By Jamie Ruby
In the Syfy movie, Zombie Apocalypse
, a plague has wiped out ninety percent of the human population. The film follows a group of survivors as they travel across the United States to try to find safe haven rumored on the island of Catalina. The leader of the group is Henry, played by Ving Rhames.
Rhames, who is most known for his work on films, such as Pulp Fiction
, Dawn of the Dead
, and the upcoming Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
, recently sat down to talk to the digital media about the movie, which airs tomorrow night on Syfy.
Syfy Conference CallZombie Apocalypse
October 19, 2011SCIFI VISION:
Can you talk about your character and about the movie so we can learn a little bit more about it?VING RHAMES:
Okay. Just - let me just preface it...because I don't want to give away the whole story. But basically it's about one, two, three, four - about eight people who really survive a catastrophe where zombies have basically taken over the Earth. And it's a story that deals with our survival, how we bond as friends. How we work together to survive.SCIFI VISION:
How did you become connected to the project?VING RHAMES:
Oh, I got an offer from Syfy. They called my agent and made an offer. I read the script. I liked it and said, "Yes, I'll do it."SCIFI VISION:
What specifically attracted you to the part?VING RHAMES:
Probably I'd say more - I did a zombie movie called Dawn of the Dead
some years ago with Zach Snyder, who directed The 300
, and honestly it's - I don't want to say a part of it is just fantasy and fun, but a lot of it really - the bonding with the actors was a - it's fun. A little bit of fantasy-fiction, but fun.QUESTION:
What's the most enjoyable part about doing a movie like this, about filing a zombie thriller?VING RHAMES:
Well, I would really say the bond that the actors developed working with each other. Because even in the film, of course we have to work together to survive, and so we just - we got a nice group of actors who had very good chemistry. So you know, making new friends - it was pretty cool.QUESTION:
What kind of preparation goes into this? I assume there's a lot of fight scenes and maybe some martial arts and weapons and stuff like that. Do you have to do training?VING RHAMES:
Yes, I'm already a black belt so that wasn't really - the most preparation is really just being in shape. So I work out like four to five times a week. So as long as you were in shape, a lot of running, some fight scenes. My character wields a huge sledge hammer.
So I lift weights, I run, and I box so things went well.QUESTION:
Do you have an opinion for why zombies are kind of making a comeback? It seems like every place you turn around there's something new in the zombie genre, which really kind of almost died it seems until the last year or so.VING RHAMES:
Oh see, I didn't really think it really died honestly, because - maybe it wasn't called zombies. Let's just look at a whole lot of these vampire-type TV shows or movies or what have you.
I think things like Twilight
and what have you - I'm not going to say they're zombies, but you kind of get my point. It's in the same realm.VING RHAMES:
So, I think that just - honestly, there are probably going to be more films - zombie-ish. And I think what Syfy has done with this for television, I don't think we've seen a film like this on television before.QUESTION:
How would you say that Zombie Apocalypse
both fits in and stands apart from the other projects that are dealing with zombies and the supernatural right now?VING RHAMES:
Honestly, I don't know what other projects are dealing with zombies, and I haven't seen them so I don't know how much it stands apart. But all I can really say is that I think especially this being a television original, I think that is one of the things that will really make it stand apart.
Because to my knowledge, I don't really remember a zombie-oriented film airing on television first. I've seen ones - like I've done Dawn of the Dead
in theaters, and then months later or a year later it comes on television. But, I just think that this is really in your face...
So, I think it's going to be a very different television experience.QUESTION:
In some of the pictures I saw from the movie, there was a terrifying zombie animal there. Can you tell us a bit about working with the special effects of the movie? You know, both physical and the digital ones?VING RHAMES:
Well I would really say that, the actors - we did a lot of kind of improv on that one - I think that zombie tiger let's say. We did a lot of improv because the director would have to say, "The tiger jumps here." "The tiger jumps there." And then, you had to basically act and react.
So I've seen some of it doing looping, but I'm interested in seeing it too. But I think that – I forgot the guys name who designed a lot of that stuff, but I think for the actors, it worked well. All of the actors, we had a good chemistry together and we just went for it. So I'm looking forward to seeing it myself.QUESTION:
The Asylum is known for making films that sort of piggyback on major releases. Like for Snakes on a Plane
, they did Snakes on a Train. Transformers
. What do you think about that filmmaking strategy?VING RHAMES:
Well honestly, this is my first time working with Asylum. I didn't even know they did that. Evidently, it's something that's working for them. It's analogous to what - I'm getting ready to do something for Universal in South Africa where let's say Death Race 1 was in movie theaters. I was in Death Race 2 and I'm going to be in Death Race 3, or I'm in - was in Death Race 3 and I'm going to be in Death Race 4 where you do piggyback off of something that already developed an audience, theatrically.
So I think it's a very good business move, and I think it's much cheaper when you're doing something for television than having to shoot on film.QUESTION:
In May of this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually came out with something called Preparedness 101, Zombie Apocalypse to explain how to avoid a zombie infection. Do you think that's all in good fun, or is the CDC trying to tell us something that we don't know?VING RHAMES:
First of all, this is my first time hearing about it. I think it's all in good fun.QUESTION:
Do you think you could survive a zombie attack if it ever was to happen, and how would you do it?VING RHAMES:
No. No, I don't think I could survive it. So no, I'd be gone.SCIFI VISION:
What was your favorite scene -- without giving too much away -- that you filmed?VING RHAMES:
I think that there's one scene where the group of about seven or eight of us are being attacked by zombies and we really had to do a lot of work strategically with each other and it was choreographed extremely well. So without giving away too much, that would probably be one of my favorites.
But also I think from a real acting perspective, there's a scene between Lesley-Ann Brandt and I that shows a lot of compassion. So my character protects her a lot through the film. We're kind of paired up and I think we had a very good natural chemistry.
And there's something very human about this film where we deal with a lot of intricacies of life and of being a human being and of building a relationship with a stranger. So we deal a lot with the human condition in this film, which was a bit different from quite a few of the other zombie movies.SCIFI VISION:
Is there still a dream role or something that you still would really like to do in your career, or maybe somebody you'd want to work with that you haven't yet?VING RHAMES:
Well a role I will do at some point in my career will be either a Martin Luther King and Paul Robeson. Do you know who Paul Robeson is?SCIFI VISION:
No, I don't. Sorry.VING RHAMES:
Okay, look up Paul Robeson. One of the most fascinating men in American history.QUESTION:
You've battled zombies, sharks, and piranhas. Which is the scariest foe?VING RHAMES:
I'd probably have to say piranhas, and I mean Piranhas 2 oddly enough that'll be coming out, because they come more from, you know, ocean as the unknown. And I think the fact that something small could bite you once and you could kind of say, "Oh, that's nothing," and then you're attacked by thousands of them. So piranhas.QUESTION:
What can you tell us about Henry and his role in Zombie Apocalypse?VING RHAMES:
I'm kind of the enforcer/major protector of the group. I'm probably the eldest of the group also, so my character has a lot of wisdom. They pair us up at times and I take on kind of the (unintelligible) lead of the movie as far as protecting her and most of my scenes are with her when they're not with the group. So, I would basically say I'm the enforcer/protector.QUESTION:
Why do you think that the zombie horror genre has been so popular for so many decades?VING RHAMES:
Actually I think [if] one really does the research on it and you deal with let's say voodoo or what have you, there has been some evidence of -- I don't want to scare anyone -- but of "zombies" existing, or "someone without a heartbeat walking or moving or talking or existing."
So I do think there's still some question marks about it. But the fact that it is a little controversial as far as can a zombie really exist or not. It's just like ghosts. You know...now these films Paranormal Activity
and what have you. I think there is a sense in general where there's a possibility that a zombie could exist.
So I think with that possibility comes intrigue, and I think that's why this whole genre exists, because there's a slim possibility that this could happen.QUESTION:
Do you think we'll ever see you in a director's role?VING RHAMES:
No. I'm not interested in directing. I have produced, which I really enjoy, but directing - I think honestly, I grew up in a generation of actors and even coming from a theatrical background where you really have to know how to act.
I think now in Hollywood there are many actors who've never done a play, who've never really even taken - I graduated from The Julliard School. Not saying everyone has to do that, but they don't really have a trained background. They may have a nice look or a nice body or nice personality.
So I think for me, I'm more old school as far as requirements of an actor, and it would probably be difficult for me with many people who call themselves actors today, directing them.QUESTION:
How would you say Henry differs from the character you played in Dawn of the Dead
I think there are similarities, but I think that I - I've got to think back to Dawn of the Dead
brother, so give me a second.
I know the police officer or something like that.
I think with this character, he is a little more of a loner, and I don't want to say doesn't have as much to live for, but I think this really becomes something that my character - he loses whatever he had and he talks about his horse, you see. And so I think now he's more alone on the planet versus -- if I remember correctly in Dawn of the Dead
-- that guy might have had a family and was still looking for his family.QUESTION:
Which type do you prefer fighting against? The fast ones or the slow ones?VING RHAMES:
Well, the fast ones are more interesting, which we have a combination in this movie. I probably would say the fast ones. The slow ones are easier, but the fast ones take more agility and I think the fights are more - their choreography is a bit more interesting.QUESTION:
What's your favorite method for taking out a zombie?VING RHAMES:
As my character Henry would say, "a quick sledgehammer blow to the head solves a lot of problems."
I walk around with a sledge hammer in the movie.QUESTION:
When the cameras aren't rolling, are you just kind of standing around chatting with the actors that are in full zombie makeup? And how interesting is that?VING RHAMES:
No. Actually I'm one of those actors who if I'm not working and being used I normally go to my trailer. I try to stay a bit focused and - I just realize for me, I have to keep a certain professional distance from dealing with a lot of people when on a set. Because a lot of times people -- we call them extras -- are as important as lead actors.
You can't do a film without background or "extras". But what I've found is sometimes it could [turn] into wanting to take photos and what have you, and I don't take any photos until after the day is done. So I go back to my trailer and relax.QUESTION: Ghost Protocol
comes out at the end of the year. What can we expect from a combination of Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, and Brad Bird for this new one?VING RHAMES:
I have no idea. You can expect what you expect. I have no idea. I didn't even know they did a film together.
Oh, you're talking - I'm sorry, you're talking about Mission - what are you talking about?QUESTION:
Yes. I'm talking about Ghost Protocol
, yes. Mission Impossible
Oh, I'm sorry. Got it brother. Well I can put it this way, the team that they're using - the Mission Impossible team that starts off in that film is not as skilled and professional as the actors in Mission Impossible 3. That's kind of all I can say on that.SCIFI VISION:
How do you choose what roles to take and what roles not to take?VING RHAMES:
Well, it depends on what film I've done right before that, because I try not to do something too similar back-to-back. So that's one of the things. And then, it will depend on if the script touches me in any way. Or in this case with Zombie Apocalypse
honestly, it just seemed like, "Wow. This would be cool and this'll be fun and a lot of action." So, that's what drew me to this one.SCIFI VISION:
You have done a lot of horror movies. Are you a fan of horror, sci fi, all that? Watching it as well?VING RHAMES:
Actually, no. No. I do them but I'm not a big fan of them. I'm more a fan of - I don't know if you want to call this horror really. Do you call something like Paranormal Activity
horror or supernatural? I guess I'm a fan of the more supernatural films. I don't know if zombie movies fall into that category.QUESTION:
So what was your biggest challenge with Zombie Apocalypse?VING RHAMES:
Probably the heat and all of the physical activity, including running.QUESTION:
How did you get through it? What was your solution to dealing with those challenges?VING RHAMES:
Well, I'm one of those people where I just realize how I had to pace myself. And of course, there's quite a bit of downtime when doing a film. Thank God we had air conditioned trailers. And so, basically a lot of liquids and pacing myself.
But, we were filming out in some desert-type places, so there was a couple of 90-something degree days. And with running and being physical in that type of weather, you know you have to be a little careful. I basically would pace myself. And when I wasn't on set working, I was back in an air conditioned trailer.QUESTION:
So you had said earlier that you didn't think that you would survive a zombie apocalypse if it hit. Why not?VING RHAMES:
Well, why would I?QUESTION:
Well, you're a big strong guy.VING RHAMES:
I don't know.QUESTION:
I would have to say if I was a survivor, I'd want you on my team.VING RHAMES:
Yes. Well, I would just say I think that dealing with something that's stronger than you, that's very difficult to kill, that's already dead, I just think that percentages are slim that human being could really beat a zombie.
And we have a lot of fast ones in this too. No, we also have a lot of fast zombies, so they're stronger, faster, and they're already dead. So, how do you conquer that? You know, I don't know.QUESTION:
So you said you went to Julliard earlier. How has your preparation for roles changed from the time you graduated to now? Is it a lot easier for you?VING RHAMES:
No. My preparation is basically the same. It's even when I'm doing a play, which I haven't done in decades. But, I do kind of a - we call it a character analysis. I do a scene analysis, a script analysis. I go over what are my character's intentions in the movie? What are his actions? What are my overall intentions? What are my character's goals in the film? How do I get from Point A to Point B? You know, just basically what we call a Stanislavski moment-to-moment reality, what have you. So I use the same process in every film really.
In a film like this one where it's a lot of action or whatever - of course being in shape physically comes more into play.QUESTION:
And so you said you haven't done a play in years. Any chance you might want to try and do something on Broadway again?VING RHAMES:
No. As a matter of fact, I was offered something that I don't think they thought Denzel would do it so they offered it to him after me. Fences
on Broadway with August Wilson.
But I think one of the problems for a lot of actors - and I'm from New York but I live in LA - is a Broadway schedule is - they wanted a minimum of six months, and you know that means total relocation and I have kids so that would be - it was just - they were asking for too much.
And also you know financially - you know a Broadway play it's a lot of work and they really don't pay - you know what I'm making one day on a film I wouldn't really make that in a week on Broadway.QUESTION:
You would be awesome in Fences
by the way.VING RHAMES:
Yes, well honestly I really liked the role; however, I just looked at it as I couldn't relocate for six months. You know, that means my kids have to go to a new school, and they were asking a bit too much from me. Then with Denzel of course, he didn't do it for six months, but I would've had to have done it - a contract for six months.QUESTION:
What's your advice to actors?VING RHAMES:
Train. I think that with anything in life you need training if you want to be - what - well, there are certain requirements. You want to be a doctor? Well, you have to go to college and then you know get your Masters and then medical school - or whatever, an internship. Or basketball. You have to train if you want to be a professional athlete. You have to run. You have to practice your dribbling. Your shooting. Your footwork.
And I think so many times now actors just think that you can have a nice personality or have a certain look and that means you're an actor. So I think that the whole acting now is extremely watered down.
I even think if you look at many of the actors who we call our "movie star actors," they're not necessarily trained, or not necessarily as - I hate to use the word "good," but a lot of guys who don't work as much or - as Robert De Niro once said - you know, Robert De Niro makes...less money than guys who are the "movie stars". And as Arnold Schwarzenegger said, he said, "I'm a movie star. I'm not an actor."
So I think that's prevalent in our system now.QUESTION:
You've been in countless productions since the 1980's and you remain very prominent in the acting realm. What would attribute to your ongoing success?VING RHAMES:
Well, one of the things I tell people is I didn't choose acting; God chose me to act. Or I may say I didn't choose acting; acting chose me. So I know I've been blessed with a certain talent. I've been blessed with good acting teachers and classes and training to become a relatively good actor. So, I was able to cultivate whatever gift God blessed me with as far as acting.
And I think a lot of times people don't really - they could have a natural ability, but they don't really cultivate it. Then I think I have to thank Performing Arts High School and the Julliard School for giving me tools to allow me to be a versatile actor. So I feel if you're versatile, there's always going to be room for you in this industry versus actors who basically play themselves in every role.QUESTION:
Everybody knows you for your masculine roles. What scares Ving Rhames?VING RHAMES:
It's more in reference to...sometimes you can't protect your children from things. And what I say - it could be you know something as simple as a child getting sick. You know what I'm saying? The mumps. The measles. The flu. You know what I'm saying?
I don't want to say that's a fear, but I would say it's when something happens to a child and there's nothing you can do or nothing I can do except just wait. So I guess my fear is when I'm in a position where I can't help.
You know like a kid gets the flu, you can take them to the doctor and plenty of liquids and whatever, but I can't necessarily "heal" them in a day or so. So I guess the fear of something happening to people I love and there's nothing I can do about it.QUESTION:
You mentioned the difference between a movie star and an actor. So if people refer to you as a movie star, is that something that you'd rather not, and you like the term actor a lot more?VING RHAMES:
No. Well, I just think this. I'll put it this way. Not all movie stars are actors, you see. And of course, not all actors are movie stars, but every now and then you get someone like a - let me see, I'll use Sean Penn. Someone who's an extremely good actor but is a movie star. And now there are other people who are movie stars and no one looks at them as, "Wow, what an actor," you see? The guy that I grew up watching was like wow - De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino. All of those guys were movie stars but they were, I think, actors first you see.
So, I look at things now and I don't know if the quality of acting has changed, but I don't know - I just named those three names off the top of my head. I don't know what three names I would name now that are comparable to those three. Then I put Sean Penn in there, but then I don't really know the - maybe a Johnny Depp. You see - you know, now I really have to start thinking, whereas I just rattled those three off the top of my head.
I think that also you had a lot of guys who were very good actors that I grew up watching that were just real strong actors and they weren't really the guys who were even the star of the movie. They just happened to be real solid actors.
And I think now things have changed. The economy has changed. The quality of films has changed. We do a lot of blockbusters now. We don't really do that many films dealing with the human spirit, the human condition, what have you. So I just think that when you have better scripts, I think it raises the actor.
And I think now the scripts are not as good and Hollywood is now more so run by business men. You know, people - you look at their resume, Harvard Law degree or a Master's degree in Business in Yale or what have you, versus many years - decades ago there was something artistic in the background of heads of studios. And then I think that reflected what type of films were being made. Now, their resumes are more business-related for the heads of studios.SCIFI VISION:
Is there something that your fans would be surprised to know about you?VING RHAMES:
Probably maybe that I'm a Christian.
I don't know if they would think that based on a lot of the projects that I've done, but I do try to keep God first in my life. I don't always succeed, but that's what I'm working on.
And also maybe - I think they may know this, but I do gang intervention work with a group called Developing Options. And we basically just try and stop young adults from killing each other. It's headed by a guy named Big U. That's his street name, but it's Eugene Henley and they're based in South Central. And we cut down on the violent crime in South Central by 85% in the Crenshaw area.
He got a citation by the way from the Mayor.QUESTION:
What book has influenced you the most to be the person that you are today?VING RHAMES:
What role did you have or take on or consider that made you say, "This is why I'm doing this. This is why God decided to put me in the role of being an actor to entertain."VING RHAMES:
I look at it this way, and a lot of people may not understand this. But I think - this is not answering the question directly, but there was something about Pulp Fiction
where I played this - let's say mob boss, and then the character gets raped. That really kind of humanized him. That even the strongest person in the world can be brought down.
And I think that how the audiences around the world reacted to that film and my performance in that - I think that kind of just shook me on a different level. So I'm not going to say there's any one role that I would say, "That one stood out."
But I think anytime you can be - I graduated college in 1983, so anytime you can be a "working actor" -- you know that's all I've done for a living for 28 years -- I knew God had his hand on me and I knew that this was one of the things I was put on this planet to do.QUESTION:
And what is your belief or what do you think about this saturation of reality TV in Hollywood as a form of [discovering] talent?VING RHAMES:
Well, I think that what it does is it really just extends the belief that, "Oh, you can just be you." And reality TV, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with talent. But if you can become a reality TV star, you can make millions. You know, I'm looking at like Jersey Shore, Kim Kardashian - you know what I'm saying? Basketball Wives
. It's not really about any talent really.
So I don't quite understand the intrigue about it, but it's - what is the talent level? Or, is it just about, "Okay. I'm going to be me and it'll be a little bit scripted and we'll do some improv conversations." And I think with the writer's strike, reality TV really started hitting and/or was possibly created. And I think it's so cheap to do that, you know networks flock to that.
And I think it really has hurt a lot of good actors who there's no work because there's no series because reality TV has replaced them.
But I think in due time, America will get tired of them and will go back to a different format as far as television.QUESTION:
Are you familiar with the new play Mountain Top
? Would you have taken on that role? Would you have said yes to that?VING RHAMES:
I'm not aware of it. What's Mountain Top
about?QUESTION: The Mountain Top
is with Angela Bassett and Samuel Jackson. It has to do with Martin Luther King - his life.VING RHAMES:
Oh, it's a play? Is it a play?QUESTION:
Yes, it's a play. Would you have taken that role if it was offered?VING RHAMES:
Yes. Well, what I said earlier is that one of the roles I want to play is Martin Luther King. Yes, I don't know - is the play on Broadway, because I will go see it.QUESTION:
Yes, it is on Broadway. It's on Broadway now, and I was thinking you would've been perfect and that might have brought you out back into the stage and theater.VING RHAMES:
Yes. Well I will say this, and I know Sam Jackson. Honestly, I think even physically I'm more Martin Luther King type than Sam Jackson. Now I've known Sam Jackson for 20-some odd years. We used to live in Harlem together a couple of blocks away. So no, I definitely will check this out. And I've known Angela Bassett for many years.
As a matter of fact when she went to Yale and I went to Julliard for my school, we dated each other for about a year. So no, I definitely would like to see that.
And I did read something. Is it a little controversial? Have you seen it?QUESTION:
Yes, and it was amazing. And yes there's controversy surrounding it because they're portraying him in a light that the family is not too happy about.VING RHAMES:
Right. Well, there was a famous book - well, I don't know how famous it was, but there was a book that I read called - because many years ago, Oliver Stone approached me about playing Martin Luther King. And there was a book I read called "I Slept with the Dream", and then I know Ralph Abernathy's book had maybe a couple of paragraphs about infidelity. So it sounds like this one portrays him - is that in this play?QUESTION:
Yes, it is. There's innuendo around that, and that's where the problem lies.VING RHAMES:
Right. Okay. Well, that sounds interesting. I'm going to - do you know how long has it been playing and how long will it run?QUESTION:
I think it's supposed to run until the end of the year. If I'm correct, I think that's what it is. It's been going for awhile now and it's very successful, so you'll probably still get in there.VING RHAMES:
Okay, great. Okay. Well thank you for all the information. I'll definitely want to check it out.QUESTION:
Do you still study your craft? And if so, do you do it by running scenes with a class or private sessions? How do you still maintain?VING RHAMES:
You know, I do study my craft, but see I think at a certain point, as far as being a craft's been, if you're working constantly at your craft you should always be growing, improving, learning, what have you. So now my study is more so on-the-job training.QUESTION:
Are you familiar with the social commentator and writer Toure?VING RHAMES:
Oh, okay. Well he just came out with a book called "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness." He talks a lot about black America, and since you are an African-American actor and he's - he also does a lot of commentation on the entertainment industry and he has a lot of criticism of somebody like a director like Tyler Perry. I'm just wondering if you would ever accept a role in a Tyler Perry movie?VING RHAMES:
I don't know? What's his criticism?QUESTION:
He just thinks that the roles that he portrays of black characters or black people aren't very realistic and they're - I know Spike Lee has the same kind of criticism that it's more buffoonery than anything.VING RHAMES:
Well I think for me, I'd have to read a script and look at the role and see if it's something I wanted to do. But I also feel that this is America and Tyler Perry has the right to do whatever type films or TV things that he wants to do. And just like you and I, and Spike Lee, and this other guy you mentioned.
I think that if something is not your cup of tea, that's fine. But I think many times we criticize without actually talking to the person and getting to know their perspective of things.
I could possibly have a positive perspective or watch his - I can look at Tyler Perry and I can say, "Well, he's employed more people, more African-Americans in general than any other director in the past what, five, seven years? Or Lionsgate - they do produce Tyler Perry movies or even his TV shows. I don't watch them. They're not my cup of tea, but I have to say, "Well hey, he created his own studio in Atlanta and he is creating jobs for people, and you know probably mainly African-American people."
So, I'm not ever quick to criticize, because many people didn't care for a lot of Spike Lee movies. You get my point? They're entitled to that like he's entitled to have his perspective on Tyler Perry.
But all I can say is I try to let - or someone could say something about me. So I know where my heart is whether you know where it is or not. And all I do is basically - I don't give in to nonsense or people's opinions because many years ago - I forgot the name of that movie that Spike Lee hired Damon Wayans to do, but whatever - but it was almost in there it was something where an actor gives away a Golden - I don't know if it was a Golden Globe, but gave away something. But it was almost doing it to gain something.
So a lot of reporters asked me did I think that Spike Lee was doing that in reference to me? And I said, "You know what? I don't know, but God bless Spike Lee. I'm supportive of whatever a person is doing as long as it's not against the Lord and it's relatively positive."
And, people can have their opinions of me or others, but I don't fall into - I'm not going to let someone divide and conquer where Lord knows we have many more problems in black America than movie images, what have you. We got a homeless problem. We got teen pregnancy. We have AIDS. You get my point? So we have drugs. We have...
And so, my focus is more on that than focusing on the perception of whatever Tyler Perry is doing. If we focus on cleaning up our house, we may not have enough time to look into Tyler Perry's.QUESTION:
I saw the Funny or Die video where you accepted an Oscar for Piranha 3D
, and it seems like you really have a good sense of humor about yourself. Is it easy for you to laugh at some of the roles that you've done in your career and just play along with that?VING RHAMES:
Well I do have a pretty good sense of humor, and Elizabeth Shue - she's a lot of fun and I think sometimes I tell people, "Look, it's just a movie." You know, it's not curing cancer. It's not curing AIDS. It's only a movie. So I take my work seriously, but at the same time I realize look, this is just a film. Now hopefully it's a film that can do something to enlighten, inspire, or affect the way one may think about whatever issue we're dealing with.
But again, there's very few films that - you know in America anyway - that really try to really say something. I think most of our films are a little - a bit more commercial.QUESTION:
Could you please talk more a little bit about your work with gangs?VING RHAMES:
Well this is what happened. A guy I met named - we call him Big U, and his real name is Eugene Henley. He started something called Developing Options and it was already started and let's call it fate the way we met.
He manages recording artists and I was in South Africa and I was listening to this artist and I was like, "Whoa, this guy is pretty good." Never heard of him before.
So I get back in town and I say I'm going to produce a small film and I wanted to use this guy as one of the actors in it, and basically playing himself. So that's how I - through gang intervention I had started out with (Jim Brown) briefly with his group (American) and I met this guy through that - I mean kind of through that. But anyway through gang prevention.
What I found is sometimes you can be placed in a position to make change. I find being a known actor, kids may listen to me sometimes more than they listen to their parents. So I've just found that when he brought me in to Developing Options, it was mainly in the Crenshaw area with gang violence between Crips and Bloods and sometimes Crips and Crips.
And what wound up happening is I'm very real, I'm very honest in that perspective in the streets, especially I did a film with John Singleton years ago called Baby Boy
where I played a gang member. And you know, in a lot of black America, that film was a hit and they really thought I was a gang member for real.
They would ask me, "All those tattoos you had," and this was in LA. I'm from New York, and people would swear that, "Oh no, you know you're definitely from LA and you're a gang member." So they did identify with something in me, probably because I come from the streets, I grew up in a gang culture. I grew up under people like Mikey Barnes as far as major drug dealers at Harlem at that time.
So I think sometimes God can place you in a position or bless you with something, but you're supposed to use it for something else. Like maybe I've been blessed with acting and getting notoriety to help change the lives of young black, young Hispanic men, young Caucasian men who can relate to someone coming from the streets, because most actors don't come from the streets.QUESTION:
Do you ever return to your home community in Harlem in New York?VING RHAMES:
Oh, yes. I have an apartment in Harlem. Yes, I still have an apartment in Harlem. I have an apartment in Harlem that I bought with a student loan in 1981. I bought it for $3,000 with a student loan under something called the Teal grant. So I still have that place in Harlem.QUESTION:
And when you go back, how does it feel to know that you've come full circle and there's so much you've done and yet so much you still have to do?VING RHAMES:
Well, I think full circle for me is going to eventually be living back in Harlem because Harlem has changed quite a bit. Most poor people can't really afford to live in Harlem unless you're in a project or something like that. So what I find is Harlem for me growing up was very culturally enriching. I grew up one block away from the Apollo Theater, 125th Street. So my mother used to take us there almost every weekend.
So you know, Harlem is also very political. Like they had - well of course, Martin Luther King came through Harlem. Malcolm X. The Nation of Islam. Hebrew Israelite Movement in Harlem. So, you had a lot of political energy in Harlem and you had a lot of creative cultural energy in Harlem. Then the Harlem Renaissance if you go that far back with Langston Hughes and all of the poets and what have you that were there. So, I just found it very - I was kind of like an open nerve ending just responding to stimuli in that area.
And it really gave me something that money can't buy. I think when you grow up in poverty, we were very poor. My mother was a share cropper from South Carolina, but I was born in Harlem Hospital, so it taught me the value of how to appreciate things and how to work for something.
And I think now sometimes too many things are just given and kids don't have to earn them. Even in our industry, we spoke of reality shows. Well, do you have to have any talent to do a reality show? I don't really think so. Maybe you have to have an interesting personality, maybe, but you can look at some and man, the personalities are not that interesting.
So I just I feel very fortunate - very blessed every day I'm used as a role model of here's somebody who came from nothing and made something out of himself.