Columbus Short has shown us his smooth dance moves in Stomp the Yard and now he’s about to show how he can kick some ass by performing all of his own stunts in Screen Gems’ action thriller Armored. Short plays an ex-Marine who gets suckered into stealing millions and when the plan goes bad, he takes matters into his own hands and does what he thinks is right. ComingSoon.net talked to the actor on the set of his new film about the challenges of a role like this, why he wouldn’t make a sequel to the movie that helped launch his career and what’s up next for him:
Q: This is kind of a different movie than we’ve seen you in before.
Short: It is. But it’s great. It’s been a challenge. We’re in the fourth quarter, but it’s been wonderful.
Q: You play kind of a newbie in the film.
Short: I’m the newbie. They coerce me. The guys Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Skeet [Ulrich] and Amaury [Nolasco] they coerce me into joining them on this heist, to get $42 million, and it goes awry. It’s kind of like Public Enemy #1. It’s hilarious.
Q: Matt [Dillon] was saying that we’d be the most sympathetic with your character. Why is that?
Short: He’s the hero. He’s the guy who’s going to foil the bad guys’ plan and wait for the cops.
Q: It’s been kind of a boys’ club on the set, hasn’t it?
Short: Yeah, it is. Look, you’ve got the big alpha dogs. (Barking) “Woof-woof!” You’ve got Jean Reno. He’s a little “Oui-oui” French, but he’s a big man.
Q: He’s played some badasses in his time.
Short: He’s a badass in this movie. It’s been great, though, because I’ve been learning so much about the craft. Everyone’s been so open with sharing their pearls and wanting the movie to be good. It’s a blessing, and it’s humbling. I can’t believe I’m doing a scene with Laurence Fishburne, and he has his arm around me. It’s cool. (Laughs) Our second day of working and this is when I knew he was going to be my man he comes up behind me while I’m just sitting there chillin’ and goes, “This is going to feel a little weird.” And I was like, “Oh, sh*t. That’s Morpheus.”
Q: They’re setting Matt on fire today, what are they doing to you?
Short: I’m the one who sets him on fire. I’m the one behind it.
Q: You’re the one who rigs the truck?
Q: See, I asked him that, and he wouldn’t tell me.
Short: I’m the one who rigs the truck.
Q: You’re the bad one or the good one.
Short: (Affecting a mysterious voice) We’ll have to wait and see.
Q: Why do you rig the truck?
Short: I spend the second half of the movie in the back of the truck trying to MacGyver my way to ending the situation. Matt’s character, Cochrane, is my Godfather in the movie, so it’s this story of betrayal between the two of us. This man I’ve looked up to my whole life, who’s taken me and my brother in, he turns his back and he’s doing something reckless. That starts the divide halfway through the movie. Then I’m in the back of the armored truck, and I’ve got to figure this out. But I’m an ex-Marine, so that comes in handy. My quick thinking and ingenuity. (Laughs)
Q: What sorts of stunts are you doing?
Short: I’m doing everything. They’ve let me do all my stunts, which is great. I’m parkour-ing, I’m climbing up buildings, I’m jumping off trucks, I’m freaking crashing trucks into buildings. It’s like all your childhood dreams coming true.
Q: You had to do parkour training?
Short: I did. I mean, I’m kind of agile, but I had to do a little. It’s awesome. Now I’m going to go free running in the Promenade and show off my skills. (Laughs)
Q: After “District B13,” it’s been sort of the thing to do in action movies.
Short: What I’m doing in this movie is not necessarily parkour as much as it’s just this guy who knows how to maneuver through bars and obstacle courses, and he does it kinda stealthy so it looks Marine-like. I am neither one of those things, but I’m acting like I am.
Q: Did you have to go through training for that?
Short: I’ve been working with these stunt guys for about four months now, so we just talk it through and rehearse it. I can do most of the stuff without cables, but they have to put the cables on so you can be safe. But it’s great to challenge yourself to do things you’ve never done. My body’s beat up worse than it’s been beat up in my life, but it’s fantastic. It’s worth it.
Q: Is that why you shaved your head? To look like an ex-Marine?
Short: I just shaved my head because I figured I’m tired of Columbus’s face every day of the week, so I think we should try something new. My next one, I get to wear a wig. As long as we get to keep Columbus’s face out of the movie, we’re good. (Laughs)
Q: Were you looking for an action movie to do?
Short: I was looking for an action drama. I was looking for something that was high stakes and set in the realm in reality not “Justice League” and not “Passenger 57.” I wanted something that was real. It’s going to blow people away. There hasn’t been a movie like this in years, and it’s refreshing. Well, maybe last year. “No Country for Old Men.” It has that anxiety. It has that “Oh my God!” To see Matt Dillon playing a bad guy… it’s an interesting journey.
Q: It seems like there’s a little bit of “Reservoir Dogs” in there.
Short: Absolutely. Same DP. But Nimrod Antal is doing a fantastic job. He’s a genius. Honestly, he’s a genius. He’s prepared. He’s over-prepared. And he’s just knocking it out. “Boom, boom, boom.” He knows what he wants, he knows what his vision is, and to see it come to fruition is friggin’ amazing.
Q: He seems pretty excited. It’s not often that you see a director walking around that worked up.
Short: You know when you’re making magic. It’s not every movie. It’s far and few between, actually. But sometimes you know when you’re doing a movie where it feels special and it feels right. You feel the magic. You know you’re doing something right, that’s going to contribute to the film industry instead of being another piece of… “blah.”
Q: It’s been a big few years for you. You’ve been in a lot of big successes – some critical and some audience favorites. How has the ride been so far?
Short: It’s been tumultuous. But it was “Stomp the Yard.” I’ve said it a thousand times, but it was “Stomp the Yard” that let me be able to be a little bit more choosey. Not really. But it allowed me to work with this group of people. Now I’ll be able to sink my teeth into more three dimensional pieces and work with some better directors, some of the greats. I want to work with those people who can teach me everything. All the pearls. Give them to me. I’ll take them.
Q: Where did this desire to be an actor come from?
Short: TV and film kept me company. It raised me. I was always doing voices and acting out. I guess it was just easier being somebody else. It’s second nature now. It’s great. I can’t believe I’m here. You just walk in every day, and you’re thankful. I don’t know when it’s going to stop. I could not do another movie tomorrow, but I know right now that it’s unbelievable; it’s insane. Whatever I’m going to do, I’m just going to keep trying to do it.
Q: Have you gotten to the point where there are some things you can’t do anymore?
Short: I don’t really do much but work and spend time with my family. That’s it. That’s the only thing that’s real, and you try to keep what’s real around because that’s what’s going to keep you level. If you’re out there partying and doing all that, you’ll slowly but surely forget what’s real. You’ll forget that we’re afforded this opportunity to be artists when most artists are ridiculed and judged. “Get a job,” you know? Well, I’ve got a job, and it’s a blessing. And I’m just trying to keep that focus. With great responsibility you have to just work hard. You can’t just coast through it. You can’t just think, “Oh, I got a movie, I’m good.” No. I want to do film. I want to contribute something.
Q: Did you have any formal acting training?
Short: Yeah. I went to Orange County High School. I’ve been in performing arts schools my entire life, from junior high on. I majored in drama. I kind of started dancing in my late teens.
Q: That explains why you’re agile.
Short: That’s why I have a little bit of agility.
Q: Have you talked at all about another “Stomp the Yard”?
Short: Oh, no. I wouldn’t be in it.
Q: You wouldn’t?
Short: No. Come on! Some things are better left alone. I’ve learned that. I had my share of a sequel. I was in the “Save the Last Dance” sequel. That was cool. You’ve got to work your way up. (Laughs)
Q: You were mentioning that this is better than doing a “Justice League.”
Short: For me. Not that “Justice League” is bad. I’m an Idlewild arts kid. These are my friends, just arts kids. Hardcore arts kids. “Clockwork Orange” was a school favorite. “Pulp Fiction.” Our taste is different, so you just try to find that balance of artistic taste and juxtapose it with knowing that I have to make some kind of name to do those artistic films. You try to find that balance, and this movie is that perfect balance, the perfect juxtaposition.
Q: But if a studio came calling somewhere down the line, and really wanted you to play Green Lantern?
Short: No. I wouldn’t do it. I would absolutely not do it in the blink of an eye. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I want to be. I’d rather be able to transform. I’d rather be able to play characters who connect with people. I mean, who’s the Green Lantern? What does he mean to anybody? Seriously. The guy who works at the Quick-E Mart? That guy means something to somebody. I’d rather play that. Not that I won’t do an action movie if the right one comes along, [like] “The Departed.” If I don’t work for two years after this, I’ve done two great movies back-to-back. I feel good. I can wait until the right one comes.
Q: Would you like to win an Oscar sometime?
Short: Absolutely. For any actor to say that they don’t, they’re bullsh*tting you so hard. They’re stroking you, and it’s ridiculous. That is the Super Bowl for us; that’s the championship. Why would I do this? What am I working for. I’m working for me, to gratify my artistic loins. But, also, if you put your blood, sweat and tears into this? I was emotional when I was watching the Oscars, because I was going through my script for “Cadillac Records.” I have this piece of material on my lap that, if I do the work, is that type of movie. And to see what it means to people: to put your blood, sweat and tears on the line and get recognized for that? It’s overwhelming. So, yeah, absolutely. Without a doubt. Will it happen? I don’t know. Will I try? I will try my darndest.
Q: Do you know what some of the big stunts are coming up?
Short: They have this crazy stunt. Now that the truck’s blown up, and I’ve got my brother and Milo to safety, I’m on the run. Matt’s after me. He crashes, and I kind of parkour up the truck. He’s about to run over me, and I run up the truck. It’s some cool stuff. Some really cool, Blackie Chan type of stuff. (Laughs) It’s gonna be awesome.