Transcribed by Pamela Reece
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: Good afternoon, Mr. White, how are you?
Actor Brian White: I’m alright, just running and gunning. We’re on a movie tour right now – and just trying to keep up with the concerts. (laughs)
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: Yes, I know you’re quite busy. I just want to say thank you on behalf of Dr. Kishma George with KISH Magazine. We thank you for your time and patience today. I’m not going to keep you long — I know you’re busy with your tour. Do you have any questions before we get started?
Actor Brian White: No, but thank you for the interview and thank you for the interest. Appreciate you guys as well.
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: Okay, well great – let’s get started. Just tell us a little about yourself.
Actor Brian White: That’s a broad question! (laughs)
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: A lot of your viewers who follow your work (and things like that), they know a lot about you. But can you tell us some things that you think the people out there that don’t know about you? Perhaps some hidden secrets — just tell us some things that are interesting that you’d like to share.
Actor Brian White: As soon as I decided to become an actor, working this side of the business, I think I threw the notion of secrets and privacy out the window. My dad was a Hall of Fame basketball player, my two cousins are Hall of Fame baseball players. They lived public lives. For my entire life, that’s all I’ve ever known and so when I first became a professional athlete and then decided to become an entertainer/actor, I realized that was about exposing even more than what athletes do. Athletes put their families out there. The world knows where you’re from, where you were born, what your politics are, who you’re married to, who your kids are, etc. And growing up as a kid watching my Dad, their interviews were specifically about basketball or whatever sport that they’re playing. Entertainers, seldom talk about just the work. Fans want to know everything about them. And that’s always what I saw about my Dad’s musician friends or actor friends. So, getting into this wasn’t very surprising to me. I was prepared. So as far as the journey, I started before social media. With social media, I watched it and participated early even the more. For me, it’s safer to include my fans in my journey and to share openly, rather than trying to present myself in any way, shape or form for the world. Good things happen, bad things happen. So, entertainers feel the pain or embarrassment, but I don’t feel embarrassed that I’m sharing with the world as a human being.
I don’t feel like I’m any different than them. I’ve been doing that same process before I became an actor. So — the ride is shared rather than me presenting some elevated position. Hopefully, the people that speak to me every day won’t be very surprised about much because they know who my wife, daughter and family members are. They see our struggles. They were with me when my father wasn’t well and when he passed. They saw how we handled it. They were there in the room with our little videos of me and my five sisters and all the people that follow our families, our companies.
As far as surprised – maybe people might be surprised to hear that that’s all planned and that how my family’s just trying to live life and do things — which is how my Dad taught us.
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: I’ve followed your career for a long time and didn’t know that you had two cousins that were athletes also. I also didn’t know that you were into sports before becoming an actor. I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time. So that was quite interesting to me. You could have remained an athlete. What made you pursue the acting and producing side?
Actor Brian White: I don’t think I’ve ever chased anything in my life. I wait until something has enough gravity to change my orbit on its own. With acting, it started just by performing. Acting is a big field. There are a lot of areas — a lot of ground to cover – such as dancing, singing, theater, film and TV — different specialties. But that being said, I started in middle school where a cheerleader friend approached me with me being a football player said she needed a strong guy that could lift her for a dance performance because her partner got injured asked if I could fill in for him. I responded, “No way am I putting on tights and perform!” Then I said, “Alright fine, I’ll do it.” I ended up doing it and it was fun!
When I got to college – it was required of us as freshman to take ballet at Dartmouth College for agility purposes, and, I knew Herschel Walker and Lynn Schwann had taken ballet. I was kind of embarrassed then again, but after seeing some professional football players doing it, and because I needed some experience, I agreed to take the class.
Of myself and ten other guys — I was one of two guys who was asked to stay and join the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble – which I did. A lot of the dancers were young girls who were on a professional track, high school kids — even middle school kids — that came over to do professional level ballet. I participated in the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble for all 4 years. I really learned more about jazz, modern and ballet and performed with the theater troop and then when I got out, I played professional football – met and partnered with a professional choreographer who was doing the choreography routine for the Patriots and the Boston Celtics cheerleader teams. We formed a dance theater company which is a professional dance troop in theater ensemble and, I started doing that every day. So that’s how I got into it and then randomly met an agent for modeling on an elevator and started modeling. They took me to their office and signed me. I basically needed to take Polaroids in order to become a model — not a very hard job to get. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the right place, and meet a person that hires models, it happens instantly.
So now I was modeling and was sent to a casting for a commercial. I wasn’t sent as the talent. I was sent to bring ten of my dancers basically as a driver and a booker to go for a TJ Maxx commercial. And they said, “Hey will you audition? You look right for the part!” It was for the aerobics instructor! But he had lines and so I did the dance and the whole routine because I was doing it with the company and got the job! All of a sudden, I was an extra in The Best Man because Morris Chestnut in the movie — was a professional football player and I was a professional football player and got cast as his teammate and got put on one scene and he was getting married in that scene. Monica Calhoun who played as my love interest in a movie since — was killing the scene way back in 1999 and crying about how she loved her man…and I was like, “oh such a great scene.” The camera happened to be on us and so Andre came over and said, “I want to introduce you to Malcolm”. Malcolm said, “did a great job, Mr. football player we’re gonna put you in a bunch of stuff.” I ended being a featured an extra — no lines for the entire shoot.
If you watched The Best Man, you see me hemming and hawing all over the place…and that was my very first thing. A couple weeks later, I was out in Los Angeles — meeting with my football agent trying to get back to the Raiders camp with the NFL after an injury. At a party, Terrance, Taye and Morris come walking over and said, “Hey Mr. Extra Guy Football Player! What’s up Brian, how are you?” We went to hang out. The casting director walks over and asked them to introduce me. Her name was Chemin Bernard, the casting director for the sitcom called Moesha. She asked me if I was an actor, I said no. They said yes, saying, “Yes he was just in our movie. He can cry — he can do all this stuff — he’s funny, etc.!” She said, “Come and audition.” From there I got six episodes in a recurring role on Moesha the next day and never ended going back to football.
Interview-Crystal Tolbert: Wow, that’s awesome! It’s so funny when you think about it! You were really at the right place at the right time. I listened to everything that you shared – even when you talked about how when you used to dance. It didn’t make sense…but you did it anyway. You really didn’t need to have to practice for something you had already cultivated.
Actor Brian White: Well, yes and no. That’s preparation. There is no such thing as luck. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity, right? I was always walking into the right situation…luckily. But if I wasn’t prepared and also if I didn’t recognize the opportunity…let’s say when I was on the elevator –when that scout saw me. I was on the elevator with a Caucasian woman and, the scout was Caucasian who alone a lot of things could have gone wrong in the 30 seconds when the elevator door closed – before she said, “Excuse me young man, are you interested in modeling?” Whatever I did I that 30 seconds before the door closed was inviting enough for her to not only want to approach me, but to also hire me. I’ve been prepared by my parents on how to carry myself and use the secret to attract positivity. Then the conversation we had, “Have you ever taken pictures before?” I said, “yes, but not professionally.” “Have you done this and that…?” I answered, “yes I have. Graduated college.” She said, “well, okay — come with me to my office.”
Same thing with Stomp the Yard, I had taken and studied dance at that point for many years in college and there was an audition. They said “Yes, you’ve got the look, you’re perfect and all that. But now come meet Mr. Dave Scott and his team, and Chuck Maldonado. Five-six-seven-eight-go!” (laughs) So, it was bits and pieces that you prepare yourself with through life and you never know what you’re going to apply them to later. If you’re interested in them, you’ll want to get proficient at them for that whatever and then all of sudden that whatever comes. And there you go. That’s happened to me many, many times.
Interview-Crystal Tolbert: I think it’s quite interesting how you made sure that you said it! I’ve always said — always look the part, always be ready. But you have to have behind the scenes before anyone knows your name because at any moment, your time could happen for you. If you weren’t prepared for when you were in the elevator with that lady – you didn’t just look presentable for that position, but you had the knowledge and the wisdom to articulate what she needed from you to get you to the next point and what started your destiny for where you are now pursuing. I love how you made sure you put that in there because a lot of people think that you’re just honest. You’re a very attractive man. But what I didn’t know when following your career – when I listened to your interviews — you’re so different than the diverse roles that you play. You’re very humble, grounded and wise — and I want to commend you to be in the industry as long as you have been. It says a lot about your character and who you are as a person.
So, I wanted to ask — what was one of the biggest challenges for you, playing the role as Frank and then as executive producer also?
Actor Brian White: The executive producing at the same time as I was being the lead role – I’ve done it for twelve of my last fifteen projects – but the point being — each opportunity, you take on more actual responsibility. Production, just like acting is a team sport. My first time several years ago I was pretty much a producer in title. I sat in a room, learned, took notes and helped. And then on Dear Frank, I did more of the heavy lifting. With Mike Muntaser and Josh Webber, and shared in much more responsibility involving the creative process and how things ended up. So, when I’m also in the position of being in a major role and a major contributor behind the scenes, there’s just a lot more planning. I almost have to see myself and do my normal processing as an actor and then turn into a producer and step back and ask if there’s anything in my role that would impact the bottom line in a negative way? Sometimes you want more time as an actor. But as a producer, you ask is it really necessary? It was interesting to have those conversations with myself. You realize this is what actors deal with every day on the Ambitions set. It’s a balancing act. You probably become a better actor to work with, once you’ve produced something and then when you direct something. You’re much more aware of everyone’s challenges and specific goals and needs for their jobs and become much more amicable in getting the team across the finish line, rather than focusing on yourself to look good. It was awesome for me to wear multiple hats.
Interviewer-Cynthia Tolbert: I saw the preview. I knew you had to switch out roles and I said to myself that’s a lot. You’re very disciplined but yet diverse in switching in and out of the various roles.
Actor Brian White: I know something that people would be surprised to know. My Dad was a Marine Officer (and that’s why we’re so disciplined) and had military funeral; I have his flag and his dog tags. We got our discipline traits from him. My Dad smoked cigarettes while he played in the NBA, but you could never smell it on him not even one time in his life. He was always sharp-dressed and wore his cologne, he always made his bed before he left his room. Came to breakfast with his face and teeth cleaned. He was military. With our beds, he’d pull them apart and we’d have to redo them. He adopted what I call, the ‘best of the best about military people’ but still maintained that very relaxed, warm aspect of being a church boy. He was the youngest of nine. His father was a pastor. Two of his brothers were pastors in St. Louis, MO and Topeka, KS. LFL Baptist Church – shout-out! Eight hundred members strong; that’s my family church. That’s my granddaddy’s church! Uncle D. White is the pastor there now. Shout out to him. My mom’s family side was in the mortuary business and turned one mortuary into eighteen houses by 1931 and was doing the do. My other grandparents taught me the right way to invite the results from life that you want. So sorry to interrupt you but that’s the full answer to your earlier question.
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: I love it! It’s funny that you mentioned that. My husband was in the military and now we’re pastoring. I have a five-year old little boy. I have an eighteen-year old. Even though my husband’s military (and my father-in-law was in the Navy), he’s very loving, so his approach is different, depending on what it is, and it makes a difference in how your children react.
I just wanted to ask you if you might have already done this. Do you have a dream role that you desire to create or play?
Actor: Yes, there’s a lot of topics that matter to me especially because my family’s uniquely situated. Historically there are lot of narratives that’s been removed from our history books. And my family’s history… my cousin did a genogram and traced our family’s tree (pretty accurately and fully) all the way back to the 1700’s. We were able to find each piece. So, we can find the Native American. We can find the European. We can find where my mom’s mom (the one I was talking about earlier with the mortuary business) had three brothers that passed. So, 75% of her family thinks they’re white – in current day. Her brothers – they were all doctors and lawyers — people with degrees but so light-skinned. My grandmother was born with blue eyes but then they darkened up as she got older. Stories that tie to where our family started out, places like Black Wall Street.
In this current era, this current administration, would hope that you never remember where you came from because then you’d realize what’s going on and what the fight is about. And so, to me, it’s talking about stories I’d love to tell. I’m working on two different scripts that focus on Black Wall Street. I’d love to talk about the Buffalo Territory and Bass Reeves, who was a law man, kind of like the black Wyatt Earp — when banks and railroads were being established. They were considered outlaws but the people of color, especially the native Americans passed as blacks. The native Americans and the black folks that were in that territory — anybody of dark skin was being called outlaw, even if they were the only just folks in the area.
So, history really is the capital HIS-story and never has been told by us. But at this point, since I’m a producer, financier and a writer, I want to make sure that these kids that are growing up like my daughter — understand or at least have heard about people like Bass Reeves, and stories like Black Wall Street. Well, that they are not stories but the facts — and understand these things and concepts existed. So…they understand what ‘house and field’ is, and understand that it’s a concept that was taught and introduced by a man named Willie Lynch on the banks of the Mississippi River. And this country, an idea taken from a West Indies slave culture and then introduced to non-minority manufacturing the United States as a way to implement free labor which is now also synonymous with what we call our prison labor system. The amendments were created to do that, were created to transfer slavery into an indoor facility–literally and figuratively. All that stuff needs to be represented in cartoons, comic books and talked about in all the narratives and minority movies so that they can understand what culture’s built on and then act accordingly. But if they don’t understand what the construct or the paradigm is that they’re operating in, then they’re really, really stuck. That’s what’s important to me now. And those the roles – much bigger projects.
Like in Stomp the Yard, they offered me Columbus’ role first and I said, “A. I don’t dance as well as him — and B., I can do more impact being Sylvester. I’m not ‘swaggadocious’ – so these kids are going to look at Sylvester and go he’s corny. But by the end of the movie, they’re going to say, ‘I want to be like him; I want to be his friend.’” And if you can make that message go out to the hip-hop community, and then make them appreciate some jazz and R&B, then you have a bigger catalogue and library to work with — and that’s the purpose for Stomp the Yard. And that’s the purpose of me being involved in the project — so there’s my long-winded answer.
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: I love it; I absolutely love it. And I love that you want to educate especially the generations to come because I believe in if we know who we are, we take pride in things. I make sure I educate my son; he knows who he is – things that he knows now at five years, people think that he’s a lot older because I’m educating him now so that he’ll know who he is and how to handle himself. He holds full conversations with adults now at five years old. He knows the African kings. If we know our history, we will strive to continue the legacy of who we are. I love that; it’s absolutely wonderful.
Actor Brian White: It’ll be helpful to let people know that I’m starting a new brand on social media presence. The brand is called BLACK: Be Lucid About Cultural Knowledge. It was spunned when my daughter was born; she’s Afro-Latina. Most recently, it’s interesting when my wife and I were listening to Fat Joe give this interview saying that all Afro-Latinos are black — and its true. I was working with Ray Donovan with Donald Faison (and his wife CaCee Cobb) — and their kids play with my kid. And we’re like — all of us couldn’t be more different – Ca you’re from Texas, Donald you’re from there, I’m from there – but our kids are the exact same. What our kids calls themselves is black.
My sister’s whose husband is from Liberia and her other husband’s Italian. All of those kids sitting in the playground and saying, “we’re black.” Everybody’s so busy in this world trying to draw lines saying I’m this and I’m that…if you literally follow that one drop rule that the majority has always tried to say “make somebody black” — 85% of the world is black. And, if we start recognizing and seeing each other as one group and — given there’s lots of differences in there, and that’s what makes us beautiful. But all 85% of this entire planet is some shade of black person.
And that’s where Be Lucid About Cultural Knowledge is all about. We should celebrate our individual differences not spurn them but at the same time, redraw a map in the younger generations by connecting them. And say, “Y’all, your backgrounds are the same, yet we’re all different and that’s what we want to celebrate and figure out as we go through life and understand that we’re all walking through the same genesis.”
The majority us may be haters. Those people that are trying to hitch onto Trump’s wagon – Trump’s wife is an immigrant — and a brunette immigrant at that, so she’d be black. What Trump’s trying to do and what TV’s trying to drum up are a very small minority masquerading as a majority. And I think my job as an entertainer is to try and tell those stories over and over again until the least of us sees themselves as part of this bigger group and realizes, hey — I’m not alone. When that switch happens, people will step into the voting booth, close the curtains and make different decisions; they feel empowered and everything really changes on a grassroots fundamental level, so that’s what I’m about through entertainment.
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: I love it. My son asked me one day when I picked him up from school, “Mommy are you white?” I said, “No, I’m black.” I had to explain it because my mother was half Puerto Rican and half black. He said, well “Daddy’s black but are you? He thought I was white, so I had to explain it to him.
Actor Brian White: You know what’s funny? You sound our family because my daughter, she calls her skin tone ‘her brownish’. When she was three years old, she’d say, “you and me are the same brownish and Mommy’s light brownish.”
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: My daughter was the same way. My son goes to a predominantly white school. I would never think that he thought I was white. We grew up in Jersey and going to the schools there, the teachers would say, “does your mother speak English?” They thought she was Mexican. They asked me in the third grade if my mother could speak English and my mother was teacher! When people don’t know who you are, can be so offensive. It’s important that our children know who we are and educate them and not to be afraid that we come from different backgrounds. On my dad’s side, they’re Jamaican. My grandmother on my dad’s side was very fair — you couldn’t even tell she had any type black in her, she looked like a white lady. She started her life over again in New York. It’s things like this that we’ve had to deal with in our own culture – especially the North versus the South. I just think it’s quite interesting how everything worked out..
I want to get your final thoughts and I appreciate you on today.
Can you let me know for your viewers, audience and readers how they can connect with you?
Actor Brian White: The easiest way is through my website: www.BrianWhiteOnline.com. We’re relaunching it; it’s going to be a new streaming tool. We’re going to be focused on entertainment and philanthropy – it’s what I do most. It will allow people to catch me life. So, we’re doing a philanthropic concert tour, using my movie, Dear Frank, to go around the country and set up charitable events so we can get lots of people out to come support a good charity to watch a movie for free. So, we’re doing a lot of that. That allows me to get on the ground and partner with some of the people I need to partner with and connect with in all these states that we’re visiting.
So, I’ll be coming around to your city. I’d love to have you come out.
Instagram – @brianjwhite
For Tickets to Dear Frank: Call Ticket Master: 1-800-745-3000 (to benefit the Black Academy of the Arts in Dallas) – so help out the kids! That’s what I’m about.
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: Mr. White, thank you my last question before I let you go. Thank you for the opportunity to interview you today as I know you’re a busy person.
As you continue to be a beacon inspiration – what do you wish for your lasting global, crowning legacy to be?
Actor Brian White: The goal with music is to be considered a unique a voice. Regardless of the level – or how celebrated you are. The uniqueness — whether you’re Sam Cooke or Bob Dylan. Very different careers — very different singers. Nobody can argue about that they don’t have what they’re looking for in the voice. I think that uniqueness translates across to my side of the business — I try to make all my characters unique and impactful. My biggest hope is at the end of the career, when all is said and done, when you look at the body of work, that there’s a unique voice, through it all, even though it was widely disparate in terms of genre and tone, good and bad – hopefully that uniqueness has cohesion and people remember me for being a guy that tried to pick roles and then start conversations and follow up with actual dialogue about why I chose them that connects with the next generation. They can think about those performances from a social point of view rather than just strictly an entertainment aspect point of view.
Interviewer-Crystal Tolbert: Thank you and best wishes on your new movie, Dear Frank. Also, I want to extend best wishes to your wife and family. Thank you for this opportunity. On behalf of KISH Magazine, it has been a pleasure to speak with you. I hope the rest of your day is awesome.
Actor Brian White: Thank you – you too!