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Markees Christmas shines in ‘Morris from America’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Markees Christmas shines in ‘Morris from America’
Markees Christmas (Photo: Photo: DirecTVCinema)

Discovered from his web series on YouTube by director Chad Hartigan, 16-year-old actor Markees Christmas never dreamed of becoming an actor growing up. “I didn’t know this was what I wanted to be. When I was younger like every other kid my age I wanted to be a rapper or something,” said Christmas by phone recently.

The Los Angeles native, making his film debut, gets to live out his dream as a rapper (albeit in a small way) in Hartigan’s feel-good coming-of-age tale “Morris from America.” In a breakout performance, Christmas stars as 13-year-old Morris Gentry who relocates to Heidelberg, Germany, with his widowed dad, Curtis, played by Craig Robinson (NBC’s “The Office” and “Mr. Robinson”). An aspiring rapper, Morris finds it challenging to fit in with his schoolmates, and to complicate matters, he falls hard for his 15-year-old classmate Katrin (Lina Keller).

Accidental actor

Christmas found his way into acting purely by default. “It started off with me not doing too well in school. And like, they basically told me, ‘It’s almost the end of the year. We have a school play coming up and your grades are horrible.’ So basically, if I didn’t do that school play I would have been in sixth grade again. I told them ‘That’s not going to happen,’” said Christmas.

So Christmas found himself auditioning for “the smallest role,” in the school play — that of Travis Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” According to Christmas, the school had edited the role so much, that he ended up playing the father, Walter Younger. What he didn’t know was that by taking on the role of Walter, he was about to embark on his future career path.

His mother invited Matt Hill, his big brother from the Big Brother program, to attend the school’s talent showcase. Of that performance, “Matt came to see that I could do a little bit of acting, and he liked what he saw and he asked me ‘You’ve got to do this show with me. You’ve got to do one of these videos with me,’” recalls Christmas. They ended up making several videos together titled “Markees Saves” and “Markees Vs.” which created quite a buzz online and landed them an invitation to host their videos on Channel 101 in Los Angeles.

Serendipity

The videos also garnered the attention of director Hartigan who reached out to Hill with an opportunity for Markees to audition for a feature film role. That role was Morris Gentry. Christmas initially thought that the audition was a joke. “… I kind of thought he [Matt] was kidding so I wasn’t taking it serious until he really gave me a script to look at. He sent me the script and I was like ‘What is this?’ He’s like ‘This is what I was telling you about the other day.’ ‘I thought you were kidding,’” said Christmas. “But, I got down to it. I thought it was a joke but it ended up not being a joke. I was excited especially when I got the part.”

After having completed his first film role, Christmas definitely plans on continuing with acting. “I fell in love with the process of just making a movie, just being there, just watching everybody do their job. And when we’re together it was just beautiful to me. I kind of fell in love with the set life; it’s where I want to be,” the budding actor recalls.

When asked about his next project, he responded, “Like I would tell anybody else asking me that question. I really don’t know. I mean that’s God’s plan. I’m just strapped up for the ride.”