'Newlyweeds' Is a Marijuana Movie With Roots in Washington

The producers fled politics for Hollywood.

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(From left) Writer/director Shaka Jim, producer Jim Wareck, MPAA chairman Chris Dodd, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Michael Matthews of "Newlyweeds."
(From left) Writer/director Shaka Jim, producer Jim Wareck, MPAA chairman Chris Dodd, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Michael Matthews of "Newlyweeds."

The indie film "Newlyweeds" is a Brooklyn-based stoner movie, so what does it have to do with politics? A lot actually, with three of the four producers fleeing the political life for something more artistic.

First, there's Michael Matthews – son of MSNBC's Chris Matthews – who eschewed being a second generation political journalist for a movie career.

"It was sort of between film and medicine actually," Matthews says. "I was really blessed to get into film school, that was the big kind of lifeboat, because I probably would have gone to med school had I not gone to film school," he continued. "Boring," he said of his backstory. 

On the other hand, Matthews' movie-making mentor Jim Wareck – whose first movie project was the political film "Below the Beltway" –chose politics first and saved film for later.

[READ: Police Made One Marijuana Arrest Every 42 Seconds In 2012]

"If we're doing true Hollywood confessions here, coming out of college, my two job offers was one with Gary Hart's campaign and the other was to be a writer's assistant on 'Letterman' and I chose Gary Hart," Wareck told Whispers. "Gary Hart had sex two days before I graduated from college and I lost my job."

 

Then there's Gbenga Akinnagbe. He played Chris Partlow on "The Wire," but started his career at the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington. "I used to work for the federal government," Akinnagbe said. "I loved it because I was into politics and so on."

Akinnagbe dabbled in acting a bit, but everything changed the day he was offered a role on stage in Washington.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company "called and offered me a small role in the 'Oedipus Cycle' and I kind of just hung up real quick...and then five seconds later my uncle called me and said my father died," Akinnagbe recalled. "I just got up and went into my supervisor's office and just resigned without thinking and then I started acting."

[MORE: DC Councilman Pushes Marijuana Legalization: Predicts Congress Would Allow It ]

Together Matthews, Wareck and Akinnagbe, along with writer-director Shaka King –Matthews' NYU film school buddy – produced "Newlyweeds," a coming-of-age stoner movie. "It's basically 'Harold and Kumar,' meets 'The Wire,'" Wareck noted.

For King, the project began as his film school thesis, but then Akinnagbe became attached and used his clout from "The Wire," to bring in higher-caliber actors.

"We were having a tough time casting the film because ... we were offering actors $100 a day," King recalled. The film got made with Amari Cheatom and Trea Harris in the leading roles and –from "the Wire" alumni association – Hassan Johnson and Isiah Whitlock, Jr..

From there, it got picked up for Sundance and is being theatrically released in select cities this fall. The gang returned to Washington this week for a screening at the Motion Picture Association of America and considered it a successful homecoming.

"The nice thing about D.C. versus L.A. is when you tell someone you grew up with that you made a movie they have this look on [their] face like you're bringing the circus to town," Matthews said. "In L.A., it's like, 'get in line, buddy.'"

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