October 19th, 2000
Sidney Poitier
Filmmaker Interview - Lee Grant

Lee Grant, Director of AMERICAN MASTERS SIDNEY POITIER: ONE BRIGHT LIGHT, acted with Poitier at the pinnacle of his popularity, in 1969’s groundbreaking film IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.

Grant: “The performances in IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT went way beyond the screenplay. Sidney and Rod Steiger found a chemistry in each other that formed a new truth, in a previously unexplored relationship.

My character in the film was an Eastern woman who had never been exposed to racist attitudes. My husband was murdered in a small Southern town and Sidney’s character has to break the news to me.

I know what you go through when you learn someone close to you has died. What I wanted to do, was create it on film. Sidney and I found a feeling for each other — it was almost a dance. When I saw the movie, I realized how careful he was with me, so careful. You don’t need a love scene to show love. I had so much gratitude for him as an actor. He was the star of the movie, but he danced with me, with so much generosity.”

“When I became a director, I wanted to take that shared experience and convince a very reluctant Sidney into allowing me to go on the journey of his life. Sidney had gone ahead of every other African American actor, every Asian American actor, every actor of color that was kept out of being on film in a leading role — with a bit in his mouth, pulling everyone over the finish line. My instinct was that it was his childhood in the Bahamas (plus, of course, his great talent and the fact that he’s gorgeous) that gave him the innocence and fearlessness to fight racism wherever he found it. And so, this documentary was a kind of rounding out of what had begun in that scene in IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT — and ended with an excursion through Sidney’s life, which was, to me, a very triumphant journey.”

“Last year at the 2002 Academy Awards, when Halle Berry won an Oscar as leading lady and Denzel Washington as leading man, it was the end of another kind of circle — 39 years since Sidney had broken through, winning as Best Actor for LILIES OF THE FIELD. Every actor in the room honored Sidney for being there so many years before. And, everybody was so moved to be at a place where history was being made again. It was tangible.

We finally caught up to Sidney, and that same year Sidney was honored by the Academy with the Lifetime Achievement award.”

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Salinger

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