Jeff Obamfemi Carr is unforgettable in ‘The Second Chance’

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The Second Chance showcases a strong acting talent in Jeff Obafemi Carr. Whether it proves to be a career benchmark or not, audiences catch a break seeing someone of Carr’s ability get so much screen time. Co-starring with religious recording artist Michael W. Smith, Carr is one of those actors you may not have seen before but certainly will not forget. He brings range, dimension and a world of compelling immediacy to the role of Jake Sanders, the street-wise (if somewhat overly cynical) pastor of Second Chance Community Church.

When you look at his background, it’s hardly a surprise that he does impressive things with this character. Carr is the founding artistic director of the Amun Ra Theatre Company. Not to be confused with Wesley Snipes’ Amen Ra film productions, the not-for-profit theater, established in 2001, is dedicated to illuminating the African and African American cultural experience on stage. By the time he began Amun Ra Theatre, Carr already had an enviable track record as a veteran of such renowned venues as The Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Portland Center Stage Company, The Tennessee Repertory Theatre, Bristol Riverside Theatre, The 1996 Olympic Arts Festival, The American Negro Playwright Theatre, and Nashville Children’s Theatre. He has appeared in works ranging from those of William Shakespeare to August Wilson. Carr is also a produced playwright (How Blak Kin Eye Bee and director (Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity).

In The Second Chance, his character bristles at the arrival of do-gooder White pastor Ethan Jenkins, which Jake resents and distrusts as nothing more than p.c., photo-op outreach to an inner-city community in dire need of true solutions to its problems. Sparks fly straight from jump when Jake takes Ethan on a tour of the neighborhood and the situations they encounter lay bare Ethan’s misconceptions and insecurities. Jake and his wife Amanda work at realizing a productive accord with Ethan involving high stakes — they are up against street gangs, entrenched poverty and, on top of everything, they must contend with those who would destroy their church in a shell-game of political gain.

Carr, who previously turned down film offers, has good things to say about his character and about the film. “These days, in Hollywood, they want you to play a pimp, be sellin’ drugs, ho’ing around with women. Jake gets away from the stereotypes. His frustration isn’t just because he’s an angry Black man. [He’s] passionate about his community. And he’s frustrated at white folk who want to come into the neighborhood and think they know everything. [Also] this is an opportunity to portray a Black man who’s not jumpin’ around, acting the fool to make people laugh, showin’ his b’hind and actin’ silly.” Carr adds, “It’s a controversial movie, because it’s dealing with an area a lot of people don’t want to talk about. It’s cool to talk about race, conflict and all that in a political movement, but you don’t talk about it in the church. We don’t have those problems in the church, to let people tell it.”

He also has something to say about Lisa Arrindell Anderson (A Lesson Before Dying, Disappearing Acts) who plays the think-before-you-speak, even-tempered Amanda. [She] is amazing, one of the finest [actors] I’ve ever encountered. She’s very focused, subtle and has an incredible gift, mastery of everything from her voice to her movement.”

Carr wasn’t supposed to get the role. The director, Steve Taylor, had built-in audience appeal with The Second Chance serving as a crossover vehicle for Grammy-award winning Christian music star Michael W. Smith (Ethan) in his acting debut. And he was looking to shore things up with a marquee film talent. Taylor recalls, “Jeff came to a reading at my house and completely nailed the part. I told him, ‘Man, I can’t believe what a great job you did.’ And I apologized that we needed a [big-name] actor for this job. Why they would have him read and let him know they had no intention of hiring him is something I guess you have to be in movie business to understand.” But it all worked out, since preferred interests Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright weren’t interested. Once the director had to settle for him, Carr, evidently unfazed by the selection process, readily accepted the part. And isn’t the least bit sorry he did.

Carr was just in Nashville taping the Stellar Awards where he, Michael Smith and Jennifer Lewis (What’s Love Got to Do with It, The Preacher’s Wife) presented the Artist of the Year Award (it airs February 18). If you don’t catch him there, The Second Chance, produced by Provident Films and distributed by Sony, is in theaters starting February 17.

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