We sat down with Morris Chestnut and Cassandra Freeman during a round table discussion about their respective roles in the FBI in a new TV drama, The Enemy Within. The stakes are high in this series as Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) and Jaquelyn Pettigrew (Cassandra Freeman) set out to capture a terrorist named Tal.
Exclusive: Cassandra Freeman, Daniel Bellomy & Wanda Durant Talk Lifetime’s ‘The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story’
Lifetime is celebrating Mother’s Day with a biopic on a special mom Wanda Durant, called The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story. The biopic is produced by Queen Latifah and her Flavor Unit Productions partner and friend Shakim Compere, and the film is directed by Nelson George. The biopic’s title was inspired by a statement Kevin Durant made in a 2014 speech at a press conference proclaiming his mother Wanda “The Real MVP.” Latifah, George, Compere, Wanda Durant and the cast premiered the film in New York and the cast which includes Cassandra Freeman as Wanda, Daniel Bellomy as an adult Kevin Durant and Wanda herself spoke with us exclusively about the message of the film and more.
In speaking about getting cast in the lead role of Wanda and what it meant to her, actress Cassandra Freeman stated:
I think to be cast in anything it’s always like oh wow someone trusts me with their project and then it feels doubly so when it’s about a real person like this and that Wanda helped cast me in this is very humbling.
When speaking about Ms. Durant’s presence on set during filming Cassandra said:
She actually showed up the last week and she was there and it’s so funny that in between takes she would come to me crying saying you’re so good, because I’m so playful after 20 takes.
About playing the role to Wanda’s satisfaction and when asked did she feel she did the role justice Freeman simply said:
I mean I can’t judge that, but she said that she feels like this was truthful to her. She said there were some scenes where she just cried and cried. She said there were some scenes where she was like it felt like it was her life being replayed all over again. So as long as she’s happy that’s all I can ask for. I hope everyone else watches it and hopefully they take away what we meant which is to uplift and sort of shed a spotlight on how amazing single mothers are the backbone of this country: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton it goes on and on that’s what we hope for this film.
In working on the film Cassandra got the opportunity to work with friend Nelson George telling us:
Nelson George is fantastic I’ve been a friend of his for a few years now but I’ve never really had an intense situation like this. He is an actor’s director, he is a great collaborator and so patient and kind. He’s a great director.
As for what she feels is the overall message of the film:
I think the overall message of this film is that to raise a child, I think this is true even if you have a two parent home, but you need faith, you need some type of faith, you need community, you need family and you need goals and that’s what you really see in this . If you have faith, family, love community and some goals you can be unstoppable and that’s all she did and she was resourceful. You know your biography does not mean that’s your destiny actually it’s about being resourceful and that’s what she did.
Daniel Bellomy who plays the adult Kevin Durant in the film said of his connection to the real Kevin Durant:
I used to play basketball. I was like that tall gentle giant naturally. I mean I just understood that kind of basketball player. He played basketball he was good but he wasn’t like “I play basketball.” He was good, he was kind and gentle and had great character. That resonated for me.
Bellomy spoke about what he feels is the message of the film saying:
I mean it’s a real All American story. A working class parent who finds herself having to raise her family on her own. Going to basketball, going to sports, going to some kind of ritual to conjure greatness in her kids. I think every family is seeking to do that. I think it is a story of victory, a story of overcoming, an American story of family, what we do to survive, what we do to help our kids even when it doesn’t seem like they should or the environment says that’s not how it’s supposed to play out, but know we have to believe in a deeper, bigger kind of idea for them.
In addressing how re-watching her son Kevin’s speech still affects her and having the biopic come to life Ms. Durant stated:
My eyes are so puffy I’ve been crying for almost a week now, just like the week following the press conference for the MVP awards, it’s been really emotional but it’s been really rewarding because it really supports my message now because I’m an inspirational speaker and I speak to pregnant girls and teenage single mothers and it’s just a motivation for them not to quit. But I never knew it would be part of my life. If I would have cut things off in the early years this would have never happened.
In speaking about the lengthy process in bringing her story to the television, Ms. Durant shared:
I guess about two years ago this month after the speech my managers spoke to Flavor Unit productions and they said yes this is a story that we want to tell and they partnered us with Lifetime and we all said yes. Then we went through the process of writing the script and doing the casting and two years later here we are.
We asked Wanda, about her dual role as mother and coach to her son to which she told us:
Well I mean I just assumed that role, I didn’t know if they really appreciate it or not but I just assumed as a mother. But I wanted him to learn to give more than was expected. The coach was a good coach so if he said give 25, that was a good number to give at the time but I wanted it to be ingrained in him to always give more.
As for her overall message for the film Wanda shared:
To just don’t quit. Don’t quit on yourself or your children because you never know what your future holds for you.
The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story will premiere on Mother’s day, May 8 at 8 p.m.