Actress Reagan Gomez-Preston sent every black teen boy’s heart racing in 1995 when she first debuted on The WB’s hit sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood.” When the sitcom ended its run in the sumer of 1999, Gomez-Preston decided it was time for her to break out of that good girl image she had been typecast in and do something different. That something different didn’t come around until 2004 when she auditioned to play a college student who gets strung out on heroin in the gritty street drama “Never Die Alone.”
The actress explained, “It also set the tone for the type of roles I went out for after that. I’ve played all kinds of roles like prostitutes, the good girl, on ‘Love That Girl,’ I play a college student. I’ve played a wide range of characters and that’s what I want my career to be.”
The film, starring DMX, was more than bit part in a drama for the Detroit native, it was a claiming of independence. Gomez-Preston played Juanita, a college student who got into a relationship with the notorious drug dealer King David. Once it becomes evident that David has more feelings for Juanita than she has for him, he ruins her life by getting her addicted to heroin.
On the film’s tenth anniversary, we got a chance to speak to Reagan Gomez-Preston about how her small role in the film yielded big changes in her professional life off the screen, how she feels about the film’s cult-like following and if she has ever read any more books from the ghetto griot Donald Goines.
TUD: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience working on “Never Die Alone”?
RG: I auditioned for the part maybe three or four times and there were a lot of people up for this role. I remember I didn’t hear back from anyone until a month after my last audition. So I was sure I didn’t get it. But when I got the call saying I got it, I was really excited.
I had a meeting with Ernest Dickerson who is the director of the film. We discussed where she came from and her addiction that comes later on in the film. He gave me a film called “Requiem For a Dream.” It was all about heroin addicts and what they go through. So I really kinda based my studies for the later scenes in “Never Die Alone” when Juanita is addicted and strung out.
That was really interesting. It took me to a place I’ve never been before. And I was excited to take on this role because I had never done a role like that before. And shooting the film, my part only took maybe three or four days. The shoot itself wasn’t really that long. I want to say it was maybe three or four weeks. I didn’t get to really work with anybody except DMX. I didn’t get a chance to work with or even meet David Arquette, Michael Ealy or Drew Sidora.
What were people’s reactions to you playing a heroin addict when everyone knows you for being the good girl Zaria from “The Parent ‘Hood”?
I got a lot of compliments. I actually got a lot of auditions after that to meet with people who didn’t really wanna see me before. Part of the reason I wanted to do the film was because I didn’t want to be typecast, especially in 2003-2004 when we shot the film. We had stopped “The Parent ‘Hood” in ’98. So it was a few years after that and I was in my early twenties and was really trying to show people I could be more than just the daughter. To show people I am a real actress and actors are supposed to be able to play different roles. That’s why I was so excited to do this part. A lot of women would shy away from it because it’s not a pretty role or a good role or whatever you want to call it. I still get a lot of praise for playing Juanita.
Since shooting your part only took four days, what was the feeling like when you saw the final version and then getting to go to Sundance?
Sundance was my first time seeing the full film. I was really proud to be a part of it. Sundance is also when I met Michael Ealy and David Arquette. It was cool. I was really pleased and honored to be apart of a film like this. I had no idea that so many people were fans of Donald Goines and his books.
“Never Die Alone” has garnered quite the cult following. Do you get random people calling you by Juanita’s name in public?
Fans come up to me and say, “I’m so mad at how DMX did you!” or “I’m so mad you died.” I’ve had people tell me I was a hot heroin addict. People love the film, but hate the content, or they hate what my character had to go through I should say.
How did Reagan connect with the character of Juanita?
I think Juanita and I are similar in age. Juanita was a girl who was in college just beginning her young adult life. She was really naive to the world and she fell for this guy. A lot of people would say she’s materialistic, but I don’t think so. I think she was realistic about the world. She was in a relationship with this guy. She didn’t think it was really serious. It was just somebody she was having fun with. A lot of young women can relate to that in the guy Juanita was with was a little more serious about her than she was about him. He got very vindictive and spiteful in how he wanted to get her back. People go through those kinds of things. I’m sad at how things turned out with Juanita, but I think the story and the whole purpose of the book was to bring to light what people were going through. Even DMX’s character had issues. He had all of this money and still wound up dying alone and nobody really gave a damn. It’s reality. It’s the ugly side of the game that people don’t wanna think about.
Did working on this film make you want to pick up other Donald Goines books and see what his writing is about?
I have to be honest, I have not. The books seem like they would be a little depressing for me. But I will say it definitely sparked my interest in finding out more about him. After I got the film, I did research on him and learned a lot about him. But I think these stories need to be told whether it’s through books or film. These stories need to be told that people are out there’s struggling.
How do you want people to remember the film?
I want people to remember the film as being a truth teller with a great up-and-coming cast who weren’t afraid to tell it like it is and really show you the depth of the story. Stories like this aren’t really being made nowadays anymore. The fact that we’re even doing this interview … I would’ve had no idea it was ten years later. It’s still a cult classic and whenever it’s on, my Twitter feed will hit me up about it. I think it will go down in history as one of the great black films, if you will like “Juice” and “Boyz N The Hood.” This film is apart of that great group of black films made in the late nineties and early 2000s.
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