From the Set of Barbershop: The Next Cut
I’m standing on a barren street in the south side of Chicago, and in front of me is Calvin’s Barbershop. The one and only. It looks different this time around for Barbershop: The Next Cut. It’s a little brighter, a little wider, there’s more going on inside than the last time we saw it. But even crazier? I’m nowhere near Chicago; in fact, I haven’t even been to Chicago since Barbershop 2 came out over a decade ago, but you’d never know it.
Tucked away at Screen Gems Studios in South Atlanta is the block you know and love, and the people that occupy that space remain. Ice Cube’s Calvin still runs the Barbershop, which has consolidated with the Beauty Shop next door, which was as simple as knocking down a wall to connect them.
“We always joke that this is so much harder to shoot,” producer Robert Teitel tells us on the set of the film. “Because we have a whole other side of that wall, it’s like, we have more characters, so there’s so much more coverage to get, and we really wanted that Mars-Venus conversation and we felt that by doing it, it keeps it real fresh.”
Plenty of other familiar faces are back as well, including Eve’s Terri, who she says much calmer these days than how she appeared in the first two films.
“She’s married. She has a kid…Yeah, you only see her flip one time, but she’s pretty chill. She’s a lot more grown up, a lot more mature, so yeah, it’s nice playing it.”
When I ask if her one flip out is over her prized apple juice, Eve smiles and says:
“You know, we couldn’t just let it slide. It gets in there.”
Within “The Next Cut,” Terri has become a go-to stylist for many celebrities in the Chicago area as well, and that marriage she mentioned? It’s to none other than rapper-turned-actor Common, who plays Rashad, which was the sign he needed to enlist in the film.
“I knew I needed to do it, because his name is Rashad, and my name is Rasheed, and I was like, it’s a little strange and it’s funny when they started calling me Rashad, but I got into it eventually, because some people knew my real name and was mixing it up.”
Common went on to say that he knew his role was an important one, and something necessary to the story being put forth in the film due to his character being a family man.
“My character gets to come in and express some real views of real people that may have that perspective, and the dope thing about Barbershop is that you hear all these different perspectives and even from the non-black perspective, you get to hear that too.”
Another newcomer this time around is another musician-turned-actor, Nicki Minaj as Draya, a character that causes problems for Eve’s Terri, but whom she says everyone in the audience is going to love
“She’s the hot girl in the shop, you know. Her clothes are kind of out there, more than the other girls… The one thing that I love about the script is that it doesn’t get catty, because I hate seeing females having like, you don’t always have to fight. So we go through something, but we resolve it in a very mature, amazing way.
The new blood in Barbershop: The Next Cut doesn’t stop at the cast either, as the team behind the camera is all-new to the franchise as well with director Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man Holiday) and writers Kenya Barris (creator of “Black-ish”) and Tracy Oliver (“Survivor’s Remorse”).
“When I received the script, I just thought it was a good addition to the franchise,” Lee, cousin of Spike, tells us. “I thought it was smart. I thought it was funny. It was a little lengthy, but, you know, Kenya Barris and and Tracy Oliver wrote a script that I thought was good, that was topical, that was relevant, and like worthy of doing a third. It has all those touchstones of you know, the past Barbershop films, that’s very relatable, but also I think will be potentially funnier and more resonant than the other two.”
“I worked with Malcolm before,” Robert Teitel says of Lee. “On ‘Best Man’ and I tried to get him, he goes, ‘You know you tried to get me on Barbershop 1?’ So I remember calling him, before I had the script (for ‘The Next Cut’) and I said, ‘Listen, I feel like I’m 17 years old, and I’m calling a girl who I know is going to say no, but I’m going to call anyways.’”
Teitel gave Lee the elevator pitch for the film, which trades-in the situation-comedy like plot of the first film and aims for even more real world resonance and gravitas, rooting itself in the actual gang violence taking over Chicago.
“One of the things that we’re talking about is kind of the deterioration of the neighborhood and how it is overrun by gangs,” Lee says. “You talk about Chicago inner city and all the turmoil that has happened there, how many murders happen on a daily basis, a weekly basis. We touch on that and I think that, what I wanted to do was strike that balance of, that danger can occur at any time… At any time, a gang leader could be inside the barbershop and on any other day, would be like somebody that you talk to about basketball, politics or whatever, and you know who he is, but when a rival gang member comes in at the same time, by mistake, this could be a shoot out at the OK Corral, so that’s what we’re doing, tension and humor and emotion all mixed up into one. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to take it on.”
Writer Tracy Oliver tells us about what one of her first meetings after landing the job of writing the film, her first studio feature, was with none other than series star Ice Cube.
“I’ll tell you I was scared out of my mind. I was very, very intimidated by him, and you know, so we sat down and we talked, and the most important thing that he wanted in this movie was that we didn’t soften Calvin too much. This is a dude from south side of Chicago, like he’s seen it all and we don’t want to lose that, and you know, one thing that Kenya and I struggled with was, if you look at what’s happening in south side right now, it’s just, it’s awful, and so, you take something like Barbershop, which is so comedic, and Ice Cube was very clear that I don’t want to pretend we’re not in the south side that exists today. So, for us, it was like, how do we make something funny in a setting that is so depressing. And so, we have gang violence and we have discussions of the violence in the neighborhood, but we always try to make sure we highlight the good parts of Chicago too, you know, there’s a Jackie Robinson little league team, but just moments of triumph and good things happening.”
Though audiences may be lining up for the laughs they’ll have, the heavier moments of the film may end up being the most resonant. At the time of our visit we’re just eight days removed from the Charleston, South Carolina church shootings. An event that took place and was immediately written into the film as crucial subject matter relevant not only to the story being told but to the African American community at large.
“Just the other night, we had shot a scene and we had to revisit it,” Lee says. “It wasn’t a joke that we were playing, but we had to implement what happened in Charleston recently. It’s one character, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar, who is kind of leaning more right in his political stance than the rest of the barbershop, talks about how there’s no better time to be a black man in America, and the fact the president is black, and Common’s character comes at him talking about what that means for black people and that’s one of the things we talk about with Charleston, amongst, police brutality and a host of others… It’s going to be impossible to stay completely current, but I still think it’s all going to resonate, because these are things that are age old and especially in the African American community and certainly in America.”
Common says that the intersection of real-life and the film got even more meta after filming the scene where they brought up Charleston.
“I was talking to a guy who works with me on my social media, and he said something about how people thought that once Obama got in office that racism was over and I was like, ‘Bro, do you know that my character just said that two days ago in the actual film?’
Don’t worry though. This is still a “Barbershop” movie. There are plenty of laughs to be had, and Cedric the Entertainer’s Eddie remains the king of comedy in the store.
“I have the freedom with this character, that we kind of did on the first one where, as a comedian, I can improv and I kind of internalize the character,” Cedric tells us. “I always say I ‘Rainman’ him, because I have no idea what I’m going to say once we kind of do it. It’s never really too premeditated… He’s a bit of a fire starter and he kind of likes to throw things out there and that’s great as an actor to be able to just be free to just say stuff off the dome, just kind of, you know, even if it’s things that I kind of feel like are personal commentary or whatever. I just do them, and to have a director like Malcolm, be able to get it and say all right, cool.”
Part of the charm of Eddie in the first two films were his outlandish claims from his past. This time he says that he used to cut President Obama’s hair as a boy, but also his inflammatory opinions on high-profile targets. Who does he take on in the new film?
“Oh man,” he says with a smile. “Bill Cosby, Paula Deen… I went with Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly… He just be swinging man.”
Cedric did have one stipulation about returning for Barbershop: The Next Cut though…
“My biggest thing is that Eddie was already old. As long as he don’t die. I told them that off the top, don’t make me die. If I die, then I ain’t coming.”
“Cedric is still kind of the king, you know,” Lee says of his cast. “He is the one guy that, king of comedy. I think that he’s still that person that like pushes the others and yet they still push him as well, in a good way. It all kind of works together, because everybody has got their own brand of humor that adds to the mix.”
Cedric may be the main attraction for the film’s laughs, but the voice of the rest of the cast enhances the comedy into new ways that even the first two films didn’t have.
“With this film, I have so many more outlets,” producer Robert Teitel says. “I can tell already, because everybody improvs, kind of do their thing, where, you know, a 3.5 page scene, you time it, it’s like 5.5 minutes, just because everyone is riffing… Everybody is just… the comedy skills are up to par in this film. There’s so many more people to go to in this movie than the other ones, comedy wise.”
That camaraderie and community found in all of the actors is what will bring the film to life, and what makes now the perfect time to bring the series back.
“When I was first approached with the idea, I was like, ‘Do people want this?’” Tracy Oliver says bluntly. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure. So, it had been a long time ago since it had come out and I didn’t think there was a ‘Barbershop 3’ movement, but then I think what ended up happening, because it happened to me throughout the creative process, that you discover that you missed these characters… I’ve even been seeing online, we’ve shown clips and stuff of the movie, people are like, ‘Oh wow, this looks cool. I miss these guys and want to go back,’ so we’re giving people a reason hopefully to show up.”
Barbershop: The Next Cut opens in theaters on April 15.