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'Morris From America' star got his big break because of his Big Brother

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The movie “Morris from America” tells the story of an American kid who moves with his newly widowed father to Germany. He doesn’t speak German, he loves rap and hip hop — other kids prefer electronic dance music — and he’s African American, which makes him stand out even more. 

Comedian and actor Craig Robinson plays Morris’s dad while Markees Christmas co-stars as Morris.

After the premiere of “Morris From America” at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, The Frame’s Darby Maloney caught up with Markees and found out who unexpectedly helped him break into movies — Matt Hill.

HILL: I'm Markees' Big Brother through the Big Brother program. I've been his Big Brother now for about eight years. I got him when Markees was about eight. After four years of being his Big Brother, I saw him in the school talent show and I thought he was really good. He was in "A Raisin in The Sun." They did like two scenes. The way the Big Brothers works is you're supposed to do two activities a month. So I said, "Markees, for one of our activities would you like to make a movie?" He's like, "Yeah, yeah, sure."

These "movies" amounted to a short video series called "Markees Vs" played at the L.A. event Channel 101 and posted on the Channel 101 website.

CHRISTMAS: Years ago I wanted to be a pro skateboarder, but I learned that wasn't going to work out. So yeah, I never had my mind actually set on acting.

When "Morris from America" director Chad Hartigan had trouble casting the part of Morris, someone tipped him off to the "Markees Vs." videos and he reached out to Matt Hill through YouTube.

Once Christmas was cast in the part and was in Germany shooting the movie, Hill visited him on set.

CHRISTMAS: I was a bit uncomfortable when he showed up because I had a cursing scene. I just don't feel comfortable cursing in front of any adults. It's out of respect. Like my grandma — she came with me to Germany. Some of the days I had to tell her, you can't come to the set today, I have one of those scenes. She's like, "what are one of those scenes?" She makes me tell her what I have to do. I said, "I have to curse."

Matt Hill and Markees Christmas, 2016. Christmas is the star of the movie
Matt Hill and Markees Christmas, 2016. Christmas is the star of the movie "Morris from America."
Photo courtesy of Matt Hill

So how does Matt Hill approach his role as Big Brother now that his Little Brother is competing in a difficult industry?

HILL: It's exciting because obviously I didn't think any of this would happen. That first video we made was just an activity, like some of the other activities we would do like taking him to a museum. Or I took him once to a studio to learn how to DJ — that sort of stuff. So it's exciting, but it's a little scary because obviously it's a really, it's a tough business and I want good things to continue to happen. Markees doesn't get too let down or too beat up by the industry.

For Christmas, what's it like to hear Matt talk about him?

CHRISTMAS: What can I say about Matt? My dear buddy.  I love this guy, period. He's been in my life for 8 years now. Um, it's more than just the Big Brother program going on. 

Hear Markees Christmas and Matt Hill in their own voices by clicking the play button at the top of this post. "Morris from America" is in limited release now.

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