Actor Jessie T. Usher sat down with EBONY recently to discuss his role playing John Shaft Jr. in the upcoming Shaft film and what it was like working alongside veteran actors, including Samuel L. Jackson.
“This is somewhat a continuation of the Shaft that Samuel L. Jackson did about 20 years ago,” Usher said of the latest installation of the private detective story. “It’s not necessarily a continuation of the storyline.”
Shaft debuted in 1971 as a Blaxploitation crime-action film that starred Richard Roundtree. The actor also appeared in two sequels called Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973). In the 2000 adaptation, Jackson’s and Roundtree’s characters were nephew and uncle.
“This is what happened during some time that was missed, we’re filling in the blanks in some places,” Usher said about the plot of the 2019 film. “There’s a component where they touched back to Richard Roundtree’s Shaft, too.”
The 27-year-old actor said he is grateful to work with such prominent members of Black Hollywood: “I always wanted to work with Sam; the fact that I got to work with him on something like this was a major, major plus.”
Tim Story directed the film, which was co-written by black-ish creator Kenya Barris and The Goldbergs writer Alex Barnow.
A lesson Usher said he learned from working with such big names is “if you’re prepared you can pretty much do whatever you want.” He added that Jackson memorized the entire script and was “comfortable” as opposed to feeling like he had something to prove on set. This allowed his co-star to deliver not only what was asked but also created opportunities to add different "layers" to scenes.
Shaft hit theaters June 14.