Well-renowned rapper/actor Antwon “Big Boi” Patton has secured the role of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy in the upcoming film, “The Bobby DeBarge Story.”
Big Boi works alongside actor Roshon Fegan, who plays the lead role of Bobby DeBarge. The two recently joined other cast members and the director and executive producer during a teleconference to promote the film, which airs Saturday on TV One.
Robert Louis “Bobby” DeBarge Jr. was the lead singer for Switch, a R&B/soul group that recorded for Motown. His falsetto vocals set him apart. When his brothers formed the band DeBarge, he filled the role of co-producer and mentor. When two of the band’s members moved on, he stepped in.
The film purports to recreate the life and legacy of Bobby DeBarge, showing the good, the bad and the ugly, including his battle with a drug addiction.
A main factor of the movie is how the DeBarge siblings are “able to create so much beauty as a result of so much hardship,” said executive producer Jason Ryan.
The film has major stars and renowned recording artists such as Big Boi, Lloyd (Greg Williams, the founder of Switch) and Tyra Ferrell (Mama DeBarge). Big Boi said the film could be a cautionary tale.
“As I’ve said before, with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, you just have to watch how you move,” said Big Boi. “At the same time, it (the movie) gave me a whole new respect for Bobby DeBarge. You know everybody knows El and Chico. … Bobby started the whole thing with the songwriting.
“For him, he kind of sparked that legacy. And to get trapped into the pitfalls of this industry, you gotta be careful with what you are doing. You know what I’m saying? You can either go all the way, or all the way down; so take heed to that.”
Drawing upon the film’s lessons, director Russ Parr said he wants “young people to know that they can be heard.”
Fegan was asked how he as an actor dealt with the emotional swings that Bobby DeBarge experienced, including arguments DeBarge had with his mother.
“Everybody’s method is different. In acting, you have to get to that place by any means necessary, however that is for you,” said Fegan. “For me personally, with this role with Bobby, I really had to feel his pain. You know, I’m born and raised in Los Angeles and grew up in not the worst neighborhood, not the best neighborhood, it’s just South Central. But I had a great upbringing, my parents.
“My mom and dad didn’t mess with me. (I) lost a few friends, been through a few things and I draw from places in my pain and compare it, which is not anywhere comparable to what he (Bobby) went through. I had to somehow figure out how to transcode my pain through imagining what the hell he was feeling and how to portray that right. He must’ve been a completely different person after all these traumatic things that went down in his life, so I could only try my best to understand what that feels like. … I just had to be one with Bobby, man, and let it happen on its own.”
The film’s big performance pieces are “I Call Your Name” by Switch and DeBarge’s “I Like It.” They were referenced as turning points of the film.
Among the other questions was this: Was there a lesson that you learned from portraying these roles?
R.F: (I) Learned a lot from this film, from this story. I was born and raised in the business. A lot of demons you have to stay clear of, a lot of things you have to stay focused on. Keep your family first, family close, not getting caught up in a lot of the riff-raff that comes along with being an artist. And you know from this film, I think that people are going to learn a lot of lessons on how to deal with their personal problems and family issues and things like that.
B.B: I guess the biggest thing playing Berry Gordy is he took chances on talent, something that parallels, you know, my real life. Signing Janelle Monae, Killer Mike and being in a successful group myself, showed its OK to take chances, and when you take chances ,you win big. But at the same time, there are those things in the way that can get you sidetracked like drugs, sex; all those other type things. That’s when you really have to stay focused. Also I learned that Berry Gordy can’t wear Bobby DeBarge’s pants.
Tyra Ferrell: “I was very grateful for my upbringing, meaning that my mom was never too paranoid or too overprotective with you. And knowing that you can’t trust everyone, and also you know, God has a way of making you deal with your judgments. I judge a lot and sometimes I try not to, but always had a problem with black Republicans and black blondes. I didn’t understand the blondes.
So when I put on that blonde wig (worn by Mama DeBarger) or when I became a blonde, I understood something and it was not to judge. I felt pretty in it. I understood some things in it about being a blonde that I don’t really relate to in real life. So like everything else, every project I get involved with, I learn something.
It’s like in “School Daze.” I had to wear blue contact lenses. I had to understand why a dark skin would want to wear blue contact lenses and I had to go to the heart of it. …
Blue Kimble (Tommy DeBarge): “I don’t do music, but every production is a learning experience. No two productions are the same. So you always take something away that’s different and you’re always learning. I’m a sponge whenever I get to work with amazing talent and amazing people. Like I said, I’ve been with TV One, and we have worked numerous times, but this is my first with Russ Parr, my first with Roshon … etc. So, we’re family now. It’s what you take away from productions.
We’re all family, we all have a bond. I’m going to be a DeBarge for life now because I represented this family to the fullest and I’m able to tell the story to a whole new generation of millennials on down who don’t know anything about the DeBarges and their story and their legacy. That’s what I’m taking from this.”
(Check local listings for “The Bobby DeBarge Story” on Saturday on TV One.)
NOTE: Floyd Ivy, an upcoming junior at Tennessee State University, is a summer intern for The New Tri-State Defender through the City of Memphis Office of Youth Services.