If you’ve ever wanted to be an extra in a film or on television, you need to meet Christopher Gray. Gray specializes in casting extras for Hollywood’s big-budget blockbuster movies or network TV shows such as “Collateral,” “Amistad,” “Hustle and Flow,” “Men of Honor” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Extras, or background actors, are the people who are walking or sitting or chatting or standing in any movie or TV show with no speaking lines. Gray has made his mark in Hollywood casting extras for more than 100 Hollywood big-budget movies and TV shows.
Working in Hollywood wasn’t part of his career goal. Gray, born in Memphis, Tenn., is a graduate of Howard University and then studied law in California.
In California, a friend asked him to help out with casting and he caught the proverbial acting bug. He is among a handful of Black casting directors with 25 years of experience casting ordinary people to play roles in movies or TV shows.
Even though he has established himself as one of the casting experts in the movie and TV industry, Gray faces the same challenges that most African-American actors feel in Hollywood — there aren’t enough roles or opportunities for Blacks. According to Gray, in the casting department, there isonly a handful of Black casting directors in Hollywood.
“There are very few scripts for Black actors is the number one problem ... then you have the same actors vying for the same position (role). Sometimes when I go into production meetings, I am the only Black person sitting in,” said Gray, who operates his Christopher Gray Casting Agency in West Hollywood.
As one of the pioneers in Black Hollywood and among a handful of Black casting directors, Gray is not known in Hollywood production circles as a Black casting agent. He is the only African-American casting director to have cast extras with all of the major studios — 20th Century Fox, MGM Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney/Touchstone, Dreamworks, New Line Cinema and Paramount Pictures — and worked with blockbuster producers and directors, including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann and David Lynch.
And although he has cast millions of extras and his movie credits include A-list superstars such as Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Denzel Washington and Will Smith, procuring the next movie or TV project remains an “everyday struggle.”
“Hollywood is who you know. It’s all about who you know. If you don’t know anybody, it’s really hard to break in,” explained Gray, who gave rare, behind-the-scenes insight on how casting directors are hired in Hollywood.
His advice for people who want to be the next Christopher Gray is to learn the behind-the-scenes areas of the movie-making or TV show production business, including wardrobe, costume design, hair or makeup, through apprenticeships. There are more opportunities behind the scenes.
Being an extra is also a way to get exposed to the world of movies and TV shows. It’s a way to see the mechanics involved — lighting, cameras, sound, set design and scene production. Gray says “90 percent” of the production work in Hollywood is from on-the-job training, not taught in schools.
You can see Christopher Gray Casting’s magic touch in “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” starring Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Chris Rock in theaters now and the remake of “Steel Magnolias” starring Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, Phylicia Rashad and Alfre Woodard on Lifetime TV in September.
For the second consecutive year, The Roots, Philadelphia’s Grammy-winning hip-hop heavyweights, will host the annual Fourth of July concert on Ben Franklin Parkway, with iconic drummer/DJ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson serving as musical director.
This year’s diverse lineup will feature Grammy-winning rapper/actress Queen Latifah, hit-maker Daryl Hall of the top-selling duo Hall & Oates, hip-hop artist/actor Common, and pop sensation Joe Jonas.
“We are excited to help put together such a great show! Philly’s a natural fit for the Fourth of July Concert,” says Questlove. “The Fourth of July on the Parkway should be what New Year’s Eve in Times Square is to New York.”
Once again, 6abc will broadcast the Independence Day festivities live, beginning at 10 a.m. with the “Celebration of Freedom Ceremony.” Taking place on the steps of Independence Hall, this “patriotic and inspiring” morning featuring music, speeches and excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, will pay tribute to the history of our great nation.
At 11 a.m., the station will begin live coverage of the “Philadelphia Independence Day Parade” as it travels through historic Philadelphia. With marching bands, floats and more than 5,000 participants, this year’s parade features a “Heroes Salute” honoring the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 – The United States Military, veterans, firefighters and police officers.
The evening’s festivities, airing live on 6abc from the Ben Franklin Parkway, begin at 7 p.m. with “A Special July 4th Edition of FYI Philly,” hosted by Karen Rogers and Adam Joseph. The highly anticipated “4th of July Jam” starring The Roots begins at 7:30.
The Roots, who regularly add their funky flavor as the “house band” for NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” threw an awesome party in 2011, hosting Earth, Wind & Fire, Estelle, Michael McDonald, Sarah Bareilles and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
This year’s musical celebration, which concludes with the traditional Grand Finale Fireworks, will also feature performances by surprise guest artists, and last summer Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Eddie Levert of the O’Jays stopped by to join the party.
“We know that what really makes it magical are the acts that we didn’t announce yet, so we have about three or four surprise artists that we’re not even going to advertise,” says “Questlove” Thompson. “So when you see them there, it’s going to be that much more magical.”
“Wawa Welcome America! will offer you and your family high-quality, free and most importantly, fun entertainment to celebrate America’s birthday with us,” says Mayor Michael Nutter. For complete information on Wawa Welcome America! visit www.welcomeamerica.com.
From executive producer and hip-hip icon Queen Latifah comes “The Next: Fame is at Your Doorstep,” premiering at 9 p.m., Thursday, August 16 on The CW.
The network states that in this “twist on reality singing competitions,” Queen of Latin Pop Gloria Estefan, pop icon Joe Jonas, multi-platinum hip-hop artist Nelly and country superstar John Rich will serve as “mentors,” traveling to six different cities — Orlando, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles — to immerse themselves in the lives of local up-and-coming musicians on the brink of stardom and prepare them for the performances of their lives as well as the chance to win a recording contract with Atlantic Records.
“The series is a music talent show, I’m really excited about it,” says Joe Jonas, who was in Philadelphia on July 4 to participate in the 2012 “Welcome America” concert on Ben Franklin Parkway. “I’m going to be moving in with someone. The judges will be going to different cities in the states. There will be four people auditioning in each city and these artists are going to be either people that had a chance in the past, maybe they possibly got dropped from a record label. Also there will be people that are local stars or local celebrities. I’m going to be living with them for 72 hours. I’m going to be spending time with their families, learning about them. Say they flip burgers, I’m going to be flipping burgers with them, just so that it’s really hands-on, so that I can really get to know this artist, [and] so that we can work together for this audition. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I am really looking forward to it.”
In the premiere episode, Estefan surprises her contestant, Cori, at a boat party and teaches her how to deal with her stage fright. Jonas brings Tayler out of her comfort zone by having her perform material outside her musical repertoire. Meanwhile, Nelly puts Itzy on the spot, making her perform in front of her customers at work, and Rich gets comfortable in Michael’s personal space, all while giving him the tools he’ll need for an unforgettable performance — cowboy boots included.
Disneydreaming.com contributed to this report.
Grammy Award winners Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole and Queen Latifah will be on the eclectic list of stars sharing the microphone with the iconic Tony Bennett when WHYY presents “Duets II,” airing at 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27. Other featured artists include John Mayer, Michael Bublé, Andrea Bocelli, k.d. lang, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Josh Groban, Faith Hill, Alejandro Sanz and Carrie Underwood, and the program will also feature “Body and Soul,” the last recorded track by the late Amy Winehouse, which was produced in London’s famous Abbey Road Studios in March.
An installment in the extraordinary “Great Performances” series, “Duets II,” the album, took more than six months to record, with each track recorded face-to-face with Bennett’s singing partners in studios around the world, :from LA to Nashville to London.
According to the network, the musical segments are highlighted by insights on the process from the performers, making for an “up-close look at one of the year’s most celebrated recordings.” The sessions were filmed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Collateral”), providing a personal behind-the-scenes look at Bennett’s latest collaborations and his artistic approach with each song.”
Musical highlights of the special include Bennett’s interpretation of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” with Aretha Franklin, and his soulful duet with Queen Latifah, who performs “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me).” The 15-time Grammy winner then teams up with Natalie Cole for a rendition of “Watch What Happens.”
Every Philadelphian already knows that the best place to celebrate America’s birthday is right here, in America’s birthplace. The annual Wawa Welcome America! Festival comes back next month with 10 patriotic days of family-friendly and free activities through Independence Day. This week-long, only-in-Philadelphia party kicks off on June 24 and culminates July 4 with a parade through Historic Philadelphia and a mega concert with Grammy Award-winning artists, complete with fireworks, at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This year’s musical director for the festival is Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, the headline drummer of Philly’s own neo-soul super group, The Roots.
Mayor Michael Nutter recently annouced this year’s Philly Fourth of July Jam will be literally “star”-spangled with some of the brightest and boldest talent on the national music scene descending on Philadelphia to offer an unparalleled entertainment experience.
“In Philadelphia, we save the best for last — an our festival grand finale is ‘The Largest Free Concert in America,’ the Philly 4th of July Jam,” said Nutter. “This year, we’ll welcome back Philadelphia’s own The Roots, to take the stage as the official house band for the Philly 4th of July Jam. They will be joined by an impressive array of some of the brightest and boldest musicians in the country, including Queen Latifah, Daryl Hall, Common, Joe Jonas and other special guests. The concert will end with a bang — literally — as fireworks illuminate the sky over one of the world’s architectural gems, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”
Wawa Welcome America! — the nation’s largest, free 4th of July festival — runs from June 25 to July 4, 2012. For more information, go to welcomeamerica.com or call (215) 683-2200.
If some incarnation of “Glee” were to be developed for the Christian Broadcasting Network, it would probably look a lot like “Joyful Noise.”
You’ve got your squeaky-clean reworkings of pop tunes from various decades, which are intended to please viewers of all ages; some romance, although nothing too hot and heavy; and a large dollop of prayer, as the characters struggle to find answers with the Lord’s help. It’s really rather canny the way writer-director Todd Graff’s film caters to these large, wholesome audiences — ones that are largely underserved in mainstream multiplex fare — all at once.
But that doesn’t mean it’s effective as entertainment. Especially during the musical numbers — which theoretically should serve as the most rousing source of emotion, since the film is about a gospel choir — there’s a weird disconnect, a sense that the songs are simultaneously overproduced and hollow, and repeated cutaways to reaction shots of singers nodding and smiling further undermine their cohesion. A powerful performance of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” toward the start is a rare exception.
If there’s one useful nugget to be gleaned here, though, it’s that virtually anything can be turned into a gospel song; apparently “Yeah” by Usher could be about Jesus if you wanted it to be.
A progressive push for contemporary music vs. the tug of traditional spiritual tunes is at the core of “Joyful Noise” and represents the primary source of tension. That’s how little is at stake here.
When the church choir in depressed, small-town Pacashau, Georgia, loses its leader (Kris Kristofferson) to a heart attack, veteran singer Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) is tapped to take over, rather than the late director’s widow, G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton). Vi Rose is a modest, conservative Christian nurse raising her two teenage kids on her own while her husband’s away serving in the Army. G.G. is all sass and big hair and folksy metaphors, usually involving animals: “There’s always free cheese in the mousetrap, but trust me, the mice there ain’t happy.” It’s who you might imagine Parton’s “Steel Magnolias” character had become a couple decades later, if you were to ponder such questions.
Anyway, Vi Rose and G.G. hurl passive-aggressive barbs at each other in a continuation of a long-standing hatred that’s never fully explained, and probably should have been. Guess they just plain don’t like each other. So when G.G.’s nebulously naughty grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), moves back to town and promptly falls for Vi Rose’s blossoming, 16-year-old songbird daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), the women’s animosity boils over and threatens to destroy the entire choir as we know it — right as they’re gaining momentum in the annual National Joyful Noise Competition.
Graff, who previously directed the similarly musical “Camp” and “Bandslam,” jumps around awkwardly between catfights, performances and surreptitious snuggle sessions between the two young stars, both of whom can really sing (Jordan has appeared on Broadway in “Bonnie and Clyde”). Sometimes Graff veers wildly off course, as he does with a subplot in which a female church singer has sex with one of her fellow choir members, and when he dies soon afterward, she’s branded as a man-killer throughout the nationwide gospel-choir circuit. A fantasy duet in which G.G. and her late husband sing and dance in the front yard goes on for an eternity.
There’s also a subplot in which Randy tries to prove himself to Vi Rose by taking her teenage son with Asperger’s syndrome (Dexter Darden) under his wing; clearly the film means well by including this storyline but it feels wedged-in from a narrative perspective.
Except for a climactic confrontation in which Vi Rose finally snaps and unleashes her frustration on the rebellious, ungrateful Olivia, very few sounds in “Joyful Noise” ring true.
“Joyful Noise,” a Warner Bros. pictures release, is rated PG-13 for some language, including a sexual reference. — (AP)
NEW YORK — Keke Palmer became a star with her Nickelodeon show "True Jackson, VP" which aired for three seasons and made her one of the highest paid child actors on television. Instead of sticking with the show though she decided it was a good time to end it around her 18th birthday last August.
"I was approaching 18 and it's just like I don't want to be a grown woman on the show," said Palmer in a recent interview. "I want my fans to grow with me, I don't want to stay stagnant and that's what it pretty much came down to. You know I'm growing up and I wanted to grow with my audience. Not for them to watch me and I'm left behind and just a memory from their childhood."
Palmer shows she's growing up with the film "Joyful Noise" starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. It's about a small-town church choir that faces being shut down by budget cuts.
She plays Latifah's teenage daughter Olivia, who falls for Dolly Parton's character's grandson, played by Jeremy Jordan.
In the film, Palmer has her first make out scene, which she admits made her nervous.
"It's not some Nickelodeon or Disney channel (romance) it's like the real deal," said Palmer about kissing Jordan. "The kissing scene I would say was the scariest thing for me."
She joked about how she had to tell her dad to leave the room during filming.
"I'm like, 'Dad, doesn't this freak you out too, watching me do an on screen make out?'" she laughed.
"Joyful Noise" is now in theaters. It currently ranks No. 7 at the box office. The album's soundtrack also is No. 7 on the iTunes charts.
Palmer said she wants to continue showcasing her singing, acting and maybe host a talk show one day.
"Someday I would really love to do a talk show. That's something I've always been interested in. I like to talk, and I love to help people." -- (AP)
Cool, charismatic and completely comfortable with a microphone in his hand, LL Cool J is perhaps the perfect choice to host the 54th Annual Grammy Awards,” airing live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of music’s biggest night,” says LL Cool J, co-star of the CBS drama “NCIS: Los Angeles.” “I will always have fond memories of my first Grammy Awards and to now be hosting the Grammy show, in the company of so many other incredible artists, is a dream come true. Great performances and great music — it’s going to be a great night,” he added.
LL Cool J has hosted “The Grammy Nominations Concert Live! — Countdown to Music’s Biggest Night” since its inception in December 2008, and this is his first time hosting the annual Grammy Awards broadcast. Past hosts include Queen Latifah at “The 47th Annual Grammy Awards” and Jon Stewart for “The 43rd Annual Grammy Awards” and “The 44th Annual Grammy Awards” broadcasts. Over the years, other Grammy hosts have included Billy Crystal, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell.
Adele, Jason Aldean, The Beach Boys, Glen Campbell with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton, Coldplay and Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson, Diana Krall, Foo Fighters, Foster the People, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Taylor Swift, Tony Bennett, The Civil Wars, Carrie Underwood, Alicia Keys, Maceo Parker, Bonnie Raitt and Joe Walsh are all scheduled to perform, as well as Chris Brown, who has three nominations, including Best R&B Album for “F.A.M.E., Best Rap Performance (with Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes) and Best Rap Song for “Look At Me Now.”
Nicki Minaj has four nominations, including Best New Artist, Best Rap Performance for “Moment 4 Life,” (with Drake), Best Rap Album for “Pink Friday,” and Album of the Year (as a featured artist on Rihanna’s “Loud”).
Highlights of the evening include a tribute to the late Etta James, performed by 14-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys and nine-time Grammy winner Bonnie Raitt. In addition, Grammy nominees Chris Brown, Deadmaus, Foo Fighters, David Guetta and Lil Wayne will perform together as part of a special segment spotlighting Dance/Electronica music for the first time ever.
Presenters include Diana Ross, Taraji P. Henson, Marc Anthony, Common, Lady Antebellum, Reba McEntire, Ryan Seacrest, Dierks Bentley, Jack Black, Drake, Fergie, Miranda Lambert, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Ringo Starr.
CBS and the Recording Academy recently announced the launch of Grammy Live on Grammy.com, beginning Friday, February 10 at 5 p.m. ET. The Grammy Live Mobile App (http://itunes.app.com/us/app/grammy-live-/id494727531?mt=8), available now for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch users, provides a complete backstage pass to “Music Biggest Night.” For the third year in a row, music fans worldwide will have “unprecedented access” to all the VIP and backstage events leading up to and throughout the 54th Annual Grammy Awards.
“We’re giving music fans the ultimate Grammy experience this year through Grammy Live,” said Evan Greene, chief marketing officer for the Recording Academy. “We connect with music in very personal ways, and through shared, social experiences, fans are more eager than ever to support and follow their favorite artists in new and exciting ways.”
Gayle King of “CBS This Morning” will broadcast live Friday from the Staples Center, joined by industry notables previewing the upcoming awards. On Monday she will broadcast live from the Four Seasons Los Angeles with a Grammy wrap-up, including backstage interviews with the winners.
LOS ANGELES — The onscreen love between Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott and Phylicia Rashad in the updated version of “Steel Magnolias” is real.
The actresses, who take on the roles originated by Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton and Olympia Dukakis in the 1989 film, bonded in real life just as their characters do in Truvy’s salon.
“It’s been a love fest,” said Scott, who plays Truvy, adding that she would have taken any role to be a part of the star-studded, small-screen retelling of Robert Harling’s stage play and original film, set to premiere Oct. 7 on Lifetime.
The new “Steel Magnolias,” produced by Academy Awards producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, maintains the flavor of Harling’s story, only this time with an all-Black cast.
Zadan said he learned over a lunch discussion with Harling about the story that his “dream would be to do it again but do it with an African-American cast,” the producer recalled. “It could be like a completely new film that you’ve never seen before. We thought, wow, that’s a great idea, so we called our friends and made the movie.”
(Latifah, also an executive producer of “Steel Magnolias,” previously worked with Zadan and Meron on “Chicago” and “Hairspray.”)
Harling’s words are essentially unchanged in the updated version, producers said, save for references to Facebook and Michelle Obama and some medical details that reflect advances in science.
“That’s why we think the material is classic material,” Meron said, “because it can live no matter where you put it.”
As in the original film, the story is set in the South and opens as M’Lynn (Latifah) and her husband are preparing for daughter Shelby’s wedding. The communal center in their town is Truvy’s hair salon, where M’Lynn and her friends, Ouiser (Woodard) and Clairee (Rashad), gather to catch up on their beauty regimens — and gossip.
“We connected immediately, so we didn’t really have to fake being girls in the beauty shop,” Latifah said. “We just bonded right away.”
It’s that sisterhood among women — and the enduring safety of the salon space — that makes “Steel Magnolias” such a timeless story. Women have long turned to one another in times of joy and sorrow, said Woodard, and the salon is practically sacred ground.
“We are communal beings at the core,” she said. “As we’ve moved away from an agrarian culture to a metropolitan one, the only place you gather for community in that way is either at church or at a spot like a hair salon or barber shop. But at the church, you can’t get real because you’re trying to get right. You can actually be more of your loving self in the salon. You actually get more healing in the salon than in the church.”
The connection the women share in Truvy’s salon is what drew Latifah to the project.
“I just love seeing that sisterhood, that bond between women in this film,” she said. “It’s something that doesn’t really have to change from the play to the original movie to this movie. That’s an important thing for all women: for us to rally around each other in tough times, in good times.”
And this may be just the beginning for this incarnation of “Steel Magnolias.” Meron said the team would hit Broadway “in a heartbeat” if given the chance.
“We’d be the luckiest people in the world,” he said.
The story could also find life as a TV series.
“It seems like a natural thing,” Meron said. “It’s something that obviously could be in the air. ... I think the first thing you want to do is you make the movie. And then if you’re happy with the movie, then everything will come after.” — (AP)