Interview – ‘The Voice’ Rapper and Beatboxer MB14 talks his first feature film role in ‘Tenor’

While working part-time as a food deliveryman, Antoine, an aspiring young rapper from the suburbs of Paris, meets Mrs. Loyseau, an eminent teacher at the Paris Opera. Stunned by the young man’s raw talent, she introduces him to the world of opera. As Antoine becomes one of Mrs. Loyseau’s students, he hides his new dream from his friends and family, fearing that they won’t understand – this double life burdens him… Somewhere in between the gilded and uptight Parisian upper-class, and the harsh yet free-spirited and familiar suburbs he grew up in, Antoine will have to find his own voice.

With Tenor releasing in Australian cinemas December 7, Nick L’Barrow had the chance to have a fantastic and inspirational conversation with the film’s lead star, world famous rapper and beatboxer, MB14, about starring in his first feature film, the similarities he shares with the character he played, and his journey from being a finalist on ‘The Voice France’ to landing his first acting role!

Nick: I watched the movie a few hours ago, and I genuinely think your performance is fantastic! You have so much charisma on screen!

MB14: Thank you!

Nick: And I’m really curious to touch on a comparison I made while watching the film, and that is how Eminem’s character in 8 Mile is somewhat of an extension of Eminem himself. Did you find that there were elements of Antoine that were an extension of yourself, being a rapper and performer?

MB14:  Of course! Definitely 8 Mile was one of the main inspirations because that firstly is a movie about rap. It’s a movie about someone who starts doubting himself and ends up being really passionate about owning his stage. It’s a movie I saw when I was, maybe, I don’t know, 8 or 9 or 10. But the movie really touched me because I started rapping around 14. Rap has been a part of me ever since I was a kid.

And to come back to Antoine, I think it’s, as you say, it’s a very close version of myself. We have so many… there’s so many commonalities between Antoine’s story and mine. I remember when I was 18, and we went to the local conservatory in my hometown in Amiens, north of France, because I wanted to learn how to sing. So, I took a few singing lessons there for a couple of months. And I wanted to improve my piano skills, so I would do piano classes and stuff.

I remember I would walk in the corridors of the conservatory and listen to people playing the violin, signing, playing piano. And when I look back, it really looks like how Antoine delivers the sushi and listens to the music from afar, you know? And it was the same thing – I was in my hat, my sneakers, walking around like a thug [laughs]! It wasn’t my space originally. I mean in my family I have no musicians except an uncle who used to play guitar a long time ago. But apart from that, there’s no artists really in my family. No one’s interested in opera, no one is interested in rapping or being an actor. So, I don’t come from that world, but I was attracted to that world eventually.

I really see Antoine as a lost ship in the ocean. That’s what I used to feel like when I was his age. I used to study stuff I didn’t like. I used to wander the streets and look for meaning in my life. Even though I knew I wanted to be on stage, and I wanted to be an artist, being an artist and being a professional artist are really two different things. So, I really feel close to Antoine. He’s definitely a little more of a sensitive and impulsive version of me.

Nick: I think that’s what this character and film feels so relatable, because there many artists who have been at that crossroads when pursuing their artistic passions. And talking more on your artistic expressions, as MB14, you rap, beatbox, sing – was acting ever a part of the plan to add to that persona for you?

MB14: It’s funny because I actually wanted to be an actor before wanting to become a musician. So, that’s what’s crazy! I need to tell you the story! When I was in… I don’t know the grades because in France it’s not like sixth grade or fifth grade, so I wouldn’t know what grade it is. But, when I was 13, my French teacher told me that because I was always doing improvisations, and characters, and impressions – I was always the clown in the classroom, you know! – and one day I started reading a text and just improvising from it, and at the end of the class he told me that I should start drama classes because that way I could express myself and channel that creative energy. So, that’s what I did in high school – I started drama class!

And when I stepped on that stage, I really felt like it was my place. I was where I was supposed to be, and that’s all I wanted to know. I wanted to be on stage. And it clicked for me because in drama class, you’re acting, so I realised that’s what I wanted to be! Before that, I used to watch a lot of movies and kind of project myself into the characters without being conscious that it [acting] was what I wanted to do. Those drama classes went on for 3 or 4 years, and aside from that, I really got into the rapping, beatboxing and singing over the years.

The thing is when you want to become an actor, it takes a lot of time. You have to do auditions, you have to wait for validation from this person and that person. And when you’re 18, and you’re young, and you’re trying to figure things out, it’s really exhausting. So, I felt that being a musical artist, because that’s what I also wanted to do, was more of an independent quest. I didn’t need other people to record songs. I just needed some equipment, of course, then I could let my creativity go and just do beatboxing or singing, record songs and put them on YouTube and see what happens.

I did a lot of gigs in my hometown and around my city. Then I was approached by The Voice France in 2015. I participated in the show and went to the finals in 2016. And the thing is, the producer and director of Tenor, who already had a version of the movie at that time, saw me on TV, and at the time were looking for someone who could rap and do opera as well. So, it was like destiny that brought me to this movie! I have a strong spiritual side, and I really believe that this was something happening in the universe finally. I had to go through all that musical journey to be ready to make Tenor years after that.

Nick: It’s so cool to hear that movies were a big part of your life growing up! What were some your favourite films or performances that made you want to pursue acting?

MB14: My favourite films are like Forrest Gump, Scarface. Only like two years ago, I discovered The Godfather! Of course, I knew about that movie, and I saw parts of it when I was 13, but now, watching it recently, it’s really a lesson of cinema, and action, and directing.I used to watch Prison Break and that is my favourite TV series because it inspired me so much. I watched it so much, man! I know lines from it in French and English perfectly. I know the story by heart!

But generally, Tom Hanks movies. I think about actors more than movies, because I love different movies, but I think a lot about actors like Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, Robert de Niro. They really inspired me. Jean Dujardin! I think he’s my favourite actor. I feel so connected with the way he performs. He is one of my real icons!

I also think about Get Rich or Die Tryin’ because I think he [50 Cent] sells the story in such a beautiful manner that you really feel the emotion and feel the empathy for the character after everything he goes through. Those are the movies that really made me believe that I could do something. That maybe I could be an actor someday, that I could be a rapper.

Nick: And on the other artistic side of that, who are some of your musical influences? Or more specifically, watching the final performance in this film gave me goosebumps, and the reactions of other characters in that scene are so astounding. So, is there a musical performance that has ever elicited the same feeling for you?

MB14: Oh man, there’s so many! It’s hard to say one performance in particular. I watch a lot of YouTube videos, and I always watch this singer who inspires me. Of course, there is Pavarotti! He’s like the legend of opera! But he’s not the only iconic opera singer, there’s this guy called Mario Lanza. Man, he is the inspiration for Elvis Presley, right! Pop rock! He was born in the 20s, and started his movie career in the 40s, 50s. He was one of the first opera singers to make it, well, worldwide in terms of recognition. He made a movie called The Great Caruso, in ’52 or ’53. It’s the story of Enrico Caruso who was the first opera singer in the 20th century to get recorded in the era when vocal recordings were just starting. And Mario Lanza was the first crossover artist who brought opera to the masses. And this guy really inspired me because he was a superstar in the US, and outside, of course.

The thing is, he tragically died at 38. He was really the best opera singer even, and he inspired many legends. Pavarotti was a kid when he saw this guy. And to see how he inspired the musical culture after his death, and even during his lifetime… I watch his scenes on YouTube and it touches me because I feel like he had so much potential. He was such a beautiful singer, beautiful actor, really charismatic. And it makes me just value life more, because everything can just stop in a second if you’re not careful enough. It makes me value that I want to have the best career possible. I really want to do things right. I’m really cherishing every moment. It’s not just his performances that inspire me, but his journey and his story. I dream one day to act in a movie and portray his life. That would be the dream!

Nick: Would that be a project you would want to make yourself one day?

MB14: I’m not ready for that now. And I don’t even know if I could do it because he’s American! I know I can work on my accent, but I don’t want it to feel fake. It’s such a big story, and it would be a movie that would cost a lot of money! I would be ready someday, but I think it could be a little late. We’ll see! I have ideas! I’d like to also, apart from acting and music, maybe be a director. I’ll try and make my own projects, but it takes time. So I’m going to focus on what I can do now, and what I can do best, then see what opportunities come my way!

Nick: I can appreciate that! I would be very interested in seeing that project if you were to make it! I want to jump a little more into Tenor, and specifically about Paris as the location. Again, to make an 8 Mile comparison, Detroit is such a large character in that film. So, how important is Paris as the setting for this story, and could you also talk a little more about where Antoine is from and how that helped you get into character?

MB14: Yeah, Antoine lives right outside of Paris, in the suburbs. And he works at this sushi restaurant in Paris which leads him to do a delivery at the Opera Garnier. And I think the Opera Garnier is really a character as well in Tenor, as much as Detroit is in 8 Mile. It is such a wonderful place. Such a prestigious building. There’s so much history in that building. Hitler even went into that building in the ‘40s when Germany conquered France. There’s footage of him in the main stairway. I love history, and to be in a place where so many historical figures were, and how it underwent so many historical events without ever crumbling, it’s unbelievable!

That helped me a lot to feel humbled and contemplating this beautiful place. It’s really great for an actor to be immersed in a place like that because it helps you be naturally fascinated by what’s happening. That creates the real difference between Antoine at the opera, and Antoine in the suburbs. And as we go more and more into the movie, the less he wants to stay there [the suburbs].

I think when you find the meaning in your life, whether it can be a passion or a place, or a person, I firmly believe there is macro and micro patters. The gravity of the story is so powerful that everything gravitates around it, and at a certain point you can’t resist… you just have to do it because that’s what you want. If you don’t, you’re going to regret it for the rest of you life. And that’s what Antoine’s story is. It’s beautiful.

Nick: Even though it seems so apparent that there are so many similarities between yourself and Antoine as a character, was there still things that you physically needed to get into his headspace more? I mean, you have the voice already, but how did you physically create Antoine?

MB14: The physicality is when you get some street wear hoodies and sneakers, and that puts you in a form of character because you are that guy from the ghetto. Not even in a stereotype of way, because we all know the cliches about it, but that puts you in that feeling. And people in the suburbs, they’re not all out committing crimes or handing out guns and stuff. They’re regular people living in their environment and there are so many different degrees of living in the suburbs. But, wearing those clothes gave me what I needed. Wearing the street stuff.

The director [Claude Zidi Jr.] guided me a lot. He would tell me for this scene I might just be chilling, and in this scene you’re a little more angry or upset. He gave me different levels of sensitivity and impulsivity, and I just had to navigate between those, you know. It’s not like the character is a complex character so far away from me, not like Joaquin Phoenix in the shocking, most recent Joker.

He’s [Antoine] is just a young guy who tries to find his way out of a life he doesn’t really enjoy. He enjoys his rap battles. He enjoys being with his friends, but he does his job just for money. He goes to study stuff that he doesn’t really like just because he is good with numbers. He has to work to make a living. That is the pattern, you know? The plan.

It’s a journey of self-acceptance and really being honest with yourself and other people who say what they expect of you, but you do what you want to do. And that’s something I can really relate to. My parents wanted me to study and do something safe so I could have a good life, but I wanted to be on stage. I want to act. I want to be a famous actor.

I tried to study psychology, but after one year it started to get too experimental. And then eventually I got into beatbox battles in 2015, and that saved me because it took me out of that daily life. Then in 2016, that’s when my life really changed, and I just started to make a living out of music and make a career out of it all.

Nick: MB, I really appreciate how generous you’ve been with your time tonight. I’ve really enjoyed our chat, and I really believe Tenor and your story will resonate with so many artists who are trying to find their way.

MB14: I hope so too! I think it’s so important for people to be aligned with what they are, who they are and what they do. Because when you’re not aligned, so many diseases like depression, stress and being oppressed by some people come out. Even being bored is not good for your health! Every time you breathe, or eat, it’s so important and not to be taken lightly.

Finding the meaning of your life is really important because that has the biggest chance of defining what the rest of your life is going to look like, and how you’re going to grow old. Sometimes, when we’re young, we tend to forget that someday our body might not be able to do what it can do now.

And there are times where you can’t erase the past, or erase the choices you make. So, you insure to yourself that you live the most peaceful, aligned life for your health. Life is too beautiful and too short. If the movie can inspire some people to follow their dreams, in the worst case, they fail. In the best case, they can be happy because they will feel good and proud that they did what they wanted to do.

We’re meant to evolve, and create, and attract arts to be spiritual or philosophical, but it’s my approach to make sure I’m at peace with myself. And it’s not through alcohol, drugs, food, sex. It’s that I want to align myself with having a beautiful life.

Nick: MB, I think that is the perfect way to end this chat. Thank you so much for sharing that and I really hope we get to chat again soon! Thank you for being so generous with your time!

MB14: It’s a pleasure! This chat had a really good vibe and energy, so thank you for that!

A huge thank you to MB14 for giving up a large amount of time to chat about his career and his film, and to StudioCanal for organising the interview! Tenor is in select Australian cinemas from December 7.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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