[Interview] ‘COFFEE & KAREEM’s Terrence Little Gardenhigh is a rising comedic superstar


Courtney Howard// Film Critic

Actor Terrence Little Gardenhigh (Nickelodeon’s DANGER FORCE), relishes being funny and making others laugh. He especially loves making his parents proud. At his young age, his magnetic comedic presence looms larger than his current height, but it won’t be long before that equals out. His hilarious performance in COFFEE & KAREEM, an uproarious comedy about a cop (Ed Helms) and his girlfriend’s 12-year-old son (Gardenhigh) reluctantly teaming up to battle gangsters and corrupt cops in Detroit, marks his feature film debut. Full of irreverent humor, raucous action and a sweet splash of heart, the movie serves as a spectacular springboard to launch Gardenhigh’s career.

Have you ever sworn so much in your life than you do onscreen in this?

No. Never. This movie was definitely an experience for me. I would probably never be able to cuss that way in a million years. I definitely enjoyed being able to do it though (laughs). To saw curse words, get paid and not get into trouble, yeah that’s amazing.

Considering your young age and how irreverent the adult humor leans were you, your parents and management approached to do this movie any differently than DANGER FORCE? 

Mmm. No, not really.

You’ve got such great chemistry with Ed and Taraji. Was it hard to keep it together when you did scenes with them and did you learn anything from the time you spent with them?

It was amazing. I learned a lot. One of the things I learned from Miss Taraji, or “Mama T” as I like to call her, she taught me less is more. That was something that helped me a lot. Mister Ed taught me to always follow my instincts. That helped me as well.

Being funny was definitely something that happened on set. I was laughing so much that I was laughing when I was supposed to be serious. And that wasn’t gonna work out. I had a lot of fun.

How did you steady yourself? What was your internal thinking?

There was really nothing I could tell myself. I would laugh like three times and then [it was] “deep breath in, deep breath out. Okay. Get it together.”

What were some of the qualities you saw in Kareem on the page that you wanted to bring out in your performance? What was your connection with this character?

He’s really a nice kid at heart, but he puts on this attitude and acts like a tough guy. It’s sort of like a shield, you could say. We were alike in a few ways: we are mama’s boys. We love our mamas to death. We will do anything and everything to protect them. But there were definitely ways we weren’t the same: our mouths. Our colorful language.

Did you have to audition for the role – and were you confident about it after?

Yes, we had to audition. I was pretty confident in myself. The audition process – all the call-backs and chemistry reads – that was very stressful as well. I’m not a very patient person. I’m pretty impatient so waiting to hear if I got it or not was like, “Oh Lord” (laughs). I don’t know specifically [how long the wait to hear was]. It could’ve been 4 weeks, but, to me, it felt like a year.

I know you get to say the line referencing Netflix in the movie, but did you know at the time this was going to be on Netflix? 

I’m not sure I knew. I believe I did.

Terrence Little Gardenhigh and Ed Helms in COFFEE & KAREEM. Courtesy of Netflix.

Tell me about some of the stunts you got to do. Did you like doing them and which was your favorite?

I loved doing the stunts. I wish I could’ve done all of them. My favorite stunt was probably driving the car. That. Was. Amazing. It was like being on a rollercoaster but it felt like I had complete control over everything.

There were also night shoots. Was that brutal or super fun for you because staying up late as a kid is always fun?

(laughs) The night shoots didn’t really affect me too much, because me and my mom, we usually stay up all night anyways. It was really my domain.

Have you always wanted to be an actor – specifically a comedic actor?

I don’t remember what age it started at. In Washington, I was in this dance team and we went to Disneyland to do a competition. I came back with stars in my eyes. I said, “Mommy. I wanna be an actor.” “Alright, that’s nice. Go sit down.” I start practicing and practicing and here I am now.

Is there someone in your family, or group of friends, that you really strive to make laugh? How gratifying is it once you get that laugh?

I love making my mom and my dad laugh because they make me laugh all the time. So I look up to them as really funny people. Being able to make them laugh makes me feel great!

Since you’re in a comedy, I’m curious if there are comedic actors you love?

Ed Helms. Samuel L. Jackson. He is so funny. He is so funny. You know what’s so funny about Samuel L. Jackson? My dad looks just like him. He does! (laughs)

What movie brings you joy whenever you watch it?

A movie that I can watch over and over and over again forever is THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I don’t know why, but there’s something about that movie that I love.

How did being in this movie satisfy you creatively?

My mom and dad were proud of me. I walked away from this movie feeling like I made my mom and dad proud.

COFFEE AND KAREEM begins streaming on April 3.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.