By Emma Sarran Webster | January 17, 2017 | People
When he was only five years old, Dante Brown caught Jay Leno’s eye during an open mic comedy audition and found himself performing on The Oprah Winfrey Show as one of America’s most talented kids. It was a major gig, especially for someone so young, but it turns out that was only the start of Brown’s successful trajectory. Now, at 17 years old, the Chicago native is co-starring on FOX’s new series, Lethal Weapon (based off of the 1987 film) as Roger “R.J.” Murtaugh Jr.; and recording music under the moniker DanteThePoet. We caught up with the young star to talk about Lethal Weapon, Chicago, and how he feels about being compared to Denzel Washington.
We’re a little bit into season one of Lethal Weapon. How is everything going?
DANTE BROWN: I’m having a lot of fun being on set and meeting new people. Being able to act every day has always been a dream of mine and it’s an amazing opportunity to have.
Did you seen the original movies before you auditioned?
DB: I’m in love with the movies. I'm in love with the character [Martin] Riggs, because of his bad-boy behavior. I think it’s a really cool film and funny, too. My little brother and me [both] thought the film was really cool and action-packed, just like the show is.
Damon Wayans plays your dad on the show. What is it like working with him? Has he given you any good advice along the way?
DB: Oh man, he has so much wisdom and so much information to give; he’s like the wise owl. I’m always asking him questions about business, money, and life, and he’s always willing to give [answers].
Who are some of your other inspirations and influences?
DB: My mom and dad influence me a lot. But as far as my art goes, on the music side I would say Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and A Tribe Called Quest. On the acting side, I would say Denzel Washington and Will Smith. Casting directors say I look like Denzel a lot—I've been taking that compliment and really rolling with it.
So, you do music and acting. Is there one you prefer over the other?
DB: No, I don’t think you should have one or the other—I think you can do both. Why not? If you [have] the talent, why not use it? So, I can’t pick one over the other. They’re both talents of mine [that] I’m going to keep using and creating from, and inspiring others to do the same. Music gives me a certain feeling; I get to release a lot of things I don't get to release in acting. And [with] acting, I get to release a lot of things I don’t get to release in my music. It’s like [your] left hand and right hand—you have to use both at some point.
Damon Wayans, Dante Brown and Keesha Sharp in Lethal Weapon.
You’ve been successful since a very young age. How have you stayed grounded and focused?
DB: Most of my life I’ve gone to regular school. I just transferred to being homeschooled three or four weeks ago. I’m always praying; I give it all up to God—I wouldn’t be here in the position that I am now if it wasn’t for him. Also, my parents always keep me grounded. And music plays another part in that too—it’s an outlet. I have friends I hang out with, I play video games with my little brother, I play sports, I go home, I see family. I’m always doing something “regular” to keep myself grounded so I won’t get ahead of myself. And my parents play a huge role in that.
How often do you make it back to Chicago?
DB: Every holiday. [Last] year, I was in the [McDonald’s] Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago. That was my first time being in a parade and it was so wonderful to go into my city and be a part of something so big, and that’s been around for so many years. [And for] Christmas I went back and got to hang with family for two weeks, and I got to perform with Fresh Empire. I’m one of the brand ambassadors for Fresh Empire, which is another cool opportunity that I get to have through music and acting.
What is Fresh Empire?
DB: Fresh Empire is a no-smoking [program for teens]. It’s a campaign that they’ve been running for a few years now through the government. The events that they throw give kids somewhere to go on the weekends—most of them are held on Fridays and Saturdays—and show us partying without drugs, and that you don't need to have drugs to party and have fun.
You’re interested in charity work and giving back to the community. Why is that so important to you?
DB: The charities I want to give back to are [things] like Black Lives Matter, and to gun violence in Chicago. I lost a few family members to gun violence, and I think a lot of kids [are] getting hand guns and going to school with them and gang banging. It’s not needed. I want to [help] put a control on the guns that are being distributed. These are regular human beings, like us, just getting these types of guns and using them for bad [reasons]. So, I want to give back to that because I’ve lost a few family members to gun violence and it's personal to me.
It's very clear you're passionate about Chicago, its communities, and its people. What are some of your other favorite things about the city? Do you have places that are particularly meaningful to you, or things you love to do when you come back?
DB: Oh man, okay: So, you’ve got Garrett Popcorn, Giordano’s pizza (they have really good deep dish pizza), and Home Run Inn pizza is really, really good. [We have] the Water Tower, the Willis Tower (well, they call it the Willis Tower but we all know the name is the Sears Tower), downtown, Lake Michigan, [Buckingham] Fountain in the summertime, the scenery from Michigan Avenue, and the museums. You can go see the Cubs on the North Side and on the South Side you can see the White Sox. You can actually drive and see Wrigley Field. [And] Harold’s Chicken Shack is one of the best chicken spots of all time. There are a lot of things you can do when you're in Chicago.
You're obviously keeping yourself very busy, but is there anything else you're working on, or anything that's coming up for you?
DB: My brother [and I] are starring in a film called Black Doves. I [play] a kid from Africa and he’s a kid from Compton, [Calif.] and they’re showing how our worlds are kind of similar, but kind of different. We’ll [be] doing crowdfunding for that. And then I have [some] animation series that I’m working on at the moment and I’m getting ready to pitch, and I have some music coming out. [My newest] song is going to be on iTunes [within a month] and it’s actually called “Lethal Weapon.” That’s going to be really good; you guys are going to really like that. And my EP is coming very, very soon.
Photography by Isaac Sterling (headshot); FOX via Getty Images (Wayans, Brown, Sharp)
November 15, 2018