ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Men are like stray dogs. You feed a stray dog and one day he'll come back again - Shanté
For the cast of Two Can Play That Game, a comic battle of the sexes raged not only onscreen but off screen as well. Whether between takes, in their trailers or in conversation on various locations during production of the film, the cast and crew engaged in good-natured debate about whether all really is fair in love and war and shared how the romantic risk-taking performed by their characters parallels their own lives.
"For me, what it's really all about is finding the soul mate in your life," says Vivica A. Fox, stars in Two Can Play, as Shanté, a sassy, confident woman who thinks she's got love - and men - all figured out. "All women want to find the right guy, but it can be difficult because sometimes you can attract the wrong guy and they throw you a sucker punch. "
Fox, who celebrated her second wedding anniversary during production, said she's glad that the days of dating are behind her. "When I was dating, I was what you'd call a 'jerk magnet,'" she says. "When you start dating, everybody goes through a period of running into these types of guys. But my philosophy is that you've got to kiss a couple of frogs until you find your prince. "
"I had been after Vivica for about a year in regard to this role," said Brown, "and when we got the script to Screen Gems, the studio took an active role in getting her to play this part. She's an exceptional actress. The energy and layers that she gives to a part are incredible. I needed someone who could play Shanté, this professional woman, and then turn things around and give me an edge, some attitude, when talking about her man. "
The story is one, Brown admits, that is based not only on personal experience but also by watching how his sister handled certain aspects of her love life and how an ex-girlfriend handled him.
"I think that everyone understands stories about relationships, because the whole battle of the sexes happens not just in dating, but continues into marriage," Brown said. "The whole relationship dynamic is fascinating to me, and I liked the notion of a strong woman who through manipulation or charm has the skills to control a man. For me, the way to my heart is definitely through my stomach. But some of the other ways I've been made to behave is when a woman doesn't return my phone calls or doesn't seem too eager to be with me. Then it makes you wonder, why not me?"
In addition to Fox, the cast of Two Can Play That Game includes a "Who's Who" of talented and popular African American actors including Wendy Raquel Robinson, Mo'Nique, Tamala Jones, Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut, Anthony Anderson, and a cameo appearance by Bobby Brown. Two Can Play That Game reunites several of the cast and filmmakers involved in Screen Gems' hit comedy, Brothers, The (2001), including Chestnut, Jones, Union, producers Doug McHenry and Paddy Cullen and director of photography Alexander Gruszynski.
"As a filmmaker, you get comfortable with certain actors, and these actors are very special," said McHenry. "I don't think it's good to discriminate against actors just because you've worked with them before. In fact, I think that's a strong reason to use them. Besides, these are two very different and very positive stories about African Americans that have implications and meaning for relationships regardless of a person's background. "
The actor's familiarity with one another created tremendous camaraderie on the set during the shooting of Two Can Play That Game. Fox, Anderson and McHenry worked together on the film Kingdom Come. Wendy Raquel Robinson and Anderson attended Howard University together and Robinson worked with Fox on the sitcom "Getting Personal," and with Bobby Brown on the film Thin Line Between Love And Hate, A (1996). Tamala Jones and Fox also co-starred in the film comedy Booty Call (1997) and Anderson and Mo'Nique both starred in the film 3 Strikes (2000).
"It's a very blessed situation that many of us know each other already," said Robinson. "It makes a huge difference on a set because there are no egos or drama and you can just be free to improv or ad lib and just try things out without having to worry about stepping on somebody's toes. It just becomes about getting the job done and doing the best work possible. "
The film also reunited long-time friends Fox and Chestnut for their first project together in almost a decade. The two actors got their proverbial "big break" in Hollywood on the 1992 NBC sitcom "Out All Night" with Patti LaBelle shortly after both came to Hollywood. Chestnut and Fox had different perspectives on the love scenes in Two Can Play. Chestnut, for one, was looking forward to making up for a missed opportunity in his role as Shanté's boyfriend, Keith.
"Morris has matured into such a wonderful man and actor and he just seems to be getting better and better with age," said Fox. "We've always been such good friends and I wasn't sure if I would feel comfortable with the kissing, if he would push my buttons - if you know what I mean. But he did push a couple of them, and he did a really good job!"
"We were just starting out when we did "Out All Night," and it's incredible to see how far we've both come in our careers and as people," said Chestnut. "It's really interesting to work with her again, especially in this role, because I didn't get to kiss her on the sitcom and now I'm just kissing her all over the place! That's the cool thing. She's a very attractive woman. "
If you're not absolutely sure that you're going to get some, don't start anything - Tony
"I'm just lucky to be in a loving relationship with my wife," jokes Anthony Anderson, who stars as Tony, Keith's buddy and partner in the law firm where they work. "But it's interesting that for someone giving out all this advice, you don't see my character in a relationship in the movie. In real life, everything I know about women, I've learned from my wife. You've got to know when to shut up and you only speak when spoken to. You know, I just sit in the corner and play with the kids. That's how things work in my house. "
The other actresses in the cast have also had varied experiences with Shanté's rules of love. Mo'Nique, who stars in the film as Shanté's girlfriend, Diedre, is also happily married and the mother of two. When she was dating her husband, Mo'Nique says she never used the telephone as a weapon.
"That rule about 'Don't call him, wait until he calls you,' never worked for me," said the star of TV's The Parkers, with a hearty chuckle. "I tried that with my husband about seven years ago when we were dating and had had a disagreement. I didn't call him, and he didn't call me, either! I was the one to apologize, to say let's get over this and please let's make up!"
Mo'Nique and Tamala Jones arguably had the most hectic schedules during Two Can Play That Game, as both were filming episodes of their series The Parkers and For Your Love, respectively, which were in production at the same time. The full-figured Mo'Nique said, despite the schedule, it was worth all the hard work.
"I love being a full-figured glamour-puss," said Mo'Nique of the sexy designer outfits she and her female co-stars wear. "I'm excited that the producers put a full-figured woman into this film. I'm not just the fat person in the movie who has no 'look. ' All the women are wonderful, they're beautiful, but they're size two, four or six. I'm a 22-24, but in this film I'm a diva just like everyone else. "
For Tamala Jones, who plays another girlfriend, the emotional and sometimes confrontational Tracye, the script for Two Can Play That Game, actually gave her some ideas in the area of relationships.
"Tracye has a very short fuse, and Shanté is trying to teach her how to tone it down, to use that energy in a different way, a way that's positive but deceptive," says Jones, who's single. "Until I read the script, it never occurred to me to hide a pair of panties and ask a boyfriend about them to test his faithfulness. I'm not at all like my character, but yeah, I think that's something I might try: hide some panties and see what happens!"
Gabrielle Union, who starred with Chestnut in Screen Gems' Brothers, The (2001), relished the opportunity to portray Conny, a barracuda determined to have Keith for herself and by any means necessary.
"Conny's a bitch," says Union with a smile. "I've never had the opportunity before to let my hair down, so to speak, and play this kind of character, so this is a nice change of pace. I love it. "
Union, who recently married football star Chris Howard, said she abides by her own personal guidelines when it comes to love and relationships.
"When I was in my conniving stage, my character Conny and I were similar in being very ambitions and goal oriented, but that's where the similarities begin and end," said Union. "I would go as far as I could within the boundaries of human decency and good taste, because without self respect, you have nothing. "
In the film, Conny's attitude sets it off for Shanté, and actresses Union and Fox have a hilarious physical confrontation in the film at a party scene filmed on the grounds of a Hancock Park mansion.
"I actually enjoy fight scenes. They're exciting," said Fox of the moment when the gloves come off between Shanté and Conny. "I'm not sure that the fight was the most appropriate way for my character to respond to Conny, but Gabrielle was a really good sport about it, because she really gets knocked out in this scene. She hung in there for quite a few takes!"
The first time your man messes up, no matter how minor the infraction, punish him. Punish him hard - Shanté
For several of the women in the cast of Two Can Play That Game, the most exciting day on the set centered on the arrival of R&B star Bobby Brown. Brown makes a cameo appearance in the film as Michael, the ex-boyfriend of Wendy Raquel Robinson's character, Karen. When Brown arrived on set at a private estate in Tarzana for his first day of work, Fox, Robinson, Jones, and Mo'Nique huddled excitedly in an adjoining room, almost breathless in expectation.
"Oh, you just don't understand," said Robinson of Brown after their first rehearsal before the cameras. "I had the biggest crush on Bobby Brown and New Edition, so getting to act with him is like a dream come true. He and I did Thin Line Between Love And Hate, A (1996), but we didn't have any scenes together. When I found out that he was going to play Michael, it just made my day. "
Brown, who seemed oblivious to all the attention, spoke lovingly of his wife, singer-actress Whitney Houston, and how they've created an enduring, nine-year marriage.
"I liked the title of this film, because my wife has definitely made me behave!" said Brown, alluding to his past public difficulties. "She and I have much respect for each other, and for each other's talent. We are best friends and yeah, sometimes we have disagreements, but she's always right!"
In Two Can Play That Game, Brown's character undergoes a striking transformation, which is one of the things that attracted him to the role. "Whitney read the script and liked it, and I hope to get some big laughs," said Brown.
Everyone in Two Can Play That Game had nothing but praise for writer-director Mark Brown and his comedic take on this particular slice of African American life.
"I wanted to do this film because Mark is an up-and-coming director who also wrote the script," said Tamala Jones. "That makes a huge difference for me. Besides, so many people have given to me in my career that I have to give back. We've got to keep young Black people coming into Hollywood and making movies, but they can't get it done by themselves. As long as I live, I'll be working with brothers and sisters who want to get a movie made because that's my duty as a Black actress in Hollywood. We've gotta keep it rolling!"