Foul-Mouthed Tween Pushes Cop to His Limit in Netflix’s ‘Coffee & Kareem’

It’s rarely a comfortable thing for a kid when their single parent starts seeing a new partner, but 12-year-old Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) has a particularly adverse reaction to his mother Vanessa’s (Taraji P. Henson) new beau (Ed Helms) in the Netflix comedy “Coffee & Kareem.” After Kareem accidentally witnesses his mom, a nurse, getting busy with Detroit police officer James Coffee, the outwardly badass seventh-grader is extra upset due to Coffee being a cop, and a white cop at that. The precocious tween attempts to get a local drug lord, Orlando Johnson (RonReaco Lee), who previously escaped from Coffee’s cop car, to deal with his would-be stepdad. However, in the process he accidentally witnesses a murder, and hilarity and outlandishness ensue as Coffee and Kareem find themselves forced to work together to not only save their own lives, but also Vanessa’s. 

Little Gardenhigh gives a breakout performance as Kareem, a budding rapper whose independent streak and creative use of profane language keep the adults around him on their toes. The young actor recently spoke with Entertainment Voice about “Coffee & Kareem,” beginning with what attracted him to his role. “The cussing, it really drew me in, and the stuff that was being said, this was stuff that I would never be allowed to say, because my mom would just go absolutely crazy. To be able to do that and get paid for it, say those things and not get in trouble, that was amazing.”

“Coffee & Kareem” is also packed with action, and not the type of watered-down action one usually sees in buddy films in which kids are paired with cops. This was another draw for Little Gardenhigh, who had a blast being a part of car chases and shoot-outs, something that really comes across onscreen. He even had the opportunity to drive a car himself for a stunt. But the scenes that are the most amusing are the ones in which Kareem tortures Coffee, and the young actor, who admitted he enjoyed playing a kid who challenges authority, holds his own against seasoned comic performer Helms. 

He went on to discuss his experience filming the violent climatic scene. “When we first did it, I was a little scared and I didn’t go to my correct spot because I was surprised. So I ended up just walking around like, ‘Wait, where am I supposed to go?’”

Another highlight of the film is Betty Gilpin as Linda Watts, Coffee’s colleague at the police department who has it out for him. Although screenwriter Shane Mack originally wrote the character as male, director Michael Dowse suggested the “GLOW” actress, a brilliant move, as Gilpin kills as the darkly and wickedly funny baddie, complete with a sharp tongue that rivals Kareem’s.

Despite the gun violence, mountains of coke, and a scene in a strip club (a personal favorite of Little Gardenhigh’s), there’s a lot of heart and real emotions in “Coffee & Kareem,” especially when the duo find themselves facing possible death. Little Gardenhigh opened up about shifting from being a foul-mouthed, cocky kid to being vulnerable. “I’m not the kind to necessarily like doing scenes like that. I’m a comedy guy, but when it comes to it, it definitely brings a lot out of me that I didn’t know that I had.”

According to Little Gardenhigh, Helms and Henson both imparted useful wisdom during filming. “Taraji, or Mama T, as I like to call her, she gave me the tip ‘less is more,’ and that is something that I will never forget. And Mr. Ed, he gave me the tip to always go with my instincts. That’s something that I use to this day. That’s helped me out in everything that I do.”

Little Gardenhigh went on to reveal how that bond that Kareem and Vanessa share is something that came from his own life. “Me and Kareem, we relate in the way we’re both mama’s boys. We love our moms with all of our hearts. We would really do anything to protect them.”

Coffee & Kareem” begins streaming April 3 on Netflix.