Actor Blair Underwood looks handsome as always on the cover of Rolling Out Magazine with a feature story entitled, Blair Underwood: Say Hello To The Tough Guy.
Currently starring in the controversial Broadway re-adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, Blair talks to the publication about his gritty, brutish and often disturbing role as Stanley Kowalski.
We’ve certainly seen Blair grow as an actor since his role in 1985’s Krush Groove and television series L.A. Law.
And while we’re used to him playing the clean-cut sex symbol, he’s shown his versatility, throwing us all completely off as a psycho in 1999’s Asunder and a wife-beating maniac 2006’s Madea’s Family Reunion.
It seems Stanley is a natural progression for the 48-year-old, although the play has been met with criticism from prominent critics who were upset by A Street Car…‘s multiracial casting.
“You’re going to have people who will fight for black rights, fight for immigration and will fight for our neighborhoods, but say, ‘Just don’t marry our daughters.'” Blair says.
“Having a multicultural cast is analogous to marrying some people’s daughters, because they don’t want it. But that’s OK. That’s what progress looks like, and progress is never easy. Change is never easy. And I don’t read reviews, but I know a lot of people loved the play.”
Success is truly the best revenge as the play was originally set to end on July 22nd but has been extended through August 19th, and continues to receive growing Tony Awards buzz.
For his Rolling Out feature, Blair talks about what attracted him to A Street Car…, how the role differs from what he usually plays, and so much more. Read a few excerpts below.
What initially attracted you to be a part of this adaptation of A Street Car Named Desire?
“You have to understand that it’s considered one of the greatest roles for an American actor, or any actor. It’s among the top four or five plays in American theater. So an opportunity to play this role of Stanley Kowalski, and for females, Blanche DuBois, is one of the most coveted roles someone can get in American theater. It’s just a great opportunity to do it with a multicultural cast.”
The Stanley character is different from most of the characters that you have played in the past. How did you prepare for such a dark role?
“I see Stanley as someone who was very clear about who he is and what he wanted. He’s very simplistic, but very complicated. He’s a man’s man. All he wants is to play cards with his boys, drink beer and for his home life to be right and make love to his wife with no interruptions or static.
When his sister-in-law moves in with him, it throws everything out of whack. At the end of the second act, he starts to fight back and decides that he’s going to destroy her and by the end of the play he does.”
There is a very disturbing scene in the play involving your character and Nicole Ari Parker’s character. As an actor who must do this every single night, how do you remove yourself from the trauma associated with that scene?
“The rape scene is very graphic and not only disturbing to watch, but to do. It’s less disturbing when you’re in character, but when you’re removed from it and step back and knowing you have to do it every night, it is an interesting thing.
You have to drop down and anchor down into that character. So by the time you get to that scene in the play, we’re both in that zone and you do what [you] have to do. It’s important to tell the story and our job as actors is to communicate the story to you guys and the audience.
But it is a psychological mind-set that you have to adjust to. We’ve been doing this for about two months now, so it was much more difficult in the beginning. But as with anything, the more you do it the more precise and marginalized you become.
So it’s just a fascinating conversation to have, because the conversation is really about should we have artists of all cultures and races be allowed to do the work of other artists of different cultures and races; or should we just stay assigned to our own culture? I feel as an artist they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”