Tania Raymondei and Trey Songz star in "Texas Chainsaw 3D." (Justin Lubin, Lionsgate )
When the director of "Texas Chainsaw 3D" told studio executives at Lionsgate that he wanted to cast R&B singer Trey Songz as his young leading man, they balked.
"People at Lionsgate were uncertain, saying, 'We've never heard of him. We don't know who he is,'" said John Luessenhop, the filmmaker behind the horror sequel.
So Tim Palen, the studio's chief marketing officer, Googled Songz, and found he was a two-time Grammy nominee with 5.6 million followers on Twitter and 14 million fans who "like" his Facebook page. Recalled Luessenhop: Palen immediately "goes, 'Oh my God, cast him right now.'"
BOX OFFICE: 'Texas Chainsaw 3D' is strong No. 1
As the film's robust $21.7 million debut proved last weekend, Lionsgate made the right call in settling on the 28-year-old Songz. According to exit polls taken by research firm Marketcast, one of three moviegoers under the age of 25 said Songz was a major reason they showed up to the poorly reviewed movie.
For the record:
In an earlier version of this article, Tim Palen was called president of Lionsgate studios. He is the chief marketing officer.
"Texas Chainsaw 3D" marked the first major film role for Songz, who plays the love interest of the movie's leading lady, Heather (newcomer Alexandra Daddario). Though the part highlights his abdominal region as much as his thespian talents, reviewers — judging Songz against the low threshold for acting in horror films — thought he was perfectly competent.
In the music world, Songz is already an accomplished veteran. Best known for his hit single "Say Aah," the Virginia native — whose given name is Tremaine "Trey" Aldon Neverson — is up for best R&B song at this year's Grammys.
Luessenhop, who had helped Chris Brown and T.I. transition from music to film, first encountered Songz while watching him perform during the 2011 BET Awards.
"He was lowered from the top of the stage and landed like some immortal," Luessenhop said. "He was a good-looking guy with a good smile, but he also seemed like an accessible person. So I said, 'I gotta find out who this is.'"
The director quickly tracked down Songz's agent and drove to some "buried-in-the-middle-of-nowhere" recording studio at 11 p.m. to meet the singer. After waiting for 45 minutes for Songz to finish a track, the director and musician discussed their Virginia roots for three hours before Luessenhop asked, "Do you want to be in my movie?"
"He was like, 'Yeah, yeah, I'll do that,'" the filmmaker said of the performer's response.
Though their first meeting was casual, Songz went on to take his promotional responsibilities seriously. He asked Lionsgate to create a custom 90-second trailer of the film that would play prior to his song "Don't Be Scared" during his Chapter V Worldwide Tour, which kicked off in November.
"I wanted [Lionsgate] to know that this film was truly a priority for me," Songz wrote in an email from Germany, where he is currently on tour. "The fan reaction could not have been better. They loved the clip. They were scared for themselves, they were scared for me, it worked out perfectly."
Songz has also been publicizing "Texas Chainsaw 3D" heavily on his Twitter account, reminding his fans to head to the movie theater and retweeting positive reactions to the film. Still, the novice actor — who will next appear in this summer's dramatic comedy "Baggage Claim" — said the box office results far exceeded his expectations, even given how much promotion he did. As for the Marketcast poll confirming his appeal to moviegoers, he said: "I don't even have words for how much that meant to me."
Songz's early advocate Luessenhop was, not surprisingly, less shocked by the strong reception.
"Just because someone is a big deal in the movie business doesn't always translate to the screen. But he wanted to go to work and be successful, and he was."
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