Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Keri Hilson has garnered a well-deserved reputation for crafting chart-topping hits. With several multi-platinum albums and songs of her own, the prolific songwriter has also written and produced hits for Mary J. Blige, Ciara, Timbaland, and many more.
Recently, Hilson expanded her artistic reach to the small screen, earning several credits in television in films such as The Hotline, Don’t Waste Your Pretty, and Lust: A Seven Deadly Sins Story. In her latest role, Hilson makes her big screen debut as a lead actress in the dramatic thriller For The Love of Money. In this film, she reveals another dimension of her artistry by giving a compelling performance, establishing herself as an actress on the rise.
Directed by Leslie Small and co-starring Rotimi, LisaRaye McCoy, D.C. Youngfly, Jason Mitchell, Katt Williams, and Keith Sweat, the feature film tells the story of GiGi (Hilson) a single mother who is pushed to her limit as she faces a custody battle with her husband and the weight of mounting financial problems, returns to the underground world that she knows, a world she's spent a lifetime running from, to protect her daughter and to take care of her ailing mother.
EBONY spoke with Hilson about her transition into acting, the joy she feels when bringing a character to life, and how being a musician prepared her to take on new challenging roles.
EBONY: Tell us, how did you become a part of the film?
Keri Hilson: I've done five or six films this year—all kind of intertwined. [The For The Love of Money's team] probably came to me because they had seen something that I'd done. I didn't have to audition for this one like I had to for the other roles. I also had worked with the film's director of photography before. I think he put in a good word on my behalf as well.
As an acclaimed singer and songwriter, you bring creative viability to the world of acting. Were there any similarities in your creative process as a musician with how you prepare and perform as an actress?
That’s a great question. Well, I will say there is one similarity between creating music and acting and that is storytelling, Every song has an arc. It has a beginning, middle, and an end. I would say the protagonist in music is the emotion; and in a film, you're personifying that emotion as a whole character. There are so many similarities except movies are so multi-layered. It’s like a million songs pieced together, where the arcs happen at different times for different characters. There's an arc in every scene that you're shooting. I would say it's just a lot more intricate than creating and performing music.
Acting is not easy stuff but I appreciate it. I love that it stretches me. I love that it forces me to take challenges in being authentic to a role but it also allows me to be outside of myself and allow the character to live in its own space and time.
What about your film's character, Gigi Davis, that spoke to you?
What I liked about playing Gigi was the fact that she displayed a grit, a warrior spirit, a determination, and fearlessness that I can see in myself. I could put myself into her shoes because we relate in that way—though I'm not a mother, and I never dealt drugs and never sold anything but candy. It was like displaying a totally different side of myself where I allowed my masculine side to kind of shine at certain points and that was intriguing. That was the hook, line, and sinker for me. It was the opportunity to get to do something different where I didn't have to play the “pretty girl.” This was like a complete departure from anything I've ever done before.
I don't know how you kept it together with D.C. Young Fly and Katt Williams playing your father and pastor. How was it like to work with such a well-known cast?
We had a lot of freaking laughs and it was pretty difficult to stay in character, especially when you're delirious and sleep-deprived. You got Katt Williams giving you nonstop stand-up and D.C. Young Fly doing the same thing. But working with Keith Sweat, LisaRaye McCoy, Jason Mitchell, Rotimi, and the entire cast was fantastic.
You and Rotimi had some intense scenes throughout the film. How did you two build organic chemistry as actors?
Yeah, we did. He was a great scene partner. He cares about the story and about the authenticity of how things are portrayed. He helped make the scenes come off in a particular way and I got to see his expertise. He would have talks with the film's director of photography; he would talk with the film director and would bring things to light in a certain way that only he could do. I know he's considered new as an actor but he's brilliant.
There's a pretty powerful police violence scene in the film. How was it to perform such an emotional scene with that being a present reality for Black folks?
We knew that it was a responsible scene. The anger I feel every time we have another hashtag is what I put into it. When I said eff you, that was improvisation. How would a mother feel if this happened to her child? I wasn't there when they were filming the fighting scene, but it is a powerful scene. It was pretty emotional.
Lastly, what do you want the audience and your fans to take away from the film?
I would love for my fans to see my growth as an actress. I think with every film, you can actually see, hear, and feel my progress. I am learning; I'm growing. I'm still new. I want folks to be like, “Yo, she's really working at this. She's really getting it.” I want them to cry when this happened and get angered when that happened. I just want y'all to feel me.