January 25, 2008 / 12:06 AM / 10 years ago

"Diddy" Combs makes personal history at Sundance

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sean “Diddy” Combs -- rapper, music producer, fashion designer, business mogul, Broadway star -- has had many career-defining moments. This week at the Sundance Film Festival, he had yet another.

<p>Entertainer Sean "P Diddy" Combs arrives for the premiere of the film "A Raisin In The Sun" during the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 23, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>

“This a historical moment for me, my first starring role in a movie,” Combs, 38, told Reuters. “Some of the audience is going to want to see did I do good or did I fall flat on my face?”

Combs was discussing his part in a new film adaptation of the 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun,” which has been remade several times for stage and screen -- most recently in a 2004 Broadway production starring Combs in the role of a young, struggling black American, Walter Lee Younger.

Now Combs is back in a made-for-television “Raisin” set to air on ABC on February 25 to an audience that may be unfamiliar with the story about U.S. race relations, inner city struggle, hopes, dreams and the strength of family bonds.

“Sometimes people come to a place and don’t expect to get the message,” Combs said. “This generation, they come for entertainment ... then they realize, ‘oh man, this movie is really touching. It’s making me really appreciate my family.”’

Combs has acted before. He had a small but key role in the 2001 movie “Monster’s Ball” and his Broadway run in “Raisin” earned him respectable reviews and won over audiences.

Yet Combs admitted to a case of nerves before his debut at Sundance, the top U.S. festival for independent film that has a history of launching TV movies like “Raisin” with a social conscience.

Last year, the AIDS-related HBO film “Life Support,” starring Queen Latifah, opened here.

<p>Cast member Sean "Diddy" Combs from the movie "A Raisin in the Sun" poses during the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 23, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

FAREWELL, BROADWAY

Combs said his stage experience helped train him for the film co-starring Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald, who also starred in the 2004 stage version and earned Broadway’s top honors, Tony awards, for their work.

“Broadway truly prepared me. It made me really go for it,” Combs said. “I was like, I came here to get with it and tell a story. I have a long way to go ... but I‘m swimming, baby.”

“Raisin” director Kenny Leon said Combs brings authenticity, discipline and a strong work ethic to the part of Walter Lee Younger, first made famous by Sidney Poitier in 1961.

“He’s not going to be defeated,” said Leon. “If you work hard, you’ll find truth, and his search for truth pays off.”

Walter Lee is a chauffeur living with his wife, young son, mother and sister in a Chicago tenement. “Raisin” takes place over a brief period of time as the mother (Rashad) receives a $10,000 insurance check following the death of her husband.

The money will change all their lives, but not before they face several wrenching dilemmas centering on Walter Lee’s hopes for winning financial freedom and his mother’s and wife’s dream of living in their own home.

The story, first written by Lorraine Hansberry borrowing a line from a Langston Hughes poem -- “What becomes of a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/Like a raisin in the sun?” -- has touched generations, and Combs and Leon said they are confident that a tale they consider timeless will find yet another audience.

“This not an old story, but a classic story,” Leon said, “a story that withstands the test of time, a story of love and family and strength, hope and dreams.”

Editing by Jane Clark and Xavier Briand

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