“I’m not the typical Joe Sidekick in this movie,” Larenz Tate said in a recent Dallas interview of his role in “A Man Apart,” in which he plays Demetrius Hicks, the partner of DEA agent Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel), who’s torn when his buddy pushes too hard to track down his wife’s drug-dealing killers. “Vin and I talked about it. We wanted [the characters] to be best friends and real friends. I do a lot of movies, and oftentimes you don’t get a chance to have the kind of chemistry that you really need. For [Vin] to understand that being friends–the loyalty factor in this movie–was important. I thought that was really good on his part. I’m the kind of friend who’ll cuss him out if I have to. I think that’s really good for Vin [as Vetter]. It shows he’s a human, not some super-human or supernatural figure.”

The pairing of Diesel and Tate was no accident; they’ve been looking for a project to do together for some time. “Vin has been working for a long time, and a lot of people haven’t really recognized the stuff he’d done early on,” Tate explained. “He’s been trying for years to do his thing as an actor. In fact, he also directed an independent movie [‘Strays’] that played at Sundance the same year that I had ‘Love Jones’ [there]. He had to create roles and things on his own, and I really respect and admire him for doing that. We had been trying to find something for awhile–we just didn’t know what that movie was. He and I are good friends, and we were just trying to figure a way to incorporate that brotherhood in a real way. And ‘A Man Apart’ seemed to be tailor-made for the both of us.” When Diesel was offered the lead in the picture, Tate said, he “was adamant about doing this movie with me.” A third buddy was added to the equation when F. Gary Gray was picked to direct. “He’s really great with all the action,” Tate said, “but he also has really rich characters as well. There’s always a good rhythm between characters in his films, so we thought he would be ideal as well.”

Tate emphasized what set Vetter and Hicks apart from most law-enforcement figures seen on the screen. “It’s cool that these cops aren’t the typical cops,” he said. “These guys happen to be from the street, they’re from the inner city, they come from this world. But as opposed to being a product of the environment, they decided to become cops and be part of the solution, as opposed to being part of the cause of the problem. And I think because they come from the street and know the lingo and know the mindset of the people who deal in drugs, it makes them better cops, sort of separates them from the usual undercover cop.” He mentioned one sequence, in which Hicks talks a barricaded dealer out of a house where all his associates had been killed, as revealing. “It was really important to have that scene,” he emphasized, “to show that these cops really know how to talk to people and communicate in a real way, because they’re speaking from the same place.” The overall tone, moreover, is far grittier than in many action films. “We didn’t want to make a pretty movie,” Tate explained. “It’s dark in a lot of ways, and we wanted to put it in your face so you are a bit disturbed, but intrigued at the same time.”

Tate, a Chicago native whose film career began with “Menace II Society” in 1993 and went on to include “The Inkwell,” “Dead Presidents,” “Love Jones,” “The Postman,” “Who Do Fools Fall in Love, ” “Love Come Down” and “Biker Boyz,” prepared for his role in “A Man Apart” by spending some time with family members who happen to work in the narcotics division of the Windy City’s police department. “They said, ‘Do you want the Hollywood version or do you want the real stuff? We can’t give you the Hollywood version–we don’t know that,'” he recalled. “And I said, ‘I’m here for the real version. Let me do the Hollywood thing later.'” Tate went out on the job with them as a spectator. “I saw how they dealt with informants, and even met some of them,” he said. And were the informants willing to talk to the actor? “Yeah,” he said, laughing. “They were fans!”

Tate’s next role will be a small one, but one he’s anxious to play–that of the young Quincy Jones in Taylor Hackford’s “Unchain My Heart,” a biopic about Ray Charles starring Jamie Foxx. “It’s a cameo,” he said. “But it’s a really pivotal role.” One that Jones himself encouraged him to take.