On the set of Justin Bieber‘s “Confident” music video, when Colin Tilley had his first conversation with Chance the Rapper, the acclaimed music video director was hit with a premonition. “I was like, ‘There’s something really special about this dude,'” Tilley recalls. “He’s not who you would imagine. He’s so much beyond that.” To that end, a few weeks later, when Tilley was delivered the script for the short film Mr. Happy, he had no doubt in his mind his new friend (with whom he had exchanged numbers on set) was the perfect fit to play the film’s lead character.
“I just couldn’t help but seeing Chance’s face playing this character,” Tilley, who at 26 has directed countless high-profile music videos including Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” and Lil Wayne’s “John.” Of his move to cast Chance as the depressed, suicidal young adult at the center of his provocative debut film, Tilley says, “In my gut, I knew he was the right decision.”
Despite having never acted professionally, when called upon by Tilley, Chance was eager to step in front of the camera. “I immediately texted him after reading the script like, ‘I’m all the way in,'” Chance tells Billboard. “I just felt super-connected to the character. The thing I connected to with it is this misguided search for true happiness.”
A lifelong fan of film, Chance had always admired the medium, but never envisioned acting. “It wasn’t like I grew up with the idea of acting but I always liked film a lot,” he explains. “Since I was a shorty I’ve always thought that film acting was something dope. I actually got more into theatre acting recently and just theater as an idea. It was just really since his suggestion that I act in it that made me feel like it was a good idea. I just really wanted to work on a screenplay with him or something and develop a script or something. This was just the project Colin got blessed with and he decided to bless me with it, too, which was sick.”
Chance admits it was a challenge to relate on a persona level to a character like Mr. Happy‘s Victor, who hires a hitman to kill himself via a website. “I don’t necessarily have that close personal connection with suicide, and for that it was kind of hard for me to get fully in tune with it,” he admits. “Because that’s not me: I’m very lively and happy. So it was a weird experience. But for me the reason I liked it was because for me Mr. Happy is a straight-up drama. It’s a very depressing tone. I think even the little moments of comic relief add to how sad of a story it is.
“It was deep man,” he adds. “For real.”
Upon watching the film again and observing the way Chance is able to convey strong emotions through his non-verbal cues, Tilley could not be more impressed with the work of his friend. “He nailed it so spot-on,” Tilley says of Chance. “He has so much character and personality. He’s such a natural.”
Both Chance and Tilley are looking ahead to future film endeavors. For Tilley, who says his extensive music video career “has basically been boot camp for filmmaking,” additional short films and potential features are on the horizon. Chance, meanwhile, is slightly hesitant to enlist for another film role (“It’s very draining!” he says with a laugh), but he definitely plans to delve more into screenwriting and other film-related activities.
“Acting for me is very cool,” says Chance, who is wrapping up work on Donnie Trumpet’s Surf album. “But to do that shit again and to think about doing feature film… that’s probably something that’s a little ways away.”