And while Def said he worked with language coaches so he wouldn't embarrass himself sounding like "a hokey Nigerian," he doesn't mind being given such challenges.
"My own personal speech would probably be seen as another affected speech pattern anyway, " the hop-hop artist said at a press conference to promote the movie this weekend at the Tribeca Grand Hotel.
A crime thriller written and directed by Eric Eason of "Manito" fame, "Journey To End of the Night" takes place in Sao Paulo during the span of one night and explores the relationship between fathers and sons. In this case, actor Scott Glenn (" The Right Stuff" and "Silence of the Lambs") plays the father, and Brendan Fraser ('The Quiet American" and "The Mummy") is the son, both American expatriates running a bordello-dance club in the Brazilian city.
Def, whose previous credits include "Monster's Ball," "The Italian Job" and "16 Blocks," plays what Fraser called "the moral epicenter of the film:" a Nigerian dishwasher at the brothel who is recruited to help the Americans realize their dream of getting out of the business once and for all.
Both Fraser, who was just days away from becoming a new dad, and Glenn admitted their biggest challenge was to portray unpleasant characters in ways that made the audience care about them.
"I wanted to humanize someone who easily could have been dismissed and despotic, awful, really," said Fraser, adding that the script was "material that I haven't seen come my way before."
Shot entirely at night, the movie took just six weeks to make. Both Fraser and Glenn said smaller budget films like this gave them more artistic freedom. When making blockbusters, said Glenn, "you need an audience to justify the cost, and you start making compromises." In the end, he said, the picture "loses its edge."
Sao Paulo, a city with a homicide rate that Eason said equals that of Iraq, was chosen for its exotic locale and because people from all over the world make their homes there. "It is a dangerous place, but never did we feel we were ever in any danger," he said.
Eason said he was looking for something different from the award-winning "Manito," his directorial debut.
"I wanted to do something that didn't have a message behind it, except to entertain," he said. But neither did he want typical studio fare. "I hate Hollywood happy endings," he declared.
The movie also stars Brazilian actress Alice Braga, who was at the press conference, and Academy Award nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno ("Maria Full of Grace.")
By MARY JAYNE McKAY