Probably my favorite job. Mara Brock- Akil who created the show. I still struggle with my love hate relationship with Hollywood. It’s easy to complain about the disparities in pay. How it’s not fair, not giving us our due as Black folks. It’s all true. But then you look at somebody like Mara who is making it happen. Somebody like that gives me hope. Obviously there are things that are messy but the possibilities are still available. You just have to go get that shit.
You also worked with Tyler Perry. What was it like working with him?
It was great working with Tyler Perry because everything was first class. Hotel suites, airlines, theater tickets. Tyler treated all of us like A-List stars. That was incredible. Generally over my career I’ve worked with Black producers. Black production. Even me personally something I had to deal with allowing myself out of that box. Even writing. Writing to my Imagination as opposed to writing to a budget. Why? Write to the level of your imagination. Tyler made sure to craft that environment. Of greatness, of wellness. So I commend him on that. When we worked together we he really didn’t talk that much. And that’s bain of my existence as an actor. You know that expression the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I remember working with the late director Penny Marshall on Renaissance Man. Richard T. Jones, Mark Wahlberg, Gregory Hines, Danny Devito, James Remar was all on this project. I see Penny Marshall she’s working with people giving them direction. I went up to her one day and said you hardly said two words to me. I’m like is everything cool? She said, “Khalil you’re doing great. If I didn’t say anything to you it means you’re doing it right.” She said there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m trying to fill holes here. And you’ve just been fabulous just keep doing what you’re doing. I was like that’s great but you still want to form some bond. Have some interaction. And know each other on a deeper level. With the hope that you get to work with them again. Tyler and I was the bare minimum. And of course as an actor I’m going to take direction and notes and go after them. Everything seemed fine. I know what we got was well received. I was invited to the house. They had a big dinner at his mansion in Atlanta. He went out of his way to make all of us comfortable. Shit, Oprah was there. She was cool. I don’t know very much about Tyler, his empire and his work. Soon after we finished For Colored Girls an offer was sent to my agent to do the tv show Meet The Browns. There was no audition process. It was get him up here if he wants to do it. That’s respect. So it’s not about he didn’t like me because he didn’t talk to me. People got shit to do.
Yes so true.
I tell that story about Penny Marshall and soon after that film my first child was born. My daughter Noah. A box that you could fit a small couch showed up at my house in L.A. filled with diapers, bottles, toys and clothes. The most wonderful gift. Would have us by the house all the time after we finished but on the set though she hardly ever talked to me. I got invited to her birthday party three times. One Thanksgiving dinner, me and my brother got invited to her house. It was her family and Joe Pesci and his girlfriend ( laughs) I was like yo! God rest her soul.
You’re writing, producing, directing. I went to see your first play Lambs To Slaughter.
Oh wow you did. Yo so much has changed with that piece. You saw it when I first put it up in Brooklyn. Now National Black Theater has it and when they allow us back in we will put it up.
So what kind of director are you?
I’m definitely an actors director. I come from the craft of acting. I’m really going to get into the performance. I’m really going to get into the development of character. I’m going to get into the artist, the person that they are. And open them up to free them to do the job they’ve been hired to do. Creating a safe space. The odds are most probably I’m going to be working with Black actors. People of color. To do that you really have to be versed. Culturally, socially, politically. To allow for those safe spaces. You got to be able to listen and understand. I’m a man. I don’t have a vagina. But trust me if I’m working with a strong brilliant Black woman artist. I’m going to have to life in her house. I got to understand those rules. I have to be able to have the compassion to know what her needs are. It’s about building trust and finding the connection.
You’ve been in the business now four decades. Are we in better shape now than we were then for this generation?
Yes. We are in a stronger position. We are better versed in our oppression. ( laughs) We have a broader vocabulary for our pain. And we have more platforms in which to speak to our power. I feel like we are in a much better place. And I feel like across all of the different spectrums of artistry. Those artist of color that are coming to the fore are realizing that if they don’t have anything of substance to offer they can go sit down. I really feel that. In our younger artist they are really starting to get it. They have to offer something they can’t just take. They need to be offering the culture something. How do you become a part of that. How do your people get to the point that they respect your name and what you’ve offered them. it’s become important again. And I’m really happy about that.
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