Rockmond Dunbar doesn’t do routine. Since his days as a beloved hubby and father of three on the critically acclaimed series “Soul Food,” the Oakland native has flipped the script. Recently, he sat in the director’s chair and helmed his first project, “Pastor Brown,” a moral tale of redemption. Dunbar’s diversity speaks for itself. Not only has he traded in his signature blue-collar charm to serve as an unjustly discharged and later imprisoned army sergeant on “Prison Break,” but he also breathes life into a semi-closeted, gay magazine writer in the indie dramedy “Dirty Laundry.” In Tyler Perry’s latest film, “The Family That Preys,” Dunbar plays the overly nonchalant and benign husband of Andrea (Sanaa Lathan). ESSENCE.com caught up with the hunk to discuss portraying faith-based characters, finding the joy in pain, and why playing a gay man is really no big deal.
ESSENCE.COM: Congratulations on the movie. What’s the deal with your character Chris?
ROCKMOND DUNBAR: He’s a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He loves his wife and believes everything she says. He’s an honest, hardworking man, but gets caught up in a rollercoaster of emotions.
ESSENCE.COM: Sounds like another character we know and love. How is Chris different from Kenny Chadway, the character you played on “Soul Food”?
DUNBAR: There are some things that Chris does that Kenny would never do. There’s a moment of domestic violence in the movie and that’s a very sensitive issue. I wanted to take something that I found in church to help me play a character that is still respectable regardless of that incident. My pastor said something once that really resonated with me. “Love her because I do.” That’s what Jesus said. Regardless if your spouse is in the wrong, you have to love her through it. I tried to use that as subtext for this character.
ESSENCE.COM: Is it important that your projects be faith-based before accepting a role?
DUNBAR: It’s so important for me to find something in the character that is based in some faith in order to make the character three-dimensional. It really does make me look at the material differently. Also, I pray before I accept something, regardless of how much money is involved. I ask God if this is something that he wants me to do.
ESSENCE.COM: Interestingly enough, you’ve taken on roles that some church folk might believe to be spiritually conflicting, such as playing a gay journalist in “Dirty Laundry,” a down-low brother in “Punks,” and later appearing in the film’s cable television series spin-off, “Noah’s Arc.” Are you ever concerned about such portrayals?
DUNBAR: Not at all, because at the end of the day, I’m an artist. I’m a heterosexual man who loves, loves, loves women. I’m not gay and I don’t find men attractive. I’m not a lawyer or a father of three or a transplant surgeon or a construction worker, but I’ve played all these characters before. I’m in the business of entertaining. I’m an entertainer first and foremost and not afraid of doing roles that are challenging.
ESSENCE.COM: Speaking of challenges, tattoos can be painful, and we understand you have a thing for body art. Is it addictive?
DUNBAR: I have 12. I have one that is an ancient character meaning power and strength in every situation. I did my research so I know it doesn’t say pork fried rice or something like that. There has to be something halfway sadistic about being an artist and there is a part of me that enjoys the pain of getting tattoos. There’s something somewhat orgasmic about it. It’s like excruciating ecstasy. The first tattoo I got was with my girlfriend in junior high. Since then it’s become like an addiction that I will keep quiet.