Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Bill Nunn Remembers ‘New Jack City’ & Favorite Death Scene

Bill Nunn*Picture it. Movie theaters. 1991.

New Jack City” opens with Wesley Snipes’ Nino Brown and Bill Nunn’s Duh Duh Duh Man hanging a man upside down on the side of a traffic infested bridge.

Although the scene was part of a movie, in real life, folks had no idea it was all for show. Enter a couple of heroes, who got out of their cars to help the guy seemingly in peril.

“If you remember, that shot started all the way out at the Statue of Liberty. The helicopter comes right up to the bridge and we got this dude hanging right off the bridge. Because it was a helicopter shot, they had to shut down the bridge and the crew had to be hidden,” Nunn told EURweb regarding the logistics behind the scene as the hidden film crew gave way to what happened next. “It wasn’t like it was a movie being shot there. People couldn’t tell that there was a movie being shot. We had two different people stop on the bridge and jump out of their cars and try to come to this dude’s rescue.

In Nunn’s eyes, the moment represented “the beauty of the human spirit,” despite a pricey indicator the scene would have to be re-shot.

New Jack City Opening Scene“That to me was some beautiful stuff of the human spirit because they didn’t know what’s going on. They were running up on us. We’re hanging a cat off the bridge as far as they know and they’re running up there, trying to talk us down,” he said.

“I’m standing there the first time and I look over and there’s this little dude standing there. He’s like ‘Ok man. Just take it easy.’ I’m like ‘Who the fuck are you, man?’ [Laughs]. And then somebody starts cussing at the poor guy. ‘Man, you just cost us $15,000.’ He ruined the whole shot. So that’s expensive. This guy was doing some heroic shit man. It just shows the beauty of the human spirit. In the midst of all this stuff, people are still trying to help. You hope somebody is around like that if you’re ever hanging off a bridge and shows up that day.”

Nunn’s story is one of many he shared while reminiscing over “New Jack City.” The Mario Van Peebles-directed movie, released 25 years ago on March, 1991, centered on Nino’s drug empire and the cops (played by Ice-T, Judd Nelson, Russell Wong and Van Peebles) who took him down. Upon its release, “New Jack City” was a certified classic as Nino and his Cash Money Brothers (CMB) (played by Nunn, Vanessa Williams, Christopher Williams and Allen Payne) became part of pop culture with quotable lines (“Sit your five-dollar ass down before I make change.”) and a hits-filled soundtrack. In addition, the film inspired the naming of Cash Money Records as well as countless references, aliases and album titles from various rappers.

“I take it as very complimentary that these guys still care about us,” Nunn said about the current generation’s appreciation for “New Jack City.” It’s great to see people still enjoying your stuff that you did. We put a lot into it years ago and I’m glad that people still get some enjoyment out of it.”

bill nunn as radio_raheem-radioThat enjoyment carries over for all moviegoers as Nunn admits the love for Duh Duh Duh Man continues to be on display with fans who remember that character as well as another of the actor’s memorable roles: Radio Raheem from Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”

“I still get Duh Duh Duh Man in the grocery store and all that. To this day, 25 years later. Once a week, if not more,” Nunn shared.

To his credit, both characters still hold a place with fans of both films, although Nunn believes Radio Raheem’s popularity outweighs Duh Duh Duh Man’s.

“I get a lot of Duh Duh Duh man love. I don’t think it’s taken over Radio Raheem, but it’s become really memorable though to people,” he continued, noting how Radio Raheem was still fresh in people’s minds since “Do the Right Thing” came out in 1989, two years before “New Jack City.”

“I thought nothing would top that. I was getting a lot of attention for Radio Raheem. I didn’t think that this character would surpass that. I didn’t think it would even get this close, but like I say, Radio Raheem is definitely the more popular of the two. It came. It did its thing. It’s been a blessing to be in both films. It really has.”

Radio Raheem aside, Duh Duh Duh Man stood out in his own right with his stutter and role as the enforcer of CMB. While he didn’t name anyone who inspired his performance, Nunn stated he met people who did stutter, some who eventually became friends. The actor acknowledged that had he met at least one of his new friends beforehand, his performance in “New Jack City” would’ve been much better.

“I would’ve loved to have known this cat then because he would have been really helpful,” the actor confessed about one person in particular. “One thing he pointed out to me is most guys you see in movies, they’re trying to stutter. Most cats who really stutter are trying not to stutter, you know what I mean. That’s their big thing. I wish I had thought of that prior to doing the film because I think it would’ve just made my performance much more believable. If not to the general public, at least to people who stutter and give them respect.”

New Jack City_Bill Nunn, Allen Payne and Wesley SnipesWhile Nunn admits his stutter needed work, he does cite the story for “New Jack City” as one that works and continues to resonate with fans after all these years.

“I thought it was a really good story. I liked the script. It was a pretty brutal story, but it was a lot of truth there,” he said regarding the film’s chances of success. “I happened to arrive in New York right around that timeframe and so I know that a lot of that stuff was really going on. I lived up in that neighborhood. It was a scary time and I thought it was a story really definitely worth being told, especially if young people look at it the right way,” he stated. “I know its been glorified. A lot of the stuff has been glorified as gangster stuff often is, but I’m sure it’s being taken the right way as well. It’s being vilified, too. Some of it is just wrong [but] I thought it was gonna be successful because it was pretty raw.

“It was even more raw when you think about the stuff we didn’t put in the movie. It was brutal, man. A lot of stuff had to go. Some stuff we didn’t shoot and some stuff that we shot had to be taken out, ” continued Nunn, who provided a glimpse into the cut scene.

“It’s like late in the film and you see me. We’re working in our office there, the Cash Money Brothers office. And you see me standing there and I have these bandages on both of my hands, right. Nobody noticed it, but they’re there. It’s there, but nobody said, ‘I wonder why this dude has bandages on his hands?’ [laughs] At some point, they found me crucified to Grant’s tomb. I was discovered by my boys, nailed to that bad boy.”

Recalling the events behind the left out scene, Nunn acknowledged it pertained to “some kind of serious retaliation,” regarding the drug war Nino and the CMB were engaged in that left the streets in a dangerous state.

“They were sending a message out, but I wasn’t dead, clearly, because you see me after that. Other than that one scene, where somebody might happened to notice, there’s no clue that that happened in the film,” he said. “It didn’t take away from anything. It doesn’t add anything to the story at all, really, other than just saying, ‘Here’s another way these guys could be brutal.’”

new-jack-city Nino Brown and CMBThe Grant’s tomb scene may have been left on the floor, but Nunn’s favorite death scene was not. Describing that part of the film, the “Mo’ Better Blues” entertainer labeled it as “gangster popcorn.”

“We had some great death scenes in the movie. My favorite one is when we get Eek-A-Mouse [who played Fat Smitty]. That’s my favorite death scene, actually,” Nunn confessed. “Eek-A- Mouse is the Jamaican dude. The girl gets out and shoots him in the head and Gee Money goes ‘Now that’s the way you kill somebody. Just go out and shoot him in the head in broad daylight.’ [Laughs] That was classic. That was gangster pop there  for real.

“That was gangster popcorn,” he added. “That goes right up there with Jimmy Cagney and them. It’s just really for fun. ‘In broad daylight.’ That’s what makes it, the way he describes it. That’s what really makes it pop.”

Although Nunn has a favorite death scene, an overall favorite scene in “New Jack City” is comprised of various parts of the movie.

“It’s funny because I like little quick pops in that movie, not necessarily whole scenes,” Nunn said. “It’s the little quick pops that I like in that film. Just like when we’re breaking in to the club that night. Just that. I like that. Or when we shoot the guy or when we pick Wesley up and we’re in the van. I like the scene he stabs Chris Williams in the hand. That’s pretty intense, too.

“They look kinda realistic. I like the thing on the basketball court when Ice-T shows up and I go step in front of Wesley. It just has a ring of realism to it. That’s what I think I like about that, he continued.

Since “New Jack City,” Nunn, has moved on to land roles in a variety of films, including “Sister Act,” “Money Train” (with Snipes), “He Got Game” and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy, among others. On the small screen, Nunn has been featured on “Touched by an Angel,” “New York Undercover,” and “Sirens.”

bill nunnWith “New Jack City” being such a hit, you have to wonder if Nunn took a bit of the film with him once shooting was completed. The answer is ‘yes,’ but it may surprise you.

“I kept the teeth. I kept the gold teeth, yeah,” Nunn admitted about the oral souvenir he wore in the film. “I thought they were pretty unique. They were like a mouthpiece. They fit over my teeth. I haven’t tried them on in years.”

Teeth may be a strange souvenir to keep, but the accessory carries a deeper meaning for Nunn in relation to Duh Duh Duh Man.

“They don’t really stand out in the film as much as I hoped they would. You don’t really notice that I got the gold teeth,” he explained. “The first time you see the gold teeth is in that scene when I’m getting the haircut because he [Duh Duh Duh Man] comes around and he smiles and that’s the first time you see the gold teeth. But I don’t think that people really got that whole thing, that he’s blowing up now. They’re getting richer.”





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