Shakefire: What were your thoughts of the ideal marriage before you got married and what are they now?
Morris Chestnut: I think I’ve always been a realist. I knew that I wanted to marry the woman I loved and I did that. One of the things that really attracted me to my wife was that I though that she was going to be an excellent mother to our kids. I’ve been married 11 years now. Even when I proposed to my wife, I always thought there was a possibility that we would not make it, because the divorce rate is, what, over 50%? I’m not sure exactly what it is in this country. So I dealt with that realistic fact so I thought that even if we didn’t make it, she was still going to be an excellent mother to our kids. That was my ideal of a good marriage. Well, not of a good marriage but of a good wife. We’re having a great marriage. We have our up and our downs but she’s a good woman, a good person, and that’s what we’re working for.
T.D. Jakes: My idea of a great marriage is a relationship with someone with whom there is no need to impress, or hide, or camouflage who you really. Someone who is so comfortable that you acted if you would if you were in the room alone because they’re so connected with you that you have no need to perform. I think to a large degree I’ve had that. My naivety is that to maintain that requires a nudity of the soul that sometimes becomes difficult as you grow along. We have a tendency not to be as authentic with time as we ought to be because time teaches us betrayal, and betrayal teaches us caution and caution makes us camouflage who we are. When we do that, we loose the real nectar of marriage which is intimacy. It’s hard to maintain intimacy for 30, 40, 50 years because the real crux of intimacy is “into me see” and to remain that transparent for a long time is a challenge.
SF: In the film, we see a role reversal:
TDJ: I think it’s several things. One, the statistics in our contemporary society suggest that women are often making more money than men, particularly in the African American community but not limited to it. Because men many times are not the primary bread bringers today, they are becoming more domesticated in some ways. How do we regain the equilibrium of the marriage when all the rules have changed over the years? We have taken a script from our fathers that no longer fits the stage we stand on today. I wanted to bring that to the forefront so people could talk about it. Not always to say, in the pulpit, we are in the business of saying what is right and what is wrong. On the screen, we just raise a question and let people develop their own answers. That’s the liberty that I really enjoy, is to say, “this is what I see, what do you think about it?” And to leave the answer ambiguous and allow us to evolve and think about it and talk about it over dinner. It makes for great dates, and interesting conversation, and great articles.
SF: Do you think if we change the way we look at men and what we expect from men, that it can ultimately repair the black family?
TDJ: I think it can. First of all, the black professional women are in a dilemma if they choose to marry within their race. Most of the men who are professional and nearer their economic or academic qualifications are generally married. So either she’d become the secret mistress to a married man or she’d marry somebody who does not arise to the level of her education. I think what has to happen for the woman is that she no longer tries to match the man like she matches her shoes to her pocket book. This is not about finding somebody who looks good with you. This is about finding somebody who is good for you. It’s not about whether he matches the Christmas party and you can take him to the executive board meeting. Marriage is private, it’s personal. It’s about things that have nothing to do with education. It’s about whether you like to cuddle at night or not. It’s about somebody who gets. The car started when it’s cold outside. It’s about somebody who’ll believe in you come home, beat up from work. I think our marriages will only work again when women learn to point out to men what she would not have if he was not there rather than being so proud of what she has that she tells him “this is all the things I can do without you” because she demoralizes him and emasculates him and then wonders what he doesn’t stand as tall as he ought to stand.
SF: So if we have that type of understanding in the younger generation, then how would we relate that to the older generation like Clarice relates that to her mother?
TDJ: I don’t think you’ll ever change the older generation. Death is a friend to old people. We die because we can’t change sometimes. If you don’t have the nimbleness of thought and liquidity of mind to adapt to your environment then age takes you over and you become bitter instead of better. There are some old people who can go through the metamorphosis of thinking new thoughts and to them, we applaud them. But many, many people are so set in their way and will not change them. I don’t want the young people to waste the brevity of life, struggling to change somebody who refuses to change. Youth is a fleeting vapor; it’ll be gone in a moment. There are so many ways to waste your youth and don’t let one of them be trying to change your parents.
SF: What was it like working as both executive producer and actor in the film?
MC: That was a great opportunity Mr. Jakes allowed me to have. In this business, we have to diversify. This was my first opportunity in film to get behind the camera and work as executive producer and wear a different hat. It was challenging because instead of coming to the set knowing your lines, knowing your character and what you’re supposed to do and they say “stand here and say your lines,” you’re worried about budget constraints. You’re worried if we’re going to make the day, meaning we’re going to get everything we needed to finish in that day. Are we going to have to cut things from the script? Did this actor or actress close their deal? There’s so many different things that you worry about and so many different challenges as opposed to being an actor.
SF: Was their something each of you learned from this project that made you better husbands or made you look at your marriage differently?
MC: I think I constantly evaluate myself and all of my situations in relationships, with my wife, with my son, with my daughter. This movie, and even just being on this press tour, has actually helped in the sense to where I do look at things a little bit differently, just in terms of from a different perspective; hearing peoples stories and what they’ve gone through. It helps.
TDJ: For me, it’s totally different. The movie didn’t inform me because it came out of me. So that doesn’t really work for me. The takeaway that did inspire me was my wife was on the set everyday. I was traveling in and out but she was there everyday. It just reaffirmed how wonderful it is to have somebody that you’re married to that has your back when you’re busy. It just reaffirmed the value that two are better than one.
SF: What do you think the purpose of marriage is?
TDJ: For me, marriage, the relationship between a man and a woman, is the same relationship a key has with a lock. Both of them are broken in order for them to fit, but are they broken in the right places. If you can find somebody who is broken in the right places, like a lock goes up where the key goes down, there should be a click in your soul and the door to your future opens wide only when you find that person.