James ‘Primo’ Grant (29), a general in the East New York Bloods, commands the room the moment he walks in the café. Wearing a leather-sleeved sweater with a red-eyed lion print, the burly, bearded man exudes solid strength. Speaking calmly, he points out the persons around us. See that guy? He’s into that girl. See how his knees turn toward her? A bouncer at Sugar Hill, a disco club in Brooklyn, Grant has predatory eyes like a hawk. He sees everything.
Grant is the star of Keith Miller’s newest feature film, Five Star. In it, he plays a leader of the Bloods. He is a father, husband, gang leader, friend and mentor. To John, a fatherless young man who is trying to decide if gang life is for him, Primo represents tough love. Mixing fiction and reality, the film is based closely on Grant’s real life. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he is the son of a Domnican mother and a Costa Rican father. He is the fourth of eight children, four sisters and three brothers. He joined the Bloods when he was 12 and is still active. The film touches upon issues like gang life, drugs and violence. However, it is more than your typical Hollywood gangster film. Instead, it highlights human struggle as both Primo and John wrestle with what it means – what choices one has to make – to be a man.
Grant lives in New Jersey with his fiancé and four children.
Q. Why are you called Primo?
My cousin, Katherine, gave me the name. It means “One” in Spanish, because I am the only one she can depend on.
Q. You are Primo playing “Primo,” a Blood leader, in Keith’s movie. To what degree is the character based on your real life?
I am Primo, a general of the Bloods. Five Star is based on my life. Keith utilized things from my past, society at the moment…
Q. What’s unique about the character “Primo”?
I am basically a drug dealer in the movie. I am all these certain things – violence, anger – but I am still a human being. I am still a father who loves my autistic son, my wife. You know I am a hard worker. I try to make the right choices. Primo is the man that a lot of men can relate to and understand.
Q. You were introduced to Keith by Shannon Harper, who starred in Keith’s last film Welcome to Pine Hill. Initially, were you receptive to Keith and his ideas?
At first it was like, Why is this white dude interested in me? He has never seen my part of town. But Keith listened to what I said, and he understood. When he asked me to do a film, I was like, let’s do it.
Q. You met Shannon after being jailed, can you tell me what happened?
I was a young asshole in real life – ignorant, stubborn, hotheaded, violent – I didn’t care. I was always right, everybody was wrong. If I didn’t like you, I’d curse you out. I was arrested multiple times, aggregated assault, violent injury…
In 2007, I lost my job, finance wasn’t working, drugs wasn’t selling like it used to and I got caught in a situation where I was trying to help somebody. My boys and I were arrested and sent to Hudson County [Jail].
At the time my ex-girlfriend was pregnant with my son, she was about 4 months. I remember I didn’t really get to hug my daughter. It was a quick kiss and “I’ll be back later,” and I was gone. I was there from Dec. 7, 2007 to Apr. 8th, 2008. It was horrible to think my son may be born not knowing his father. Ever since then, I made it a point to mind my own business.
Q. Is “Primo,” the character in the movie, like you in any way?
I am very protective. If you are with me and we are hanging, and someone offends you, I am going to defend you. But I think the film’s about choices. Because being in a gang was a choice that I made. Being a father was a choice that I made. Being a son was not a choice, but it was a choice as to what kind of son I want to be – am I going to be a good son or an asshole? Being a husband – am I going to be faithful, loyal or am I going to be a dickhead, cheater? Being a gang leader, am I going put my guys on the right track? Or am I going to go back to the war of color, war of turf?
Q. What was it like working as a non-actor on your first film?
I’ve always wanted to be in movies. When I was young, my brothers and I would wrestle and put on British accent. With any movie, it’s about getting in touch with your emotions. I love the way Keith wanted to film. His way of directing was unique.
Q. Describe Keith’s style to me. Was it what you had expected?
No, I was actually expecting a word for word, verbatim, line by line. Keith has a way of just getting the scene, the emotion exactly how he wanted.
Q. Keith is known for taking long shot, 45 minutes, an hour. Was it weird for you?
No, you just go. Act like the camera’s not there. You get a masterpiece because you capture things that you can’t tell somebody to do it. It was cool as shit to just keep going. You get real laughs, you get real smiles. You get serious things, you get real conversations.
Q. Are you still in the gang?
Yes. But I am part of a brotherhood. The wrongful term we’ve been recognized as is “gang,” but we are a brotherhood. It’s family.
Q. Why is the film called Five Star?
It’s called Five Star because it defines the meaning of the Bloods, a brotherhood. If it’s a great movie, how many stars do you rate it? Five star. It’s the great one, the one that stands out.
Q. And why do you want to make a film based on your past life?
People only see the fiction that’s put on TV or some shows or some movies. The reality is that not every ghetto people are bad guys. It’s not a drive-by shooting Friday night and a retaliation drive-by shooting Saturday night.
Q. Other film projects in the future? Will you work with Keith again?
Who knows, this is my first movie. But Keith, he’s cool. He is a brother from another mother with a different color. Keith is five star in my eyes.