Brian White Talks Stage Plays, ‘Goods Deeds’ and More22 Feb, 2012 By: Ashley Ratcliff
To say that actor Brian White (Stomp the Yard, I Can Do Bad All By Myself) has been keeping busy lately would be an understatement. Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, which White stars in, hits theaters Feb. 24, followed by horror thriller Cabin in the Woods, out April 13. His first stage play, What My Husband Doesn’t Know, recently was released on DVD, and White currently is hosting the United Negro College Fund “Empower Me” Tour via his organization, Black Carpenter, speaking to students about planning and building a successful future.
Home Media Magazine caught up with the multifaceted Boston native to discuss his experience starring in David E. Talbert’s What My Husband Doesn’t Know, what he looks for when choosing roles and working with the illustrious Tyler Perry.
HM: How would you describe your experience on your first stage play?
White: It was challenging and rewarding at the same time because it’s the most real of all of the acting art forms. There’s no second takes. The audience will tell you if they like what you’re doing or not, so it’s very organic and nourishing. It’s a group experience. The audience is the extra character, so there’s nothing like it. I had a wonderful experience. David [Talbert] is such a professional and a true master of his craft and he gave us such an excellent script to start from.
HM: In What My Husband Doesn’t Know, your character, Paul, displays a dark streak toward the end. That’s a role that I don’t think I’ve seen you play often. Is that something that attracted you to the role?
White: Yeah, I like playing characters that are disparate from Brian. I’m not interested in being the movie star. I’m happy to star in a good movie, but it’s not my goal to be a star. My goal is to be the best actor I can possibly be. To tell you the truth, I aspire to be like the Sidney Poitiers and the Harry Belafontes and the Billy D. Williamses and the James Earl Joneses of the world. It’s about the message and the performance, so I always look to try something new, to challenge myself and to get away from the routine. So David [Talbert] and Tyler Perry and some of these wonderful directors are blessing me with wonderful opportunities to challenge myself and explore.
HM: Did you have the ability to shape your character in What My Husband Doesn’t Know?
White: None. Zero. David is a shorthanded director, down to how I said the line, as far as accent, diction, to the dance steps. That’s all David. He knows every motivation for every line, the blocking, and we explored and tried things in rehearsal, but the final call — what’s up on the screen — is Mr. Talbert’s vision, his work, and we are hired as the people to make it three-dimensional.
HM: You’ve done movies, some TV work with “Men of a Certain Age,” and now stage plays. Which medium is your favorite?
White: As far as the acting itself goes, there’s different benefits, challenges and blessings between the three genres, but if you’re going to do just one all the time, of course it’s films. Films are by and large bigger budget, more posh. You get to fully explore whatever character you’re portraying for that time period and then move on. You know the beginning, middle and end to the story. … Film is the most artistically fulfilling and it is a career, so it’s the brass ring as far as what we all compete for. But theater is fantastic and it’s the most pure of all the art forms, so hopefully I’ll be able to do all of them for the rest of my career.
HM: What do you look for when you’re deciding to be a part of a project?
White: The message. The size of the role doesn’t matter. Let’s say Daddy’s Little Girls, which I did for Tyler Perry. I had two scenes. They’re memorable scenes but there’s a clear message. I wanted to portray a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I wanted to make a cautionary tale. You don’t have be the star of the movie if you can help support the … parable that the director and the writer are trying to tell. I grew up on the four artists I mentioned before, and shows and images like the Cosby family — doctors, lawyers, educated, proud, work out your problems together. I try to do everything I can in my career to steer people back toward those kinds of messages because that’s not exactly what we celebrate and glorify today. It’s important to me.
HM: In a recent interview, you made the observation that Will Smith has “never made anything that wasn’t for everybody.” Is that what you’re striving for, to branch out from making “urban” films?
White: No, I’m just trying to make films that appeal to me and the people that I love and know. I was raised by two moms — two strong black women who both went to college, they’re both graduates, both have climbed the corporate ladder, and both have taught me that there are no limitations, other than the way you think, and how much you empower yourself. I like telling stories that speak to that. I have pictures of my mom’s mom and my mom’s dad in the ’20s sitting in Cadillacs in furs. I like universal stories. When I was a kid, and I was watching Will Smith in Enemy of the State, it didn’t feel or seem any different than Tom Cruise in The Firm. Watching Denzel [Washington] opposite Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief didn’t feel or look any different than any of the cool Tom Hanks movies that I loved and still love. It was Sidney Poitier’s Oscar [for 1963’s Lilies of the Field] — his character was the only person in that movie that didn’t speak to him being black. Everybody else reacted but he didn’t. That’s why he was so regal almost, and people are like, “Wow.” How you carry yourself matters. How you think of yourself and your circumstance and your position in society matters, and it effects how everybody else sees you. So I’ve always loved those kinds of performances. … I just like to be part of the positive message, part of pointing out those kinds of elevated, positive, empowering ideas.
HM: So you’re starring in Good Deeds. You’ve actually been in quite a few Tyler Perry films. How was this time different?
White: They’re always different. Tyler affords me the luxury to play characters that are the most disparate from Brian. I don’t get the opportunities that I get from Tyler anywhere else. What I really love about Tyler is he always has such a positive message. … He’s really pushing the envelope. What I love about Good Deeds — my mom, my wife and my friends got to see the premiere. My mom and wife cried. And they’re pretty much the harshest critics of movies that I know, especially the ones that I’m in. They keep it real. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. If it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for them. If it doesn’t touch them, it doesn’t touch them. And they were sitting up in the theater bawling. My friend, Angelique, gave such a nice compliment. She said, “Tyler Perry made a movie that, to me, feels like Pretty Woman — minus the whole prostitute thing, of course.” It feels like that kind of a movie. And the performances — Gabby’s (Gabrielle Union) amazing. Tyler’s incredible. Phylicia Rashad is haunting. Thandi (Newton) is wow, like stellar. And the movie works, so it’s exciting to even be a part of this machine that is Tyler Perry, and putting out these positive messages. Whatever you don’t agree with it or you don’t like it or you love it, whether you think it’s the best thing ever, you’re talking about it. He’s got a lot of positive messages that people are talking about and I love being part of it.