Two-time Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou isn't one to shy away from a difficult situation, whether that's starting over in a completely different country -- from Benin to France -- or doing a film under agonizing circumstances. The model-turned-actor's latest film, "Special Forces," is the harrowing tale of French special ops soldiers sent to rescue a journalist Elsa (Diane Kruger) who's taken hostage in Pakistan. After losing touch with their team, the soldiers and Elsa have to travel by foot through dangerous areas near the Pakistan border in the hopes of making it to Afghanistan and getting back to safety.
Hounsou also has an exquisite voice, which he's put to use in the "Black Panther" animated series and the upcoming sequel to "How to Train Your Dragon." He told us, "I was so overwhelmed when DreamWorks called me and asked me to come in for 'How to Train Your Dragon.' I was so excited." He added he'd never done voice-overs except for in documentaries and he was excited for his children to see it.
Hounsou called us directly from Los Angeles to discuss shooting "Special Forces," what's up with "The Seventh Son," hopes for the "Black Panther" movie and his days in music videos.
This looked like it was a really difficult shoot, even with stunts and make-up. Which part would you say was the most difficult or uncomfortable?
You can say that again. You can say every single thing about that film was difficult. I don't even know where to begin. Location, the nature of the story, the theme of this film, and literally we camped while we were shooting this film. I've made quite a few films, and even though sometimes I still feel like it's early in my career… This certainly was one of the most difficult films that I've done so far. More challenging, more emotionally devastating film because we were gone for the most part of three, three and a half months, in some Himalayan mountains looking over Afghanistan in very tribal zones, actually… I don't even know if most of those people had ever come across a black man, ever.
As a crew, as a filming team, did you ever feel like it was a dangerous situation?
Everything about it was dangerous. We were warned and we were briefed beforehand, before getting on the plane to head that direction, to Tajikistan, we were briefed as to this very tribal people, very similar to Afghanistan -- the only difference here is they don't really like to grow beards because they don't like to be looked at as if they were Taliban. But nevertheless, we had to be careful where [we went]… We were camping for the most part, in a group for the most part. There's no place to go, other than nature that's in front of you, and you don't really want to adventure anyway because there's nothing -- it's only rocky mountains… At one point, ten people had to use the same bathroom, so it's on schedule, and you only have a certain amount of time to use the hot water.
You must be ready to start filming a nice romantic comedy like "Baggage Claim," then, right?
Yes, I'm getting ready to shoot that. It will be quite pleasant to be shooting in town [Los Angeles] and to be shooting a romantic comedy that doesn't have any physical action in it.
Which of the leading men are you?
[laughs] Listen to you, which one of the leading men.
Well, there's a lot of men for her to choose from!
She's got quite a list to pick from. I'm one of them, I guess. I'm one of the more intriguing men of the group, I guess.
So, what's the latest on "The Seventh Son"? It seems like it's been in limbo for a while. There's no release date, but it's wrapped.
Well, because there are so many special effects… There's quite a lot of digital effects. From what I'm hearing, the film looks great and they're very excited… Again, don't forget, it's from one of the greatest epic filmmakers, Sergey Bodrov who directed it, so you can imagine it's going to be, you know, with the luxury of having all the financial attributes to make the film the right way... [It will be] visually stunning, and the costumes are great. The story looks beautiful.
You play an original character, Radu. Where do you fit in? What's your story?
I'm an ex-lover of the biggest witch in the story, who is played by Julianne Moore, and also I'm a warlock and I have the ability to shape shift between dragon and human… She looks stunning and powerful. The connection was great.
I know that everyone is asking you about the "Black Panther" movie because that would be a really awesome movie to see on the big screen.
It would be, no?... It would be great to see a minority action/adventure figure that represents minorities… and we all definitely deserve to see a great comic book for black folks. It definitely has leverage…There's an audience for it, there's a huge audience for it, and it's just a matter of time for them to decide to want to do it and do it right and not do it in a way [that's cheap] and then… [they'll say] "Oh, black superheroes don't work. Okay, bye!" No, it has to be done right, and whether it's me or not me — I mean, I would love to be part of it. It certainly would be an honor. A great honor.
I keep reading online that you're in Madonna's video "Express Yourself," but it's so dark and rainy that I couldn't actually tell if you were in it or not! Were you really in it?
Yeah, if you look at it, I'm in the beginning in a suit playing an instrument, and after that, I'm in the group where it's raining and it's so many [actors] that you can't tell who's who. But yeah, I'm somewhere over there. But definitely you do notice if you see the beginning, you do notice. The powerful video is probably the one of Herb Ritts for Janet Jackson.
These are all videos I watched growing up. What was it like being on the set of "Express Yourself"?
It was a lot. I had just come from France as a model, and there were some other friends of mine who were models here, and then so we all kind of -- one of my best friends at the time was playing the lead in Madonna's video, that particular video, so we were only doing it as fun, and you know, working for Madonna at the time was really -- everybody was excited.
I was just listening to Janet Jackson yesterday on the subway, breaking out some old tunes.
[laughs] You're funny! Breaking out some old tunes.
I grew up listening to all this stuff and sitting in front of MTV.
I hear you, and it brings you back to the good days.
The videos were so good, then. It must have been really fun.
Yes, it was fun. It was a lot of fun. And my whole dream was to break into movies, the film industry. It was tough to come around, to kind of figure out how to -- being in this country for the first time and trying to figure out how to get into the circle of film.
Did you find that doing music videos was a good way in?
Well, I didn't have a choice. It seemed like it certainly was somewhere close [laughs] to making movies. I mean, at least you were in the element of directors and interesting videos and so on and so forth. I felt like, I didn't have any choice. Videos, I considered them to be sort of like I was doing fashion, so that's how I treated that in the beginning.