Philadelphia barbers get answers from 'Barbershop: The Next Cut' cast

Career. Family. Community. Philadelphia barbers provide an insight into barbershop culture and step into the role of Hollywood reporter.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- "This is the town I love. A neighborhood of family and friends. And right here at the heart of it all is where everything comes together - the barbershop."

Those are the words spoken by Ice Cube's character Calvin in the trailer for the motion picture 'Barbershop: The Next Cut,' but they can certainly be echoed in any barbershop around Philadelphia.

In the film, Calvin's shop becomes the foundation to keeping the community together. Just like in the previous two films in the series, Calvin's is a place where people go, not only for a haircut, but to connect and talk about the world.

PHOTOS: Scenes from 'Barbershop: The Next Cut'

Ice Cube, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last week, recently visited Philadelphia to promote his latest film, the first 'Barbershop' movie in 12 years. But as he sat in his chair awaiting our questions, along with co-star Deon Cole of ABC's Black-ish, Ice Cube was in for a little surprise.

Our premise: In the film, actors portray barbers, so we thought who better to ask questions to the movie stars than actual real-life barbers? And not just any barbers.

Philadelphia barbers.

It's your classic case of barbers acting like reporters asking questions to actors acting like barbers.

We reached out to two local barbers who work in different sections of Philadelphia - Faheem Alexander of Faheem's Hands of Precision in South Philadelphia and Nicholas Berardi III of Nic Grooming in Center City - not only for their questions, but for their own stories.

Each were excited at the opportunity to take on the reigns of reporter, especially for a story surrounding their cherished craft. For Faheem and Nick, barbering has been a part of their lives since they were both very young. They were both brought up into the unique Philadelphia barbershop culture.

"In a way, I guess I was born into barbering," Berardi said.

A photo from some years ago shows Nick Berardi with his family including his father who got him into the barbershop business.

Nick Berardi got into the barbering business thanks to his father who began his own apprenticeship in 1966. When Nick turned 15, he began training under his go-to barber - his dad. It also turned out, he had no problem finding willing customers to test his newfound talents.

"I remember cutting my friends after lacrosse practice in our home in a barber chair in the basement. I guess you could say they were my guinea pigs," Berardi said with a laugh.

Faheem, who has been in the business of cutting hair for 26 years, began working at a South Philadelphia neighborhood barbershop owned by a barber named Jazz, a friend of his mother's and the person who would become his mentor.

Jazz, Faheem recalls, was a former high school basketball star who became the neighborhood barber. Faheem would sweep the floors and keep the shop clean as he became Jazz's assistant. As soon as Faheem got to hold a pair of Jazz's clippers, he knew he had found his calling in life.

Faheem Alexander learning his craft in the barbershop of mentor, Jazz.

"I fell in love with the power going through my hands; it was an unbelievable feeling, a feeling which saved my life. I would run there after school each day to make a few quarters for myself; it was my little job. I learned to foster great relationships there as a young man," Alexander said.

Barber shops are a big business in Philadelphia. Faheem and Nick are two of many city coiffeurs. The latest numbers, according to the 2013 County Business Patterns and Non-Employee report from the U.S. Census Bureau, count 1,088 barbershops in Philadelphia County.

To put that number in perspective, there are approximately only 23 McDonald's restaurants in all of Philadelphia. Only 11 Wawa stores. And Starbucks? Only 36. And you thought there was one of those on every corner.

Barbershops have the city covered and Alexander is well aware that he is not alone.

"The barber scene in Philadelphia is very competitive. Philadelphia has always been known throughout the country as having the best barbers and styles of cutting. I'm very blessed to just have my name mention amongst the very best to come from Philly. The worst barbers here whom aren't that good are in line to be good if they practice the craft with grace and dedication," Alexander said.

Berardi sees the Philly barber scene as a blend of Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, but still has its own style. "Just a little grittier," he quipped.

Nick Berardi III cutting hair in his Center City barbershop.

As the barbers began thinking of their questions to submit to us, it became clear what was important to them as industry representatives - their customers and the society surrounding their shops.

"A barbershop often becomes the glue that holds a community together and they come to interact, it is not uncommon that the relationships formed keeps the clients returning for years - 30 to 40 years in my dad's case - even after they have moved out of the neighborhood," Berardi said.

Alexander says he works to keep his relationship at 100% because that is his brand. He wants their support and patronage as he himself makes sure he connects to the neighborhood outside the barbershop's doors.

"I believe a barber should be very involved in society. Barbers are like top of the food chain in the inner-city. That's a place where you can learn to become a man and make a social impact in your community," Alexander said.

VIDEO: Barbershop Red Carpet Premiere

In 'Barbershop: The Next Cut,' Ice Cube's character Calvin tries to teach his adolescent son Jalen played by Michael Rainey Jr. on what it takes to become an upstanding man in society. Faheem says he learned a lot about that in the barbershop growing up.

"Barbershops back in the day, 1980s and 1990s, were great places to be a part of especially if you came from a broken home and had no father figure; you definitely could find someone that you could admire and grow to be whatever your heart desires. Those days were great. I learned how to tie my shoe to meeting my first girlfriend. The barbershop taught me how to be a man and learn the true definition of brotherhood and responsibility," Alexander said.

Nick agrees that barbershops create a special bond between the barber and the customer, one where lessons, stories, and personal connections are formed.

"Barbering is something very special and often overlooked. As a barber, we are penetrating a personal boundary that is often reserved for family, close friends, or health professionals like doctors. When a client feels comfortable with this interaction and the cut is on point, a bond is formed that is hard to describe," Berardi said.

The customers Berardi and Alexander are speaking of are usually everyday Philadelphians, heading home from work, getting ready for a wedding or a holiday gathering, or stopping in for a much needed chat. But sometimes those customers are a little more well-known. In fact, Ice Cube and Deon Lewis are not the first celebrities these two barbers have come across.

"Well I cut a few Philadelphia sports personalities but my most notable was when Mandy Patinkin was in town doing a show at the Prince Theater and was recommended to me by the Sofitel hotel where he was staying. I cut his hair and he kept saying it was the best haircut he ever had and everyone laughed in the shop. The salon then received a call four months later from his agent to have me go to New York to cut him there. I have continued to go often," Berardi said.

Faheem has been the official barber to Philadelphia's own The Roots for close to two decades. He started cutting the hair of Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and his relationship with the group grew.

Faheem Alexander with one of his clients - Questlove of The Roots.

"It's been nothing but a blessing servicing them for the past 18 years. I'm very thankful for the many doors that have opened up. I have gotten to meet Mr. Tracy Morgan, very cool and funny fella, even serviced him several time. He used to tell me, 'Give me one those Steve Harvey shape-ups'," Alexander recalled with a laugh.

As the time approached for them to submit their questions for the Hollywood stars, it was clear both were familiar with the 'Barbershop' films.

"Huge fan! It's a well scripted series - you would think Ice Cube is a real barber in life. He brings Calvin in the movies alive! It reminds of me of myself a lot as an owner of a shop," Alexander said.

"I always got a kick out of the dramatized representation of what we are about and what we do; some scenes are very close to reality and some not so much. Especially with the old guys verse the young guys in the shop - music, and style, likes and dislikes," Berardi said.

PHOTOS: Philadelphia barbers love what they do

With Ice Cube and Deon Cole awaiting our questions, we told them the setup of the interview.

"The following questions are from these two real-life barbers." Both Cube and Cole gave a smile.

It was now time to see what a Philadelphia barber would want to know from actors portraying them on the silver screen.

Nick's first question focused on the atmosphere of a barbershop:

How do you feel about the social interaction in the shop as to what you remember as a child growing up going to your local shop?

Ice Cube's response:

I think barbers are the therapists of the neighborhood, the guy who can hook you up. They're the guy who knows everything that's going on. They are like a bartender in a way. A guy you can tell your problems to. Sometimes they give you great advice, sometimes they got bad advice. The thing is they are somebody to talk to, sometimes that's all you need is a person to vent. We did this movie to give homage and to show barbers in the true light that they are. They are the unsung heroes of our neighborhoods because they keep our self-esteem so high.

Nick's second question concerned art imitating life:

Coming from the barbershop, we watch the movies and always get a kick out of the over the top depiction of what is only a small percentage of what we do; we consider ourselves craftsmen-psychologists. Do you find what you grew up with is an accurate depiction of the movie experiences?

Deon Cole's answer:

Absolutely. You have CNN. Our barbershop is CNN, it's CNN for like hoods and areas. Not only do we get our news, we voice our opinion about the news and make a valid point with others that might feel the way or indifferent. Barbershop is our CNN.

Ice Cube's answer:

The movie is more cinematically beautiful than the barbershop I used to go to. It's the same spirit and it's the same feel of the people and a place to socialize. We can't afford the country club. Our country club is usually a hangout spot and the barbershop is a great place to hangout. They have video game tournaments in the barbershop.

VIDEO: Philadelphia barbers get answers from 'Barbershop' cast Part 2

In Faheem's first question, it was all about a barber's role in society:

As Calvin does in the movie, do you think it's important for a barber to get involved with community problems?

Ice Cube's answer:

Without a doubt. As much as they can. I'm not saying people should stick their neck out further than a turtle. I think if you can feel like you can help, inject your help. It's a good thing because a lot of people give you lip service but when someone shows you how much they care than it means more to you and it leaves an impression and imprint. My thing is do what you feel. You don't have to do more than you feel, do what you feel.

Faheem's second question centered on the role of Calvin and his portrayal of a barber:

In the movie, what drives Calvin to run a successful business?

Ice Cube's answer:

I think it's the same thing that drives Faheem. It's drive. It's dignity. It's understanding your worth to the community. It's understanding your position and playing your position. Barbers are not going to tell you they can solve your problems, but they can help you evaluate your problems. They can help you examine them, take a different look, maybe think from a different angle and make you look good and when you step out, you feel better about yourself anyway. As soon as you leave the barber chair, unless you don't like your cut, you leave a beautician, unless you don't like your hairdo, you feel better about yourself. You couldn't do it without them.

We ended the interview with a final question from Nick - one more on the jocular side.

Do you ever get the urge to learn how to cut like Sylvester Stallone did with boxing when he made Rocky?

Ice Cube's answer:

I'm going to leave that to the pros. There are some specialists out there and no way in the world am I going to take a quarter from them. Let them do what they do.

That's fine with Faheem and Nick. They have a lot more cutting to do in their barbershops.

And maybe some more reporting, too.

VIDEO: Barbershop stars donate to Philly schools

'Barbershop: The Next Cut' is now in theaters

Faheem's Hands of Precision
Nic Grooming
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