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DJIMON HOUNSOU: A Diamond in the Rough
by Nancy Simon

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Djimon Hounsou: More than just smoke & mirrors

Djimon Hounsou: More than just smoke & mirrors
While Djimon (pronounced Ji-Mon) Hounsou comes across as a striking figure on the big screen, many film-goers still are not exactly familiar with the looming 6'4" African American actor whose work has earned him an Oscar nomination, as well as, wins from the Independent Spirit, Satellite and Image Awards.

However, this holiday season, audiences will have the opportunity to see the 42-year-old Hounsou in what is sure to be-two major blockbuster films, thee adventure\ thriller BLOOD DIAMOND opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and ERAGON, the sci-fi\ fantasy film written by a 23-year-old wunderkind in which he plays the character of Ajihad.

In BLOOD DIAMOND produced and directed by Ed Zwick (THE LAST SAMURAI, CRASH, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), Hounsou plays Solomon Vandy, a Mende fisherman from Sierra Leone, Africa, who formerly forced to work in the diamond fields, has apparently found and hidden a priceless pink diamond desired by an African mercenary played by DiCaprio.

While it was his supporting role for IN AMERICA (2002) as the upstairs witchcraft neighbor, Mateo, that earned him the majority of his accolades, it was Steven Spielberg's AMISTAD (1997) as Cinque, which first put him on the Hollywood map.

And while Spielberg's AMISTAD depicted the shameful treatment of the Sierra Leone Africans, it was Hounsou what stated, "America has this understanding of Africans that plays like National Geographic: a bunch of Negroes with loincloths running around the plain fields of Africa chasing gazelles. Meanwhile, we have Africans and African-Americans, contemporary men, with great stories, great integrity, great heroes and nobody wants to see or hear about those African heroes and those African-American heroes. One day, I will be in a position to play those great human beings on-screen."

And, in the years between AMISTAD and IN AMERICA (1997-2002) Hounsou playing African Americans of all backgrounds and orientations appeared in both big, GLADIATOR (2000) and small films THE FOUR FEATHERS (2002) making a name for himself as a credible actor capable of taking on diverse roles irrespective of time era or
BLOOD DIAMOND: DiCaprio & Hounsou in Action

BLOOD DIAMOND: DiCaprio & Hounsou in Action
geographical origin.

Post-2002,Hounsou was seen in CONSTANTINE, as Papa Midnight along side Keenu Reeves. In what was perhaps his second biggest money-making picture, the film grossed approximately $75.5 million. Note: Gladiator, grossing $188 million, was his most successful box office film.

Additional Hollywood heavyweights with whom Hounsou has worked include: Michael Bay, who directed him in THE ISLAND and Angelina Jolie with whom he shared screen time in LAURA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE (2003).

Originating from Benin, Africa, Hounsou came to Paris at the age of 13. Young and uneducated, initially he had difficulty finding work and wound up sleeping under bridges.

As Hounsou explained in a 1997 interview with the Daily News, "School bored me. Being educated and being intelligent are two different things. I thought I was smart enough. And I wanted to be an entertainer. I stopped going to school as a way of saying I was mature, a way of saying I was going to choose who I was going to become."

Miraculously, Hounsou was discovered by high-fashion designer, Thierry Mugler, who altered the course of his life by making him into an in-demand fashion model. Ultimately, Hounsou walked the catwalks in Paris and London before taking on the likes of Hollywood. Additional commercial trappings of Hounsou's success have included appearances: in music videos fro both Madonna and Janet Jackson, Gap commercials and recurring roles on television's 'Alias' and 'ER.'

Along with finding humanity in his personal life as a spokesperson for the Fair Trade organization, Hounsou is also seeking to find honesty and truth in all of his roles, perhaps with TRUNK—his upcoming film, in which he plays a talented pianist who desires to leave the ghetto though his friends conspire to hold him back, he will be able to demonstrate his full potential.

Shiny and bright, Hounsou is that diamond in the rough and, though he has been 'discovered' he still has much brightness to share with the rest of the film-going world.

Djimon Hounsou on MatchFlick

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A capsulized profile on an emerging talent, i.e., actor/director in the film world and a snippet as to why he or she is destined to soon become a household name.

Other Columns
Other columns by Nancy Simon:

EMILE HIRSCH: Young Upstart

SIENNA MILLER:B-day Girl\ Factory Girl

ABBIE CORNISH: Who's That Girl?

DARREN ARONOFSKY: Daring to go further

SOFIA COPPOLA: Stylish Filmmaker

All Columns

Nancy Simon
A Chicago-based freelance writer and film enthusiast, Nancy has an insatiable curiousity and knack for picking out talented, promising individuals.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Nancy Simon by clicking here.

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