just gonna be the tough guy, I wanna be the lover. Just being able to tackle many types of roles for the right projects. I want to take this as far as it could go because I believe in myself and love what I do. Same with music. I have a large catalog of music, very universal. They use the word pop, popular music,at the end of the day I want as many airs as possible. My biggest thing is having an identity. I love artist with an identity clearly, they’re just coming from a real place. That’s what you get from older influences like the Michael Jackson’s going back and even closer artist like Jay Z and Kanye. These artist have strong identities in who they are, I think some of it in music today is missing the identity. Like what do you stand for, if you stand for nothing you fall for anything. With my music I have a message I want to get out and that message is that “it’s easy to die”. So how can we be happy, that’s my story because I been through difficult times a lot so let’s look at the flip side of it and how we can enjoy this thing called life.