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AMERICAN GANGSTER

Casting The Film
"Judges, lawyers, cops, politicians…stop bringing dope into this country, about 100,000 people will be out of jobs.” —Richie Roberts

To perform opposite Washington and Crowe in American Gangster, Scott and Grazer recruited a top-notch group of actors. For Lucas' family, they would need to cast a crew of brothers and cousins whom he brought to Harlem to help sell product. For the roles of the cult figure's heroin-dealing ring known as the Country Boys—so named because of their upbringing in the backwoods of North Carolina—the production looked to a mix of talent with backgrounds ranging from classical training to hip-hop performance. The real names and relations were changed for the film's screenplay.

The lead Country Boy, Lucas' younger brother and right-hand man, Huey, was played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British actor with an impressive American resume. "I'd worked with Chiwetel on Inside Man,” says Grazer. "He played Denzel's partner in that movie, so they already had a terrific working relationship. Even though he's British, he slips into an American character like he was born in this country. His character is very flamboyant and unpredictable, which makes an interesting contrast to Frank's cool and low-key personality.”

Other Lucas family members prominently featured in the film include a couple of best-selling artists relatively new to film—rapper Common as Frank's brother Turner and rising hip-hop artist T.I. as Frank's impressionable nephew Stevie. Scott, aware that these performers might not warm to the slow pace of making movies, was impressed by how they adapted to the unique demands of film work. He commends, "It seems that acting is a natural step from singing. We see some great performances from Common and T.I.”

Matriarch to the clan is legendary actress Ruby Dee, portraying Mama Lucas. The recipient of the John F. Kennedy Center Honors and Screen Actors Guild's Life Achievement Award, Dee served as inspiration to many of those on set. For the Harlem native, revisiting the world of her youth proved helpful insight for all with whom she worked. The actress notes, "The time of Frank Lucas that American Gangster is about doesn't seem as much of a film to me as it does more of a memory. Gangsters played a very important role in the life of the community, because they were part of the community. They controlled the rackets.”

As a child, she lived in an apartment building on 137th Street and 7th Avenue. Of that time, Dee recalls, "People who looked like Denzel would come to the door in twos or threes, and they would give you a greeting and hand you a shopping bag. In there would be a turkey at Thanksgiving; at Christmas there would be toys.” Only later in life would she learn that they weren't just helpful citizens; there was a "political connection to the gangster element.”

Oscar® winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., was tasked to play Lucas' major rival in the heroin trade, Nicky Barnes. Also a big-time player in the Harlem drug land, Barnes, like Lucas, would eventually turn state's evidence after his arrest. But until that time, he wanted all that Lucas had and more, once appearing on the cover of The New York Times Magazine asserting that he was "Mr. Untouchable.” Gooding was curious about the role these dealers played in New York City in the early '70s. He summarizes Barnes and Lucas' appeal: "These cats were looked upon as the true celebrities. Today we have sports celebrities like the Mets and the Yankees or actors, but back then you had the drug dealers. They were the ones that were directly connected to the inner city and the people.”

Typifying the mafioso of the day, Armand Assante plays Dominic Cattano, the powerful thorn in the side of Lucas who, like everyone else, is shocked that a black power player has usurped the structure and brought less-expensive, pure

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