Robert Townsend has played a range of characters during his legendary career. From a neighborhood superhero, who channeled his super powers from a fallen meteor, to one half the brotherly duo in the “Five Heartbeats,” Townsend never met a role he couldn’t make his own. And now he’s taking on a new role for his latest film, Playin For Love.
Townsend stars alongside Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who plays Talisa McCoy, as Coach Banks — a championship high school basketball team leader who controls every aspect of his life, including his love life. That all changes when he meets the beautiful and charming Talisa McCoy, mother of the star player on his team, who challenges his authority and opens his heart.
“I’ve always loved love stories,” he told us during a chat. “When I came up with the idea, one part of my brain wanted to do a story about basketball and the part of me that said I’ve never done a romantic comedy.”
Romance is easy when your co-star is as stunning as Salli Richardson-Whitfield
“Salli is a brilliant actress,” he revealed. “There’s a scene when she comes into my office and she’s basically telling me how to coach. I threw her plays away and I tell her go back into the stands. She was really offended. That scene she just gave me everything.”
And when it came to those more intimate scenes, he says Salli laid down the rules. “When we came to our kissing scene, she was like you have to go easy, my husband is here.”
The inspiration to do the project came from Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who approached Townsend to create a short film that included kids in the community.
“As a filmmaker, I’ve always tried to help other filmmakers and give kids inspiration and hope. There’s so many people who would love to make movies and I come out of the inner city and try to give hope,” he explained.
“[Michelle Spence-Jones] said ‘Robert, would you do something to help these kids? Kids are dying in the community, all this violence. We need to do something to distract them and give them hope. Can you do a short film?’ I opened my big mouth and said, we can do a whole movie.”
After meeting over 200 kids, Townsend narrowed it down to 20 kids for the program. ‘This one girl, I said ‘Hey I want you to be in the program and she started crying. She said, ‘This is the day I lost my friend in a drive-by. And this is the happiest thing that’s ever happened to me. It really touched my heart.’