For more than two decades, the American Black Film Festival, the nation’s largest gathering of black in film and television, has been the hub of premiering and showcasing the work of some of the greatest and rising talents in the industry. Ryan Coogler, Issa Raye, Samuel L. Jackson and Taraji P. Henson are just a few of many in the past, but this year, the incredible cast and producers of the Bobby DeBarge Story made their mark.
In this TV One original film, a story of both tragedy and iconic talent, you see Robert Louis DeBarge, Jr (aka Bobby) on his way to the top in the music industry while battling the demons of a traumatic childhood. After sitting down with the film’s director, Russ Parr and Roshon Fegan who plays Bobby, it was clear that not only was this story handled with care, but immense passion and excitement.
Check out my interview with Russ Parr, radio DJ, film director and writer, and Roshon Fegan, actor, rapper and performer below:
Russ, I grew up listening to you on the radio and thought it was so dope to see you evolve into writing and directing. How did that come about?
Russ Parr: I’ve always been writing and directing. A lot of people don’t realize that. It’s just I didn’t do anything successful (everyone laughs). My first featured film I had written ten years before I even produced it. You just can’t find anybody to say yes, and so after hearing so many no’s I had said yes to myself.
Why this story?
Russ Parr: This story really touched me. I played this music in my era back in the day, El DeBarge and Switch on 1580 KDAY in Los Angeles and use to played basketball over their music in the park, so I had a little bit of a connection. When they said they were going to be doing this story I said I’d like to apart of that. And luckily I was able to do it. It was a good look.
As a director it’s really important to cast the right people to play these types of roles. What went into the process of selecting people like Roshon, Big Boi, Lloyd and Blue Kimble.
Russ Parr: I saw Roshon in a video tape where he actually read for the character and it was his cockiness. I said oh, he’s confident and he didn’t even have to say anything else after that for me. A lot of actors can learn from that. We see the confidence, but when I see fear I’m like I’ll have to work with that person. But this guy was such a natural and his performance was breathtaking. He got a standing ovation at the Atlanta premiere.
This is a troubling story. Were there any moments as a director that were challenging to shoot because they were emotional?
Russ Parr: A couple of them. The father interaction with the daughter was tough. I hate as a director when you have to take advantage of somebody else’s pain in order to get a performance, and that was always my biggest fear with Roshon, at first, until I realized nothing sticks with him. We had people that weren’t even supposed to work somedays and would just come to the set because that’s the kind of energy we had. It was good energy. We’d crack a joke after some of the most horrific and emotionally draining scenes. We were able to bounce back quickly.
Any surprises from your end as a director that you think we’d be surprised to learn about this film?
Russ Parr: I think that you’ll be surprised at how somebody was able to mask so much pain but yet still function. Most people would not have made it. It was a disease that killed him, but he would still be making music if he were alive today.
Roshon, I’m excited about you taking on this role. You’ve gone from Disney to roles on Spiderman, Greenleaf and now the Bobby DeBarge story. Was there ever a challenge going from childlike roles to something more mature?
Roshon Fegan: I feel like it was a natural progression. I was sort of a kid on Disney playing the oldest of the characters on those shows at the time. I just looked the youngest because I got that good Asian skin. You know what I’m saying? Asian and Black and Black don’t crack unless you smoke it (everyone laughs). But at some point I wanted to do more grown up roles and here I am.
Playing Bobby DeBarge. How does that feel?
Roshon Fegan: It feels great. He’s an icon in his own right. He did a lot for music and changed music forever. That legendary falsetto. It’s like when the iPhone came out and now all of sudden all the phones look like iPhones. I think that’s what Bobby did in a sense with his voice. He set this new tone and now people are wanting to do this perfect falsetto like him. And then he passed it on to his brothers and sisters to keep that sound alive and it kept going and going, and so for this story to be made it’s important that people learn who he is and who actually made this sound.
Were there any moments that were your favorite playing Bobby?
Roshon Fegan: The performances. When I was on the stage at certain points I felt like him. I did. Everything would just blank out and I was like this is what he felt. I literally had that type of connection. And that was amazing.
What do you want to convey most through your role in his story?
Roshon Fegan: I just want people to know the truth. I want people to learn and be inspired by the choices he made. At the end of the day there are people who feel like they can’t speak out about what’s going on in their lives and I think if this can help people just take that next step and open up to say what’s on their mind and what’s going on in their lives then they need to watch this film.
What was your experience like meeting with the friends and family of Bobby?
Roshon Fegan: Terry DeBarge is the executive producer and she said I reminded her so much of him. For her to say that was a great feeling. It’s like wow, we’re really doing this.
Give me one word that sums up this film.
Russ Parr: Captivating
Roshon Fegan: Truth
TV One nails another incredible biopic of unsung musical genius, lead of R&B/Funk band Switch and sibling of the legendary DeBarges’, Bobby DeBarge. In addition to Roshon Fegan, the remaining cast includes Tyra Ferrell as Etterlene DeBarge, Blue Kimble as Tommy DeBarge, Adrian Marcel as James DeBarge, Big Boi as Berry Gordy and Lloyd as Gregory Williams.
Tune in to the Bobby DeBarge Story premiering June 28th at 8pm EST on TV One.