Speaker I don't know. I think certain people I don't know if there are choices of what you want to be, I think they are choices to pursue it. You know, and I know for me was something that I excelled at. It was something that grounded me and gave me purpose and I think gave me, more importantly, self-esteem.

Speaker And I think that was interesting when, you know, growing up, even in elementary school, I was always attracted to artistic things, whether it was, you know, dance or plays or skits, loved movies, too young to know or even dare to dream about that type of thing because we're so removed from my environment. And, you know, I grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, and there had never been, you know, a there weren't really actors from Hartford, Connecticut. They wanted to definitely know minority actors. So there was a world I was so removed that I didn't, you know, dare to dream of doing it. But it was something that I was definitely attracted to. By the time I got to high school, it was a situation where my freshman year I was very, you know, cocky and, you know, discovering what it me ant to be, you know, this teenage boy and, you know, hormones and all of those things. And I was, you know, was a little wild. And and I remember I almost I was almost held back because my grades were were pretty bad. And I got into a play as a freshman. I did A Raisin in the Sun. And there was an there was an immediate change because there was a purpose. There was something that I responded to that was something that I felt that. I had success with I had talent, I wasn't, you know, my my brothers were more of the athletes they had. They excelled more there. I never had that kind of dedication if it was snowing outside.

Speaker I want to go outside and play football for too long. You know, they play for three hours. I play for half an hour.

Speaker I was much more, I think, interested in, you know, writing and creating things. And, you know, in high school when I was at that, I think very interesting stage as to where you're going and what path you know you're taking. There was a dramatic change in me, and my mother was smart enough to realize that. And she held it hostage over, you know, she held acting hostage. It was one of those situations where, you know, if your grades don't come up, you know, you're not going to be in this drama club if you don't, you know, keep your room clean if you don't listen. You know, all of these things.

Speaker And I actually became easy and became easy to I went from literally almost being held back to an honor roll student. And it was because I now had purpose and. And I think that, you know, particularly I grew up in an inner city situation and there was so many of my peers that didn't have purpose. And I didn't even know what purpose was, you know, back then. But but I stumbled. I stumbled into something that made me feel good and made me excel and made me push myself. And and it became ironically, I was doing a lot of things. It was the easiest thing because there was such love and passion for it, you know, in that environment.

Speaker Heartburn. That's happening there. Did you even know that you were a conservator?

Speaker I did. I didn't at all. You know, I was very I was very blessed.

Speaker You know, I grew up in a single parent household. And, you know, my mother was was everything. My mother was a very simple woman. And it definitely wasn't impressed by, you know, the things outside of Hartford, Connecticut, and raising her children. But I had a mentor by the name of Clay Stevenson, who lived part time in New York and part time in Connecticut. And I thought this was an extreme. He was very worldly man. He was very he was a brilliant man. And his dedication and commitment to the youth. He was always a part of youth programs at the Hartford Stage Company. And he sort of took me under his wing just because, you know, necessarily that I was more talented than anybody else.

Speaker But I think I was just committed, you know, and and he respected the commitment and he took the commitment. And I think he helped to shape that in to, you know, my potential, me realizing my potential, you know. So, you know, I grew up around very talented people. And I don't think it's you know, I'm this, you know, especially talented person. But I think that at 14, at 15 and 16, I keyed into commitment. I keyed into something that this works for me. I like it. I will do whatever I have to do to continue to it.

Speaker So anyway, he took me under his wing and he said, you know, I knew at 14 once the bug bit, I knew I wanted to be an actor. And he said, you know, you should apply to this school called Juilliard. And he assumed that I knew about it. And, you know, I had a sheltered existence, you know, at that time. And like I said, you weren't the tragedy. I think a lot of times with inner city kids, you know, such as myself is we weren't permitted a lot of times to dream beyond our immediate environment. So I didn't know what Juilliard was. But the fact that Clay Stevenson said this is a good school. I was so excited about it because, you know, he he said it was a good school. Then I started doing research and it was a little intimidating because I started realizing what Juilliard was and how prestigious it was. And it was just, you know, it was a little. It was it was it was a little intimidating, you know. And, you know, you constantly had people saying this is from from my peers to even guidance counselors and teachers, you know, basically pooh poohing on that and telling me not to, you know, not to go there, not to dream that way.

Speaker Clay always had faith in me. And so he worked with me on my audition piece.

Speaker And, you know, and every day I was getting more and more research, more and more information. And I remember the first time I got my first brochure I got from them of the theor from the theater department. It was a picture of Keith David on the cover playing Othello, and it blew me away. I hate that image.

Speaker And and it it it just gave me this this this renewed, you know, energy and commitment. And I just, you know, went after it. I worked really hard on my audition piece. And I, you know, went to New York and Clay was very mellow. I think he saw us. Clay saw things in me that I didn't see in myself.

Speaker And, you know, so we went did the audition.

Speaker And it was the first time that I was aware of my inner city speech patterns and, you know, dialect and. And, you know, a speech person, Robin Williams, and took me out in the hallway and he literally, like, took a Coleman, you know, put it in my mouth.

Speaker The handle of it was, you know, inspecting my mouth.

Speaker And I guess to see if I literally had any physical deformities as to why I was, you know, speaking the way that I spoke. And I was a bit concerned for them.

Speaker And, you know, they saw raw talent, but the technique was just, you know, completely being smothered. So, you know, so I went and at the time, I think maybe. Anywhere between 800 to 1000 people auditioned and they accepted 25. And I just remember I took a Greyhound bus from Hartford to New York and, you know, stayed with Clay in New York. And, you know, he helped me and I went back. I was feeling really good.

Speaker And shortly after I got my acceptance letter and, you know, when I told my mother, I'm like, I'm going to Juilliard, I'm going to you know, she had no idea. She had she had no idea. And she was more impressed with the fact that I was going to college, you know, and. And I didn't really have anyone outside of play to share for someone to really appreciate that this, you know, sheltered little skinny kid from Hartford, Connecticut, you know, is going to this you know, this is this world famous school.

Speaker So I just kind of kept quiet about it after a while because, you know, I know people were applying to Yukon and people were applying to Howard and Morehouse. And these these schools were much more well-known and popular in my community. No one no one really in my community even knew what Juilliard was. So it was a humbling experience because it was just sci fi. So I shouldn't have gone to college. You know, I went to college in New York, you know, and. And that, you know, that became a thing until and then when I got to New York was a very different story. You know, when people ask me, what do you do? I'm at Juilliard, you know. No music, no act, you know.

Speaker Yeah. That is if you take a minute break, just thinking about it. There are there you take one.

Speaker Yeah. I mean, what was the actual.

Speaker I did. I did King Lear. I did Edmond from King Lear the bastard speech. And my contemporary piece was. Wasn't Raisin in the Sun. It was. I can't I can't remember. I just. Two sisters raising. I can't. I can't remember. Happy ending, I think.

Speaker I can't remember. Oh.

Speaker I know that directorial directorial tantrum.

Speaker So was happy.

Speaker Yeah. It was a happy ending.

Speaker Douglas, was the audition scary for you? I mean, it's people talk about it about the. Now you've done a million theories.

Speaker Are you. Remember at the time.

Speaker Well, I think you know, I think it's it's a first and well, for me it was definitely a first. And it's a completely different situation and environment. And, you know, I can't remember I can't remember if I knew enough to really be scared or nervous. I didn't. Again, I was just going through a process of understanding what Juilliard really was and what I you know, I'm 18 years old and I get off the Greyhound bus and, you know, and by the time I make it up to Juilliard, you know, everything is influencing, you know, it's like it's a very modern building on 66 Street and Broadway. And I had never seen, you know, architecture like that, you know, and, you know, and so everything I think if you're an artist, I think everything informs you. Everything stimulates your senses, whether it's in an intimidating way or an exciting way. So, you know, it was very different. And then when I showed up there, I remember I was there all day and there was the process of elimination.

Speaker And I met I met kids from all over the country.

Speaker And at this point, you're talking about a lot of big fishes and small ponds, you know, a lot of big fish and small. And and it's it was weird, you know, and throughout the day, more and more of these people are disappearing because they're being eliminated.

Speaker And so, you know, these are realizing we're getting a little close to, you know, and. And so one big fish is gone and another. But you're still hanging around. So it was you know, I don't I don't know. I guess the fear factor was never in one fell swoop, you know? I mean, it was it was a process. It was a process that took the whole day. And then at some point, you you become numb because, you know, you've you've got up at five o'clock in the morning to catch the bus, to get to New York, to, you know, all these things. So at some point you become numb. And it was it was a hell of an experience.

Speaker And what did you think when you got there? I mean, you saw Steve suddenly in this classical classical, you know, Michelle's and need training. I mean, did you even really know what that word?

Speaker I know nothing. I knew absolutely nothing in regards to technique.

Speaker And I knew I knew emotion.

Speaker I knew I knew honesty.

Speaker You know, I think those were the only two things at that point I knew. And it's really funny because.

Speaker It became a hell of a challenge to hold onto those two things. And I still put those two qualities, you know, several years later.

Speaker You know, I still put those qualities up there as a priority. And I think that I realize, you know, with with with inner city speech patterns and, you know, poor diction and, you know, just horrible articulation. The thing that got me into Juilliard was the emotion and the honesty. You might not have understood what I was saying, you know, here. But you you you you knew this person was going through something here. And. And that's all I knew. You know, that's on I.

Speaker And what do you think in retrospect, I mean, you know, of the of the training, you're your first year. There were.

Speaker I have.

Speaker I have major praise for it. I have major criticism of it. I think that there are a lot of things that got in the way of of. The essence of their training, I think that there were some things that they didn't take into consideration. And so that a lot of time stopped the just basic essence of their training to be effective across the board. I saw a lot of people emotionally castrated. And I saw a lot of people who came in with some very basic, brilliant talent. Ultimately destroyed. And I saw some people reach incredible heights and success, and that's what it is. It's a balance. It's a thing of, you know, some will survive and some won't. You know, but I. And I was very, very protective. Again, I might not have known much going into that situation, but what I did know, I fought desperately to protect, you know, that I saw others. They didn't. And it cost them a lot of my classmates. I don't know that they're acting anymore because, you know, I've I've I've seen the I've seen the best ABAC I've seen and experienced the best and worst of Juilliard and the training I've received, the best and worst of it, you know. So it's weird. You know, at the end of the day, you'll always hear me say, if I had to do it again. Do the exact same thing. You know, it's a hell of a training. It's a it's an it's an incredible, incredible training. But it costs Cossie know and. It is weird because, you know, you're talking about for the most part, you know, 18 year old, you know, malleable minds. And you're talking about people that are really trying to define themselves as as adults and trying to, you know, this sexuality. There is independence from your parents. There is an integration. I went to school with I went to school with people that had never been around black people. You know, I went to school with I remember a guy told me the only black person he ever knew was his maid. And I came from a, you know, ninety nine point ninety nine percent black environment. And now I was put into a ninety nine percent white environment. And I'm 18. I'm young. I'm very impressionable. And I'm trying to define myself as a as a man. I'm trying to define myself as an artist. I'm trying to define myself as a black man. And in many other things. And you have a training situation where in essence. They are trying to strip you of a lot of those things, and I don't necessarily agree with that.

Speaker I say embrace the individual and what they bring and nurture and help that to fit into the structure that you're you know, I don't think acting is cookie cutter. I don't think art is can be, you know, cookie cutter type situation where no matter what you automatically have. I'm going to force you to be this shape, this, you know, to sound. I have a very specific idea what a leading man is supposed to sound like. And you have to sound like that. And I think that if I had to give criticism, both of myself and both of Juilliard, it is I don't know how ultimately versatile we were to each other. And I think it's a greater responsibility to an institute like Juilliard to. And I think that they've gotten better. Obviously, I think that they've been they've had more experience with minorities. They've had more experience with people of different backgrounds. They've had, you know, some. It is definitely my hope that they're not committing some of the. No crimes. Well, I think to you know, I think to destroy an artist's.

Speaker True talent is is a crime, and I think if you don't give them that confidence, you can do that. And again, I don't by no means I my depicting Giuliani as a, you know, the evil big brother or anything like that. But I think that there is a balance. And like I said, at the end of the day, if I had to do it again, I'd do the exact same thing.

Speaker Because when I left Juilliard, I had something that very few artists had, very few actors had. I had something particularly that very few minority actors have. And it became a huge, huge asset. I had technique. I had incredible technique. I had a classical training and. But, you know, there's the price of admission, there were there were things that, you know, that you you ultimately have to end up paying with and some some pay greater and higher costs than others.

Speaker You know, I, I survive my payment. And because of that, I think it's helped with my success.

Speaker And, you know, having gone through having gone through that, I left. I was asked to leave Juilliard after the first two years, which is there, you know, cut off point normally. And then I went to NYU and it's funny because my mentor, Clay Stevens, and I was devastated. I was when I was told that I wasn't gonna be asked back at 18, I had a very specific game plan. I would do Juilliard for four years. I would join the acting company. I would all based on this. Keith David photo of a fellow. And that to me was that was my world. So I had a very specific game plan. And then all of a sudden it was, you know, prematurely interrupted. And it was it was you know, I had two years of great training, but I wasn't ready. I knew I wasn't ready to get out there and start, you know, trying to be an actor. I was I was cut in, I think, June. So it was too late to really apply to other schools. I was devastated. It was truly one of the most devastating things in my life, you know. You know, at that age, at that at that period, it was it was it was absolutely devastating. And because I was giving everything that I had and I was taking private speech lessons, I was really working on my diction. And I was, you know, doing a lot of extra stuff because he consistently said that they had problems with, you know, my my speech patterns and my diction, et cetera. And I was determined, you know, I was determined that I was going to I was going to lick this thing.

Speaker So I I threw everything I had into it.

Speaker And it's interesting because they ended up putting so much pressure on me. I remember I went through the stage, through this interesting stage where I threw all the emotion away. I threw all of the all of the things that got me into Juilliard.

Speaker I put it aside and I started speaking like this. And I was making sure that I was you know, if I was doing my Shakespeare, I was hitting my, you know, iambic pentameter. I was doing this. I was, you know, and.

Speaker And it was very robotic and. And that's where part of the rebellion came in, which was I made a choice. You know, at 19, 20 years old, that I'd rather be the type of actor that maybe you don't catch all the words.

Speaker But you do catch all the emotion, and that was almost in direct conflict with where they wanted me to be at that point. I'm not saying ultimately they were going to work out this integration of the two, but I was fighting for that. And so when I was asked to leave, it was it was devastating and it was devastating. Ultimately, I think because now what was my game plan? So I went you know, I went back to my mentor and Clay Stephenson and I said, I don't know what to do. And he said, I think you should look at NYU and, you know, let me see if I can make a phone call and, you know, get you an audition. They're not having auditions. They they already they've selected their class. And and so I went down, I auditioned, and they accepted me as an advance student because of the training that I had at Juilliard. And they allowed me to come in and do two years, which ultimately meant that I graduated the exact same time I graduated. I graduated with my class from Juilliard and it was just the opposite. Now that this pressure of you have to conform, you have to do this, you have to do that. Once that was taken off, my speech and diction improved dramatically, you know, because I wasn't tense. I wasn't you know, I mean, I wonder if someone is telling you everything that you do is wrong. And you you know, after a while you're just defensive. And as an artist, you can't really you can't prosper that way, you know?

Speaker I mean, you can't create you can't because you're tense. You. You're not taking chances. Art is about taking chances. And you don't want to take chances because when you take a chance, they got to criticize you. They're going to tell you it's not good. You know, you can't hear. You don't understand. You can go, you know. And once that pressure was taken off, you just improve. So the balance for me was was awesome.

Speaker I know this isn't a piece about NYU, but the balance of the two. I had great technique, great classical training, and then I had a more relaxed environment. The people that I've seen have the most success at Juilliard were the people that found that there.

Speaker I'm I've got a lot of, you know, good friends, you know, Michael Beach, who, you know, went and he found that early. So he had better success with it. Ving Rhames, we were all in school together, you think took a year off. He was very smart because he took a year off or two years off, went to SUNY purchase, came back and graduated Juilliard. But he he understood and I always admired him for this because he understood what worked for him. I was just there. And so when I couldn't find any alternative, I fought and I resisted. And I thought, you know what? I'm holding on to my individuality. I'm holding on to what got me here and what why why I was accepted here. So, again, the criticism goes both ways. And it comes back to me and I accept full responsibility. I was I was a bit of a militant, you know, because, again, you're 18 years old. You know, you knew you know, you're just beginning to piece straight and, you know, someone is challenging you. Right?

Speaker You know? You know, it's just it was it was it was interesting.

Speaker So I guess I think it goes both ways. I think ultimately, the only criticism or true criticism that I had of Juilliard was I did feel there was a bit of hypocrisy in the sense that we were supposed to be using Eastern Standard speech, as, you know, the the barometer and the yardstick of everything. And I remember when I was asked to leave, there was a woman in my class who was from France, heavy, heavy French accent and. She was allowed to stay and I thought, well, at the end of the day, this woman has, as I have, a specific regional, as you know, specific regional speech patterns, et cetera. So there's this woman. But you're saying that someone with a heavy French accent is more acceptable than someone with, at that time, my inner city accent or dialect? It has to be one or the other. Either A, everyone has to conform to this small window. But if you go well, this one and even though this isn't Eastern Standard speech, this is more acceptable. This isn't just a speech. This isn't acceptable. And I have problems. I really had problems with the implications. And what that suggested to me is as I as a minority artist and there were things that supported that and I just I disagreed fiercely. And I you know, and that's that's when the militant came out and me and, you know, I made him a little nervous.

Speaker I used to walk around with a black glove on. I had a braid with, you know, red, black and green beads on it.

Speaker And a lot of it is just, you know, they're so defensively, it's all about this collaboration's group and it's such an undermining of like this sort of company concept that like half the companies gone. Right, left, right. You won't see. Yeah. Yeah. How was how were the conversations like when you when you expressed to them in your in your, you know, militant manner this feeling of hypocrisy? What was the response?

Speaker Well, I think, you know, unfortunately, again and I really I mean, I saw Widmaier I think Michael Beach had had the best outlook on the whole thing.

Speaker We were so intimidated by, you know, Juilliard and the structure. And if they tell you something, what you know, what ends up happening is when you empower them with this, you know, omnipotent, you know, type. Just say over. Over. You know, if they tell you something, it's gospel and. And, you know, Mike had a, you know, whatever attitude. More so about it. And I really admire that because I think that there were times, again, you know, literally I saw there was a I had a classmate, beautiful woman, beautiful, absolutely beautiful, with the warmest smile that she was.

Speaker She was always smiling and and just very friendly. And I remember seeing her one day after a day or so after we had critique because we had periodic critiques.

Speaker And I saw her and she was just so stoned. And I said I said, are you OK? So I'm fine. I'm fine. So I saw the next time Stone Face. So you sure you're OK? I'm fine. What's going on? She's as well. They told me I smiled too much.

Speaker And it blew me away because this beautiful I mean, his smile was just infectious, you know. And you know and you know what? We gave him that kind of power because we're 18 years old and we don't know. You tell us, you know. I mean, you tell us. And so my. I think.

Speaker Being militant or attempting to be militant was nothing more than than me trying to hold onto my gut was telling me something's not right. I didn't know enough to figure it out and know exactly what it was. I just knew something wasn't right. Something doesn't make sense about a person who has this incredible smile that just melts you and that you tell them they smile too much and they have to lose. You have too much edge. You know, you have this. You have you know, and you go who you know.

Speaker And you know, now I'm a director. And people come into a room.

Speaker And these are the qualities that help get them jobs, you know, someone that can someone that can, you know, do a scene, completely melt your heart or whatever, you know. And I don't think it was healthy. I didn't think it was healthy, you know.

Speaker Well, in retrospect, if I think about it, it's also probably what got you the biggest criticism. When you talk like a casting, that Juilliard voice comes in, you're like, oh, I guess we're all in a kind of up. I mean, have you have you had any of that come back to you?

Speaker I mean, no, because why are you training the is down.

Speaker You the balance is. Well.

Speaker I mean I think the interesting thing is, you know, obviously when you get cut or you're rejected from something, you know, your ego is just absolutely, you know, annihilated.

Speaker Over the years, being kicked out of Juilliard has become a sort of badge of honor.

Speaker So it's you know, so for me, it's actually pretty cool.

Speaker You know, Mike Beach is my best friend, and he doesn't miss an opportunity to tell someone. You know, I graduate Juilliard. He got kicked out. And it's a running joke. You know, now I'm obviously back at the time. It wasn't a joke.

Speaker I think it is in some ways, for me, it is a badge of honor, just as being. Being a survivor. And for me personally, it's. I held on to my gut instinct, I held on to my beliefs and they've paid off. And when I see actors who come in and audition for me. And it is very good. Now, you know, I taught an acting class last night and, you know, I'm not interested in it. You know, I made I stop all that acting and all of that. I don't want to see it. And I know more and more, you know, directors don't want to see that to their credit. That's not the end purpose of Juilliard training. It is an integration. And I've seen it. I think I think I think Ving Rhames as a as a as a wonderful instrument. And I think that it's a nice integration's. Got a beautiful voice. Great diction. He's got heart. So and theoretically, one complements the other. The the the strong technique, the great diction assists in communicating your emotional state.

Speaker So people can receive it completely, you know. So I know that is the ultimate goal. And again, this isn't Juilliard bashing time.

Speaker You know, it's just it really is just an honest one man's, you know, experience and journey. But, you know, I do I see what they were going for.

Speaker I just think at the time it wasn't successful for a lot of people because I've seen some I've seen some really, really good actors.

Speaker A, they were asked to leave, be some left on their own because they were just they were just devastated by the constant assault.

Speaker And the thing that the only thing that they could believe in was being challenged. So I've seen I mean, there people.

Speaker You know, I graduated two years ago. I still think about certain class members. And I wonder, you know, I haven't seen them in anything. I go, you know, maybe, I don't know, maybe they're doing theater.

Speaker But a lot of them I don't even think are acting anymore. I think that I think it's a loss because I think that they had something to offer.

Speaker And I like, you know, like most of us, you know, when you've done theater, you find that some of your training between Juilliard ended to be a big hit. When you take it, take that kind of classical step onto the stage. It's something you can heart that you your heart back looking on.

Speaker Well, it's you know, there is technique.

Speaker You get it and you let it go.

Speaker You get it. Well, enough that you don't think about it. You know, Michael Jordan, you know, when he was playing, I don't think thought about I'm going to come down.

Speaker I'm going to dribble four times. I'm going to cut. Right. Because this guy is gonna be in front of me. I'm going to do this. What happens if the guy gets in front of him before that? So I think it's the fact that he has such incredible technique that he can adjust to whatever situation is put before him at that point in the game. He's not thinking technique. He's thinking results. He's thinking, I got a score. I got a steal. I had a rebound. I got to do whatever that thinking technique. And I think that when people truly master technique, that's what mastering it is.

Speaker It you get it. It's in your body. It makes it becomes second nature to you.

Speaker And so I don't you know, I naturally hear rhythm. I naturally hear rhythm. I listen for rhythm. I don't stop and go what my technique says. BOP, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. You know, I'm not I'm. I'm not doing you know, I don't have to sit down and do iambic pentameter. It's in me. And if I'm doing Shakespeare, I feel the rhythm. If I'm doing. August Wilson.

Speaker I hear the rhythm, you know, and that's that's the technique has allowed me and assisted me in just being able to do that. And so. And then you find the emotional rhythm you find. So it goes, you know, greater and deeper. But it's it's it's. That's what the technique is. And I'm sure that's a part of the technique. So I think that it's a really. It serves me. Yeah. And I have a great sense of my instrument physically. My body. I know I know what my body is doing, you know. I mean, I don't have to. My body won't fail me tonight. I know I can hit this note. I know I can hit this emotional note. I know I can hit this physical note. You know what I was doing?

Speaker Two trains running at the Goodman several years back with Roscoe Lee Brown and. You know, in watching him.

Speaker He was a man who was so centered in his technique. And, you know, I'd have to go out and be the energy and be this wild character and.

Speaker I never had a fear, never had a fear. I knew I wasn't going to be great every night. I knew I wasn't necessarily going to be very good every night. But I never had a fear that my instrument would fail me because Juilliard has helped me to develop a and an incredible and incredibly resilient instrument.

Speaker And and that doesn't fail, you know. NYU helped to liberate Juilliard, lay down as the foundation. So if I step onstage, if I step in to an audition, if I step with this, I might not blow you away. I'm not you know, talent is that's so subjective, you know. But there are some things that you won't have to say about me. You won't have to say. I don't understand a word he said. You won't have to say, man, he's so stiff. You know those things. You know, whether I ultimately impress you or not, in my acting, there are fundamentals that technique takes care of.

Speaker And that's what Juilliard gave me. And that's what NYU liberated.

Speaker Do you have strong memories in the two years that you were there? Which were probably two very intense years. Someone who took on a kind of a mentor with them.

Speaker Did you have relationships or classes that really you can talk back and say, you know, whatever?

Speaker Well, not really.

Speaker Not not. Not necessarily.

Speaker I would have to say the closest person, because I spent so much time with him, you know, extra curricular studying and I was too monic or speech teacher because I wasn't just dealing with him, just, you know, when the class dealt with him.

Speaker I was in class with him. I studied with him privately, you know, got to the point where I would get to class, I would get to school at seven thirty in the morning or seven o'clock, study with him privately for an hour, go to a movement class.

Speaker And then the entire school and be right back there. So something I was studying with him two, three times a day. Sometimes I was, you know, so I spent a lot of time with Turn and in.

Speaker And I've always felt to is a good guy, you know, and I've actually worked with him professionally.

Speaker And he is he was the guy that I spent. Not in a mentor type situation, but he was just he was he was the person that I spent the most time with. And in some ways, because he was young, he was the most accessible. A lot of times there were a lot of instructors at Juilliard. And this isn't even a criticism, is just an observation. I if I if they wanted to maintain a certain type of of of I don't want to say superiority, but teacher, student, you know, mentality, let's not get buddy, buddy. Let's you know. And I guess that was effective because it, you know, it made us just respect them and made us just really, you know, treat them a certain way. Tim, we ultimately respect it as much, if not more. But at the same time, he was the guy that you could kind of go. He was young. You know, Cindy Hopper was also someone who was, again, young and accessible and had a different approach.

Speaker Did you or did you struggle a lot at school in the whole with the whole casting issue?

Speaker I find when I'm there now I'm following kids through a year that there's a real feeling, you know, about about favoritism in casting.

Speaker Just just. And I think that's where they see their pain. If they're not cut. What's the difference? Just not paying their tuition. And they are. They aren't working. Yeah. You know, they start to. What do you think of the whole year?

Speaker I mean, you know, I mean, they listen, they have their they have their chosen ones.

Speaker They have the people that they feel are going to be the big stars and. I find it interesting because. From when I was there and even a few years after I left, I would go back and with the exception of a few, is not usually the case. You know, the ones that they really, really are just they've designated as you know, it doesn't usually become it on on a more global in a more global, as you know. And so I think it's you know, it's interesting. I was it when I was at school, it was very weird.

Speaker Of the four classes, I was in school with Ving Rhames a year ahead of me. I was in school with Kelly McGillis. I was in school with Val Kilmer. I was in school with Kevin Spacey. And all of these people were, you know, classes above me.

Speaker And.

Speaker I think Kevin was asked to leave. Val was a senior when I was a when I was a freshman.

Speaker But in general, I don't know. I don't think that most of the chosen ones ended up so. Yeah, there there's a lot of favoritism.

Speaker There's a lot of you know, I did OK with casting. I think they were I think they were waiting for me to kick into a certain gear. Speech wise of, you know, so they there was an investment. There was a commitment to me. I did OK. Cassie, not always great, but definitely not, you know, about. But, you know, I, I had my my my share of lead roles, my share of interesting characters. And that wasn't a problem for me personally. But I've witnessed I've witnessed other people having some interesting challenges.

Speaker What do you know what specific productions that were.

Speaker Yeah. Yeah. The very first thing that we did, I was cast as King Lear. It's 18 years old. And obviously this isn't the full production. This is just the freshman. Just get up. These are the people you're gonna be working with theoretically for the next four years. You know, just I mean, it's. And, you know, you do.

Speaker I did half the play and then someone else came in and. Did you know the other half?

Speaker But I was I was King Lear. And, you know, that was there was something else.

Speaker Tennessee Williams.

Speaker I played John in summer and smoke. You know, I, I, I definitely, you know, had my share again. I think they I think they saw and hoped that I had, you know, leading man material or I was leading man material or whatever. So, you know, I was I was I was definitely cast in a positive way.

Speaker It got to a point where even I started doing extra curricular production stuff because culturally, I think there were more challenges. You know, I was doing Chekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare, you know, Tennessee Williams was getting a really nice mix of things. It dawned on me early on. Now, the reality of of it was I'm going to be going up for roles that a lot of my white counterparts will not be coming up for.

Speaker They will, you know, be going up for black roles. And Juilliard didn't address that. And that's a reality. I mean, I'm not saying that. And please hear me.

Speaker I'm definitely not saying that the black actors or the Latino actors or the Asian actors, you know, should just be cast in those type roles. I'm saying the reality of it is an Asian actor will be going off for Asian roles. A black actor will be going up for black. And I'm not saying that's all they'll be going for, but you have to accept the reality. It's like it's almost like, you know, making a a an actress just play male roles. Well, the reality is she's gonna be cast as she may do some male roles in our career.

Speaker She or she may do some gender nonspecific roles.

Speaker But the reality is she will definitely at some point play a woman, you know, so you might want to you might want to throw that into the mix.

Speaker You know, I mean, and so that wasn't that wasn't the case when I was there.

Speaker So, you know, and being true to the young, aspiring militant, you know, I'd I'd go in and we'd create some stuff and bring in some some some material and say, we want to do this as a side project. We want to do this as a, you know, whatever.

Speaker And. And I on the other hand, I admire the fact that they were casting me in roles. Obviously, you know, it's going to be inhabited by, you know, white in general, white male actors. But but it's both. And that's on. So it's just more of a well rounded awareness.

Speaker Did they did they respect and show interest in that? You know, and you go into. Other directions. Were they looking at that work? Did you feel, oh, it was like, you know, a little later, do a thing that's fine. Or did you feel an actual response to checking out that other work and being.

Speaker I felt it was always a side project. I felt it was.

Speaker And I wasn't looking for that. I wasn't looking for any approval or anything. I mean, I, I was very selfish. I, I did it because I wanted to work on things also. I wanted to work on things that spoke to me in a way that some of this other material didn't speak to me.

Speaker And I wanted to, you know, work on things that was much more indigenous to to who I am as a as a as a as an African-American actor and man, you know.

Speaker So, you know, it wasn't really like almost could care less what you know, just the bottom line is, hey, I'm paying tuition. I want to leave here with a well-rounded training. And if you're not going to or if you're incapable of giving me that, I've got to assume responsibility. And I think that's when I really started blossoming. I think even as a man, because I started taking more control of my destiny and started saying, you know what, I need to do this. I need to. I need to. I need to feel this kind of material and find let's do this classical stuff. And that's cool. But at the same time, I got to I want to do some contemporary stuff by, you know, you know, ethnic writers and, you know, and so that was that was something that I definitely didn't.

Speaker Did you struggle with on math work, too? I mean, I talked to quite a few minority actors at Juilliard at different points about these the mask.

Speaker Where were you supposed to put on a white mask and hide behind, you know, and suddenly inhabit this mask?

Speaker It's like, well, you know, I just I just think again back then, I don't know what how Juilliard is now, but back then it just wasn't there just really wasn't a balanced representation of a lot of things, you know, and obviously, being a minority, my concerns are much more focused on the needs of a minority.

Speaker So there were things that. You know, there were things that just, you know, I I made a huge stink and, you know, I made them bring in a black director. We weren't even working with black directors and. I actually felt one of the there was one of the most tragic situations that I've been a part of because.

Speaker They went and got.

Speaker Truly one of the most incompetent directors that I've ever worked with. And by the time Lisa Gay Hamilton, who was several years behind me, by the time she and her class went up here as they were trying to do special projects and they asked for a black director and literally they were told. We tried that once. It didn't work.

Speaker And that was like, you know, I was I wasn't even in Juilliard and I wanted to go back and fight, you know. It was it was it was interesting.

Speaker But I literally I literally felt like it was a setup.

Speaker I really felt like I mean, this director, this director was so bad and that we had a lot of bad white directors.

Speaker They didn't say, you know, we tried that. We're not going to hire, you know, me.

Speaker But many you know, they got this guy who who really. He was so bad that he was ultimately reduced to a stage manager on a production. And they brought in another director. And, you know, and I was crushed because I'm the one that, you know, made the stink and put on my black love and said, you know, yeah.

Speaker We got to do something, you know?

Speaker And and it was ultimately used not just against me, but against a few generations after me. And I think it took a couple of years after I left. And I think Lisa I think Lisa Gay and Wendell Pierce, I think they fought like crazy and got something in there. But it was that type of mentality. Yeah, it was. It was that was a weird one. That was that was it was really weird.

Speaker You know, you talk about conspiracy theories. That one was like, did you guys even do your homework? And this guy doesn't even spell theater. You don't know me. He's a bad director. It's not that he's a bad black director. He's a bad director. But he was used as a bad black director.

Speaker And he was it was a justification to not do that anymore. And I thought it was something very twisted about the.

Speaker Do you think that when you move and why you that the drama, Julia drama powers that be were supportive, making calls involving you in changing programs?

Speaker Because the course you know, it's very hard.

Speaker I say this very honestly in retrospect, of course, you're talking about very, very highly that, you know, that they also saw this, as, you know, this would be better for you and that they integrate, you know, that they were part of this of this better move.

Speaker Oh, God knows what phone calls you made. Yeah.

Speaker There was none of that. And I didn't expect any of that. I mean, it wasn't the bottom line, you know. And I took it like a man. Ultimately, the bottom line, you know, I was cut from the program and I accepted that. I went to my mentor. He gave me an option of pursuing something.

Speaker And, you know, there wasn't that. Over the years, definitely. I've. I mean, listen. You got to realize over the last six years with the success of you are the thing that is for in regards to Julia.

Speaker I keep meaning to pick up a dictionary and look up the word alumni because I get all this alumni stuff. Technically, I was kicked out. You know, I mean, and it's like, what are we defining as, you know?

Speaker You're saying that I. You're asking me to leave because you don't feel that I represent your program in a way that you feel comfortable. So. Therefore, you're asking me to leave? Well, if I'm not representing your program, then. How am I representing your program now? I mean, am I reflecting, truly reflecting? You know, the things that you are defining as the Juilliard technique.

Speaker You didn't think so. So you asked me to leave. I have to accept that. I have to respect it. It's not even a matter of me agreeing or disagreeing with it. I have to. But then to turn around and say, that's our boy.

Speaker Oh, interesting. I agree. There's a lot of people. And it was I think it was being said, by the way, he thought.

Speaker That's right.

Speaker You know what? Many voluntarily. Yeah. You get from a place.

Speaker Well, voluntarily, I think. I wish. I mean, I, I really admire those people because I wish I had enough sense to realize that this could ultimately be detrimental as far as losing your heart, you know.

Speaker And that's all I know, you know. I mean, you know, I've learned things after that. But I was born with this. I was born with emotional instincts. I was born with, you know, an imagination. I was I was born with that. This other stuff I've learned and.

Speaker As an artist's. You got to protect.

Speaker You know, you've got to protect what you were born with at all costs, you know? And so some people, I think, yeah, they left on their own because they realize, hey, that I'm in jeopardy of I'm in jeopardy of losing. The thing that when when I'm long gone from Juilliard, this thing will serve me. And it's funny because I've done in some ways I've done maybe a 340.

Speaker And what I mean by that is I'm so busy as an artist.

Speaker Trying to get back to the basics. Trying to get back to that wild courageous because he didn't know any better. Eighteen year old guy who just went for things, didn't overintellectualize things, wasn't manipulative any acting, wasn't slick, didn't know what Slick was. Didn't know how to be slick. I just knew how to be be raw and go for it. And so over the course of my career, it's really been an interesting journey and challenge trying to make it back to that point. I'll never be back. I'll never do a complete 360 because I have learned things and I have those things have influenced me and those things will continue to influence me. But I want to try to get back as close to that with the things that I've learned, because to me as in so and I'm not there. I'm not as close as I'd like to be, I.

Speaker I was so wild and and. Courageous. And I didn't really have fear.

Speaker I don't necessarily know what failure was. So I wasn't afraid of failure. I've learned to be afraid of failure. I've learned to be afraid of people judging, you know, my art and in what I consider, you know, my art. I've learned things that I'm now trying to unlearn or I've spent the last 10 years trying to unlearn because it took me some years out of college where you just go in for whatever. And then after a while, you sit down, you go, Oh, wow. I used to, you know.

Speaker And so what I teach or direct when I'm working with actors.

Speaker No, trying to strip them down to this place. Because when you're that connected, you have something much better than this very controlled, you know, actor who decides on that line. I'm going to, you know, do it because it's an interesting choice. You know, it's like, hey, man, just be in a moment and trust yourself in the moment. And great things will come. And the fact that you have an instrument to support you in the moment. That's what Juilliard gave me.

Speaker Juilliard gave me an instrument. An intelligence. I am a physical security.

Speaker It has complimented, I think, my emotional athleticism, you know what, you can hit notes, you know, and not be afraid. So it's given me an instrument that supports being in the moment and that in so you can so be in the moment because you're not afraid that stuff is going to fall apart.

Speaker All I gotta do is focus about being am I in this moment. I don't have to worry about that. Big emotional moment is coming up. Am I gonna be able to hit it? Am I to be able to hit that note?

Speaker And then I got to jump over the table and I got to do this and I got to do that. Can I do that? You know, just just being in the moment.

Speaker So, yeah, third thing, we think I had a real response to your company being called Jurney because it's.

Speaker I don't know. It's such.

Speaker You know, it's funny because on you know, when I decided to form my own company and got together with my partners and, you know, we were trying to come up with the right name and we knew Journey had to be a part of it.

Speaker And it's been my experience as an artist.

Speaker That's been my experience as a minority artist, that no matter how much success you may think you have, there's always something that humbles you. There's always something that makes you realize, you know, I really all. And and people continue to see it's like, for instance, I directed a film for HBO and it got great reviews and it was very, very successful. People would come up to me and they would say, you know, we think you're really, really good director. And I've got a project for you. And this and that. And over the years, you realize it's like all of these projects are black. So do you think I'm a good director? Do you think I'm a good black director?

Speaker And one of my partners is Italian working. And he worked with John Badham. He was John Adams producer for years and. He came from a different school of filmmaking. So when he worked with me. He was treated a certain way that he wasn't used to being treated. He didn't have as many days. You know, he didn't have as much money. He didn't have as much as he used to have. And so he jokes with me. He goes, you know, and I had a taste of what it feels like to be a black filmmaker. It's a whole other day, you know. And so, look, I've made a lot of progress. The fact that, you know, I'm on the number one show in America.

Speaker I have my own production company. I'm directing. I'm producing. I'm calling shots. Ego check. It's still on a certain level. And you still have to deal with a lot of B.S. that sometimes you don't see your white counterparts having to deal with that. I'm not negating anything and saying that they don't have to deal with their own share of B.S. But the challenges that I have are very different and it keeps you humble and keeps you going. Yeah, there's progress, but there's a whole lot more progress that has to be made.

Speaker So and journey, you know, the logo, our logo is a little boy facing a path. And in the background you have valleys and mountains and that's the journey. You know, there are times when we're going to be so low and so down. Right now, we're we're we're high. You know, we're you know, I'm producing this film with Val Kilmer. My partner is directing it. I'm getting ready to direct a film. My company is called Producing It, you know. So right now, we're we're high, but we always know to stay cool. And that's that's why we have that's why we named it humble. Genius is so appropriate. It's so appropriate. Got to be humble journey. It keeps you in check.

Speaker Well, it's part of what you said also that I think, you know, I was thinking that, you know, holding on to that do that thing.

Speaker I mean, if I think if somebody watching this movie, there's a ton of kids who want to go to acting school. What I mean is, Julia, the way to get to this is NYU, the way to get to this. You know, there's something about the kind of I don't know if it's being humble or being pure that, in fact, your dedication, you're holding on to that vision of what was true about you is probably what I think what the audience is responding to. What's getting your show with it?

Speaker Well, that's that's why. Onto that self. Exactly.

Speaker And that's why we have that's why the emblem of my company is a little boy, because that's when we were pure. That's when we were, you know. Listen, I didn't get into this business to make money. I mean, you know, people say that all the time. But I love I love what I do and. But, hey, through the process of being in this business, it becomes very important to you that if you can afford to pay this person this much money, then you damn sure can pay me this much money. I'm contributing as much, you know. I mean, so money becomes a factor. The art of the deal becomes a factor. You know, a building and all of that all of that stuff becomes an issue because you're fighting for equality. You're fighting for and and the equality is personified or manifested in the deal. So now you as an artist, you've got to be concerned with the deal. The thing I like about the little boy facing the valleys and the mountains in our company, little boy, and thinking about that little boy's thinking about. What's in my heart? And what makes me feel good and what makes me, you know, I mean, it's a very basic, simple thing. So that's a reminder that, yeah, the art of the deal is necessary.

Speaker And you have agents and you have publicists.

Speaker You have all of the stuff now that you've you've you've acquired.

Speaker And it's a very integral part of what we do. Ultimately, what we do is a business. So it is a part of that.

Speaker But, you know, you got a fight. You've got to fight for. Why am I doing it and why did I start off doing this, you know?

Speaker Was it really about.

Speaker And so there have been some deals that I've compromised because I've I've compromised my cell phone because I realize at the end of the day, look, I know I'm not making what this person makes. I know I'm not doing that. But bottom line is, it's a great role. It's a great challenge. Fine. I'll bite the bullet on this one.

Speaker The problem is, as minority artists, we're always asked to bite the bullet on this. I mean, I was offered a film last year, big Hollywood film, 65 million dollar film. And, you know, I had a huge star in it that they were giving fifteen million dollars to fight.

Speaker This is the star.

Speaker The role that I was offered was the third or fourth lead and they wanted to pay me.

Speaker Not only did they want to pay me a hundred thousand dollars, they wanted me to get off of E.R. for three months. In essence, I did the math.

Speaker They wanted me to pay close to a million dollars to be in their final ultimate cause. I'm sacrificing my E.R. checks and I'm taking, you know, you know, you know, I was making that in a week.

Speaker When you are you know, it was one of those situations where it was like, no, I'm not that I'm not going to do that is an insult, you know? And so there are times when you go, no. But then there are times when you go, you know what? I just I love I love doing this. I'll do it. I mean, you're talking someone. I've have. I have. I'm sorry. I have, you know, financed my own short films because I'm because it's what I love doing. You know, I mean, so it's not always about money and always about that, but sometimes it has to be. So for me, the reminder is think of the little boy starting his journey. You know, that pulls me back sometimes.

Speaker You think that Juilliard gave you a feeling when you first got there whether the was ivory or.

Speaker I think it's sort of in those walls, whether it's that tower or whether it's an ivory tower or not, it's somehow beyond all of these things come out the sense that this is an art form and I'm an artist.

Speaker I'm not just a guy who's an actor. I did. They did. They sort of read. Are you going to run over there?

Speaker Happened again last laughing, you know, because I think that some people have felt that they've been living in a world where it wasn't really accepted as being an art.

Speaker And somehow when you got to Juilliard, you got that feeling of it's OK to use the word artist about this.

Speaker I think that there is such. There was such a sense of pride and, you know, Julia, it is a very, very, very prestigious place.

Speaker So there is a pride and a sense of reward in being at this, you know, walking these, you know, you know, highly esteemed how walls and, you know, halls and just being, hey, you know, I am here and I'm here because I love what I do and I'm here because I'm connected to what I do.

Speaker I don't know that we've spent we spent a lot of time sitting around talking about I am an artist, you know. But again, you're talking about a lot of 18 year olds who have some validation that they are artists that.

Speaker This school, which is so respected, has allowed you to come in and be a part of. Something powerful, Juilliard is a powerful place. And so you come into you. I don't think it's arrogance. I mean, you know, as we all have our own level of hubris. But it's it's a thing of. I am.

Speaker I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be doing what I do.

Speaker When you put artists in that environment, I mean, even if you put athletes in an environment, if you put anybody in an environment where they are allowed to do what they love to do and they're encouraged to do what they love to do.

Speaker Theory is this incredible pride. And so, you know, the first two years at Juilliard, it was.

Speaker I'm I'm I'm I'm training to become a professional actor. My high school picture says I want to grow up to be a professional actor.

Speaker I love that. I love the fact that I knew back then.

Speaker And so this was another step in the process. One thing that we didn't talk about, which is. Also, Juilliard is. They teach you to respect the word process.

Speaker And that's awesome.

Speaker And again, that's something that I use. It's it's all a process. It's all a process. And they map it out. This is process.

Speaker This is process. And so, you know, sometimes it's not the consistency that you feel like that process is interrupted. But but it's an incredible word for an artist. I think for anybody to accept this is a process. And so when you have that kind of stuff, that type of support and that type of nurturing, yeah, you run around and you say things like, I'm an artist.

Speaker I'm an actor. And.

Speaker And I remember I used to have very clear moments where I'm like, you know, I'm a little skinny kid from Hartford, Connecticut, you know? But I'm here in New York and I'm at one of the most respected schools in the world. And I'm home. I'm here on my own terms, you know. And I'm here doing what I love to do.

Speaker And right on I feel good about, you know, to me that I remember having those, you know, I will call them epiphanies, but just, you know, sometimes you're in a class. And it was just unreal.

Speaker You feel like, you know, you get all, you know, goosebump, you know, because it was like you look around and you realize that you're a big fish from this pond. You're a big fish from this pond. Well, I'm a big fish from this. And I'm holding my own.

Speaker And we're all here. We're all here pursuing the same things. We're all here going. And, you know, and. My life, I wasn't supposed to end up at Juilliard, you know? I mean, I wasn't. I look at statistics. I look at all of these things.

Speaker I was not supposed to do that. I was supposed to be there. And I was. And I got a lot out of it. In the two years that I was there and. And in both professionally and personally, you know.

Speaker Yeah, yeah, well, you know, it's like you always realize, you know, it seems like a devastation and then you also in that kind of humble journey, you realize, hey, if I look to the left when I cross the street my whole life, I'm not going to bump into this person. Exactly. Being a friend.

Speaker Exactly. And this path, although, you know that this path might ultimately be the best path for which for me, I think it was I think NYU, you know, the balance of the two was great for me.

Speaker That might not work for someone else. All of Juilliard might not work for someone else. All of NYU, my network was whatever, you know, everyone has. When people come up to me, I mean, how do you know? How do you do? Do you become an actor? And probably on and on I talk to people. I'm like, hey, everyone has their own path. I can't tell you what worked for me when I worked for you. My path was my path was very, very unique. I mean, I was I went to Juilliard.

Speaker I left Juilliard, went to another school, graduated, came back and did the league auditions, which are these huge auditions of the, you know, the Ivy League schools of theater come together at the end of the year and they have auditions for agents. And it's huge. Big, big deals. Literally, literally. Why a lot of people suffer the four years of, you know, Carnegie Mellon, Yale, Juilliard, NYU, all of these schools.

Speaker And I went back with my class, you know.

Speaker That in itself was so unique and and was there. I you know, I saw their presentation. They saw my eminent I'm here with people that I started this part of my journey with. But I'm here with this school now and then a you know, a poster name like if ABC wants to see your casting person wants to see you or certain producer or Paramount or whatever company.

Speaker And this is the little getting even part of me, the little bad boy who who feels, you know, vindicated.

Speaker They post all of these requests for meetings after the audition in the lounge, and you have to go and find out who wants to see you. Who wants to interview you? And this is how you get agents. And this is how you get jobs coming out of these these these these great schools.

Speaker And I will never forget walking into that lobby. And there were people from the class at Juilliard that, you know, you're trying to find your name. The more the merrier.

Speaker And. And I just remember them. Some of them say, Eric, you're on another list over here. You're on this list. You're on that list. So I'm running behind them. And they're trying to. Some of them were trying to find and, you know, some of them ended up on, you know, are four or five lists.

Speaker And people like me saying, Mike Beach, Andre Brower, you know, we ended up on like 30 lists, you know, thirty five lists, you know, and and and and maybe that's petty of me or whatever. But I got to tell you, vindication. Sweet. It was oh it was as devastated as I was when I was asked to leave. I was that much more victorious in that moment when my class at Juilliard had to you know, this is the guy that got kicked out and he's on a lot of these lists, you know, and.

Speaker But the training at Juilliard helped me to get on that list. And the comfort level at NYU helped me to get on that list.

Eriq La Salle
Found in: Juilliard
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
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"Eriq La Salle, Juilliard." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 10 Mar. 2000,
(2000, March 10). Eriq La Salle, Juilliard. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Eriq La Salle, Juilliard." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 10, 2000. Accessed July 06, 2022


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