Home Interviews A Tête-à-Tête With The Great Actor: Blair Underwood
A Tête-à-Tête With The Great Actor: Blair Underwood PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kam Williams   
Saturday, 11 February 2012 18:55

 

Blair Underwood was born in Tacoma, Washington on August 25, 1964, but raised as an Army brat all over the country and also in Europe. After studying drama at Carnegie Mellon University, he embarked on a distinguished career which has included work in theater, on television and in feature films.  Though he made his big screen debut in 1985 in Krush Groove, the hunky heartthrob really  (Underwood was voted one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2000) found fame a couple of years later when he joined the ensemble cast of NBC's L.A. Law. A four-time winner of the NAACP's Image Award, he has also appeared on such TV shows as Sex and the City, A Different World, Knight Rider and The Cosby Show. His extensive list of movie credits include Malibu's Most Wanted, Full Frontal, Rules of Engagement, Deep Impact, Gattaca, and  Madea's Family Reunion, to name a few.  Furthermore, he has published a book inspired by his son, Paris, entitled, Before I Got Here: The Wondrous Things We Hear When We Listen to the Souls of Our Children.   

As a philanthropist, Underwood co-founded in 1989 Artists for a New South Africa, a non-profit organization dedicated to democracy and equality in South Africa.  The actor is a part of several charitable organizations.  Underwood got the 1993 Humanitarian Award for his work with the Los Angeles chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  In 2003, along with Ashley Judd, Underwood served as the spokesperson for YouthAIDS.  Moreover, he also appeared in a 2004 public service announcement for The Fulfillment Fund.  The actor supported President Barack Obama's candidacy and spoke at campaign rallies for Mr.  Obama. Underwood got to know Obama while researching his L.A. Law role at Harvard Law School, when Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review.  On a more personal level, on September 17, 1994, Underwood married Desiree DaCosta, with whom he has three children, Paris, Brielle, and Blake. 

In this revealing tête-à-tête, Blair shares his thoughts about an array of subjects, plus his latest flick, G, an update in blackface of The Great Gatsby, where he plays a bourgie brother whose wife falls for a gangsta rap mogul.


This Interview was conducted in 2002.

 

KAM WILLIAMS TALKS TO BLAIR UNDERWOOD


Kam Williams (KW): Blair, I really loved this film. What made you decide to do it?

Blair Underwood (BU): Oh, I'm glad. Well, first of all, thank you for checking it out. It was a couple of things. First, that it had something contemporary in the hip-hop culture and the music. Second, that it fused all that with the elite, society world of The Hamptons.

KW: I found it to be such a clever adaptation of The Great Gatsby, because it preserved all the novel's themes. And it was very interesting to see those parallels in a black world.

BU: Exactly. It's interesting that you mention that, because those parallels are, basically, real-life, human relationships themes we all have had to deal with, if you've been married or in a relationship or fallen in love.   We are all kind of searching for love and trying to find happiness in our own different ways. And that's really what these three main characters in the love triangle are trying to do.

KW: It unfolds almost like a Shakespearean drama.

BU: Right, classic themes.

KW: I also found this interesting because I've seen a lot of ghetto fabulous gangsta flicks, and then a separate genre of middle class-themed, black films like The Best Man and that one with Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan.

BU: Brown Sugar?

KW: Yes, Brown Sugar. But this is the first film I remember which features a clash of ghetto and bourgeois blacks in such a realistic fashion.

BU: I'm glad to hear you say that. I love movies, and you probably have seen more movies than I have. Diary of a Mad Black Woman, for instance, had elements of that, but because of the Madea character, it puts it into a different genre.

KW: Right, it was more of a slapstick comedy, than an attempt to make any serious social statements. I see that you are going to be in the sequel, Madea's Family Reunion. Have you started working on that yet?

BU: Oh, yes. We wrapped that this summer. That will be out February 24th.

KW: How was it working with Tyler Perry?

BU: I had big fun, because I love to laugh, and to have a good time. And we did just that the whole summer long. And we had a great cast, Boris Kodjoe, Lynn Whitfield, Jennifer Lewis, and some new faces you haven’t seen before in two of the female leads. And of course, Tyler Perry doing his thing.

KW: And Cicely Tyson.

BU: That's right, Cicely Tyson and Dr. Maya Angelou.

KW: How was it making G?

BU: It was amazing because it started out as a play downtown in The Village, in New York City. Andrew [producer/co-star Andrew Lauren] had seen the play, and bought the rights to it. What was great about it was that, like the movie Rent that's coming out soon, the majority of the cast in the movie actually did the play. Ultimately, it serves the film better. For us, everybody had been in the play except for Richard T. Jones and myself. It makes a big difference when a production has been nurtured to a certain point. It was refreshing for us to arrive and find that there was already this camaraderie and timing and seasoning among the cast members who had been there since the very beginning.

KW: Recently, you did a one-man play, IM4. That must have been challenging?

BU: Just the idea of doing a one-man show was very intimidating, to say the least. To be on stage for an hour and a half by yourself.

KW: What made you do the play, then?

BU: I was really fascinated by the question of how would Dr. Martin Luther King think of and respond to the hip-hop culture of today.

KW: So what was IM4 about?

BU: The overriding theme was, what are you for? What are you about? What is your life committed to, if anything at all? The basic premise of IM4 was that you had a rap mogul like a G, or a Diddy, or Jay-Z, or R. Kelly who gets shot and goes to what he thinks is Heaven, it's actually Purgatory, and meets the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King.

The play is all about that juxtaposition and that dialogue between the two of them, although we incorporated about eight or nine different characters throughout the production.

KW: And you played them all?

BU: Yeah, one-man only?

KW: That must have been very demanding.

BU: It was, both physically and emotionally exhausting. But it was also a rewarding experience in many ways, and I'm glad I did it.

KW: Have you observed the tensions between the hip-hop and older generations?

BU: Sure.

KW: What do you think about it?

BU: I don’t know that it's that different than the tensions which have always existed, traditionally, between the young, the idealistic, the older and the more conservative. Every generation has had that. The ones who have learned from their mistakes try to teach the young. It's funny. I just had a conversation the other day with my six year-old daughter about what a rebel is. I was teaching her that Jesus was a rebel, and that Martin Luther King was a rebel, and that a rebel is not necessarily a bad person. That sometimes laws are unjust or not right in her language. Sometimes the laws need to be fixed. Historically, it has almost always been the youth who are the rebels, who buck the system. Sometimes the system needs to be fixed. So, I find great inspiration in the youth, and now, in the hip-hop generation.

KW: Do you like rap?

BU: Some things I advocate, some things I don’t. I'm very close to it, because my very first film was a movie called Krush Groove.

KW: Do you think that NBA players should be allowed to walk around looking like ghetto gangstas? Do you think the new dress code is a racist attack on hip-hop culture?

BU: I really don’t know enough about it to comment on whether it's an attack on the culture.

KW: When I was a kid growing up in the Fifties, to be cool, you had to wear Converse sneakers. If not Cons, the next best thing was Keds, then P.F.  But despite me and my siblings our clamoring for the popular brand of sneakers, and for leather jackets and cashmere sweaters I saw on my sports idols, my parents didn’t cave into our misguided appetites for conspicuous consumption. So, I appreciate the NBA dress code, even though it might be unfair to the players. I saw that you also did a movie called Something New written by Kasi Lemmons. When is that being released?

BU: That will be out February 3rd. It basically revolves around Sanaa Lathan's character who is a successful, intelligent businesswoman.  She is single and looking for a man. After she falls in love with a white man, her brother, played by Donald Faizon, introduces her to the character I play. We go on a few dates and I throw a wrench into her whole program.

KW: What was life like for you when you broke so big on L.A. Law as the country's new handsome hunk?

BU: [Laughs] It was phenomenal, because I was single and I was loving life.  I enjoyed the dating scene. It affected and altered my life in every way possible, for the better. You know, I was only 21 when I came on the show. I was there for seven years and it was just a great roller coaster ride. By the time I got married at 30, I was very much ready for the next chapter of life, i.e., a family. Now, my wife [actress Desiree DaCosta] and I are very happily married with three kids, and I don’t feel like I missed anything.

KW: One last thing. I call it the Jimmy Bayan question. He's a good friend who lives in L.A. and he always bugs me to ask celebs where they live, not that he's a stalker or anything.

BU: Sure, I live in Sherman Oaks.

KW: Well Blair, thanks for the time, and again, I really liked the film.

BU: I appreciate you seeing it, number one, and I'm so glad that you liked it. Please spread the word.

KW: I will.

BU: Thanks a lot.

 

 

The DVD is available via www.amazon.com or. ca and www.barnesandnoble.com

 


Filmography

 

Movies

1985    Krush Groove

1992    The Second Coming

1993    Posse

1995    Just Cause

1996    Mistrial

1996    Set It Off

1997    Gattaca

1998    Asunder

1998    Deep Impact

1999    The Wishing Tree

2000    Rules of Engagement

2002    Truth Be Told

2002    G

2002    Full Frontal

2003    Malibu's Most Wanted

2004    Fronterz

2004    Do Geese See God?

2005    Straight Out of Compton 2

2005    The Golden Blaze

2006    Something New

2006    Madea's Family Reunion

2007    Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience

2007    The Hit

2011    The Art of Getting By

2011    I Will Follow

2011    Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day

2012    Macbett (The Caribbean Macbeth)

2012    The True Friendship Or Not?..

Television

1985    Knight Rider

1985    The Cosby Show

1985    The Cosby Show

1985–86    One Life to Live

1987    Scarecrow and Mrs. King

1987    21 Jump Street

1987–94    L.A. Law

1988    Mickey's 60th Birthday

1989    The Cover Girl and the Cop

1990    Murder in Mississippi

1990    Heat Wave

1991    A Different World

1993    Story of a People

1993    Father & Son: Dangerous Relations

1996    Soul of the Game

1996–97    High Incident

1998    Mama Flora's Family

2000    City of Angels

2003–04    Sex and the City

2004–05    Fatherhood

2004–05    LAX

2006    Covert One: The Hades Factor

2006–08    The New Adventures of Old Christine

2007    Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

2007    Dirty Sexy Money

2008    In Treatment

2010–11    The Event

Awards/nominations


•    Golden Globes

o    2009, Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series or Mini-Series or Television Special: "In Treatment" (Nominated)
o    1991, Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series or Mini-Series or Television Special: "L.A. Law" (Nominated)

•    Grammy Awards

o    2009, Best Spoken Word Album: "An Inconvenient Truth" (Winner)

•    Image Awards

o    2011, Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: "The Event" (Nominated)
o    2009, Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: "In Treatment" (Nominated)
o    2009, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: "Dirty, Sexy, Money" (Nominated)
o    2009, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (Nominated)
o    2008, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: "Dirty, Sexy, Money" (Nominated)
o    2008, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (Nominated)
o    2005, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: "Sex & the City" (Nominated)
o    2004, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: "Sex & the City" (Nominated)
o    2001, Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: "City of Angels" (Winner)
o    2001, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Rules of Engagement (Winner)
o    1999, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Mini-Series or Dramatic Special: Mamma's Flora's Family (Winner)
o    1997, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Mini-Series or Dramatic Special: Soul of the Game" (Nominated)
o    1997, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Set It Off (Nominated)


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About the author of this interview:  Kam Williams is a syndicated film and book critic who writes for 100+ publications around the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada and the Caribbean.  He is a member of the New York Film Critics Online, the NAACP Image Awards Nominating Committe and Rotten Tomatoes.  He is a contributor to TheLopp21.com, eurweb.com and so on.  He is also a columnist for our Web Magazine www.megadiversities.com.  Some of Williams' articles are translated into Chinese.  In 2008, he was voted Most Outstanding Journalist of the Decade by the Disilgold Soul Literary Review.  Kam Williams is an erudite Lawyer who holds four degrees:  a BA in Black Studies from Cornell University, an MA in English from Brown University, an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and a J.D. from Boston University.  Kam Williasm is a member of the Bar in JJ, NY, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.  He lives in Princeton (New Jersey) with his wife and son.   Kam Williams can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .