Blair Underwood is an acting veteran in his own right. With fifty plus movies under his belt and one spectacular Broadway production, Underwood like many in his league certainly get better with age. ESSENCE.com caught up with Underwood to chat about his recently released DVD, Woman Thou Art Loosed!: On the 7th Day, his amazing Broadway debut, his fascination with big cats and his surprising love for comedy.
ESSENCE.com: The whole production of Woman Thou Art Loosed!: On the 7th Day was just an African-American highlight. What were some of your favorite moments from back then?
BLAIR UNDERWOOD: Well, I have to tell you to work with Neema Barnette as our director, who I’ve known for years but never worked with her before was incredible. She is a sister from Harlem, New York and she is passionate, she is smart, she is full of ideas. She created an environment where she welcomed people’s ideas and it was very collaborative, so I enjoyed being on the set. Plus, the fact we shot in New Orleans, Lousiana. I have great love for that city, the people, the food and the music and all that. And Sharon Leal of course, who plays the female lead, it’s really her story. The movie is seen through her eyes. We played husband and wife years ago on a NBC show called LAX and just to get a chance to work with her again and really see her get a chance to flex and have that breath of emotion to show her talent and skill is amazing. It shows she is more than just a pretty face.
ESSENCE.com: Bishop T.D. Jakes has been making a lot of headway in the film industry with Sparkle this year. What was it like working with him?
UNDERWOOD: Not everyday, but he came down a couple times. One time in particular he came down and we shot a scene with him in church while he was preaching. But he is of course very supportive of it. It is one of his many endeavors and he put this different model on it, held his obligations about it, followed it and it really affords his work— it’s a good thing.
ESSENCE.com: I saw you in a Tyler Perry film few years ago and some of the roles you do are so heavy. As an actor, how do you remove yourself from the role? Do you just walk off the set and it’s off your mind? Is it something that lingers around your being? How does that work?
UNDERWOOD: In some of these roles it’s easier to let go in the context of camera work, film and television because you create it and you can kind of shake it off and let it go. You know I just came off Broadway doing A Streetcar Named Desire and that’s a very heavy role also. A man loves his wife but he’s abusive. He beats his pregnant wife, rapes his wife’s sister and there’s a dark side to him. So to recreate that and drudge up those emotions and feelings and thoughts every night, eight times a week, for five months is challenging. You learn. You condition yourself to be able to turn it on and turn it off. It’s so funny I was just telling somebody I made my living doing dramatic roles but I prefer comedy. I come home and watch comedy. I’ don’t even watch dramatic television. I want to laugh! Who doesn’t want to laugh?
ESSENCE.com: Let’s share a few things our readers may not know about you. I think your love of comedy is one of them.
UNDERWOOD: Oh, yeah my wife and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary September 17th. Best decision I’ve ever made — from the time we first started dating she’d say, “If people even knew what kind of fool you are and how crazy you like to act they would never believe it.” You know our kids now, our oldest son is 15, our daughter is 13 and our youngest son is 11 and I’m constantly embarrassing them. I tell them it’s my job as your father is to embarrass you.
ESSENCE.com: Are your kids aware of your celebrity? Obviously they are old enough to know what your impact is?
UNDERWOOD: Yeah, they are aware of it but they take it in stride and don’t take it too seriously and they enjoy it. My teenagers are shy about it, my 11 year old is very bold about it and enjoys it. Like, “Oh this is cool. I like this. I like this and everything that comes with it!” My teenagers don’t care for the attention; my 11 year old son is all about it.
ESSENCE.com: If you weren’t Blair Underwood the celebrity what would you be doing?
UNDERWOOD: I said this over the years and it’s true. I talk about running away with the circus. I wanted to be a lion tamer in a circus. Do you remember years ago they had that show Circus of the Stars? Like the ’80s… and they had these celebrities do different circus tricks and that was the show. That’s a great idea, they should bring it back. But I told them I wanted to be a lion tamer and they flew me out to Florida and I met these lions. And I had to spend my two weeks with them and learn the whole routine and have the lions get the chance to know me. I went down and met the lions and I was all about it. My schedule didn’t work out so I didn’t end up doing it but I always liked big cats — lions, tigers, mountain lions.
ESSENCE.com: What’s been the highlight of your career? What has been the moment when you’ve said, “Wow, this is unbelievable?”
UNDERWOOD: It’s been an amazing experience. Lately what I’ve been saying, and I mean this, probably I think the highlight was doing Broadway. And not just doing Broadway but the fact that my Broadway debut was a classic like A Streetcar Named Desire, and a classic role as Stanley Kowalski played by Marlon Brando in the 1927 Broadway production and in the 1961 movie. It is considered one of the great American plays, for good reason. And so to do Broadway and do that eight times a week for five months and the response we got from the audience every night was very humbling. I love the theater, that was my first love being on stage because that’s where we can do what we do as actors. For us Broadway is the acme of the American theatrical experience and I had never done Broadway. I started in theater but I have never actually done the Broadway theater.
ESSENCE.com: Any books that you are reading right now that you are absolutely obsessed with?
UNDERWOOD: Yeah! I’m glad you mention it. I don’t know if you know but I have another book coming out next week. That’s the one. It’s called South By South East. I don’t know if you are aware but I have a series of novels that we’ve been producing. It follows this character named Tennyson Hardwick. That hits stores on Sunday, September 16.
Woman Thou Art Loosed!: On the 7th Day is available on DVD.