*For any actor, it’s a gift and a curse to play a character so well that it becomes your calling card whenever your name is mentioned.
In Khalil Kain’s case, the character’s first name is all that’s needed to hold a place in the hearts of fans.
Raheem. ‘Nuff said.
While some entertainers grow weary and annoyed over recognition for portraying that one character, Kain wears it like a badge of honor. Especially since the movie that birthed Raheem, (“Juice”) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
So yes, all the love Kain receives for his character is proof he made one hell of a first impression. Not bad for a guy who carried no prior movie experience and continues to be blown away by the mark Raheem left with filmgoers.
“That was the first film that I ever did. I had no idea that 25 years later, people would still be screaming ‘Raheem!’ out in the streets. That’s a huge compliment, huge compliment,” Kain shared with EURweb associate Chris Richburg as he explained how being annoyed is never an option when it comes to Raheem.
“I have friends of mine that be walking around and they’re like, ‘Yo man. Does that ever get annoying?’ I’m like, ‘No, never. Never. Not 25 years later.’
“You can go to a film last week that you actually liked a lot and you can’t remember the character’s name, his first name,” the entertainer continued. “It’s like, ‘Oh, that was Ben Affleck or…but what was his [character’s] name?’ But when somebody says ‘Yo Raheem,’ that means that they really felt that. They were riding with you hard.”
The appreciation for Raheem apparently carries over to “Juice,” which continues to spark conversation and repeated viewings years after its theatrical release. Part of the reason for that reverence stems from the camaraderie Kain had with co-stars Omar Epps (who played Q), Jermaine Hopkins (Steel) and Tupac Shakur (Bishop). This factor is among many Kain feels contributed to “Juice” becoming such a fixture for fans after all this time.
“I think part of what makes ‘Juice’ a classic is that those four guys [Q, Raheem, Steel and Bishop] are guys that you know. I mean every crew has those cats. Like I knew all those guys, like intimately. I had friends. I knew people. It was easy to step in those shoes and just tell the truth. That’s all it was,” he explained.
Released on January 17, 1992, “Juice” announced Kain’s arrival on the big screen as well as Epps, Shakur and En Vogue’s Cindy Herron, who played Q’s girlfriend Yolanda. The ‘90s hip-hop drama also marked the directorial debut of Ernest Dickerson and boasted notable appearances from Samuel L. Jackson, Flex Alexander and Queen Latifah in the pre-household name stage of their careers.
Over the years, Kain noticed many things happen to his castmates while carving his own niche in Hollywood. The most notable of those happenings was Shakur’s death in 1996, which Kain still feels (“I miss Pac.”). Despite the tragedy, Kain treasured his time with the rap icon as well as everyone involved in “Juice.” Most recently, the “Love Jones” actor has seen Hopkins as well as Dickerson, whom he has traded messages with on Instagram.
“It was cool. We were having fun. We were all really having a real good time and acting up. When we did ‘Juice,’ Pac wasn’t a mega star at the time, so he was cool as a fan. We had a good time,” Kain remembered about working with Shakur.
Like Kain, Hopkins can testify about the relationship with his co-stars going beyond what was seen in front of the camera. According to the “Lean on Me” and “Phat Beach” star, late nights on and off set resulted in the formation of a genuine “brotherhood” that made for a “life-changing” experience.
“I remember a lot of late nights and getting back into the condo at the break of day,” Hopkins recalled. “So there was a whole lot of that and just the time that we as a cast, pretty much…we formed a brotherhood. We was that crew when the cameras wasn’t rolling. We had a lot of fun like black brothers would do, different jokes, different pet names and stuff and everything.”
When it came time to assemble the Wrecking Crew, “Juice” producers brought a natural approach with an invitation for the actors to eat dinner with them, a strategy Hopkins labeled as “genius.”
“When I look back on it, it was genius for them to do that because that’s how they were able to put this cast together. They took us out with different groups. Everybody that they had in mind. And they didn’t tell us to stick together or get together. It was just like however, whoever clicked and we clicked. Just like y’all seen us click in the movie, that’s how we clicked in real life,” Hopkins told EURweb.
During auditions, Hopkins and other actors read for various parts in “Juice.” Despite this, Hopkins knew Steel was the right fit for him and relished playing the supposed “weak link” of the Crew that became its strongest member.
“I basically talked a lot to the writer about the character. And between Ernest and them about the character and things about the character, I basically created Steel in my head because from the first read, I wanted to play that character. I wanted to be the weakest link that ended up being the strongest link,” Hopkins shared about the inspiration for Steel.
“If it wasn’t for Steel, Steel was the one that let it be known it’s Bishop, that Bishop killed Raheem. With Ernest and talking with him, that’s why the character’s named was Steel. Because Steel is strong. You know, Steel, he actually stood up. He got shot. He was able to survive the shot and he was able to be man enough and let it be known, you know, to tell the truth who really killed Raheem…Once I found that out and seen where the writers were going with the character, I said, ‘Oh, I definitely gotta play this character.’
“I’m originally from New Jersey, born and raised. I’m very well familiar with the hood and from the hood and it’s always clicks and little crews. You have your strongest link. You have your weakest link and I always looked at a cat like Steel don’t have a voice because you hear, you know, [the] Bishops and Raheems in these different crews for saying they’re there to start for the crew. But at the end of the day, what about that guy right there? He had something to bring to the table. Other than that, y’all wouldn’t hang with him,” he added.
“So that really inspired me because I knew characters like that…I always wanted to play that character and for me, it required some acting and it was a little of a challenge, along with the character I played in “Phat Beach,” Benny. I mean I like taking those challenging characters. I would love to play a doctor one day. If they got a dress that would fit me, I’ll put that on too.” [laughs]
Up next for Kain is “Misguided Behavior,” an independent film from “Martin” star Carl Payne that will soon arrive in theaters. In addition, Kain has written a play called “Lambs to Slaughter,” which is currently in development and explores deals with gun violence while centering on a single woman who is dealing with the loss of her child.
With their present and future building off the foundation laid with “Juice,” Kain and Hopkins are grateful to have been a part of a cast of talented individuals as well as a film that remains in the hearts and minds of fans to this day.
“Tupac’s been gone for 20 years. That’s crazy. I mean there is a lot of people. Queen Latifah was in that film. Sam Jackson was in that film. Flex is in that film,” Kain said. “I took my mother last year to see Cindy Herron. En Vogue was performing at BB Kings in New York City and I took my mom to go see them perform. Cindy looks amazing. She’s got this awesome yoga body and they sounded great and we hung out. To reminisce like that for a minute is really kind of remarkable. A classic film. I’ve been fortunate in that regard that I’ve been able to do some work that has lasted.”
Kain and Hopkins’ memories of Raheem, Steel and “Juice” come as the film is set to debut on Blu-ray on June 6 The video release, which will be re-released on DVD the same day, will honor the movie’s 25th anniversary with new interviews with the cast and crew as well as never-before-released footage of the cast on set, the original ending of “Juice” and a new director’s commentary from Dickerson, who details the reasons why the ending was changed prior to the film’s theatrical release.