*The “barbershop,” that all-too-important “think tank” of the hood, reopens up right in the midst of one of the most charged social and political periods in recent history.

The 3rd installment in the successful Barbershop film series, “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” is slated for release on April 15 (Warner Bros.) and it returns with original stars, Ice Cube (Calvin Palmer Jr.), Cedric the Entertainer (Eddie), Anthony Anderson (J.D.), Eve (Terri) and Sean Patrick Thomas (Jimmy) reprising their roles. Joining the “O.C.s” is a lively and relevant ensemble cast that includes:

Regina Hall as Angie
Common as Jabari
Nicki Minaj as Draya
J.B. Smoove
Lamorne Morris as Jerrod
Utkarsh Ambudkar as Raja
Tyga as Yummy
Deon Cole as Dante
Margot Bingham as Breemoo
Michael Rainey Jr. as Jalen Palmer
Troy Garity as Isaac
Auntie Fee as Madea
Anthony Davis as Himself
and more …

EURweb associate Gerald Radford was invited to the set during shooting late last summer to catch a behind the scenes glimpse of how some of the on-screen magic is made and to chat up some of the key people in and behind the film.

Production on “Barbershop: The Next Cut” began last year on the heels of the country being embroiled in controversy surrounding hot topics like the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson and other instances of alleged police brutality, along with Chicago’s ongoing challenge with gangs and gun violence.  And recognizing that and the fact that there is no real break from the onslaught of such challenges in the black community, the film’s writers, Kenya Barrios and Tracy Oliver, were tasked with capturing – along with pop culture through an urban lens in general –  enough of the issues to effectively flesh out a relevant script, but with a strong comedic edge.  They also had to work within the confines of Next Cut’s mission of making gang and gun violence in Chicago the central focus.

Tracy Oliver

Tracy Oliver

“… with police brutality and having a black president and the rise of weave culture, so much stuff, like Kim Kardashian, we had just pages and pages of stuff and there’s like jokes for days,” said writer Tracy Oliver.

“If we don’t put certain things in this movie, people are going to be like, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t even talk about police violence or black lives matter or Barack being in the white house,’ especially with it being set in the Southside [of Chicago]. So, there’s so many things that we had to cover and every time I cut something out, Malcolm [Lee] would say, ‘what happened to …,’ and it was hard because everyone has an opinion of what should be in it, [even the] actors … it was like a constantly evolving process.”

The film’s director, Malcolm D. Lee, echoed Oliver’s sentiments, given he’s the one who was responsible for taking the baton and bringing the script to life through the ensemble cast – the largest he’s ever worked with – and determining what footage made the final cut:

Malcolm D. Lee

Malcolm D. Lee

“We tried to be as current as possible,” he said.  “But since the first movie, so much has happened in the world, an African American president, all the things that that entails … and in a barbershop you’re gonna get unfiltered opinions about that.”

“We have to implement what happened in Charleston recently, police brutality, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, a host of others … it’s gonna be impossible to stay completely current, but it’s all gonna resonate because these are things that are age-old, certainly in the African American community, and in America.”

Many – including Lee and some of the film’s cast members – wondered if it was even necessary to revive Barbershop, since so much time had passed since the last installment. But after reading the script, Lee was impressed and saw an opportunity to deliver a finished product that would justify its revival:

“I thought it was smart, I thought it was funny and worthy of doing a third … It will be potentially funnier and more resonant than the other two,” he said.

““[This installment is] a mix of tension, humor, emotion and pathos, which is one of the reasons I wanted to take it on. I was a fan of the Barbershop movies, but I felt like with this one I can really bring something to the table. It’s probably the best script of the bunch and in this film we have at least six people we can go to for laughs. But that being said, Cedric is still the king of comedy. He is the one guy that … pushes others and they push him in a good way.”

“My editor was saying, ‘we’ve never had this much footage in our lives.’ You may have four pages, but when you’re finished, you have six because the comedians improvise.”

Cedric the Entertainer as 'Eddie'

Cedric the Entertainer as ‘Eddie’

And speaking of improvisation, the “king of comedy” and one of the film’s stars, Cedric the Entertainer,  chimes in on how he approached the script and his hilarious but wise character, Eddie:

“I use the script as a great outline to know what the story is and to know what the writer is trying to convey, but then I have the freedom with this character … where as a comedian I can improv,” he said.

“I kind of internalized this character, Eddie. I always say I “Rain Man” him because I have no idea what I’m gonna say once we do it and it’s never really premeditated, so it allows me to be free as a character … I think this character is a bit of a fire starter and kind of likes to throw things out there, and that’s great as an actor to be free to just say stuff off the dome and to have a director like Malcolm to just get it and say, ‘alright, cool, let’s do that,’ as long as it leads us to the next beat of the story.”

And on why Cedric chose to reprise his role in the first place and the one stipulation he had for doing so:

“I’m one to believe that you don’t do sequels just because they’re doing them,” he said. “You know, a lot of times you don’t know the motivation of the studios, but the movie had to be right.  It had to be about something and hopefully we want to see it move along. That was the key for me, to see where are these people ten years later. And my biggest thing was that Eddie was already old and as long as he don’t die in the movie … I told them that off the top, if y’all make me die, I ain’t coming!”

Eve as 'Terri'

Eve as ‘Terri’

Rapper and actress Eve had her reservations about coming back to the Barbershop as well … that is until she remembered her experiences from the first two installments and read the Next Cut’s script:

“Real shit? I was like, ‘naaaaw!’ But then I remembered how much fun we had, I remembered how we got so close and what it was like just being on set and making the movie happen. Once I read the script, I was like, ‘I can’t wait to do it!’” she said. “Never say never and because people do love it, so I’m so happy I’m a part of it.”

Eve was also excited about how her character had grown and being joined by one of her music industry peers, Common, who also plays her husband in the film:

“[Terri has grown] a lot. She’s married, has a kid, she’s calmer than she’s ever been. You only see her flip one time [the apple juice reference was worked in], but she’s a lot more grown up. She’s a lot more mature. [I wanted Michael Ealy, but] then when they said Common, I said, ‘whaaaat?’ I don’t even see nobody else in that role. So, thankfully that happened. He’s great … I’m just happy that happened,” she said.

Common as 'Rashad' and Eve as 'Terri'

Common as ‘Rashad’ and Eve as ‘Terri’

And on that note, while on set we were able to catch an intimate scene between Common and Eve that conveyed their perfect chemistry. Malcolm Lee describes it:

“Rashad and Terri, they’re a married couple, seven years in. She’s working a lot as a celebrity barber and he’s feeling kind of emasculated at the end of the day. Nicki Minaj’s character, Draya is giving Rashad a lot of attention and at certain points she makes moves towards him, and he’s not with it, but it gets caught by Terri and it’s a whole big thing and it’s their makeup scene. They had a great arc in the movie because of where they are … it’s a commentary on marriage and all the difficulties.”

Common as 'Rashad'

Common as ‘Rashad’

Common felt privileged to portray the character of Rashad and thought it to be a near perfect fit :

“His name is Rashad and my name is Rashid, so it was kind of funny, but I got into it, a caring man whose loving and taking care of his family, taking his daughter to school … I think it was good for me to play this role. The violence in Chicago and knowing this story is surrounding that topic and at the same time it’s dealing with fatherhood … but it’s a franchise that’s respected, it has cultural relevance,” he said.

“But I was truly drawn to it because it was that Chicago story and I felt like as much as it’s a comedy, it’s still tying in with getting a message out there. I felt like when I was reading the script, I felt like it was doing something poetic in the intro of it and the outro, and then throughout the whole story. It was a well told story.”

“Some of the political views that Rashad expresses are similar to mine, so there was a lot of conviction in what we got to express. These barbershop talks are something we have not only at the barbershop, but … the barbershop is a free space to do it … or beauty shops, but these are conversations … my character gets to come in and express some real views of some real people.”

Eve agreed on the value of the using the Barbershop platform to express how real people really feel:

“I think it’s starting conversations.” she said. “It won’t be just a movie, but people will say, we were just talking about that last week or that happened last year, so…”

Ice Cube as 'Calvin Palmer Jr.'

Ice Cube as ‘Calvin Palmer Jr.’

We didn’t have the opportunity hear from Ice Cube or Anthony Anderson while on set due to their busy shooting schedules, but the fact that they chose to reprise their roles along with the rest of the original cast, and to attract talented entertainers like Common, Regina Hall, Nicki Minaj and others speaks volumes. Not only does it testify to the strength of the Barbershop: The Final Cut script, but also the recognition by all parties involved that with all that’s going on in the world today, there are important messages yet to convey.

Regina Hall as 'Angie'

Regina Hall as ‘Angie’

Nicki Minaj as Draya

Nicki Minaj as Draya

It takes skill and talent to handle such heavy content and package it in a vehicle also designed for laughs, but the very capable cast and director Malcolm D. Lee are confident that they successfully executed the task.

April 15 will tell the tale.