Djimon Hounsou - Changing Up Well-Known Stories with "King Arthur"- Extended Interview

Extended - May 9, 2017 - Djimon Hounsou 05/09/2017 Views: 33,999

Djimon Hounsou talks about Guy Ritchie's adaptation of the "King Arthur" story and discusses the voodoo documentary he's filming in his native Benin. (12:39)

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Please welcome Djimon Hounsou.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

(cheering continues)

Ah. Welcome to the show.

-Thank you. Thank you forhaving me. -This is an honor.

-I have... too many timesin my life, -Yes.

stood up in front of peopleand shouted,

"Give us free!"

Too many times.

I'm... I've grown up.You are a hero.

I mean, you know thison the African continent--

we love you so much.Thank you for being on the show.

-Thank you. Thank you. -Andcongratulations on this film.

-Thank you. -It looks epic.Was it as epic to make?

Uh, yes, it was. It was.

Uh, you know,anytime that you're, uh,

on a Guy Ritchie film,uh, yeah, it's, um,

-everything about a Guy Ritchiefilm is quite dynamic. -Right.

-Yes. -He has a way of takingstories that we think we know

and changing them up.

I mean, he did itwith Sherlock Holmes.

He's doing it nowwith King Arthur.

It seems like there's...there's more action,

there's a different styleof storytelling.

Was it a completely differentexperience for you?

Yes, it was quite an experience.

Uh, Guy Ritchie, he'sactually the best actor on set,

he's the best director,the best writer on set.

Uh, and in essence,he's, um, you know,

he can be quite, uh...

um, challenging in his approachto... to telling stories.

-In what way?-His worldview is extremely...

He's so cultured.

Uh, he has a great worldview.

Um, uh...

and, uh...

he's just a...he's just a really...

an amazing human being,you know.

I mean, he understands,uh, Hebrew,

he understands a little bit...

or can, you know, can-can speaka little Arabic, as well.

-Right. Wow.-Yeah. Yes.

Look, I knew Guy Ritchiewas an amazing director.

I didn't know these things.

You see it in the film,and it comes through.

And I mean, he hasan amazing actor to work with.

When you're in a storylike this,

I've always wanted to know,I mean, you've acted

in so many different stylesof films.

When you get into this film,

-there's always something newyou have to learn. -Yeah.

-You know? You've acted indifferent periods. -Right.

-We've seen you play everykind of role, -Right, right.

but what was the one thingyou had to do in this film

where you were going,"Oh, man.

I can't believeI'm doing this now"?

Uh, there wasn'tanything really,

uh, foreign here,in this, uh,

in the telling of this film,

but, uh,I think it's mostly, uh,

trying toreally understand

how Guy Ritchie'sbringing the, um,

-the integration of cultures,-Right.

-into this, uh, into this tale.-Right.

Obviously, I've never seenthe likeness, you know,

the like of mein these type of stories.

King Arthur, I came to theawareness of King Arthur

when I was 15 years oldgrowing up in France,

so, you know, and at the time,

-the story felt very real to me,-Right.

because there were so many kingsin Africa,

-that were very much like that.-Right.

Do you see what I mean?

And actually, the one commentGuy Ritchie makes

is the story,this story, King Arthur,

it's actually the storyof a, a Zulu.

-That's powerful.-Right?

That's powerful.

So when, so when you'rein a film like that,

and when you're havingthat realization,

you see a story that foryour entire life,

you've seen as being a storythat has been told

-through the prism of whiteness.-Mm-hmm. Right.

And someone like Guy Ritchiecomes and says,

"No, no, no. This is a storythat transcends everything."

What does that mean to youas an actor?

Well, he's very rightin his approach,

in a sense that, you know,given that time,

if you think about it,

there were a lot of Moors

in that part of the world

-at the time.-Oh, yeah, that's true.

And there were a lot of Moorsthat were instrumental

-for the evolution of Europe,building Europe. -Yes.

Do you see what I mean?

So this is not,this is not foreign,

-necessarily, his approach.-Right.

It's actually more real.

It's actually, you know...

That's, that'san interesting way

to look at the storytelling,because, for so long,

many people have said, you know,

the way you tell a story

is the way peopleoften see themselves.

And you would always think ofthat happening to civilians,

but I read somethingthat happened to you,

and I've-I've always wantedto know if it was true.

-It was a story of yourselfand your son. -Yes.

And your son said to you,

"Daddy, I want to belight skinned,

"so that I can climb onthe walls like Superm--

-like Spiderman."-Right.

When your son said that to you,

how did you react?How did you feel?

Well, I didn't, uh, at the timeI didn't have a comeback.

It was like, uh, you know,I was quite shocked

by the comment.

And he was sort of like, uh,a matter-of-fact.

-Sort of like, the way he,you know, said it, -Right.

was so matter-of-fact, you know,

uh, delivered somatter-of-factly,

-in the way that it...-Did it hurt, though?

-Huh?-Did it hurt?

Yeah. I mean, me, yes.

I mean, I was shockedand, uh, you know,

the first thing I didwas go back to the computer

to try to figure out exactly--I mean, how do I, uh,

tell him that wehave heroes as well?

We have heroesand we have "sheroes."

But I didn't havethat much of a...

You know, I di... I-I...

I didn't know how to goabout it. So I started Googling,

and then I realized that I did,uh, the voice-over for,

um, um... What do you call it?

-Black Panther, yes. -Black Panther.

Right? And so he'slistened to Black Panther,

and all of a sudden,he... stops and say,

"Baba, is that you?"

And, you know, kind of, like,heard my voice so many times,

like, "Wow, that seemsfamiliar." Yeah, that's, uh...

That-that is a beautiful story.So, in that moment,

-he goes, "Oh, wow, my dad...-Yes.

"...can be a super hero.My dad, who is a black man,

"who's an African man,

-can be a super hero."-And from that point on,

he started asking me not to playbad guys in films anymore.

So I could be his super hero,you know, in films.

-That's amazing. Wow.-Yeah.

I want to-I want to cry now.I... Wow.

No, that-that's...that's an amazing story.

Um, let's talk a little bitabout... about your journey

and-and, I guess, a little bitof an exploration

into Djimonand what you-what you think

about misconceptions.

Because you are somebodywho has traveled the world.

You know, uh, born in Africa,raised in France.

You-you lived in Francewhen you-when you were 15.

Yes. I mean, 12. I-I movedto France when I was 12, so...

-Yes. -When you were 12, so...Okay. So, 12 years old,

-you were living in France.-Mm-hmm.

And... there wasa period of your life

-where you were homeless.-Yes.

In a country that, in many ways,didn't accept you being there,

even though their culture hadbeen so pervasive in your life,

growing up.What was that like for you?

It was, um, you know, I mean...

I look at my life,and little be...

You know, to be honest,I feel schizophrenic,

-to be honest.-Yeah.

Because there's nothing

about my culture that I, uh...

that can leverage me

in this life experience, really.

Because everything about myculture is, uh, borrowed by...

-for... fr-from the, uh,the-the colony. -Right.

You know? My, uh, uh...

my religion is bor-borrowedfrom the colony.

-You see what I'm saying?-I hear you.

My, uh, uh...

almost my way of lifeis the one of the colony.

My, uh, uh...

alphabetis the one of the colony.

-Do you see what I'm saying?-I hear you.

So where am I?

Where is the African?

Where is my religion?

Where is my way of life?

And so it's one of those thingsthat are, you know,

it's sort of like, uh, drove meto want to tell this story,

to want to do this documentaryabout, uh, you know,

our way of life in Africa.

-Which is... -Right. I-I saw...Yeah, I saw that you-you

have a documentary out nowthat traces the roots of voodoo.

-Yes. -That-that seeks to dispela lot of the misconceptions...

-Mm-hmm. -That's something that,even as fellow Africans,

-I won't lie--when I hear "voodoo," -Yeah.

-I think of someone with a dollbeing stabbed, -Of course.

-I think of choppingsomething up, -Of course, right?

-I think of bubbling pots.-Of course.

-Someone must die. Someone.-Exactly.

Even, as an African,when someone goes, "Voodoo,"

I'm also thinking of, like...(quietly ululates)


-That's-that'swhat I'm thinking. -Yes.

And-and I was shockedthat you thought the same thing,

and you-you're trying to...

That's why you madethis documentary was

to discover the truthsof what voodoo is.

Well, it's... yes,it's a... it's a...

In another form, it's aneducation for me, for myself.

You know, I mean, I cameto America,

and then, every time I, uh..."So, where are you from?

Where are you originally from?"

So, I say, "Africa,"and then, "Okay, Africa."

For some who were somewhateducated, and say,

-"Well, but where in Africa?"-Right.

And then they were like,"Uh, Benin? Oh, Benin.

Um, you meanthe creator of voodoo?"

-And, uh, wow, that' know, that's... -Right.

...and interesting connotation,

so, I was going,"Uh, yes, I guess."

-(laughter) -You know,and they're like,

uh, "Wow, voodoo, uh..."

And but everybody has a vividimagination what voodoo is.

When you say "voodoo,"the word "voodoo,"

I'm sure all of you herehave a sense

of what that may be,but you don't...

you're not quite clearwhat are the, uh...

those proper attributesthat defines voodoo.

I'm not... I'm sureyou're not clear about that.

Yeah, I think most peoplearen't, yeah.

-I myself did not know.-Yeah.

You see? And that was my, uh,motivation in telling the...

you know, in doingthis documentary--

trying to comprehendwhat are the p...

those attributesthat are proper to voodoo.

-That's-that's a... yeah.-What defines voodoo.

And what defines voodoo is verysimply the forces of nature.

Air, water, fire... um, earth.


And then, you, yourself,as a human being--

they say you are voodoo.

-Because you're part of...-(laughter)

In that moment, it's likeyou did voodoo to me.

I was like,I know I'm still learning,

but in that moment,I was like, "Okay.

The voodoo happened.I don't know what it was."

-You know?-(laughter)

-But-but... but it's magical.-You know.

-And I... -Yeah, so we're...You know, in other words,

-we're a spiritual being, andhaving an exp... -Right. Right. know, a human experienceon the face of the earth,

not the other way around.

We're a spiritual beinghaving an...

you know, a human experience.

And when-when you lookat that experience

that you're havingas a human being,

and when you coalesceall of it--

-you look at your lifeas a father... -Yes. look at your life as ahomeless teenager in France,

you look at your lifeas someone from a colony,

you look at your life as someone

who's been in Americafor 30 years

and acted so successfullyfor such a long time,

what is the-the storyyou wish to tell?

Or what is the impactyou wish to have going forward?

You know, so many years ago,I came up on a, um...

a beautiful quote that, um...

that's the quote that I remindmyself on a daily basis.

And I quote it.

We-- you and I,we all should be ashamed to die,

unless we have made some majorcontribution to human society.

What have you doneto make somebody else,

uh, you know, uh...?

What have you done to leveragesomebody else's life?

What impact have you, you know,

had on your environment,in your, you know...?

-You see what I'm saying?-I hear you.

So it all starts from home,obviously.

How you-you manage your home,

how you manageyour neighborhood,

how you manage your cities.

-You see what I'm saying?-Right.

And the impact that you bringas a human being.

Because it's not an accidentthat you're alive.

I don't exist and I certainlyhave not achieved all this--

-it's not an accident.-Right.

It's not for my own goodthat I'm a, you know,

this, uh, movie starin Hollywood.

But what I represent to Africa,

what I representto the continent of Africa--

that's, I guess, will be judgedin the year...

you know, the-the years to come.

But, uh, this is stillthe search of, uh,

you know, I'm on the right pathgoing somewhere,

but, uh, I haven'tachieved much, if you will.

I think, uh, if this is notachieving much,

then what's to come is trulygoing to be even more epic.

-Thank you so much...-I hope so.

...for being on the show,my brother.

-I hope.-I appreciate you.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

is in theatres May 12.

Djimon Hounsou, everybody.

(applause and cheering)

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