You are the writer of the series Giants. Talk about the inspiration behind this project? How long were you working on this for? (Previous projects include Angel, Agents of Shield, Notorious).
I had to get involved in the show because it was the opportunity to do something without asking permission. That’s what we drew me to the project. My friend James Bland did the whole first season himself. He wrote every episode, directed most of the episodes, and he just wanted to tell his story. I helped him from the sidelines. I was a consulting producer on the project. I would read his scripts, watched his cuts and it was turning out so well. Then he aired the first season. Issa Rae and James have a business relationship, and she saw it and liked it, so she decided to put it on her platform. So the show ended up being so successful that he was able to get a lot of sponsors and more money to make a second season. James decided to hire a writers room, which I’m a part of, as well as a few other writers. He also chose to hire different directors to direct each episode so he could focus on his acting. I directed the first two episodes, and that’s how I got involved.
Is directing something you’ve also thought about pursuing?
When it was time for me to choose what college I was going to go to I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a film or theater major because I have an equal passion for acting as well as directing. It was a tough call, but at the very last minute, I decided that I would be a theater major. I decided that I would spend the first half of my career focusing on acting and becoming the best actor that I could be. Also, I wanted to learn by being on set by watching what various directors do. At this point in my life, I’ve watched hundreds of directors work. I have always taken notes about what I thought was effective or ineffective. Over the years I’ve also been directing simultaneously, while I’ve been acting. I wrote and directed a musical in high school and college, two short films and a few other plays. So I’ve always been directing throughout the years.
Can you share what your experience was like when you first moved out to Hollywood?
Well I was fortunate because I moved out here to go to college, so I had that protective environment in which I had the opportunity to thrive in L.A., I make myself very available to other actors here in L.A. I have a lot of young actors who I mentor. I worry for them because this is a challenging environment to move into without going to school or having a protective environment. It’s a very isolating town. I was very grateful because all of my best friends are the people that I went to college with and twenty years later we’re all still best friends. So I have a tight-knit group of people who whether I’m up or down they love me. That’s what scares me for other actors here in this city: your value is based upon where your career is. People will drop you or pick you up based on how successful you are. The most important thing you can do is to surround yourself with people who love you for who you are.
Cocktails: If you could have a cocktail with anyone, who would it be? What would you drink? What would be your first topic of conversation?
There are thousands of people I would want to have cocktails with, but in this exact moment I feel like I would want to have a bottle of scotch (specifically Lagavulin) with Tilda Swinton. I feel like Tilda Swinton is an actor that I could learn a lot from. I’ve watched her work, and I feel like all of those things that I’m working on, that I want to be better at in my acting, she has down. I would love to work with her and drink with her. I feel like she has this “fuck it” attitude deep down in her spirit that I wish that I had.
If we were to spend a day with you on your day off, what would we be doing?
I wake up, pray, and meditate. Then I go to Starbucks and get a Blonde Roast Coffee. I come back home and watch TV. Then I go to the gym, work out for an hour and a half, go into the steam room then I go to lunch. I come home and watch tv again. In the evening, I’ll go out for dinner or do something with a friend. Hopefully later that night one of my favorite shows are on (The Assassination of Versace). That show right now is my favorite show, and then I’ll watch something on Netflix. After that, I’ll go to sleep. Oh, and I will also try to go to the spa at some point in the day. There are some great Korean spas here in L.A. I would go to the Korean Spa and get a body scrub after my workout which feels so good. Those are my days where I have absolutely nothing to do.
You’re the definition of pure inspiration! Can you share a time where you felt like giving up? How did you overcome that? What advice do you give to others when it comes to following their dreams?
Before book Agents of Shield, I was out of work for about eighteen months. Before that, I only had two guest star roles. I had a very long dry spell for about three years. I think that was attributed to the fact that I was in my mid-thirties, but I looked like I was in my mid-twenties. I think it affected the way I was cast. During those three years, I had a tough time booking roles. So much of my life changed because of that. I look back at it now and think it was the most significant period of my life because I learned that I could not look to my career, popularity, money, attention, etc for self-esteem. During that time I learned the true definition of self esteem-how to generate it from within. I think that is the most important thing anyone can walk through this life with. It is the ability to validate yourself from within. Not looking at anything on the outside to make yourself feel good. For you to be able to feed yourself by yourself. I think that is the greatest gift anyone can ever have. If I ever have children that is the only thing I want to teach them.
What’s a mantra/quote that you live by daily?
Who cares?! That’s the mantra that I live by daily. It’s powerful for me because I tend to make everything too important. The reality of the situation is that you think that something is so important and other people aren’t thinking about it five minutes later.
"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions." -With that said, what would you like to see manifest in the next year for yourself?
I would like to see myself engaged in a creative activity with a group of people who inspire me towards more magnificent artistry and greater humanity. I want to be working on something that I feel has the potential to make people feel alive. I would also like to do that in my personal life. I want to be surrounded by a community of people who are connected and interconnected. That’s all I want.
That has nothing to do with winning awards, making a lot of money, or being very famous. It has nothing to do with any of that. When I look at Giant, I feel so successful because that is what I just described. It doesn’t matter if the whole world knows about it. I know that people who need it will find it and it will mean something to them. That’s the only thing that I care about.
Complete this sentence: Never have I ever….
Been to Africa...and I want to go (laughs).