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The Never Back Down Interview
with Kam Williams
Headline: Djimon Announces Plans to Pop the Question
Born in Cotonou, Benin on April 24, 1964, Djimon Gaston Hounsou emigrated from West Africa to Paris at the age of 13 to Paris with his brother Edmund. Homeless, the strikingly-handsome 6'4" hunk led a hand-to-mouth existence, till he was discovered by French fashion designer Thierry Mugler who hired him as a runway model.
After spending time strutting up catwalks all across Europe, Djimon made his way to Hollywood to take a shot at showbiz. He first found work in music videos, appearing in everything from Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu4NcgQZucE) to Madonna's "Express Yourself" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMt53HYkfY8). His big break came in 1997 when Steven Spielberg cast him in Amistad as Cinque, the lion-hearted, slave revolt leader.
Djimon subsequently received critical acclaim for his work with Russell Crowe in Gladiator and then opposite Kate Hudson in The Four Feathers before landing Academy Award nominations for In America ad Blood Diamond. The versatile thespian has also appeared in Eragon, Biker Boyz, Tomb Raider 2, Constantine, Beauty Shop and The Island.
Last year, Djimon returned to modeling, showing off his hot chocolate bod in Calvin Klein's international underwear campaign. Apparently, someone does get between him and his Calvins, however, since for the first time in his career, Hounsou has been landing in the tabloids, all because he's been romantically linked to Kimora Lee Simmons, President of Baby Fat Fashions and ex-wife of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Despite rumors that Kimora might be pregnant with little Djimon, Jr., the couple were not yet ready to make an announcement at the recent premiere of Djimon's new picture, Never Back Down.
KW: Hey, Djimon, thanks for the time.
DH: Absolutely, thank you. How you been?
KW: Great. I don't know if you remember the first time we spoke, but my son knew where Benin was, and you told him he was a very bright boy.
DH: Oh, yeah, that's right. How's he doing?
KW: He's doing very well, thanks. He's a freshman at Princeton University.
DH: See, he is very smart.
KW: Thanks. What interested you in playing this character, Jean Roqua, in Never Back Down?
DH: If anything, my love of the sport. That was my special attraction to the story. Beyond that, the challenge of portraying Roqua who had some demons that he needed to face and deal with. Plus, I liked his relationship with the young men and women coming of age who were having a hard time dealing with their own issues and trying to overcome them.
KW: I was really pleasantly surprised by this film. Going in, I was expecting it to be just a remake of The Karate Kid, but it really stands on its own. Plus, as usual, you bring a certain presence to the film that elevates the whole production.
DH: Well, like I said, started with my love of mixed martial arts. I was hoping that I would come across a venue with that as a theme. Then, the producers sat down with me and convinced me that it would be a great story.
KW: So, was your love of martial arts as a fan or as a participant?
DH: Well, it was mostly as a fan that I was drawn to the project, but I'd also taken classes. So, I already had a great affinity for the sport.
KW: What did you have to do in preparation for the role?
DH: A lot of training, obviously. There was so much that I had to learn about the sport. One of the things that came in handy was the fact that I had studied kung fu and boxing for so many years while growing up in France. When I came to America, I didn't really pursue them as heavily, but I definitely continued to appreciate a whole new aspect of the sport, which was mixed martial arts.
KW: I knew you'd been a model in France, but I never knew you studied martial arts?
DH: Yes, I did. Even while modeling, I was still practicing kung fu, and boxing, as sports.
KW: Was there anyone that you based Jean Roqua on?
DH: There's a certain spirituality that comes as a result of practicing the sport for a long time. What I was looking for was certainly someone with the right demeanor. So, I watched Royce Gracie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY6OYSbGRQQ) and the Gracie family. The Gracies were known to be the best in Jiu-Jitsu, especially in mixed martial arts. That name resonates with anybody who knows about mixed martial arts. Royce is the man, because of his understanding of the forces of nature, the spirituality, and the mental discipline that comes as a result of needing to survive this training.
KW: What sort of diet, exercise regimen and spiritual path do you follow?
DH: Meditation, mostly. The work that we do, you really need to keep yourself centered while you're in the process of it. It's very difficult.
KW: I can imagine, especially because you're always on the road, living in trailers for long stretches at a time, and not always having access to the healthiest of food.
DH: Yeah, plus you're going back and forth between movie sets, and having whole new groups of people that you're dealing with on a daily basis. It may seem glamorous, but it's really hard to remain centered when you're hopping from place to place. It's very challenging.
KW: I see you've recently returned to modeling for Calvin Klein.
DH: [Chuckles] Why not? If anything, Calvin Klein is the iconic company in terms of fashion. They do have iconic images for their campaigns. They shot it so beautifully.
KW: When is your next film, Push, coming out?
DH: I actually just wrapped Push. But that has so many special effects, that I think there will be quite a bit of time before it's released.
KW: You and Kimora looked like quite the loving couple at the Never Back Down premiere. Are you planning to pop the question any time soon?
DH: Uh, well, you know, she's the best candidate. So, eventually, yeah.
KW: Congratulations! Would you describe yourself as happy?
DH: Yes, very fulfilled.
KW: I call that the Columbus Short question, because he told me that no interviewer ever asks him that.
DH: Yes, no one does, actually. Yes, I am happy, and I have many reasons to be extra-happy nowadays. Life is calm, and the career is good and taking its course. And things are moving, things are moving ahead.
KW: Is there any question that nobody ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
DH: [Laughs] Yeah, I remember that question. You've asked me that before. You've caught me off-guard again.
KW: What message do you want people to come away with from Never Back Down?
DH: That we all have our issues, that no one gets away from facing their own issues, so that we can advance. Nothing is given lightly, and everything has a repercussion, as you're evolving. And, if anything, the sport itself is a great training, not only physically, but the mental discipline that it requires. The gym can serve as an excellent place where kids, and young men and women can really empty their issues right on the floor. It's amazing the spirituality that you get as a result of practicing and enjoying the sport. That's another plus.
KW: Well, thanks again for the interview, Djimon. I really appreciate it.
DH: You're most welcome. I want to know what's going on with your son. Don't forget to remind me next time, okay?
KW: Absolutely, best of luck with the film, your family, and all your endeavors.
DH: Thank you very much, sir. Until the next time. Take care.
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