The man who originated the Shaft character in 1971, Richard Roundtree has returned to the series for the fifth time, reprising his role which garnered him a Golden Globe nomination inn 1972.
After having passed the name and character onto Samuel L. Jackson in the 2000 Shaft film, Roundtree and Jackson have teamed up to pass along the name to the newest Shaft, Jessie T. Usher in the upcoming film. Roundtree chatted with The Knockturnal at Red Rooster in Harlem about the long standing prominence of the Shaft character and more.
The Knockturnal: What do you think makes Shaft a classic film in black culture?
Richard Roundtree: I think primarily it is the fact that this is a honorable black man, a thinking black man, a iconic hero that sets the bar high. You can’t find too many negatives about him. He’s true to his community. You can trust him. There are a lot of iconic attributes that he possesses, and I am proud that this point in time he is still and hero in the black community and internationally. Three generations of this iconic character, I passed the baton off to Sam, Sam is then in turn passing on the baton to his son. So three generations and my grandson does a turn in this film. When I first meet him I’m so happy to see him because he has been kept away from me and his dad via his mom. And to see him encompass and find his truth of who he is and that last name and what it means to the community and his world is a win win.
The Knockturnal: What stood out to you about Tim Story’s direction?
Richard Roundtree: The beauty of what I garnered from Tim was not only was he the director but he also listened to our point of view. I remember he asked me what kind of car I wanted to have in this production and his initial look he thought it should be a classic roller Rolls Royce, I said no no in this day and age a cream colored Lincoln is what he would be driving today and he took that and made that happen. So I’m saying he was open to any suggestion whether or not he took it, it was on him. But he listened to us an I know that was the relationship between he and Sam as well. So that is his expertise. He’s able to listen and hear and not be so dogmatic in his point of view. I think that’s the mark of a true director.
The Knockturnal: Now you’re pretty physically fit and some of the scenes in the film seemed physically demanding and you handled yourself well in the fight scenes. Can you tell us your regimen for how you keep in shape and trained to keep yourself fit especially for the movie?
Richard Roundtree: As long as I have a glass of brown water in front of me (laughs). In truth I don’t do a lot of workouts in this point in my life and I should and my doctor says how much exercise are you getting. But I’m in pretty good shape, I’m not in the shape of my grandson and probably not in the shape of Sam but I’m hanging in. I can still get it done.
The Knockturnal: With the film dealing with three different generations, can you talk about the differences you notice between your generation and Sam’s generation compared to Jessie’s generation in terms of the dialogue and characterization, etc.
Richard Roundtree: I’m in the dark with the millennials. I have children Jessie’s age and a large part of the conversation I don’t understand. My middle child just bought a house for example and I couldn’t do the signing, (I co-signed for her mortgage) and they wanted to do it online, ‘how do you do that?’ ‘dad, I’ll walk you through it’. It’s a whole new world and I’m behind the eight ball. I’m challenged let’s say.
The Knockturnal: Music has always been a big part of the series, can you talk about the musical moment that stood out.
Richard Roundtree: I’m just glad that Issac’s music is threaded throughout the movie and the nuances that have been updated and the basic theme is still in the background. and you know it and recognize it and you hear it and you can pat your foot and clap to it. It will remain, hopefully for another thirty, forty years.
The Knockturnal: Where do you see the character of Shaft going in the future?
Richard Roundtree: I don’t know. It’s gonna be interesting to see what happens to my grandson and where he takes it. Who knows at this point, but there is a possibility there will be yet another episode.
The Knockturnal: Last question so there was a switch between the 2000 Shaft and this Shaft film where instead of portraying Samuel L Jackson’s uncle, you’re portraying his father now, can you speak about that change.
Richard Roundtree: Sam cleaned that up. In our families as Sam put it there were always questions about connections — stuff that was pushed under the rug and what have you. Sam being Sam cleaned that up in this film and said ‘yeah you ‘re my daddy’ and made it very clear what our relationship was. I was very happy to see that.
The film is now playing!