Blair Underwood: Man Of Distinction

When you hear the name Blair Underwood, you may fondly reminisce on the 1985 classic film Krush Groove, in which he portrayed now-billionaire Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons. Or perhaps you envision the good-man banker who so desperately tried to save Jada Pinkett's character Stoney in the dramatic film Set It Off. Whatever your first memory of Blair is, his presence in Hollywood has been undeniable.

Since his initial appearances, Blair Underwood has established himself as a very influential actor. Over the last 20 years, he has appeared in more than 20 films, and has received several industry awards and critical praise. Although he widely known for his nice guy roles, his performances in the films Asunder and Just Cause earned him the notoriety as an all-around actor. Aside from his acting career, Blair also has credits behind the lens as director, producer and author.

With his upcoming film G, Blair is once again proving that he has the talent to pull off an alter ego, and with his upcoming book, the father of three proves that he has a sixth sense in dealing with children. Alternatives got a chance to sit down with the man who was named in People Magazine’s 2004 ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ issue to discuss his new role, his new book, and his thoughts on being considered a sex symbol. Alternatives: After being a successful actor for the last 20 years, what was it initially that drew you to want do this as a career?

Blair Underwood: I just loved the fact that it was an art form that brought so many different human emotions to the surface. That to me was the initial attraction, because ever since I was a child I always looked for way to express myself creatively and acting is the perfect way to do that.

AHHA: You have played a very broad spectrum of characters. Looking back, which would you say is your favorite and why?

Blair: One of my favorites was a mini-series based off of one of Alex Haley's books called Mama Flora's Family, because that was really an every man kind of person. I love it because it was a very touching story, and also because I played a range of characters. It portrayed a man who you got to see age from 15 to 50, and of course because I co-starred with Ms. Cicely Tyson, who really inspired me when she starred in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman. The other one [of my favorites] would be the movie Just Cause, just because I got a chance to play a character so vastly different from myself. In that movie I played a serial killing pedophile, which was very intense. Any movie where I have to play a range or makes me tap beyond my creative ability is always going to be a favorite.

AHHA: For a role like what you played in Just Cause, how do you tap into the psyche of that character? In essence, for the role you are that character?

Blair: That one was a challenged because it was so dark, it wasn't a role where I could tap into any part of myself, but you really have to immerse yourself into the darkness of your soul. I mean the character was a serial killing pedophile, so it was really off the deep end. But for me it starts from research to find out what type of people do those types of things, and just really get into the mind of a character. Once you get a clear view of who these people are, you have to bring yourself then to try and understand why they do what they do so it makes sense to you logically. Because, although we step outside of those individuals mindset, there is a disconnect between the mentality of us and them, and that is where it becomes challenging.

AHHA: You have a book coming out called Before I Got Here. What is the book about, and what made you venture into that area of art?

Blair: The book is inspired by my four-year-old son who said something so profound to me that just blew me away. When he said it, it made me realize that children are spiritually connected, and connected to a spiritual reality, and they remember every aspect about that spiritual place before they were born - unlike we do as adults. So really the book is written by children all over the world. It's their stories and anecdotes and remeberances of these little people in their words. So I wrote the foreword and the introduction, as well as edited it with my partner Danyel Kennedy, who created all the pictures and the photographs in the book.

What's funny is, initially I thought it was going to be a children s book, but it is really a book for adults to encourage them to listen to the souls of children - not only your own but other children around you. I mean it's easy for us as parents to teach them and guide them, because that's our job. But every once in a while if you just listen to them, not to what they are regurgatating off of what we taught them, but really listen to what their souls are saying when they speak unedited. It's profound.

AHHA: Dealing with this project and the children, do you see yourself writing children's books, or are you planning on just steeping into being an author of various types of books?

Blair: It's funny you should ask. I have a production company with my brother called Eclectic; it's called Eclectic because we as people are all complex and we all are capable of thinking and doing things in many different ways. As an actor am I fascinated in playing a good guy, bad guy and everything in between. Even in this book, it's a book for adults about children, but I have another book that's an erotic mystery that is written by Tananarive Due, her husband Steve Barnes and myself. It's a book about a gigolo who gets swept up in tracking a murder mystery, and realizes that he has a skill for uncovering mysteries and detective work. It's called The Chronicles of Tennyson Hardwick. But once again, I like the fact that the two books are polar opposites. I am also in the process now of pitching and solely writing a series of children’s books.

AHHA: With all that you are doing with fiction books, are you planning on turning these into feature films?

Blair: The Chronicles of Tennyson Hardwick is something that I would definitely like to turn into a feature film, but we'll see how the book sells and take it from there.

AHHA: With all of the behind the scenes work that you have done, do you think that it will be a permanent move that you will make?

Blair: Producing and directing is something I have been doing for the last 10 or 15 years, and I really enjoy doing. But I like doing it in addition to acting, because that's my first love.

AHHA: Now, no one may know this, but you got your start directing music videos for Tony Terry...

Blair: Yeah. [laughs] That was along time ago. But it was great because it gave me the experience I needed to direct feature films.

AHHA: Can you describe your character in the movie G and his dilemma?

Blair: I would say he's a philandering womanizer, a greedy Wall Street banker who has let the greed get into the way of both his personal and professional life. But eventually he finds out that he's about to lose his wife, who he truly does love, to another man.

AHHA: With this character, how far did Blair have to reach inside to capture the attitude of this character?

Blair: [laughs] It was a stretch for me, but I do like that about this character. I have another film coming up by Tyler Perry called Madea's Family Reunion, and I don't play a nice guy in that either, but it's all parts that I truly enjoy because it gives me a break from how I am in everyday life.

AHHA: What words of advice would you give to other actors, especially those of color trying to break into the industry?

Blair: I would definitely say know your craft and treat it like a business more than anything else. Always get better at what you are doing and always strive to be the best.

AHHA: A lot of people are speaking on the fact that there are a lack of Black film makers who want to make movies from our perspective. After the boom in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it seems as if although Black directors are still here; they aren't really making Black films.

Blair: Well, like you said they are there, but it's just about getting the money to make the films you want to make to have your voice be heard. So it's really not a matter of shortage of film makers waiting to be heard, but money to produce and create these films. That's a reason I said treat it like a business, because now in this day and age you can make a film with a video camera, a computer and a couple of thousand dollars and do it yourself. Honestly, I am seeing a lot more people taking that mentality and not waiting for someone to invest five million dollars into a film, but instead taking the bull by the horns and doing it all by themselves.

AHHA: On that note, with so many film directors coming in and creating low budget films, where do you think that leaves actors who aren't quite as big as Denzel Washington, but have done enough to require a nice bit of compensation?

Blair: Those are the ones that I would say have to make their own films or align their forces. If you aren't a writer, go out and get a writer, because that's the way of the land, but there is a huge vacuum of starvation to make our story. So the only thing we can really do is grab someone who also shares the same passion and hunger to fill that need.

AHHA: Although within the last few years a lot of African Americans have either been nominated or won an Oscar, do you feel that racism is still a strong factor in Hollywood?

Blair: I am going to actually quote a great book written by Cornel West entitled Race Matters, and honestly I think it will always matter and factor into everything especially in Hollywood. But honestly it's human nature to want to see someone who thinks, acts and looks like you, so film makers and directors are always going to do things from their point of view. It may seem racist, but actually it's from a human point of view in the art of storytelling.

AHHA: It's no secret that women have been lusting after you for years. How did it feel when you first saw yourself on the list as one of the hottest guys in Hollywood?

Blair: You know, [laughs] it was funny then and it's funny now. I mean I take all that with a grain of salt because at the end of the day, I am still that loving father and husband regardless of how many people think I am sexy or how much money I am making.

AHHA: How was it getting to play a role in the HBO hit Sex and the City?

Blair: Because the show itself was a successful, it was a great opportunity. I love the fact that it opened so many doors for me to further extend my career, because it was that role that landed me the role on NBC's LAX.

AHHA: What happened with that show, because it was actually a really great show?

Blair: I know, I think that the time slot actually played a huge factor. I mean we did really well the first few weeks, but then we slumped because we were up against Monday Night Football so it was a definite ratings killer.

AHHA: Are you looking into going back to TV?

Blair: Actually I love traveling and the excitement that comes with shooting a feature film. I mean I love acting, so anything that allows me to express my creative ability is always welcome, but I would have to say that movies is the bulk of my passion.

AHHA: With everything that you have accomplished in your career and all the doors that you have opened, what would you say is your legacy?

Blair: Wow, that's a hard one. I would definitely say to be the best father and husband I can be, because at the end of the day everything else is just acting.