''The Brothers'' star explains why Hollywood needs to offer more varied roles to African Americans

By Sandra P. Angulo
Updated April 11, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: D L Hughley: Gregory Pace/Corbis Sygma

D.L. Hughley provided Gadgetmobile’s voice in Disney’s ”Inspector Gadget,” and he did standup in last summer’s sleeper hit ”The Original Kings of Comedy,” but in the $22 million grossing ”The Brothers,” he finally gets to create a character who isn’t D.L. or a cartoon. He plays Derrick West, a frustrated young husband and new father, opposite screen pals Bill Bellamy, Morris Chestnut (”The Best Man”), and Shemar Moore (”The Young and the Restless”). For now, though, Hughley isn’t trading his standup and sitcom roots (UPN’s ”The Hughleys” airs Mondays at 9 p.m.) for the silver screen. ”Being a comic comes first,” he tells EW.com. ”I couldn’t pay the bills trying to be a heartthrob.”

”The Brothers” is a lot like ”The Best Man.” Did that concern you?
I talked to my wife and realized there are only three stories: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and tragedy where everybody dies. There’s nothing new under the sun. What makes a project different is the personalities in it. I knew that Bill Bellamy and I together could be funny, Morris could do the acting, and Shemar could take his shirt off enough to give the movie a decent chance at success.

Why are so many movies these days (”The Best Man,” ”The Wood,” ”Love and Basketball”) portraying African American as affluent professionals?
It’s typical Hollywood that if something has hit a nerve, they do it over and over again. In the ’70s and ’80s, we were portrayed as dope addicts, pimps, and hustlers. And that was limiting. But always being bankers, doctors, and lawyers — and that being the only way we can be seen — is also limiting. Studio heads think: ”This is the only movie black America wants to see.” That’s why there were ”Boyz N the Hood” and ”Menace II Society,” and now there are only these Buppie movies.

Are there black actors who have the freedom to play any kind of role?
Look at a cat like Sam Jackson. He plays Gator, a dope addict, in ”Jungle Fever.” He doesn’t win any accolades or NAACP Image Awards for that role. But 10 years later, and he’s Shaft, and everyone’s talking about how cool he is. But it was ”Jungle Fever” that showed the depth of his talent. We need to, as African Americans, open up the field to play anything and anyone. I watched ”End of Days,” where Gabriel Byrne plays the devil. I thought, Damn, if a black actor had been the devil in that movie, people would’ve said, ”Why does a black man have to be the devil?” We should get to be everything.

Your character in ”The Brothers” has a younger, sexually inhibited wife. You’re married, a father of three. Can you relate?
Every married man has tried to convince his wife to do something that she finds disgusting. I know — I’ve been married more than 15 years, so it’s been a long argument. It’s the funniest thing in the world. The more children a woman has, the more she sees herself as a mother and not a wife. ”But we have kids,” she’ll say. And I’ll say, ”But baby, how do you think we got them? None of them is named Jesus! We did stuff to get them. It wasn’t an immaculate conception.”

Shemar Moore, who plays the groom to be, seemed to be on screen the least of the brothers. Did his scenes get cut?
I believe it got cold, so it was harder for him to take his shirt off. Somebody’s gotta be the eye candy, I guess. Me, I can’t tell you the last time I was completely naked. I always have a sock, a Band-Aid, a necklace — something on. But Shemar, he even has a calendar of himself. He’s EVERY month.

Marla Gibbs plays your mom on ”The Hughleys.” Did you get her cast in the role of your mom in ”The Brothers”?
Oh yeah, ’cause I’m such a big star that I can get stuff like that done. No, they didn’t know that Marla plays my mom on my show. I just showed up for work one day and realized, Hey, there’s my mama!

ABC canceled ”The Hughleys” before UPN picked it up. What do you think about them airing Damon Wayans’ ”My Wife and Kids”?
I am a big fan of Damon’s talent, and wish him much success. I’ve always been more of an African American — not that he hasn’t been, but my audience is definitely more African American. Damon is more mainstream, so I think he can be more successful than I was there. I just hope he gets more support than I did at ABC.

Do you feel your show was cast adrift on ABC’s Friday night schedule?
I couldn’t even get the executives to talk to me at my own cast party. I was the black cat after ”Sabrina: The Teenage Witch.” I was the black cat following the black cat [on ”Sabrina”]. It was me. But it’s hard to be bitter when you’re successful.

How does the treatment compare at UPN — big fish, smaller pond?
I’m where I am supposed to be. UPN treats me with a dignity and respect that I never got at ABC. I wanted to do an episode about my conflict with a Jewish neighbor on the show. I pitched it to [network CEO] Dean Valentine, and he said, ‘Do what you want to do.’ They never would have let me do that show on ABC. I’m going to get to my 100th episode, and that feels good. I didn’t stumble onto UPN, I roared in.