Born in Chicago on Oct. 6, 1999, Dante Brown's big break came at the tender age of 5 when he beat out 500 other children to be showcased as a dancer, comedian and actor on Oprah's first "Amazing Kids" show. A self-taught dancer who learned his moves by watching Michael Jackson, Usher and Chris Brown's Youtube videos, Brown's amazing moves have been compared to that of a young Usher.
Dante can also beatbox, rap, play piano by ear and make beats. With his younger brother, Dusan, he performs as a duo known as "The Brown Boys." The siblings released their first album at 10 and 8, and have opened for such notable acts as the New Boyz, DJ Tha Pope and Trey Songz.
Here, he talks about starring opposite Viola Davis in "Won't Back Down," an inspirational tale of female empowerment about a teacher and a single-mom who join forces to improve a grammar school.
Kam Williams: Hi, Dante, thanks for the interview.
Dante Brown: Oh, no problem, Mr. Williams. Thanks for interviewing me.
KW: What interested you in "Won't Back Down?"
DB: When my agent sent over the sides for my audition on the tape, the project was originally named "Still I Rise." I immediately thought of Maya Angelou's poem and was very interested in getting to know my character more, as well as the story. My name means poetic, so it's ironic that I love poetry, and I was like, "Wow, interesting movie!" [LOL] Then I read the sides and the character was very different than me. But since the movie is a drama, and I love drama, I wanted to nail my audition to make sure I got a callback and be strongly considered for the role. So, it was a combination of all those things that initially interested me in "Won't Back Down." And, oh yeah, for callbacks, I had to read the entire script before auditioning with the director, Mr. Daniel Barnz. By then, I knew that the message would be very powerful and I definitely wanted to be a part of this.
KW: What was it like to work opposite Viola Davis as your mother, and with the rest of such an accomplished cast?
DB: Working with Mrs. Davis... it was a joy! She was funny. She gave me tips and also helped me understand the importance of "being in the scene," so I could hold up to her star quality. She was very approachable and down to earth, so it made working with her very easy. She sort of reminds me of my Mom, so I never felt like I had to act, but simply be her son for the time being, while shooting the movie. Whenever I'd goof around, she'd have no problem with me either, in a nice way, of course. [Chuckles] I still keep in contact with her and will always look at her as an amazing actress that I was privileged to work with and get to know. As for working with the entire cast, it was like I was playing in the NBA All-Star game. [LOL] It showed me how great things can happen when you apply yourself and believe in yourself. Being in their presence taught me that hard work and dedication pay off and one day I hope to be able to share my on-set experience and knowledge with newcomers. Overall, everyone was really nice and fun to work with and being a part of such a talented cast forced me to bring my A-game, too.
KW: How would you describe your character, Cody?
DB: My character, Cody Alberts, is the son of Nona [played by Viola Davis] and Charles Alberts [played by Mr. Lance Reddick]. Cody has a learning disability and, during a pivotal point in the movie, you'll learn the cause of his learning disorder. He's sort of a quiet kid, gets bullied at school, doesn't have any friends, and the kids pick on him by calling him names and stuff.
KW: You were named one of the All-Time Amazing Kids by Oprah. Did that make it hard to dumb yourself down to play an academically-challenged child?
DB: No, it didn't make it hard because as an actor I've learned to pull traits and characteristics from friends at school, relatives, by watching YouTube videos, other characters in other movies, etcetera. So, although I'm not like Cody at all, it took a lot of preparation and research to prepare emotionally for my audition and scenes as Cody. But that's what we do as actors and that's the gift God blessed me with, an ability to relate to people, and to actually become the characters I hope to play. Transforming into someone else.... I love it!
KW: How would you describe you and your brother, Dusan's, debut CD, "Here Come the Brown Boys?"
DB: Fun! Exciting! Entertaining! Our CD has 11 songs, a little something for everyone. We get calls and messages from family and friends all the time telling us how catchy the songs are, how our friends and cousins enjoy listening on car rides to and from school, and just how proud they are of this project. Kids love it and adults, too. We actually have some dope beats on it and some great lyrics. We love performing songs from our CD and look forward to making more music in the future. We like making the type of music that inspires people. We've performed at schools and churches. The CD is good, kid-friendly music that can be performed anywhere. Shout out to my parents for executive-producing the album and Mr. Spike Rebel for producing and helping us tremendously with our first project. We look forward to our next album. Oh yeah, and stay tuned for the 8 year-old singing sensation Jayda B's new hit, "I Rock My Tutu." She invited us to collaborate and it's hot! The video should be coming out soon, and the single will be available on iTunes as well.
KW: You have been blessed with many talents. Which is your favorite way to perform: acting, rapping, singing, dancing or playing piano?
ME: That's kind of tough, but I'd have to say acting because it's just so much fun being able to be someone else when auditioning for different roles and then working on set. But most definitely rapping, too. What I enjoy about rapping is being able to express myself with words. The Bible says that our words are very powerful. I like being able to spit hot bars and see the surprised reaction of people and hearing them say, "Wow, did that just come from a kid?" So, both acting and rapping allow me to tell stories and, like most people, I love a good story!
KW: Where do you go to school? Or are you homeschooled?
DB: I attend a great middle school in The Valley. I hope you understand that I can't say which one for security reasons. But I love going to school, being in a traditional school atmosphere, having immediate access to my teachers, when needed, and interacting with my friends and playing sports. And I plan to attend regular school so long as I can balance everything and thrive while preparing for college.
KW: What do you do for fun?
DB: Fun? I'm the type of person that loves to have fun! So, I can turn any situation into a fun environment, fun for me. I have fun going to school and auditioning, and even more fun when I'm on set. I have fun at home with my little brother, I have fun wrestling and fishing with my Dad. I have fun at church. I have fun when our family has movie nights at home or movie dates at the theater. But particularly my weekends, here in L.A., are generally free and I love living a very active lifestyle. So, we're rarely home. I'll either hang out with my friends for a while or go play basketball, swim, go to the movies, participate in the Looking Ahead Program, watch YouTube videos, work on my rap music or make beats, or even play NBA 2K12 - My Player Mode.
KW: What's your favorite TV show and your favorite movie?
DB: My favorite TV show is "Everybody Hates Chris" and my fave movie is... let's see... We love and watch a lot of movies... Okay..."Finding Nemo!" [LOL]
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
DB: Just now! [LOL] My little brother just flew in from L.A. to be with us for my movie premiere here at home in Chicago. I haven't seen him in about a week, but he's hysterical, such a funny guy. He keeps me rolling! I laugh a lot. Laughing is good for the soul, my Mom says, so I must have an amazing soul, as much as I love to laugh. [LOL]
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
DB: Candy! Twizzlers in particular. [Laughs] Yummy for my tummy!
KW: The Michael Ealy question: If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?
ME: Hmmm... interesting question. I would love to meet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
DB: "The Barcode Tattoo" by Suzanne Weyn.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
DB: "Diamonds of Sierra Leone" by Kanye West, the clean version, of course.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
DB: Mostly breakfast foods. I'm still learning dinner dishes, but for now my fave dishes to cook are omelettes and French toast.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
DB: A young man with a desire to make a positive impact on the world by using the gifts God has blessed him with. I see a nice guy that enjoys people, a happy person enjoying life.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
DB: Oh, I know, I know. To be the President of the United States... just for one day, though. I think it would be pretty cool being able to represent our country in the highest available office.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
DB: Ooh... let me think. [LOL] Cutting a huge hole in my little brother's hair. I think I was probably about 3 or 4 and he was 1 or 2. In my mind, I was pretending to be my Dad, who's a barber, but things didn't quite go as planned, as they do when my Dad cuts his clients' hair. [Laughs some more] My brother ended up having to get all of his afro cut off, the lowest his hair's ever been. And my Dad wasn't a happy camper.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
DB: That's easy, a lion, because he's the king of the jungle and nobody can stop him or get in his way. He's fearless, yet loyal to his pride.
KW: The Toure question: Who is the person who helped you to become the person you are today?
DB: Definitely, my parents. I don't really have one person, because they both help equally to develop me, guide me, support me and keep me on the straight and narrow path.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
DB: They all have "something" that drives them to be hard workers… a passion for their goals. And they also appear to be very focused on achieving their dreams. As my Mom had a successful corporate career and my Dad is a successful entrepreneur, I would have to say for me and my family, visualizing our accomplishments, taking small steps, daily, and putting God first.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DB: Alright, read a whole bunch of books and pray! This way, you'll become an exceptional reader, as well as learn how to fully comprehend and interpret the many scripts that you may receive. Stay true to yourself. Don't let anyone tell you, you can't do it. Maintain your inner confidence and for the details, contact my Mom. You can visit her website [ www.MomagersRock.com ] because she's helped a lot of moms get their kids started in the business and she has a very, very long note there on that website, spelling out exactly what she did to get me and my little brother started. The key part to this is prayer. I hold this part sacred and don't really share this with any and everybody, but I do feel it's necessary to spread the truth about what I find most valuable. I'd tell other kids wanting to become an actor, to ask God to direct your path and if this is His goal for your life, then He will open doors for you.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
DB: I want to be remembered as a good person. Someone who people enjoy being around. That person that inspires you and has a light about him that you just can't put your finger on, but makes you feel good when you're in his presence. I also want to be remembered as a true professional of the entertainment industry, as a sharp thinker and creative. As a hard-working, yet fun person that people love and that loves to have fun. People often refer to me as a young Denzel. I think that would be great to follow in his footsteps as an actor. Although I haven't met him yet, he seems like a very classy man, so being referred as a younger him, I think is a huge compliment.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Dante, and best of luck with the film.
DB: Thank you, Mr. Williams. Thank you. It was fun doing this interview. Good questions and I appreciate your taking the time to interview me.