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Nate Parker: Newcomer Hits it Big

Denzel Washington launches new talent in The Great Debaters

Imagine scoring screen time with Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker just four years after college. That’s precisely the path taken by University of Oklahoma alum and computer programmer-turned-actor Nate Parker, 28, who portrays Henry Lowe, a gifted yet troubled soul, in The Great Debaters, opening Christmas Day. Essence.com caught up with this up-and-comer in Beverly Hills for a little Q&A.

Essence.com: Why did you want to bring this character to the screen?
Nate Parker:
I knew that I wanted to portray Henry after reading the first scene of the script. As a young, intelligent, Black man, he could have become anything he wanted if it were 2007. But in 1935, he was suppressed and powerless in his environment. I saw the role as a challenge that, if played with the right amount of vulnerability and truth, could really reach people.

Essence.com: You must tell us how you transitioned from software to silver screen.
N. P.:
After college, I did computer programming because of the money (laughs). Then, while supporting a friend at a modeling convention, a guy asked if I was an actor. I said, “No,” but after reading a monologue, he said, “Young man, you must move to Los Angeles.” I had the rest of my life to work for someone else, so I gave two-week’s notice and moved. That was four years ago and by the grace of God, everything worked out.

Essence.com: Now that you’ve been anointed by Denzel, who also directed the film, how do you hope to continue on this journey?
Denzel is a great teacher, a great coach, a great collaborator. My objective is to try my best to fill those big, polished shoes and make the right career choices, just as he did at my age. I’m praying, on my knees, that in 35 years, I can look back and reflect on a body of work that I’m proud of.

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Photo Credit: David Lee/TWC 2007