'Roxanne Roxanne' breakout star Chante Adams reveals how she landed her lead role

Adams stars in the Roxanne Shante biopic 'Roxanne Roxanne,' which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film co-stars Mahershala Ali and Nia Long.

Tom Zuback/Sundance Institute/AP
'Roxanne Roxanne' stars Chante Adams.

Actress Chante Adams had just graduated from Carnegie Mellon University when she got a call from a casting agent who wanted her to audition to be the lead in the Roxanne Shante biopic "Roxanne Roxanne." Adams had no feature credits to her name and a background in theater. But the agent saw something in her at CMU's senior showcase, where students perform in front of agents, managers, and casting directors, and sought her out.

Soon enough, what began as "Oh, cool, my first audition" became Adams' first film role in the anticipated pic about the life of hip-hop pioneer Roxanne Shante from director Michael Larnell. "Roxanne Roxanne," which co-stars "Moonlight"'s Mahershala Ali and Nia Long, recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

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AP: How familiar were you with Roxanne Shante?

CHANTE ADAMS: Not very. I wasn't born until '94! Her era was definitely the '80s. I knew of her, I knew who she was. I had older siblings, and I kind of knew her through them and the hip-hop music they listened to. But I didn't know much about her, so after I got the first audition, I went straight into research mode. I saw the video for "Roxanne's Revenge" and was like "Oh my God, we kind of look alike!"

AP: You only had a week and a half from being cast to shooting. How did you prepare?

ADAMS: Hours and hours of research. I'm pretty sure I've watched very single video on the internet that exists of Roxanne Shante – every interview, every music performance, and just using that to get it down. I met her once before we started filming, and that was such an honor. I was so lucky to be able to do this biopic while she is still here so I can make sure I got it right.

AP: What did you talk about with Roxanne?

ADAMS: She was just telling me about her life. It was me, her, Nia Long, and Michael. She was giving me pointers on the voice, and she was telling Nia about her mom. She told me she was going to be on set as much as possible, but there's some stuff that she won't be on set for because it's a little difficult to relive that. I understood that and understood that I had to take that into my own hands and do what I could with it. She was on set a few times a week, which I loved. Anytime I had a question or needed advice, it was awesome to have her right there. I could go straight to the source.

AP: Was there a particular scene she helped you with?

ADAMS: There's a scene where she's stealing from a department store. I did the scene how I imagined you would steal from a department store, because I don't know. She was there and we were about to wrap and she told Michael, "We need to do it again because she's not stealing right." She basically came over to me and taught me the correct way to steal clothes. She was like,"No, you can't look at the clothes, you can't look at the bag, just grab it, keep your eyes up, you can't make it look suspicious." So she taught me the proper way to steal clothes from a department store.

AP: What's next for you?

ADAMS: Just to continue in the film world for right now. Ride the "Roxanne Roxanne" wave and, you know, we'll see where it goes!

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