Morris Chestnut, who made his cinematic debut as Ricky Baker in the famous Black tragedy Boyz in the Hood, moved from NFL to a popular celebrity in Black Hollywood and beyond for decades. He played Lance Sullivan in The Best Man series and a slew of other legendary Black rom-coms that defined the 1990s. He also appears in today’s blockbusters such as Fox’s successful medical drama The Resident and black suspense flicks like When the Bough Breaks. Chestnut has cemented his reputation as a noteworthy character in film and television across many genres.
Chestnut portrays Raymond Dupont in the Fox series “Our Kind of People”, one of several Black and incredibly affluent people in the Martha’s Vineyard enclave of Oak Bluffs. Dupont is described as a “strong man” who has “been struggling to restore the corporation after his white business partner Jack nearly sank the enterprise via mismanagement.” While the show involves scandalous behavior and huge surprises, it portrays the African-American community at its best.
BGN spoke with Chestnut over the phone about his transformation into Raymond Dupont, how he compares to the role, and what this show means in the midst of the fight to highlight the Black community’s radiant beauty and intellect.
You’ve played a variety of dramatic parts, including Dr. Barrett Cain on The Resident. What lessons did you use in your work as Raymond DuPont from your past dramatic roles?
I think I learned from every role. It’s not even just on-screen. It’s in relationships and dealing with people. I’ve worked out of the country, I’ve worked in Germany, I’ve worked in Fiji. I’ve worked in Los Angeles, New York, Canada. I would say that a lot of my growth and development is just really from learning and understanding people. That’s what we do as actors — we convey the human experience and the human behavior. Learning, watching, and understanding other people’s behavior has helped me as an actor. Everything that I’ve done thus far filters into Raymond DuPont. Even if it’s not his character, I can identify or could look at someone like Joe Morton’s character and say, “You know what, I saw that exact same type of trait in a person who was on this movie set in New York.” That’s how everything kind of ties in together.
Raymond has been compared to Barack Obama in terms of swag and presence. When you first found out you’d be playing Raymond, what strategies or thoughts did you employ to help you embody him as you felt fit?
I saw that as well and because it was in the character description, I pulled up Obama tapes on him to see his swag. The thing about it is, my idea of swag may be different from what the writers’ idea of swag is. So as I saw the Obama swag I was like, “Oh, I see what that is.” Obama’s swag would be different from Drake’s swag, or Jason Derulo’s swag. That’s pretty much what I did for that.
What do you see as the similarities and differences between yourself and Raymond?
With myself, the conversations that I have with my son on the show on-screen, some of those have been somewhat similar to the conversations I’m going through with my son in real life. That’s a very close comparison. In terms of differences, this character is wealthy. Private jets. Several homes. Just a lot of the things that he’s dealing with this company are some differences.
While the drama deals with secrets and scandals, it portrays Oak Bluffs’ Black population as extremely prosperous and wealthy. What does it mean to you to play a character that celebrates African-American achievement in the midst of racial struggle and tension?
It’s actually an honor to be able to portray this character during these times. One of the things that really excited me about the project was to convey all those things you just mentioned to the world. A lot of times when people see wealthy Black people, they say, “Okay, is he shooting the basketball? Is he carrying the football? Is he a rapper?” or something to that effect. Even here in North Carolina, I went to the dry cleaners. There’s this older gentleman who was in the dry cleaners. I had some nice clothes, and he saw my car. I came in and he said, “Hey, so you play basketball? You play football?” He was asking me questions like that. That’s why this type of show is important. People need to see that we are smart. We don’t need to be in entertainment or sports to have money.