January 14, 2000

From Basketball to Boxing Cylk Cozart in "Play It To The Bone"

By Dana Rosenfeld Gordon

In Touchstone Pictures' new comedy, "Play It To The Bone" starring Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson as best friends and professional boxing rivals, actor Cylk Cozart portrays Rudy, an ex-boxer gone corporate whose heart and soul is still inside the boxing ring.

For Cylk Cozart, it is his love of children and helping others less fortunate that led him to Hollywood and what continues to underscore his reason for being a performer. Growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, Cozart's life is replete with a devoted family and circle of friends, a successful burgeoning acting career and numerous gratifying philanthropic efforts.

In high school, Cozart excelled as sports and was one of the best players on both the basketball and football teams. His academic accomplishments were also as impressive having graduated with high marks. Upon graduating, Cozart attended junior college in North Carolina on a basketball scholarship and then transferred to King College in Bristol, Virginia where he majored in Child Psychology.

While immersing himself in academic life, Cozart also continued his athletic pursuits. "I wanted to get drafted in the NBA but there was no chance of that happening since the games I played in college didn't get any national TV coverage. Without television coverage, you might as well just play at the Y," he laughs.

After graduating from Kings College, he tried out for summer league basketball and then rookie camp where NBA scouts were certain to spot him. Cozart recalls, "During my last week of summer league tryouts, I ran out of money and I had no idea how I was going to pay for my remaining days at the hotel. It wasn't until I went to talk with the hotel's proprietor to ask if I could have some time in paying back my hotel bill that I found out that the Denver Nuggets had picked up the bill without me even knowing about it. I thought that I had made it to the pros!"

Unfortunately, Cozart was a Denver Nugget in name only as he fractured his left leg before pre-season began. "My whole life I wanted to play pro-ball and then this happened. I was devastated." Little did Cozart know what fate had in store for him.

Not able to play basketball that season, Cozart searched his heart to find an alternative to professional basketball. He explains how his acting career came about in a most circuitous way.

"Back in school, I had written a thesis on historic criminal events which led to a brief internship with the Atlanta Police Department. What resulted was me getting involved with showing kids all these educational short films about domestic violence, gun control and how to live as safely as you can. Well, I remembered how bad the acting was in these films and how much better I thought I could do it. So, with that, after considering that my athletic career was on hold indefinitely, I headed for Miami."

After having been accepted to the prestigious Actors' Studio, he paid his bills by becoming a model appearing in numerous publications such as Vogue, GQ and Essence. Embracing his new love of acting, Cozart continued to hone his skills and then went on to train at the American Repertory Theatre and the Sundance Institute under the tutelage of Robert Redford. After much dedication to his dramatic craft, Cozart embarked on a series of prominent stage performances including "Diary of a Black Man" and "The Big Knife."

With the confidence of a young actor who had proven himself on the legitimate stage, he decided to pursue the television medium. He appeared in sitcoms such as "Amen" and "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" movies of the week to include "Johnny Tsunami" for Disney, "Any Day Now" on Lifetime, "Slam Dunk Ernest" and "A Family Divided" for NBC. He also appeared as a series regular on NBC's "Reasonable Doubts," ABC's "Gabriel's Fire," and HBO's "Dream On." His early filmwork included roles in "School Daze" directed by Spike Lee, "Firebirds" with Nicholas Cage & Tommy Lee Jones, "White Men Can't Jump," "Blue Chips," "Love Affairs."

In "Play It To The Bone," a film about two best friends and professional boxing rivals who get the chance of a lifetime to fight against each other in Las Vegas, Cozart reunites with his "White Men Can't Jump" director Ron Shelton and co-star Woody Harrelson.

"Ron called me in for a meeting and handed me a script," explains Cozart about landing the role of Rudy. "Ron told me that Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson were already cast in the film but he didn't mention anyone else. He asked me to read the script and tell him what I thought. When I got back with him and he told me he wanted me for the role of Rudy, I said, `Great, when do we start?'

"Ron and I go back a few years and he knows my work —he knows whether or not I'm going to fit into a role. He doesn't just put friends into his movies. He casts whom he considers the perfect person for the part.

Cozart describes the film. "Basically it's about two best friends who have been in search of love and success in the boxing world and over the course of six hours they find what they've been looking for in many ways. This film shows the boxing world as it really is —how cut throat it is— and how certain people make decisions without any regard to what happens to the fighters once they're gone. It shows both the dark and light side to boxing."

As an athlete, Cozart did not have to do much research to understand Rudy. "I'm an ex-kick boxer and I'm in pretty good shape," he says very modestly, "and I know the fight game. I still have friends in the boxing world and no matter how long you've been out of the ring —with all the bobbing and ducking— physically, once you're a boxer you're always a boxer. Relating to Rudy was like second nature to me.

With an impressive list of film credits to his name including, "In The Line Of Fire," "Blue Chips," "Love Affair," "Eraser," "Conspiracy Theory," and the simultaneous release of "Three To Tango" and "Play It To The Bone," Cozart considers his greatest role to be that of humanitarian and philanthropist for those in need.

"I had a strong family to lean on who taught me that there's not one person better than another," says Cozart. "I learned to surround myself with positive people. And having money doesn't make you happy. I have friends who are millionaires and friends who work in grocery stores. If you don't have the right spirit in you it's impossible to be happy in life."

His compassion, understanding and capacity to love are exemplified by his devotion to numerous charities and altruistic events. Cozart is the spokesperson for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and is the founder of the Annual MS Hoops for Help Basketball Charity Game, a non-profit star-studded event. His kindhearted sensitivity makes him feel it's imperative to utilize his celebrity status to advocate several special community groups such as The Boys and Girls Clubs, the NAACP, the Right Track Youth Foundation, and numerous non-profit celebrity sports tournaments and fun-raisers for AIDS research. He was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in recognition of his outstanding charitable efforts and accomplishments.

Cozart feels blessed by his fortune of being a successful actor. "If the day comes that I can't act anymore, experience has taught me to roll with the punches and to roll with life. Change is hard when you're going through it but then you realize it wasn't so bad-especially when you are so rewarded by the change."

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