Raised in Long Beach, California, actor Jahking Guillory makes his feature film debut in Kicks as its protagonist, Brandon. The fifteen-year-old is also a rapper and a championship athlete in football and track. Guillory played running back on Snoop Dogg’s junior football team, winning five championships, and won gold during the Junior Olympics in two events: the 800 and 1500 meter dash. His forthcoming work includes musical releases as well as the film Smartass (2016).
Hailing from El Cerrito, California, writer-director Justin Tipping is a graduate of the AFI Film Institute. He premiered his debut feature Kicks at Tribeca Film Festival 2016, garnering a nomination for Jury Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature. The film is based in his formative experience of being robbed for his sneakers and grapples with the pressure for social status, sneaker fetishization and the violence that often ensures. Tipping’s upcoming work includes the screenplay for Lowriders, which looks at low-riding culture in Southern California.
The debut feature film of writer-director Justin Tipping, Kicks stars newcomer Jahking Guillory as he pursues his stolen sneakers through Oakland. The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival 2016, where it won the Jury Award for Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature for Michael Ragen (Faults) and was nominated for the Jury Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature. Supporting actors include Notorious B.I.G.’s son Christopher Jordan Wallace, Christopher Meyer (General Hospital, Wayward Pines), Kofi Siriboe (Straight Outta Compton, Whiplash), and Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, Hunger Games).
In his powerful on-screen debut, Jahking Guillory plays Brandon, a small 15-year-old who sets out through Oakland to reclaim his Air Jordans from thieves on the street. The aptly-named Kicks is director Justin Tipping’s feature debut, and tells a story very close to him and his East Bay upbringing, when he was jumped for his sneakers. In homage, Kicks was shot on location in Tipping’s hometown, just across the bay from San Francisco, and most of its cast hails from the area.
The narrative of Kicks is personal to Guillory as well: growing up in Long Beach, he saw petty, theft-driven violence, once leading to the death of a friend. He talks with Tipping about how he quickly learned how to keep to himself, which in part has driven him to an already prodigious career: At 15, Guillory is an actor, musical artist, former member of Snoop Dogg’s football team and Junior Olympic sprinter, winning two gold medals. The two discuss Guillory’s first on-screen kiss alongside the film’s more serious concerns, including cultural ideas of manliness, material objects as status symbols and how both drive violence in the streets.
Justin Tipping: Jah, how are you doing?
Jahking Guillory: It’s all great man.
JT: You were 12 when we met and 13 when we shot. Now you’re how old?
JT: Let’s go back in time: Can you tell me about when you first found out you got the role?
JG: I was excited, like, “Dang, all that hard work paid off.”
JT: Where were you when you found out?
JG: I was at my house. My mom texted me.
JT: Did you jump for joy?
JG: No, I was like, “For real? Let’s get it. I’m going to kill it.”
JT: I also remember when we first met, you were playing football for Snoop Dogg’s team. How did that happen?
JG: I was actually playing on this team called the Inland Empire Ducks, and Snoop Dogg heard about us playing, like, “Oh, these boys are real good.” He reached out to my coach, who happened to be his cousin, so everything just clicked. I went straight to Pomona, started playing and won the Super Bowl there.
JT: Were you upset that you had to miss a season because you had to film?
JG: No, I was just happy to be a part of this film.
JT: On the football team did you ever think you were the underdog?
JG: Yeah, just my size, my hair. People were always like, “He’s gonna play like a little girl since he has girl hair.” But once I got on the field I wasn’t a little girl, man. I was the big dog.
“People were always like, ‘He’s gonna
play like a little girl since he has girl hair.’
But once I got on the field I
wasn’t a little girl, man. I was the big dog.”
— Jahking Guillory
JT: Have you always been teased for the hair?
JG: Yeah, that’s what kind of made me who I am today. I don’t even worry about that.
JT: So in the film your character says in voiceover that you’ve never been in a real fight because you’ve always been fast. Do you consider yourself fast?
JG: Yeah. I’ve never been in a fight because I’ve always been quick to walk away, run away or tell somebody, “Such-and-such wants to fight me. You guys should get him suspended.”
JT: You were in track too. What did you run?
JG: I ran the 200, 100, 1500, 800. All that. I made it to the Junior Olympics twice, and I won.
JT: Okay so you were literally fast, like Brandon the character.
JG: Second in the nation at one point in time.
JT: So now that you’re fifteen, who would win in a race between you and Kofi [Siriboe]? He chases you in the film and almost caught you. We had to yell cut. Do you think you could take him now?
JG: He is pretty fast, but I think I could beat him now.
JT: Was that [kissing scene for Kicks] your first kiss on the camera?
JG: Yeah. That was my first kiss ever, so it was kind of weird.
JT: Were you super nervous?
JG: I was nervous. I was like, “Mom, how should I kiss her? Should I kiss her like sideways? Slow? Should I give her like that [makes kissing noise] kiss and just leave? Just one little quick kiss like to the cheek or to the side of her lip? Not her full lip, because what if she gets her saliva on me? That’s nasty.”
JT: Well it was also supposed to be the character, Brandon’s, first kiss.
JG: Yeah everything worked out.
JT: Have you kissed anybody since?
JG: A lot of people.
JT: Do you think you got better?
JG: Yeah, yeah.