Some men have an undeniable presence. Actor Eamonn Walker becomes that dude when he breathes life into Howlin’ Wolf, the legendary Mississippi-born blues singer, in “Cadillac Records.” The Great Brit has ebbed his way into the American consciousness in captivating roles such as Kareem Said on HOB’s defunct prison drama “Oz” and on stage in “Julius Caesar” on Broadway opposite Denzel Washington. ESSENCE.com caught up withthe London-born actor to discuss his latest role, being starstruck after meeting his idol Sidney Poitier, and why he doesn’t worry about what folks say about him.
ESSENCE.COM: As Howlin’ Wolf in “Cadillac Records,” you were the bad boy that good girls love. What was his appeal for you?
EAMONN WALKER: He was a powerful man and he had the kind of presence that you can’t help but notice and commands a room.
ESSENCE.COM: The film tackled a lot of underlying issues including the miseducation of the artist. What are the parallels to this generation of singers?
WALKER: Musicians back then and now suffer the same pitfalls when it comes to educating themselves about the business and allowing someone else to look after you. It speaks volumes about the history of blues music, which is our pain. Those bluesmen were a second away from working in the cotton fields. That’s where the music and singers were born because they didn’t have any time to play and they inspired and influenced so many artists like The Rolling Stones, Beatles and Elvis Presley. The film is great in that it doesn’t beat you over the head with the lessons.
ESSENCE.COM: As a Black British actor, your résumé is pretty diverse. What made you sign on to do this project?
WALKER: When I received the script I was thinking, blues? And once I found out Jeffrey wright, Adrien brody and Beyoncé were in, I was like, “Sign me up and oh, yeah, send me the script too!” (Laughs.) These are people I’ve wanted to work with for years, and how often do you get this much talent and creativity in one film.
ESSENCE.COM: You’re a celebrity in your own right, but when did you have your “Mama, I made it” moment?
WALKER: (Laughs.) I’ve had a few crazy moments, but as actors there is no “arriving” because you’re always trying to outdo yourself. But I can tell you about a couple of memorable moments: One was when I got a message that Laurence Fishburne wanted to meet with me about a project, and I was sitting in the car with my son and eventually I started driving again after an hour or so. The other time was when I did “Julius Cesar” on Broadway with Denzel, and I met my hero Sidney Poitier. I walked out after a performance and when I opened the door he was standing there. I stopped dead in my tracks and keep looking at him in disbelief. I was a gibbering idiot. (Laughs.) He spoke to me and gave me a hug. I”ll never forget it because he was the reason I began acting.
ESSENCE.COM: What would you say is the biggest misconception folks have about you?
WALKER: Me? I don’t know what people think about me really. Well, I’m shy and I can hide behind my acting and discover the truth about myself because it’s cathardic in that way. But I tend not to read reviews. I do my work and do the best I can. I’m quite happy with my anonymity. All I can ever hope for is that I continue to do great work that will be remembered, and I leave my imprint so that my son can say proudly, “That’s my dad!”