We recently had the pleasure of speaking with James “Primo” Grant about his new film Five Star. We spoke with him about filming in New York, how the cast and crew were like a family during production and how viewers should see this film not as a look into gang life on the streets, but as a coming of age film about survival and making the right decisions. Five Star just saw its premier in NYC and will be released in LA on Friday, July 31st and on VOD and iTunes on August 4th.
Here is the official synopsis of the film: A member of the notorious Bloods since he was 12 years old – both in the film and in real life — Primo takes John, the son of his slain mentor, under his wing, versing him in the code of the streets. Set in East New York, FIVE STAR blends documentary and fictional storytelling as director Keith Miller carefully avoids worn clichés of gang culture to offer a compelling portrait of two men forced to confront the question of what it really means to be a man.
Five Star is an intense movie about your experiences. How did Five Star come to be a movie and what inspired you to make the film with Keith Miller?
James “Primo” Grant:
Me and Keith actually met a couple of years back on a small project that he was doing and after we finished we stayed in contact. Over several conversations explaining certain things that took place in my life and comparing the two worlds, he actually came up with the storyline and asked me what I think about it. I was like, “Excellent, I’m more than happy to get involved.” That’s pretty much how it came about.
AH: It seems like a very personal movie. You’re on screen with John Diaz teaching him a lot of lessons and giving insight. How was it working with John on screen and the process of making the movie?
Primo: It was quite an experience. I’ve never done acting before in my life and Keith did one thing that we highly appreciated which was make sure that everyone felt comfy and that there was no pressure. John is an incredible actor. The kid has talent, skills and he’s gonna be a big, big movie star and he was just real open. He listened, he took everything in. He brought it close to home, to his heart and I guess that’s what helped out with the chemistry. Even Wanda, she’s just brilliant. She brought that feeling that you know this is you mom. The entire cast and crew were excellent.
AH: Did you guys really bond on set and do you still keep in contact with everyone?
Primo: Definitely. John is like my little brother. I’ll always be there for him to support him, you get to hear his mix tape release on Friday. Everyone else, we stay in contact but me and John have the strongest relationship besides the director Keith Miller and the producers Luisa Conlon and Daryl Friedmark. Me and John, we have a very good relationship up to this day.
AH: What was it like making the film in New York where you’re completely in your element in your hometown?
Primo: It’s a beautiful feeling because you’ve got the comfort of being home. I’m born and raised in Brooklyn and I love New York. Just to show certain places and areas in Brooklyn that are beautiful that are pictured as being negative areas, to show the positivity in them is fantastic. To show the good side is wonderful. It’s good to be home, man. It’s a wonderful feeling cause you walk around and you know, I’m a very well known person, I know a lot of people in various neighborhoods, and just to have that support from everyone is overwhelming sometimes.
AH: Did you have any mentors that supported you?
Primo: My mentor and role model up to this day is A Dolla, his father owns the Sugar Hill Club in Brooklyn, NY. When I was released in 2008, this man gave me a job and kinda took me under his wing the same way that I take John under my wing. Except there was no pressure to join any kind of gang or anything like that. He just wanted to see the best of me and he helped humble me to an extent and helped show me how to discipline myself. He’s always been there for me including my wife, she’s like my rock. She supports everything I do and tells me if this is wrong or right. She’s my backbone. That support right there means the world to me.
AH: Did your family influence the story or was it more of growing up in gang life and dealing with that?
Primo: I mean it goes beyond the growing up in gang life factor. Just growing up in poverty and just not having the proper tools, like the family stuff that I was looking for. As a kid I didn’t understand certain things and now I’m a grown man. I see certain things that my dad was telling me. Not to stray this way, but not to cry over spilled milk. The movie generally just shows a side of life that people rarely see which is a side that whether you’re affiliated to a gang or any type of organization, that you are still a human being.
You still have a family that who loves and supports you at home that you want to get home to, and you still want to do right by them to make sure and support and take care of them. The bottom line is that we all have a choice and that’s pretty much what the film empowers for me just to let everyone know; male, female, old or young, that in life you have a choice and it’s never too late to make a choice to do something good or to do something positive with your life.
AH: Absolutely, and that’s what comes across in the film when John is coming-of-age and trying to figure everything out and become a man. Is that what the movie is geared towards, delivering a positive message for audiences?
Primo: Definitely. You hit it right on the head by saying it’s becoming a man because a man in any shape or form is supposed to be the one that you can lean on. Whether it’s the wife trying to lean on him or family trying to lean on their brother, we have to stand firm in life and make sure we make the right choices, especially when we become fathers because we have to set that example for our children. Life is full of choices. The good route might be long and hard, but it’s worth it. Look at all these great men, inventors that have tried one thing over and over and couldn’t get it, but they still stayed on track and eventually they got it.
AH: Are you doing anything with the film like going on the road and spreading your message and making public appearances?
Primo: We’ve done a lot of press this week. The movie’s debuting at the IFC theater and I hope people come out and don’t just look at the title and think it’s “Five Star, a gang movie.” Look at it as more of a humane piece. I just hope people can come out and take something positive from the movie and not stereotype it because at the end of the day it’s not a movie about gangs. Once again it’s just a movie about humans, about life. It’s about choices, about making the right choices as a man and not having to feel like there are no choices.
AH: Do you have any more projects coming up? Are you thinking about writing a book?
Primo: Nothing at the moment. My biggest project is still working on me, I’m still a work in progress. If there’s anything coming up, I’ll be sure to let everyone know so we can still get the support. Just look out for Five Star right now, July 24. Also John Diaz has his mix tape. That’s pretty much it at the moment.
AH: Sounds good. Thank you sir. It’s been a great pleasure talking to you.
Primo: Thank you for having me.