Twelve years after Drumline grossed over $56 million at the box office, VH1’s Drumline: A New Beat looks to revive the big screen classic and reinvigorate the Black collegiate nostalgia of A Different World and School Daze. Premiering on VH1 Monday, October 27 at 9 ET/PT, Drumline: A New Beat will capture the original’s sound and spirit, while welcoming a new class to Atlanta A&T University’s drumline.
Nick Cannon serves as executive producer of the film, reprising the role of Devon Miles in a cameo appearance. Leonard Roberts also returns as Sean Taylor, Devon’s former adversary and Atlanta A&T’s present band director. LeToya Luckett joins the cast this time around as Dr. Nia Phillips, a dean at Atlanta A&T, as does Alexandra Shipp, who plays the film’s star, Danielle “Dani” Bolton.
The cast recently assembled in Atlanta to speak with EBONY.com about the long-awaited sequel.
EBONY: Why tell this story again? Why Drumline: A New Beat?
Nick Cannon: We created a classic tale the first time around, but that HBCU experience just isn’t on television. It hasn’t been told that much on film except for School Daze and it hasn’t been told on television since A Different World. So to bring this one straight to VH1, my ultimate goal is to be able turn the television movie into the television series. Based on the ratings and the response, this storyline will turn into an ongoing storyline similarly to the way VH1 did Single Ladies.
EBONY: A Different World and School Daze inspired a generation of students to attend HBCUs. Did you receive that response to the 2002 release of Drumline, and do you anticipate a similar response to Drumline: A New Beat?
NC: Absolutely! To this day, so many people tell me they wanted to go to an HBCU because of this film, and even wanted to go to college in general—be a musician, a drummer. In a lot of cultures before this movie came out, to be in the marching band was corny. This film made that cool. It allowed a lot of people to embrace it and thrive in it.
EBONY: You return in a cameo appearance. Is Devon Miles still the cocky, arrogant kid that we know? Does he still have the girl? Has he matured?
NC: Yeah, absolutely. People don’t understand that a lot of this story was loosely based on [producer] Dallas Austin’s life. So Devon is now one of the most successful producers in the music game. He married Laila. He actually turned out pretty well. He has his happily ever after.
EBONY: Shawn is back as the band director. How has he grown?
Leonard Roberts: I think we all have our struggles. We have our things that we come with. We have our histories and our pasts. Shawn is dealing with a little bit of that when we pick up his story, and he has some things in his past that he has to do away with and overcome. But he’s still the same. I always likened him to a purist. He loves the music and the band and the unity of it, and that’s being challenged again. He has to step up and hold true to what he loves.
EBONY: Shawn also finds himself part of a little love triangle. Can you tell us about that?
LR: Well, a lot of questions will be answered as to why Shawn may have been so hard on folks in the first Drumline. It could be he was mending a little broken heart or dealing with some personal things. It’s a fun element to add to the story. I like being grown. I’m really not the guy to get the girl, so I want to see if that works out in my favor this time.
EBONY: You have been cast as Dr. Nia Phillips, a dean at Atlanta A&T. Is this a different type of character than you usually play? How did you go about preparing for it?
LeToya Luckett: Very! My grandmother was a dean for the East Houston District for years, so I definitely took a lot from her. Unfortunately, she has dementia now. This would’ve been something great for her to see and remember because I’m playing her role. But I took the strength of her personality and intertwined it with my own thing.
EBONY: What does LeToya Luckett have in common with Dr. Nia Phillips?
LL: Her love life! I can’t tell the whole story, but she’s in a bind. I will give her this though: she trying to follow her heart. With her last decision it was the safe thing, it made her laugh, it was fun, but I don’t believe her heart was in it. This time she is letting her heart lead. And she definitely has to put down her pride. I know for me as a woman, approaching a man? I don’t even know how to do that or what to say. But Nia is going for it. She’s putting her pride aside and really wants to figure out what this is and why she still feels this way.
EBONY: This is your second project with VH1. What made you want to be a part of this cast and production?
LL: I’m a fan of Drumline. I used to watch Drumline so many times a day. When I was 20 or 21 and my first cousin and best friend, Tiffany, had just graduated from college, we had this smart idea to move to Los Angeles, get an apartment and just see what happened. And we would cook and watch Drumline three times a day at least. It was our movie. It was our safe haven. We would sit there and watch it until we knew the lines and the routines.
To be a part of such a classic film is huge for me, and it is such fun cast. It is young. It is the marching bands, which I’m a huge fan of. I’m from Houston, and we have the Labor Day Classic and those different classics. I show up for those all the time, and I care about the band more than I do the football game half the time. And to be a part of something I know I’m passionate about on my own time is pretty cool.
EBONY: Tell us about Dani Raymond.
Alexandra Shipp: Dani is all about girl power. She’s all about keeping it real and going for what she wants no matter what. She’s never going to hurt anyone intentionally, but she knows that no one is going to do it for her, so Dani is going to get what she wants out of life, which is awesome, especially for a girl. She’s really being like, “I don’t care about what anyone else thinks, I’m going to do what I love and do it right.”
EBONY: What was it like watching Drumline when you were younger?
AS: I loved the drumming. I loved Zoe Saldana, wanted to be her, decided I was going to become a dancer, realized I couldn’t dance and moved on. But still she inspired me. It was just my movie. I watched it with my brothers. They loved it. I thought I was going to become a drummer. It didn’t happen, but it kind of did [laughs].
EBONY: Why should we watch this movie?
AS: You should watch this movie because I worked hard, okay?! This is going to be great. Everyone’s working so hard and putting their whole heart and soul into it, and you can tell. Give it 15 minutes and I promise you will be hooked. This movie should be watched because there is a lot of heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears that have been put into it, and it’s worth it.