Last week, MTV News reported that Beyoncé Knowles was set to make her post-“Dreamgirls” return to the big screen playing Etta James in “Cadillac Records,” a biopic about legendary record producer Leonard Chess.
That’s only half-true, co-star Columbus Short corrected when we met up with him on the set of his new movie “Armored,” calling “Cadillac Records” less a film about Chess than it is a look into the artists, the culture and, most importantly, the music that surrounded him.
“There is a Leonard Chess movie that is more of a biopic, but this is more of a Muddy Waters, Etta James … [this is] the Chess Records biopic,” Short enthused. “It’s going to be a great film, man.”
It’s a departure from traditional film biographies that has Short as the blues artist Little Walter, a harmonica virtuoso often called the greatest ever. Credited with helping to create the very vocabulary of blues-rock harmonica, Walter’s influence can be seen in almost every subsequent player, from Junior Wells to John Popper.
In “Cadillac,” he’ll finally get his modern moment in the spotlight. Unlike recent biopics like “Walk the Line,” where popular, even legendary, artists (like Elvis) are relegated to the sidelines, “Cadillac” puts the music front and center, Short said.
“It’s not like ’Walk the Line’ [where you follow] one guy. It’s following Muddy Waters, Little Walter — it’s a love story,” Short revealed. “It’s how the blues brought these guys together and what the blues did in that time.”
For Short, the opportunity to sink into “that time” is almost an embarrassment of riches, the 25-year-old actor confessed, insisting that it remains one of music’s great, untold stories.
“People haven’t delved into it, and that’s one of the reasons I signed on,” he said. “I’m playing a French Creole straight from the bayou, so it’s going to be a different role for me — a dramatic stretch — and musically something I’ve been looking forward to doing for a long time.”
Although he laughed that his “pipes are all right,” Short said he is already working with the rest of the cast on the songs for the film.
“I sing — I just came back from New York this week, and I was cutting records,” Short said. “Honestly, I’m so excited.”
As for that other Chess film, the one that’s actually more about Leonard Chess? Short said it doesn’t have the castmembers of “Cadillac Records” singing the blues — well, more than they are already, that is.
“Sometimes people want to tell stories at the same time,” he said, smiling. “Go tell your story, because we’re going to tell ours — let’s just see what happens.”
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