Trendy Film Report – Actor Spotlight with Jimmy Jean-Louis of Toussaint L’Ouverture
The New York African Film Festival is currently underway and as the slew of selected gems make their much-anticipated debuts, we are spotlighting some of the varied talents in the mix.
Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis has enjoyed a consistently formative career in both film and television. His most visible roles were in the 2006 film Phat Girlz opposite actress and comedian Mo’Nique and the NBC hit show Heroes where he played the recurring role of The Haitian.
In his latest venture, Jean-Louis is hitting close to home by embodying a character that carries a heavy dose of cultural and historical significance. Under the direction of Philippe Niang, the 44-year-old actor has brilliantly resuscitated the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian revolutionary who until now has remained somewhat of an urban legend.
Hollywood actor and director Danny Glover may have helped to fuel the passion behind this intricate project, but his vehicle simply titled L’Ouverture has no bearing on the film we are spotlighting. It just reinforces the validity of Niang’s finished product.
We caught up with Jimmy Jean-Louis to find out more about his preparatory regimen for Toussaint L’Ouverture, and in the process we discovered that he is a man of many talents. He put his good looks into use when he recently completed a music video, Fine China with Chris Brown, in Los Angeles.
But despite all the accolades and enviable success, he is most proud of the organization he founded in 2008, Hollywood Unites For Haiti, www.hufh.org, a thriving and progressive philanthropic hub geared towards the enhancement of the youth of Haiti in varied facets, particularly sports and cultural activities.
Check out our convo with Jimmy Jean-Louis below:
MTB: As someone who hails from Haiti, the subject of this film obviously got your attention as an actor. How did you initially get involved?
JJL: I was actually in my home in Los Angeles when I received the phone call from the producer who wanted to speak to me about the role of Toussaint L’Ouverture. And she was at the time in Martinique, and for some reason I was going to Martinique the following week so we managed to meet up. Then after that we had a second meeting at the Cannes Film Festival and then a year later we started to shoot. I think I was given the role because the producers were aware of what I had done and what I represent as far as being an actor who is also from Haiti, because I have been quite involved in the Haitian culture and from what they said it was a no brainer and I was just happy to be there to service.
MTB: How did you go about tackling such a larger-than life character?
JJL: I understood what it meant to play Toussaint L’Ouverture and it truly was the first time we were shooting a fiction about him so automatically I realized that for the next generation I might be the face of Toussaint L’Ouverture, which added some extra pressure. And as a Haitian I just wanted to do as best as a job as I could do. So you know with all of that said I tried to prep quite a bit by watching documentaries, reading books and also I had to train how to ride a horse for about 2 months because I didn’t know how to ride a horse. And also sword fighting and all kinds of skills I didn’t have before. But the most difficult part was to actually embody him to play him, to play the many faces of Tousaint L’Ouverture. You know he was a slave, and then he was freed, and then he became a general and a governor and I played him from the age of 30 to the age of 60 so it was a quite a range, and I needed to be precise with each part of his life that I wanted to portray. So that was very difficult because I needed to be very settled and at the same time I needed to be credible as a horse rider, donning heavy costume from way back and it was very hard and sweaty. So it was a challenge but at the same time my heart was in it. I have to say that I am quite satisfied with the results but most of all I am happy that people can now have a chance to see the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, to get another perception of Haiti because of the movie. Because of what he has done for Haiti, giving Haiti its independence, being the first Republic to fight and win independence against the great some would say Napolean Bonaparte.
MTB: What did you take away from the experience of being a vital part of a film of this magnitude?
JJL: I always learn from every experience but this one was very special. I mean as a lead actor it reinforced by strengths as being able to lead a movie. So I am extremely confident with that. Also because of the story I learnt about leadership and about taking a movement to the next level, about empowering people to some level and that was quite important for me. Even after shooting the movie I am still very much learning and growing with the project because I am traveling all over the world and every single time I get to represent him. I have to step into his shoes and try to be as good as a leader as I can be to pass on the message, to best sell Haiti, to best sell my country, and my people and also to show a fair face or I should say to try to revive what L’Ouverture stood for. So when you repeat something so many times, it slowly becomes who you are. So I am still learning quite a bit even after shooting the project.
MTB: Do you think Haitians in particular will respond favorably to the finished product?
JJL: Yes, I thing they will respond well. I had a little taste of it because we screened the movie for a couple of special groups in Haiti and every single person that saw the movie was extremely happy to actually be able to see themselves under such light. Because it’s a chance for them to see that Haiti is also that – we also represent a kind of Haiti. And for the non-Haitians it’s sort of a great history lesson for the ones that didn’t know what Haiti stands for. Haiti is not just about the earthquake and some of the bad politics that we are having. Haiti is also a country that gave the black republicans their independence. Its also the country that helped in purchasing Louisiana back to the Americans and to the French. Haiti’s L’Ouverture helped inspire the likes of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and many others to be what they became. So here is a story of a man who did so much and never really got any recognition for what he has done so this was a chance to put him on the map.