Usher Raymond was born in Tennessee in 1978 to a single-mom who encouraged him to join the choir she directed when he was only six. In the early 90’s he signed on with Diddy as an R&B singer, and the rest, as they say, is history.
With millions in CD sales, several Grammys, and a few supporting roles in films under his belt, the young multi-talent takes his first leading man foray with “In the Mix”, a Mafia themed comedy where he stars as a DJ who falls in love with the daughter of a mob boss.
Question: How was it working on the film? Everyone is saying you’re a natural.
Usher: That’s a good thing to be. That’s a compliment I look for. When I was bitten by the acting bug, I just hoped that one day this opportunity would be possible. I didn’t know that it would come this way, where I would actually be able to be associated with, be an executive producer and have say in which direction we should take it.
So many actors go out to Hollywood and they’re looking for that role that’s going to make a difference in their careers, their lives. When you’re put in a position to kind of dictate the direction of it, it is dangerous but at the same time it can be very rewarding.
I’m very proud of this film, not only because I’m the lead in it, but also because I wanted to create something that everyone can be a part of, that’s what I do with my albums. If there’s any way to brand anything in life, it is the ability to make everyone come together and enjoy the moment.
That’s what I do with my music, that’s what I’m trying to do as an actor, that’s what I try to do in basketball, that’s what I’m trying to do with my label in introducing artists that everyone can enjoy. That’s the beginning.
Question: What was it about [co-star] Emmanuelle [Chriqui] that you clicked with at her audition?
Usher: She knew how to kiss. She was a great kisser. To be perfectly honest with you she was the first woman that ever shocked me the way she did as an actress. The kissing had something to do with it, but she just really, she was so comfortable, the chemistry was there.
I don’t know if it’s something she prepared for. I assumed she’d read my bio to understand how to conduct herself in front of me. I thought ‘if there’s any way to capture what we just did in that room on camera, I think we got a hit.’ To tell a story about love and a relationship and the obstacles that you go through in it, you have to have that type of chemistry.
Question: Did you ever have that kind of obstacle in a real relationship? Have you dated outside your culture?
Usher: Have I ever had obstacles in relationships?! Whoo…
Question: I mean parents not approving, things like that.
Usher: Yeah. All too familiar with obstacles in relationships. It’s funny, they’re like the safeguards for me as a man, my grandmother, my mother and my brother. If you can get past those three, you’re good. They are the guard dogs. I have had so many, I can’t even remember, that didn’t work.
Question: What have you learned from past relationships?
Usher: That it’s important not to rush. Get to know each other for sure, spend time together. But to get caught up in a serious relationship…and it’s kind of hard because there’s so much attention on who I’m dating, if I’m single or whatever, so when that next woman is in that position, ‘Am I going to be that woman?’ There’s a lot of pressure. But I try to be as honest as I possibly can.
Right now I’m not looking to rush back into a serious relationship until I’ve found that one person that can be a companion to me, someone I can speak to, someone I can hang out with. I like to go on trips, I like to go places, do things. Companionship leads to friendship leads to hopefully some day more than that, I get back into a relationship and before you know it, that ‘M’ word.
Question: Are you worried that when people meet you they know your image but not the you inside?
Usher: Yeah that’s the harder part, however I’m willing to give a woman a chance to show what she’s got. And the same goes for me. Her response to me as an artist, how does she feel about how I present myself to her? Of course if it’s just a fling, a one night stand, it’s gonna happen and it’s over but eventually you’ve got to calm down and have that real relationship. You don’t find those, I’m finding out. They find you.
Question: How are you different from your image or how you’re portrayed? How do you see yourself?
Usher: Wow. There’s like a quadruple persona that I have. One is a side that people probably would never be able to see until I do an autobiography of my life. There’s a side that’s very understanding, kind, accommodating, very humble and there’s the side that’s very aggressive, strong, a go-getter and most likely to succeed because of the physical energy that I put into what I do. It could be any one at any given time.
Question: What kind of reaction do you get on the street?
Usher: You get a few screaming fans, people come up for autographs. All that stuff.
Question: What was it about this character that you wanted to play?
Usher: There’s a few things. For one, let me say this about Darrell Williams. He as a guy, was built off of a lot of things that I’m around, things that I’ve seen. He’s a DJ who turned into a mobster who happens to be a bodyguard for someone’s daughter that he respects, that’s a really hard combination. How do you gather information, the backstory of who your character is going to be?
I would ask questions, even when I was on set, about the pride of Italian men in their daughters and how they would view that. All of those questions. For me this character is a character that you don’t see that often. There aren’t that many American fly guys. When Will Smith did Hitch that was pretty close to it. There’s not that many characters like that. How do we get closer to creating an American James Bond because there’s not one. I think I might be the vehicle for it.
Question: Do you see yourself as a role model for young kids, especially young black kids?
Usher: Well I hope that what I’m doing, the positive things that I do, and the positive light that is shed on me as an artist, is motivating to kids. It’s part of the reason why I do some of the work I do as a philanthropist, with the New Look Foundation.
Question: Can you explain how you got that started?
Usher: The New Look Foundation in Atlanta Georgia is a camp that I put together for 150 kids that teaches kids through real world experiences all the options that they can have. In life obviously a child is motivated by his environment so if you change that environment and give them hope and make them believe in themselves and you encourage them and make them believe in their goals and dreams, they are more likely to succeed.
So I put together a two week camp in Atlanta where I had a lot of my celebrity friends come in and speak to the kids. I gave the kids a curriculum of basketball, entertainment, as well as acting and having people like attorneys and managers come and speak to the kids, production managers, football players, football agents, management, it gives the kids an opportunity to say ‘Look, I don’t have to be an athlete, I can’t run or I don’t have an athletic build. I can’t sing. But I can be a manager. I have a talent.”
The only way you would ever find it is if you give them that opportunity. I put together a basketball game at the end of the two weeks and the kids, all the kids that sing and dance, were able to be part of the entertainment. And there were kids that put together the lights and sound, the concessions, the ticket takers, the ushers [laughs]. I had them put together the entire thing.
Question: Do you think there will be a day where you’ll do more movies and less music? Or would you never give up music?
Usher: I don’t think I’m going to give up music but as time goes on I may do more acting. I have to carve out a specific amount of time and keep to a schedule when I’m working on films as well as as an artist. I’m working on putting them together. I have this ultimate plan. I set goals for myself. It’s called Oscar, Tony, Emmys, Grammy. I got a few Grammys. Oscars, you got to do film to get Oscars.
Question: What was the first song you wrote and what was the inspiration?
Usher: It was a song called ‘How do I Say?’ It was an about an Italian woman–wow, that’s funny. I happened to be in Italy, in Capri, and I was walking on the cobblestones late one afternoon, I was there for a wedding.
I saw this beautiful woman up ahead in the street and she walked into this club, not really a club like in America but a place where they play live instruments and dance. She was a waitress. I watched her and didn’t speak to her. I didn’t know how to say hello.
Eventually time went on, she began to hang out and talk to people and I tried to get the point across of what I wanted to drink, and then I asked her for a dance and the only way we could communicate was through body language.
Question: Any downside to fame?
Usher: To be honest with you, no. To find the right lady would be good, Miss Right. There are a few Miss Right Now’s.”