I swear to god it was an accident. Most producers wouldn't take it on the chin if you confused their movie's title with Battlefield Earth, one of the most notorious bombs in Hollywood history, but Marques Houston – who produced and co-starred in the dance movie Battlefield America, on DVD and Blu-ray today – laughed it off and went straight into a good-natured conversation about his film. Houston's You Got Served director Chris Stokes is back to tell the story of a selfish marketing executive who winds up doing community service with a group of underprivileged kids trying to compete in "Battlefield America," the country's biggest youth-oriented dance competition. Ironically, Houston – a rapper, singer and dancer in real life – doesn't do any real dancing in the film beyond a brief "Electric Slide." We had to ask about that…
CraveOnline: I’m happy to talk to you about Battlefield Earth. [Facepalm] Battlefield Earth? Battlefield America. I just woke up.
Marques Houston: [Laughs] It’s all good.
I’m so sorry. Has anyone made that flub before, or is that just me?
Uh, that’s just you.
Nah, I’m just playing. Other people make that mistake.
Okay. Why don’t we just start there. Did you completely invent the “Battlefield America” competition for this, or is that based on a real thing?
No, it’s actually not a real thing. The movie is, I won’t say it’s based on a true story, but it’s definitely inspired by the world of dance and the things that we went around across the country to see, which is these community centers and the underprivileged kids, and the opportunity to do something with their life and do something positive. The YMCAs and the youth centers around the world, they really help these kids that don’t the privileges that everyone else has. They don’t have the families. They come from broken homes, stuff like that. Issues, real life issues, are what inspired the movie, along with a little bit of creativity, of course. You have to have a movie. But “Battlefield America” was just the biggest dance competition for kids. Kids age eight to thirteen. It was a definitely an experience for us to watch these kids really dance this well, because I don’t think you’ve ever seen kids dance this well. It’s never been done before on television or film, ever, so this will be the first time that everybody gets to see kids this young move like adults, which is great.
Where did you find them all?
We went across the world. Some of them are from Japan, some of them are from across the country. They’re worldwide. All these kids, we found the best dancers that we could out there. We got an incredible mix of kids and an incredible cast of talent, and I think the movie is just amazing. It’s real fun, it’s emotional, it takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. You get happy because you can see the dance, you can see the love interests. It covers all the areas.
You co-wrote this, yes?
No, no. I produced it.
They had you down as a writer [on IMDb].
No, [Chris Stokes is] the writer/director. I produced it, but I did have my hand in a lot of the story and stuff like that, just as a producer element, but I didn’t write it.
But talking about your character within that story, a lot of characters in these sorts of family movies learn a valuable lesson, but I can’t recall many who start out this… He’s kind of a jerk.
He is! He’s an a-hole! Sean Lewis, he starts out as the biggest… Because his character does not care about anything else. If it wasn’t about Sean Lewis’s life, he didn’t really care. He’s one of those people who feel like money can take care of anything, and he doesn’t have to be responsible because of where he sits. He sits on such a high seat. He doesn’t need to sit with the little people. Doing this character was actually a very big challenge for me, because I’m not like that at all. I’m totally different from Sean Lewis. I’m nice. I love people. I love kids, I want kids of my own. He doesn’t like kids. He’s a jerk of a boss, and I’m not a jerk at all. I don’t run people around. If anything, I’m like, “I’ll get my own things. I’ll get my own coffee. What can I get you?” I’m that kind of person. So was very challenging for me, to step into that seat of cockiness and become Sean Lewis, because he really was a jerk. But what I really, really enjoyed about the story was he learns just as much from the kids as they learn from him. Not only did he teach them to believe in themselves, and be winners from the inside out, they taught him that there’s more to life than hiding behind your work and just being a jerk and cooped up in your own world. There’s love. There’s a lot of things that you can learn as well. That’s one of the key story points that I really loved and loved.
One of the interesting things about what he teaches is that he just plain doesn’t dance. He doesn’t teach them any of the dance stuff.
At all! [Laughs] Listen, “But you’re a dancer!” I’m like, “That’s the trick.” You think about movies, I’m like… I really want to become one of the great actors like Will Smith, and like Jamie Foxx […] and just because I can dance, I want to do movies where you don’t see me as what you know I can do. You know Marques Houston, you know I’m a dancer, I’m a singer, but I wouldn’t want to do a movie that I’m a dancer and a singer in. I want to do movies that people can take me more seriously in as an actor, because when you’re making that transition, it is tough. Because people are like, “Oh, Marques, you can dance.”
But you know what’s really tough? Playing a character that does not dance at all. So what he did is, he hired another professional, but it wasn’t just about the dancing. These kids had to believe in themselves. It’s like the NBA. You see all these talented individual players, but unless you can play on a team, and unless you can take those talents and really wrap it around to a team and understand that it’s not just about you, that it’s about the team, your team will never go anywhere. You’ll just be a good player. So that’s what he [teaches]. It’s not just about dancing. You guys have the individual talent, but what you lack is the leadership skills, the teamwork and all that. So I think that’s where he really got into it, where I got into it in real life, is I understand what it takes to be a team. So that’s one of the things that I can relate with, that teamwork.
One of the Chris Stokes’s signature directorial moves, from back in the You Got Served era, is whenever the whole dance crew jumps up and lands, he shakes the camera and makes a big earthquake noise.
Yeah, that is a signature move. I think it all kind of came about because he likes real life. Chris loves action movies, so I think what he wanted to do with the dance is he wanted it to feel like an action sequence. So when you jump up and you shake the camera, you get that feeling of when you’re watching Transformers, and you’re watching the car, and they’re shaking the camera, that kind of shaking, you kind of feel like you’re more involved. I think what’s so brilliant about Chris, is when he does dance [sequences], it’s so different than anybody else does it. You feel like you’re in the moment. You don’t feel like you’re watching a music video. You feel like you’re in that battle, and I think that was an important thing for him as a director, that he always likes to do with the dance, is he likes to feel like… He wants the audience to feel like you’re involved, so you get up and you start dancing. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m watching this dance movie.” You want to do these moves yourself. You want to battle after you’ve just watched it. I think that’s one of the signature things that he’s known for. I’ve seen a lot of other directors trying to copy now, you know what I’m saying? But you know, I guess it’s a good thing. [Laughs]
One thing I’m often curious about… I’ve seen a lot of dance battle movies. They’re kind of hazy on the rules of how the battle goes.
How the battling works? [Laughs] Well, there are really no rules to dance battling other than the fact that you shouldn’t fight. But it always ends up in a fight, you know what I mean? That’s just how it’s done, because your intensity is so on top. You’re so amped, and you’re so “on,” that energy that you have. The whole part about battle dancing is that it kind of is like fighting, but without contact. But that energy and that emotion is still there, because you want to win. It’s a battle. It’s like any battle. You have a battle with a swordfight, you have a battle in anything you do, or you watch 8 Mile with Eminem. They were really into the whole rap battle. So I think that’s the same intensity and that same intense feeling that you get when you watch those battles, it’s the same thing as when you’re battle dancing.
Here’s my question: are they given the music ahead of time, or are they just supposed to adapt to whatever ends up playing?
Well, I think in a real dance battle the music just comes on and you kind of battle to that. In movies, how you do it is you get together music for the film, and you dance to that.
Oh sure, you have to plan it on the set, but I was wondering within the world of the film.
In real life, any song could come on that could just inspire you. You just go for it.
Battlefield America ended up getting a very small theatrical release. Do you feel that you found its audience yet?
It was really small. I don’t feel like it’s reached its core audience yet. I feel like this DVD will definitely do the job. I feel like it’ll give kids a chance to go out and buy it and play it in their homes, and really, really blow up and the marketplace. I think that the DVD will definitely do its damage.