If anyone dismisses Hairspray as a musical about a guy in drag, I recommend you pay close attention to Elijah Kelley. Not only does he represent the African-American side of the film's integration and tolerance message, but he shows off some of the film's most amazing dance moves. In one number, he jumps higher than Jet Li on wires.
Elijah Kelley on Hairspray
"That was not CGI," Kelley said. "That’s was me. That was the energy of my first day shooting. That was the nerves. That was the jitters, that was everything. I didn’t even know how high I jumped. I black out when I perform. I do. You give it all to the people that you’re performing to and I just totally blacked out. When I saw the movie I didn’t remember half the stuff in that opening scene that I did or how it came out. You don’t get an immediate reaction. You don’t immediately get to see the product. So it’s like, ‘Wow.’"
Kelley plays Seaweed J. Stubbs, the leader of the detention kids who give Nikki and Penny a cause to fight for. While Nikki shines on the Corny Collins Show, she attempts to stop segregation on the airwaves.
"My grandparents and my great-uncles and aunts and even my mom caught a little bit of it. Being from Georgia, that was one of the places that was one of the last to jump on that bandwagon of integration. So I had a lot of firsthand accounts. They told me about it. They were definitely ecstatic that I was carrying the message that it’s not right and that stuff actually did happen and we’re moving forward together as a nation and as a people. Still remnants of that stuff still exist but I feel like we’re there."
The Kelley family also provided inspiration for some of Elijah's hairstyles in the film. "We went back and a lot of my uncles had the same wave growing up down there. I got a lot of inspiration from how Sammy wore it, like way back. Even James Brown, his was like way more elaborate. They got my style from Nat Cole King with the hair, so it was great. I didn’t even know I was going to have my hair like that. I grew my hair out like a little bit because I thought it was going to be like how Marvin Gaye used to wear his hair, like a little bit of a fro. I thought it was going to be like that. They sat me down and I thought I was going to get trimmed up and they started putting in all these chemicals. I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘We’re about to relax your hair.’ I’m like, ‘Somebody please tell me something!’ And you know they did it and they put all kinds of stuff in my hair. It turned out pretty good. My family loved it."
Though the styles of the '60s were cool for play acting, Kelley is more into the modern style of saggy pants. "Being a person that sags, I can appreciate both. I do sag and I do like the suits that are very well cut. You want to be dapper with the girls sometimes. I just can’t go every day without bagging. Those pants just made my whole pelvic region numb. All my circulation gets cut off."
Hairspray opens to theatres on July 20th.
For the trailers, posters, stills and more movie info, go to the Hairspray
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