Jacob Latimore
Jacob Latimore Credit: Getty Images

Jacob Latimore is having a moment. He’s had them before. Since the age of nine, he’s been a professional singer. At 11, his single “Superstar” cracked the U.S. R&B charts. By 13 he was an actor, too, and has since appeared in “Black Nativity,” “Ride Along” and “The Maze Runner.”

 

But the last handful of months have found Latimore, now 20, particularly busy. He had a key role, among the likes of Will Smith, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren, in “Collateral Beauty.” He released an album, “Connection,” around the same time. He recently wrapped “Detroit,” Kathryn Bigelow’s hotly anticipated account of the 1967 Detroit riots, due in late summer.

 

And there’s “Sleight,” in which he plays a magician trying to get out of the drug trade, which is now seeing a wide release.

 

When we speak, Latimore’s still busy; he’s currently filming Showtime’s “The Chi,” his first time being in the main cast of a TV show. But being stuck with one, time-hogging gig isn’t a bad thing.

 

“People who do TV get to be a little more picky,” Latimore tells us. “They find they’re a little more eager to look for movies they actually want to be a part of, instead of doing a movie just because they want to keep working.” After making one film with a pile of screen legends and another for Bigelow, he understands that he has to be picky now, too. “It’s important that my next film is my best film.”

“Sleight” is a big showcase for Latimore — a lead role. He plays Bo, a young orphan who’s turned to magic to escape the world of drug dealing. He’s created an electro-magnet he wears on his arm that makes it look like he can make coins levitate. (Think of him as a young Magneto, except not evil.) It’s Bo’s way of doing something original, something the world will notice. Latimore gets that.

“I definitely relate to going the extra mile to do something you love, to break into an industry that’s over-saturated. You want to do something that sticks out,” Latimore explains. “I always try to do things that are outside-the-box. It’s a perfect time for that. No one’s looking for things that are cliched. Everyone’s looking for something new.”

Juggling an acting and a music career is tough these days. To be a successful musician, you don’t only have to be original; you have to be prolific.

“A lot of my peers, their attention spans are very short,” explains Latimore. “If you’re an artist like Drake, who dropped three albums in one year — he never stops putting out projects — it’s almost like forcing people to love you, forcing them to pay attention. You can’t just put out one project every two or three years. Things get old as soon as they explode.”

Lately, Latimore has been reaching outside of his comfort zones, music-wise. In addition to devouring endless hip-hop (“probably too much hip-hop”), he’s been turning to a lot of county, too. “Country has some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard,” he says. 

But Latimore still has one foot in acting. When he filmed “Detroit,” he was blown away by making a difficult film about harrowing subject matter, involving racial profiling and white cops who killed three innocent black men and wounded nine others, including two women.

“It was probably the most emotional set I’ve ever been on,” Latimore recalls. “You had everyone breaking into tears, even the ones playing the cops. They were breaking character over what was going on in the story, what was going on in those scenes. It was tough for all of us. But it was a time to come together as brothers of all colors and really tell this story.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge