Forget what you heard about athletes: Rick Fox is no dumb jock. In fact, he’s got game—and not because of his 13-year NBA career balling for the Celtics and L.A. Lakers. This burgeoning actor, divorcè and single dad of two is pensive and self-assured, and has more than enough grown-folks advice and wisdom for the brokenhearted to grow on. It’s one of the reasons he easily identified with his Meet the Browns character Harry Beltin, a high school basketball coach who falls in love with Brenda (Angela Bassett), the mother of one of his teenage recruits.Essence.com caught up with the Canadian-Bahamian hunk to talk about his personal heartbreak, learning to love again and why he doesn’t mind being labeled Tyler’s Perry newest leading Pretty Boy.
Essence.com: Is it true that you snagged your Meet the Browns role because Tyler Perry nearly hit you while you were jogging down Sunset?
Rick Fox: [Laughs] He almost did. I was finishing up a jog with my trainer when I saw this white Bentley turn the corner. The convertible top was down and he came to a stop. I could see it was Tyler Perry, and I said, “Tyler!” And he said, “Hey, Rick! Man, I’ve been waiting to meet you!” He told me how he had prayed about finding the right person for this role.
Essence.com: And Jesus took the wheel—literally!
R.F.: [Laughs] Literally! I’ve been in this town for four years. I’ve been on auditions and done some TV work, but I’ve been waiting for someone to have faith that I could deliver in a [leading] role. I knew it was going to take someone who was a writer/director and had the power of a Tyler Perry, who would be willing to work with me.
Essence.com: That’s truly a Hollywood story.
R.F.: Yeah, it is. So when folks ask, “Rick how’d you get your first break?” I’ll say, “I almost got run over!” I even joked with Tyler at the wrap party and said, “Next time you’re on Sunset prayin’, let me know so I can go jogging again!”
Essence.com: Well, not only was Mr. Perry willing to work with you, but you banked screen time opposite an amazing actress.
R.F.: That was the other blessing. During the table read, Angela Bassett could have easily said, “This isn’t gonna work.” When she said she would work with me—man, there has been no better opportunity.
Essence.com: Your character Harry Beltin hangs around long enough to find love in the midst of an animated and lovable southern family whose antics are enough to drive anyone away. How’d you and the missus manage that?
R.F.: We fall in love through a lot of struggle. Angela Bassett’s character, Brenda, is going through a whirlwind of changes, including the death of a father she never knew, and here I come walking into her life. She is not in a trusting place because of her previous relationships. But once anyone is met with disappointment and heartbreak, it leaves you somewhat closed, and finding a way to open up again is not always the quickest or easiest thing to do. In her, I recognize in myself the desire to connect and have intimacy and the fear that comes with the past. I’m the man who recognizes that she’s a concrete rose who’s still capable of loving.
Essence.com: Having gone through a public divorce with your ex-wife, actress and former Miss America Vanessa Williams, did you draw upon personal experiences to help make Harry Beltin more multidimensional?
R.F.: Totally. Tyler likes to get to know you personally so the voice of the character rings true. We had conversations about my life and what I’ve experienced and how it connected to what he already had on paper. What we found was that there wasn’t a lot more to be shaped because what he had written pertained to all cases in life. If we’re all truly connected to what has transpired in our lives and willing to share [those experiences], it can add a lot to a character. Personally I’ve had relationship challenges and struggles, and in recent years found myself in a position [where I had to learn] to trust and love again.
Essence.com: Heartbreak will make the most hopeless romantic apathetic and even bitter. How does one learn to love again after such an emotional setback?
R.F.: It takes the weight of loneliness to bring everyone around to the place of not living in fear of being hurt. Life is a series of joys and pains, so if you sit around and [become] passive in your work, relationships, workouts and life, that’s simply a function of resentment.
Essence.com: Break it down Dr. Fox! You are on to something.
R.F.: Think about it. Whether you’re resentful that you’re not getting paid your worth, resentful that you’re getting older because your body isn’t responding to the exercise or because your last relationship didn’t work out—all these things can leave the individual feeling like a victim. Therefore the person sits in that state of victim, and what do victims do? They suffer and it’s a vicious cycle. What I do now is if I am feeling passive or fearful, I immediately go directly toward it because it’s a screaming sign that there’s something on the other side of that fear I need to get to.
Essence.com: As a former NBA player, how did your basketball history help you with your character?
R.F.: Tyler was so gracious. He listened to me talk about the messages that helped me find my way to a career in sports. I apply the same tools in my life that I applied in sports. There are principles I carried with me outside of sports, and Tyler adapted them into the screenplay. I was so impressed that he was able to listen to me and, while I’m schooling Brenda’s son, Lance, through the script I’m speaking to some of these young kids today.
Essence.com: You discussed what you brought to the character, but what did playing Harry Beltin do for you?
R.F.: It allowed me to move on in many ways in my life. There’s something about having experiences and a voice. This character allowed me to actually have a voice and to really bring things to the forefront and then say good-bye to them. The first thing that comes to mind is that I said good-bye to my professional basketball career. I had been retired for three and a half years, but I think deep down inside, I really hadn’t said good-bye yet. This film helped me do that.
Essence.com: Do you think your difficulty in letting go of that phase in your life had to do with feelings of failure?
R.F.: Definitely. I come from a place where the goals were to win. What I discovered is that a huge part of my definition of myself was win-lose and all or nothing. It’s like driving a car a 100 miles per hour or not at all. The new numbers I focus on in my life are two and nine, because I’ve only known speeds one and ten.
Essence.com: Wow, so being such an extremist, how did that affect your romantic relationships?
R.F.: Exploring between two and nine means putting my heart on the table and acknowledging that what I’ve learned from my past relationships will make me that much smarter, wiser and dedicated to my next relationship. I am learning not to live in fear of intimacy, because true intimacy runs the gamut of emotions. I never allowed myself to feel all those emotions because they were much too powerful. The more you fight for and through those things that are most challenging in a relationship, the more love and appreciation you have for the person.
Essence.com: What do you hope the audience will receive from this film?
R.F.: At the end of the day, people don’t know how to ask for help, and I hope after seeing this film those who didn’t know how to ask for it will try. I was able to bring to Harry parts of myself that I’ve worked through that I hope any individual could who is 37 years old, living alone and has two kids, is divorced and has an ex-wife who has remarried. Now he’s finding out what his life is going to be about relationshipwise and he’s stepping out and braving it to find his mate. I’m hoping that people will see that regardless of your past success or failures in relationships, they make you who you are.
Essence.com: In parting, Tyler Perry has become known for casting “PBs” (Pretty Boys) in his films. Would it bother you to adopt that moniker?
R.F.: Well, they called me the Pretty Boy of the NBA for years. I think with age, er, well, I don’t know if I’m still holding [that title] strong [Laughs]. If anything, he’s a wise producer to think about his female audience. You always hear about the men being excited to see the actresses in Tyler’s films. When I tune in to his movies, I’m excited to see the women. So if he feels he has to level the playing field for the ladies and needs me to play that role again, just let me know when he’s prayin’ and I’ll shave, go up to Sunset, and work on my Pretty Boy!
Meet the Browns hits theaters March 21, 2008.