Jessie T. Usher
If you’re a basketball fan, chances are you’re familiar with Jessie T. Usher. Raised in Maryland and Los Angeles, Usher says he is not particularly talented at the sport, but Cam Calloway, his character on the LeBron James-produced Starz sitcom Survivor’s Remorse certainly is. “I get challenged to basketball games. If I’m walking into a basketball gym, everybody wants me on their team,” he says, laughingly. “I’m very honest, I tell people I am not a good basketball player,” he continues. “I didn’t play basketball growing up. I did martial arts, soccer, I’m an avid swimmer.”
Today, Usher’s latest project, Independence Day: Resurgence, comes out in theaters across the country. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the film serves as a sequel to the iconic 1996 original. Many cast members from the first film have returned, including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, and Judd Hirsch. Usher plays Dylan Hiller, the stepson of the late Captain Steven Hiller and, presumably, one of the franchise’s new heroes.
Next up, the 24-year-old will return as Calloway in Season Three of Survivor’s Remorse and co-star alongside Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union, and Danny Glover in David E. Talbert’s film Almost Christmas.
EMMA BROWN: How did you first heard about the movie and how did you get involved?
JESSIE T. USHER: I was training for Survivor’s Remorse and my trainer also trains one of the producers for Independence Day, Harald Kloser. I saw him in passing a few times and eventually we made a formal introduction. He was like, “I’m in preproduction for a few films, one of which is Independence Day.” Obviously that sparked a little bit of interest and I jokingly said, “Oh, put me in!” [laughs] Eventually he spoke to Roland Emmerich and mentioned that he had met this guy that he felt that could play this role, Dylan. I sat and talked with Roland a few times; they told me what they’ve been doing for the past 20 years with this film and where they were at at that moment. We just talked, like you and I are doing right now, and eventually there was an offer on the table.
BROWN: Did you send your trainer flowers?
USHER: [laughs] No, but I sent him a ticket to the premiere! That’s all he really wanted.
BROWN: That’s the nice kind of Hollywood story.
USHER: Yeah, at the gym. Doesn’t get more casual than that.
BROWN: Did they have the script and everything finalized? I know that they were working on it for a long time.
USHER: Sort of. They had been doing it for about four or five years. The script they had when I had met everyone was still not the final script. It was pretty close, but there was a still a lot of actor input that needed to be done. They just wanted some character choices to be made and stuff like that. Of course we changed things when we started filming, but it was pretty polished by the time that I got to it.
BROWN: Were other people already signed on?
USHER: Oh yeah. Jeff Goldblum had already signed on. I believe Brent Spiner had already signed on and Maika Monroe. Liam [Hemsworth] and I signed on right around the same time.
BROWN: In the film, do you all have your separate storylines and or do you get to interact with Maika’s character?
USHER: There’s quite a bit of interaction and integration in this film. Everybody has their own thing going on, but there’s a few times where we all come together and split again and find each other again at certain parts of the story. I think I see Maika and Liam’s character the most, I would say. I spend a little bit of time in the White House so you run into people there too.
BROWN: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I never thought of the original film as a dark movie. It felt like a triumphant movie.
USHER: That’s ’cause it’s funny. It had a lot of comedy in it. I think it was supposed to be scary and traumatic, which it was at times, but there was a lot of lightheartedness integrated into the film. That’s what made it really standout. That’s kind of what we tried to tap into a little bit. We didn’t want to have the same exact feel as the first film, but we didn’t want to lose the lightness and lose the comedy.
BROWN: Have you seen the film with all of the special effects put in yet?
USHER: I haven’t seen it! I refuse to watch it until the premiere because there’s so much blue screen, green screen. The film is going to be an entirely different thing for me when I get a chance to see it. I think it’ll be really cool to enjoy it with everyone else. I’m bringing 20 of my friends with me to the premiere, so we’ll all get the chance to watch it together.
BROWN: What about when you were shooting? Do you like to look at clips?
USHER: I will watch a little bit of playback. You kind of have to when you’re shooting that kind of film because there’s so much happening that isn’t there. We have to have an idea of what it is that we’re reacting to, what things look like and how fast the world is moving. We did get a chance to see. They had this incredible piece of technology—it was on the lower side of the lens so when you looked through the monitor you could see real time, with blue screen and the props or whatever, but then this had a rough, digital, rapid effect of what everything was going to look like when the film was done. That was really, really cool. It was literally side-by-side. It was awesome.
BROWN: Had you done anything with a lot of green screen before?
USHER: The show I did on the Cartoon Network [Level Up] had a lot of green screen. There were monsters coming out and wizards and all kinds of stuff. It was a different type though. We never had blue rooms. We never had to paint the ground and stuff like that. They would do a lot of freeze frames. We’d have eyelines.
BROWN: When there are so many people on set—both in the cast and in the crew—does it feel like you can take your time and do multiple takes, or does it feel very much like, “Time is money, we’ve got to move on”?
USHER: We did 100 takes. Roland likes a lot of takes on every setup. We had to get used to that pretty quickly, especially because I came right off of a television show where you do maybe five takes and move to the next setup.
That’s another reason why I want to wait for the premiere—I couldn’t even tell you the vibe of the movie. [laughs] I know the script, I know what we filmed, but I can only imagine what I haven’t seen, and how it’s going to be incorporated and what version of which line they’re going to use. Since we wrapped last summer there’s been maybe five reshoots for the things that they wanted to tweak in the story. There are people who, in the original script, weren’t going to make it and now they make it, and people who were going to make it, and now they don’t.
BROWN: I read that you want to have your own production company?
USHER: I do! I’m actually working on that right now. To be able to create and produce and take ideas and make them real has always been a passion of mine. Now I’m in the position where I can do it—or at least get it started.
BROWN: What step are you at in the process?
USHER: Finding a name. Finding a name for the production company is step one. Then finding a production team, because you can’t really do it by yourself. You need someone to help you find material, whether it comes from literature or articles, ideas, dreams—anything. Just being able to filter it down and find whatever fits your style of production company. You either make a script or pitch the idea to a studio and hope that someone else likes it and go from there.
BROWN: When you read articles now are you always looking for film ideas?
USHER: Always. Even if it’s not just reading. If I’m watching the news, some stuff will cross my mind and I’ll go, “That would make a great movie.” I’ll write it down. The list on my phone is long. You never know what’s going to stick. You take from what you see and hear and make a film out of multiple things. Then you have a project that has a lot of different colors. You just keep your eyes open, keep your ears open. You only need one movie a year, if that, since each project takes so long
BROWN: You mentioned your show Survivor’s Remorse before, which I know is doing well. LeBron James produces the show, but have any NBA players ever approached you to talk about the show?
USHER: Oh yeah. I was in Las Vegas one time. Me and my friends were walking through the hotel lobby, and I guess they do this thing every year in Vegas where basketball players go out and train. There were a lot of people there, a lot of professional athletes. James Harden was there and he was like, “Is that Cam Calloway?” And I’m like, “Are you James Harden?” [laughs] It was a really cool moment that I had with quite a few guys actually. They were nice enough to come up to me and introduce themselves and say that they were fans of the show. Some of them wanted to talk about how they know LeBron, they know Maverick [Carter], some of the other producers on the show.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE OPENS TODAY, JUNE 24.