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Singleton Takes Pride in Quantum Leap

February 19, 1997|STEPHAN FORTES | NEWSDAY

NEW YORK — John Singleton lies stretched on a couch in a luxurious Park Avenue hotel suite, tired (and mildly cranky) from doing back-to-back interviews. Still, it's a good kind of tired, the kind you feel after you've done well in a marathon.

And marathon is as good a way as any to describe his latest film, "Rosewood," a historical piece with a large cast and a scope beyond anything Singleton has done in the past. He is told that Ving Rhames, one of the movie's stars, believed "Rosewood" to be a quantum leap from his three previous projects: "Boyz N the Hood," "Poetic Justice" and "Higher Learning." Singleton's 29-year-old face acquires a dreamy smile.

"Yes, I'm very proud of this movie. I wanted to show my versatility as a director and not be pigeon-holed as just a director of urban films."

He spreads the wealth in terms of credit, including the movie's rookie screenwriter, Gregory Poirier.

"This is the first time I haven't written the screenplay for a film I've directed. I just didn't have time with everything else that was involved. I did write the story, though. It was just easier to dictate it to someone else. I like the way Gregory wrote, especially action."

Of Rhames: "I wanted him to be the John Wayne-Gary Cooper of the piece, and he succeeded magnificently."

Of Jon Voight and Bruce McGill, who portray contrasting white characters: "I wanted them to be as complex as the black characters, to show that the things they did were not always for the right or wrong reasons."

Of Esther Rolle, who plays Rosewood's noblest resident: "She's from Florida, you know [where "Rosewood" is set]. She has a sly wit and she let me use the wisdom of her years."

Of Don Cheadle, who plays Rolle's courageous son: "A really good actor, he's really on a roll, first 'Devil in a Blue Dress,' 'The Earl Manigault Story' and now this."

Of composer John Williams, who wrote a surprisingly non-Williams-esque score for the film: "He's more than just 'Star Wars' and all those types of scores. He's done jazz ["The Long Goodbye"], Aaron Copeland-style pieces ["The Reivers," "The Cowboys"], and he's also produced seven albums for Mahalia Jackson, so he's got the background for something bluesy and gutsy."

One would think, given the accumulation of praise Singleton's received for the movie, that he's ready for a trip to Disney World. No. He's in pre-production for a new "Shaft," the slick, super-bad black private-eye of Gordon Parks' 1970s movie thrillers. Singleton says it's not going to be drawn from any of the Ernest Tidyman novels or be an update of the original.

"I'm doing my own original screenplay. There's a possibility that Richard Roundtree may have a part, and Isaac Hayes is definitely contributing to the music. No one's been picked for Shaft yet. We're still in the process of casting."

Why John Shaft after all these years? "I liked what Gordon Parks did with the first one. I was also looking for something fun to do. Shaft is our James Bond, only they didn't have the money to do them right the first time around. But now we do."

Hmm, does this mean a series of Shaft movies? "Yep, hopefully it'll be a franchise."

Somewhere down the line, he's also considering doing some science fiction.

"I had some discussion about doing [African American science-fiction author] Octavia Butler's 'Wildseed,' but I think I'm going to do my own original story."

Definitely no time for Disney World. There's another marathon to run. Maybe two.

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