Working in movies isn’t just a dream for Mandela Van Peebles -- it’s practically his birthright, given that he's the son of Mario Van Peebles ("Ali," "New Jack City") and the grandson of Melvin Van Peebles, the "godfather of black cinema," whose revolutionary 1971 film "Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song" remains one of the highest-grossing indie films ever made.
Just as Melvin cast Mario in his films, Mario cast the 17-year-old Mandela to star in "We the Party," a multicultural teen comedy that attempts to fill the gaping hole "House Party" left in 1990. The movie, inspired by all-ages underground clubs, features rappers Snoop Dogg, YG, The New Boyz, The Rej3ctz and The Pink Dollaz.
The multi-talented Mario also coproduced music videos for two soundtrack singles by MVP Boyz, a rap duo he formed with his brother Makaylo; and he's hard at work on his directorial debut, the short film "Flipped," which he's coproducing with "We the Party" costar Patrick Cage II.
The high school senior talked to us about which dances from the movie he can still do, his first on-screen kiss and the real reason everyone in his family has a name that starts with M.
On the movie poster you strike a Michael Jackson pose on your toes. There are a lot of new dances featured in "We the Party," like the Dougie. Can you do them all?
I do not dance often. It’s true there’s a lot of dancing [in the film]. I could do the Dougie, but I don’t dance anymore, 'cause gangsters don’t dance.
Twerking, the Jerk and the Cat Daddy -- you’re leaving all of this behind you?
I can still Cat Daddy, but yeah.
How do you differ from your character Hendrix Sutton?
Well Hendrix Sutton has a much hotter girlfriend than me, because I don’t have a girlfriend right now. Hendrix likes to wear hats, and I don’t really like to wear hats. I mean, we're pretty similar.
I know you helped create the character. What was the most challenging scene for you?
The most challenging scene for me to act in was the scene where I get mad at C.C. in the bathroom, because I'm not a yeller. It doesn't sound right when I yell, and I had to yell my lines. It was hard to get in that mode. It was hot in the bathroom. There were puddles of water. I don’t want to lie on the ground, but I think it turned out all right. I got to punch him, so that was cool enough. It's harder for me to hit the higher notes, which I need to work on.
What about the scenes acting opposite your father?
We’re pretty close. It's coming out of love. He loves me and he wants the best for me, so if he’s saying, "Look, you really should work on this scene. You don’t know your lines well enough," I try my best to work on it. If I have a booger in my nose, he’s going to tell me. At the same time, it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship. If he’s trying to make the movie young and fresh, I try and help him out as far as what teens would say, how to ad-lib the lines and stuff like that.
What was your first acting gig?
I did a short film with Dita Von Teese. That was the first film that I didn’t get through my dad. I can’t remember what it was called. It was a while ago. I was around 13. Dita was my first on-screen kiss -- swag, swag.
Who would be your dream love interest on screen?
[Patrick and I] were just talking about this! I would go with Cassie or Jessica Alba. Cassie is my favorite.
Whose career in Hollywood would you most like to have?
Will Smith is an amazing guy. I would say he has had a very cool career, it seems. He’s able to make his own movies. He put his son in it. It kind of mirrors [the working relationship I have with] my dad.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen lately?
My most favorite recent movie is "Avatar" because who wouldn’t want to go to Pandora? That’d be so dope. That looks so fun. I mean, riding the little horse lizard thing. That was awesome. It’s a great movie.
Do you have a special nickname?
My dad calls me Della because, Man-della. My mom calls me Roo and sometimes Rocky. In "Winnie the Poo," the kangaroo’s baby is named Roo. When I was a baby she said I looked like the little kangaroo. She was actually going to name me Rocky because she had a dog that she loved named Rocky and then everybody was like, "You can’t name your son after your dog!" and she’s like, "Why not?" But they ended up going with Mandela. I think Rocky would’ve been really dope.
Why does everyone in your family’s first name begin with M? (Melvin, Mario, Megan, Max, Maya, Makaylo, Morgana, Marley)
Our intials are MVP.
Will the Van Peebles eventually run out of M names?
No, I’ve got a few. If not, I could just recycle, like Mandela XIV or Mandela XVIII.
What’s your favorite music these days?
Actually I like Bob Dylan, but I like rap a lot as well. One of my favorite rappers currently is Future from Atlanta, and he sings this song "Tony Montana." But that's not my favorite song or anything. I downloaded his new mixtape and it's pretty good. I listen to a new mixtape every week. But YG [who plays C.C. in "We the Party"] just dropped 400 Degrees so I’m going to hop on that soon, probably next week.
Mac or PC?
Mac. Actually I have a PC now that I never use because I have a Mac. I haven’t turned it on yet. I got it because I wanted to play computer games with my brother because PCs are supposed to be good for computer games so I bought it, but I hate PCs. I want to use my Mac.
Twitter or Facebook?
Twitter, sadly. I recently got on the Twitter game. I’ve just been tweeting a lot and I got like a thousand followers in the last three months, so that’s pretty cool. Patrick over here has like 1,300, but I’m catching up. You guys should follow me @XLmandela.