'We Grown Now' brought back Lil Rel Howery childhood memories

Jason (Lil Rel Howery) gives his son some tough advice in "We Grown Now." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
1 of 5 | Jason (Lil Rel Howery) gives his son some tough advice in "We Grown Now." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

LOS ANGELES, April 19 (UPI) -- Lil Rel Howery said playing a father to a grade-school boy in We Grown Now, in theaters Friday, brought back memories of his childhood on the west side of Chicago.

Howery, 44, plays Jason, a widower who is raising his son in the Cabrini-Green housing project in 1992.


"To me, it is a love letter to Chicago and to the residents of Cabrini-Green," Howery told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "It humanized them."

Jason's son, Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez), is friends with neighbor Malik (Blake Cameron James). Howery said Malik and Eric's friendship reminded him of growing up with two brothers and their neighbor.

"I teared up quite a few times watching the movie," Howery said. "You just miss the innocence of those friendships."

Malik and Eric worry their parents by skipping school to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. In less worrisome activities, they stack mattresses on the playground and jump into them.


Howery said such activities made him reminisce about creating activities with limited resources. For example, Howery, his brothers and neighbor played baseball without a bat.

"We lived in the hood, so you had to make beauty out of stuff that may not have been as beautiful," Howery said. "We found a random stick that was shaped like a baseball bat and figured out how to get the splinters out so we didn't cut our hands."

Sports were the focus of many of Howery's childhood adventures, he said. Howery and friends would play baseball before Cubs games began on television and they would visit the United Center during basketball season.

"During those Bulls playoffs, we used to ride our bikes down there, especially after the Bulls win," Howery said. "[We'd] try to wave at Michael Jordan before he almost ran us over with his very fast car."

Howery's adult status helped him relate to Ramirez, who makes his debut in We Grown Now, Howery said, adding that he believes Ramirez responded to Howery having three children of his own.

"It's just dad energy," Howery said. "Kids can tell who's a good dad or not. They really can. You can tell by the way they react to you."


Circumstances that develop in the film threaten to tear Malik and Eric apart. Howery said he advised Ramirez to take his time with emotional scenes, but felt conflicted himself about the advice Jason gives his son to cope with impending changes.

"I love the sincerity of it," Howery said of his character's advice. "I feel bad that he had to give him this advice to tell him to grow up a little faster than he probably should."

Jason's advice also reminded Howery of growing up with supportive parents, aunts, uncles and friends.

"The reason why I love history so much, the reason why I'm so confident is because of them," Howery said. "I was a greasy little nerd for a long time but I was very confident."

Howery is most prolific as a standup comedian and actor in comedies like Free Guy and Vacation Friends, or providing comic relief in the horror movie Get Out. Prior to We Grown Now, He also played dramatic roles in Judas and the Black Messiah, Clouds and Bird Box.

Howery said he pursues all of his myriad interests from comedy to drama and horror, and he even hopes to do a musical.


"I love this business so much, I just try to do whatever I will have fun with," Howery said.

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