The first Shaft movie hit theatres 20 years before he was born. He was still in grade school when Samuel L. Jackson revived the franchise in 2000. But now it’s time for Jessie T. Usher to join the family and become the latest John Shaft in the crime franchise that made being a private eye right on.
Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Roundtree, Jessie T. Usher
June 14, 2019
When it was time to release the trailer for the new Shaft movie, its three stars — 1970s John Shaft, Richard Roundtree; the 2000 movie’s John Shaft, Samuel L. Jackson; and the newest John Shaft, Jessie T. Usher — interrupted Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue to deliver the goods, strutting on stage in matching rust-coloured trench coats to the funky strains of the franchise’s theme song.
Roundtree and Jackson were stone-faced, intimidating. Usher? Not so much.
“Ha!” exclaims the 27-year-old actor over the phone from L.A., recalling the bit. “Big smile!”
It’s not easy to stifle a grin when you’ve just played Samuel L. Jackson’s son in the first Shaft movie in 19 years, and the great-nephew of the legendary Richard Roundtree, who originated the franchise in the 1970s.
The softer, gentler John Shaft fits just fine with Usher’s actual character. He plays John Shaft Jr., or JJ, an MIT-educated FBI cybersecurity expert who asks for his investigator dad’s help navigating Harlem’s underbelly after a friend is killed. JJ, who lacks his dad’s rough exterior, hasn’t seen his father since he was a baby, an estrangement Usher says is explained early on in the movie.
“You see his mom making an executive decision to take him away to a safer place, somewhere she felt more comfortable raising a child,” explains the actor. He’s no stranger to playing the son of a Hollywood icon: Usher’s big break came when he was cast as the offspring of Will Smith’s character in 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence. Even though Smith didn’t appear in that movie, Usher acknowledges the trend.
“That's kind of like an ongoing joke within my family,” he says, adding that playing the sons of Tichina Arnold (from TV’s Everybody Hates Chris) on Survivor's Remorse, the LeBron James-produced show that starred Usher as a basketball phenom, and Regina Hall in this latest Shaft, were also thrills. “Like, how many Hollywood stars’ child can I be?”
Usher, who was born in Maryland but moved with his family to L.A. when he was 11 so he could pursue acting, knew he wanted the role as soon as he read the script. Then, by chance, Usher kept running into people associated with the movie around town and telling them he wanted in. Eventually they asked him to come in for an audition and meet director Tim Story (Barbershop, Ride Along).
“And Samuel L. Jackson was in the room,” Usher recalls, still a bit surprised. He didn’t expect the star to be there. “He just popped up and we did our thing, ran the scenes together, riffed off a little bit here and there, just having fun. And then the next thing I know, they offered me the movie.”
Related: Jessie T. Usher talks to us about getting tough love from Samuel L. Jackson
As we saw on Kimmel, Jackson and Roundtree both have that intimidation thing down. So, which of the two elder Shafts is more intimidating in person?
“I think Sam Jackson is more intimidating,” says Usher. “Richard Roundtree, he's like that 24/7, he keeps that stone face and although he's very nice and approachable, when you look at him he just keeps that very stern, serious look, so that could be intimidating. But Sam, everything about him, like his energy, his voice, his demeanour and character, all those things are intimidating.
“But at least he's aware of it,” Usher adds with a laugh, “and he can kind of put the fires out before they start.”
As for that trio of rust-coloured trench coats we saw on Kimmel, and in the first image released for the movie, Usher chuckles when asked why the three Shaft men thought it was a good idea to get matching jackets and wear them out at the same time.
“Those are the things that happen when you’re in Shaft,” he says. “I just feel like the Shaft family has a custom trench coat tailor or maker or designer. And that moment, that’s one of the more iconic moments in this new Shaft film; that’s when you finally get to see all three generations of Shaft come together with a common interest and a common goal.”
See Shaft with the father figure in your life.
Out in time for Father’s Day, Shaft is a celebration of dads, uncles, sons and nephews. This is one to take your favourite cool dude to so you can bond with the legendary Shaft family.