LOS ANGELES — Please forgive Chris Brown and Columbus Short if their smiles are a bit broader, their high-fives a bit harder and their laughs a bit louder than usual.
Although Santa Claus came and left more than a month ago, the duo received their greatest gift on the weekend of January 12: a box-office vote of confidence, packaged with the knowledge that the next 12 months would be one big “Christmas” party.
“I think it boosts my marketability in acting,” 17-year-old Brown said last week about the recent #1 debut of “Stomp the Yard,” his first film (see “Chris Brown, Ne-Yo ’Stomp’ Stiller At The Box Office” ). “Now I can do it for a little bit longer.”
“Studios and executives have said we’re becoming slowly but surely bankable at the box office to open a movie,” said Short, Brown’s 24-year-old choreographer/ acting partner (see “New Rat Pack? Chris Brown, Columbus Short Team Up Onscreen — Again” ). “Between me, Chris and Ne-Yo, we’re trying to start the new little Rat Pack, so we’re going to be doing a lot of projects together in the future.”
Their first “Stomp” follow-up is “This Christmas,” which is the reason Brown and Short are standing on a palm-tree-lined L.A. street discussing Christmas lights and eggnog in February. Over one very busy week in January, Brown and Short announced the family drama while doing interviews on a Saturday; went into a studio the next day so double-Grammy nominee Brown could lay down the title track; and then opened “Stomp” to more than $25 million the following weekend.
“They brought the topic to me about the movie, and I was like, ’I just did “Stomp the Yard,” man, I don’t know,’ ” Brown remembered. “But [’Stomp’ and ’Christmas’ studio Screen Gems] gave it to me and I was like, ’OK!’ When they told me who was part of it, I was happy.”
Now, the California sunshine is competing with the warm family chatter coming from Short, Regina King (“Ray”), Delroy Lindo (“Sahara”), Nia Long (“Are We There Yet?”), Mekhi Phifer (“Dawn of the Dead”) and other notables. Fellow “Stomp” star Ne-Yo will not be attending this holiday celebration, but as Brown jumps in front of his newfound family and mugs for the camera, another musician-turned-actor looks on with hopes of becoming the newest Rat.
“I’m learning from old characters and new characters alike,” said rapper David Banner, who’ll be a second-time star like Brown by the time “Christmas” hits theaters in November. “It’s been wonderful coming off ’Black Snake Moan’ — my first movie with Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci and Justin Timberlake — to come right back here with my people and this being my second run.”
The group is assembled for a mid-movie shot that marks the end of a family’s innocence while uniting for its first Christmas in seven years. As the Whitfields assemble on the lawn for a group photo with the spankin’ new camera given to Baby (Brown), little do they know that the secrets they hide from mother Ma’Dere (Loretta Divine, a.k.a. one of the original “Dreamgirls” on Broadway) are about to be revealed like Rudolph’s nose in the snowy night sky.
“[Baby is] crazy about photography, and he’s shooting the whole family on the stoop for the Christmas picture,” Short explained. “But I have a secret — I’m married [and] I went AWOL from the Marine Corps. My sister’s husband is cheating on her. There’s a conglomerate of drama meshed into this family movie — a gumbo jambalaya situation.”
“Quentin, who is one of the main characters, owes my boss a whole lotta money,” said Banner, who plays Mo in the film. “We came all the way here from Chicago to collect our money from Quentin, and I have a personal vendetta with Quentin because at the beginning of the movie, he smashes me over the head with a bottle. And people — David Banner did all his own stunts!”
You can expect even more violence after Ma’Dere discovers all the secrets her kids have been keeping from her — and you can also count on tearing through half a box of Kleenex once Brown’s character attempts to make things right by serenading his mom with the titular holiday classic. “I’m singing some old-school songs, and hopefully I do justice to them,” Brown said. “One is called ’Try a Little Tenderness,’ and of course there’s Donny Hathaway’s ’This Christmas.’ ”
Watching them between takes, you can’t help but notice that Short and Brown seem like they’re on top of the world. Recently, however, the multiplatinum singer learned that you can still crash hard while you’re soaring high. “Me being a knucklehead, I played basketball like two days ago and broke my ankle,” sighed Brown, noticeably limping around the set. Still, he insisted, he won’t miss a single day on the movie set and will definitely be at the Staples Center on Sunday for his two Grammy nominations. “When y’all see me at the Grammys, know that I’m going to be doing it with a fractured ankle. So if the right side is going a little slower than the other side, you know why.”
“He’s always dancing, but he should not be dancing now because he had a little basketball injury,” said Regina King, who was seen talking Brown out of a bicycle ride between takes. “He can’t help it. He’s a typical 17-year-old: full of energy.”
“I was playing with Chris a couple days before,” Short remembered. “I told him, ’Do not go up for rebounds!’ because he’s like my little brother. … He gets overzealous, and I’m like, ’You have a career, man. You dance. Your dancing is a pertinent part of your show!’ … Sure enough, he rolled over on his ankle.”
Hoping they’ll have another slam-dunk in theaters come November, Brown and Short headed back inside the house for the next take. They’re still smiling broader, high-fiving harder and laughing louder than ever — but for the time being, Brown will be stomping a little bit softer.
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