Actor and humanitarian Nate Parker first received critical attention for his starring role in The Weinstein Company’s The Great Debaters opposite Denzel Washington (who also directed the film) and Forest Whitaker. Denzel hand picked him to play the troubled yet brilliant, ‘Henry Lowe,’ who overcomes his selfish ways and becomes the team’s leader. Nate received an honorary Doctorate from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, the school on which the true story The Great Debaters was based.
Nate most recently appeared in Jaume Collet- Serra’s action thriller, Non-Stop opposite Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore for Universal. In 2013, Parker starred in David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints opposite Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster. Parker was the toast of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He appeared in the Nicholas Jarecki- directed film, Arbitrage opposite Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth, which sold to Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, as well as the Spike Lee- directed Red Hook Summer. In 2012, Parker also starred as the lead in 20th Century Fox’s Red Tails, supported by Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
It told the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps and were some of the finest pilots in World War II. George Lucas funded, produced and co-directed this feature. Nate also starred opposite Alicia Keys in The Secret Life of Bees, which featured an all-star cast of Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning and Paul Bettany.
Additionally, Nate has been seen in Pride alongside Terrence Howard, Dirty opposite Cuba Gooding Jr., Felon with Stephen Dorff and Sam Shepard, and Tunnel Rats with Michael Pare. On stage, Nate appeared opposite Dustin Hoffman, Annette Bening, Rosario Dawson and James Cromwell in “American Voices” at the Broad Street Theater. A Norfolk, VA native, Nate studied computer programming and trained his way to become an All?American wrestler at the University of Oklahoma. He mentors twenty-four children from schools in central Los Angeles and spearheads projects and events with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He sponsors a Peace for Kids scholarship fund and works in their afterschool program.
Nate spoke with Aries from UrbanBridgez.com recently about his new film “Beyond The Lights,” working with legendary actors Danny Glover and Minnie Driver, “black” films, his recent controversial interview with BET.com, his next role as slave preacher Nat Turner and more.
UrbanBridgez.com: What was it about the script that attracted you to this particular role?
Nate Parker: First it was that Gina wrote it, she has a great track-record and a great rapport with me. We did Secret Life of Bees together. It was such a positive experience, I remember telling her the next thing you have that you need someone like me; if I’m in your vision, just let me know. So when it came along, it was kind of a yes, before it was a yes. That says a lot for me, because I can be really particular about the roles that I take. I said yes, then I read it and I then said heck yes! On top of it being a love story, there were themes that I felt it dealt with that I felt were important and fulfilled our responsibility as film-makers to project.
UrbanBridgez.com: The chemistry between you and Gugu was very real. What was it like working with her on that level?
Nate Parker: It was great! Gugu on top of being drop-dead gorgeous, is a workaholic. She works very hard, she’s disciplined, she’s compassionate, she’s open for discovery and that helped a lot. We rehearsed a lot, we spent a lot of time together outside of the project. We went to Disneyland together and spent the day together there. We went out to eat a few times. We did a couple of dates as the characters and Gina surprised us with a motorcade of paparazzi. That assaulted us and chased us around, that seemed very real and they did it very quickly. But all of those things solidified our relationship. I think by the time we made it to screen our relationship was already in place. There was no learning curve on that.
UrbanBridgez.com: The main subject in the film deals with suicide attempts and personal reflection. The timing of this could not be better with so many celebs and young people taking their lives. What can you say to speak to this subject of suicide?
Nate Parker: I think that it goes back to the major theme that to love someone else, you have to love yourself. To love yourself, you have to know yourself. So I think a huge theme of this film is personal identity and self esteem. I think about what it would take for someone to want that kind of quiet in their lives. Where they are so unhappy or feel so invisible, that they just want the world itself to go way. I think that’s a dangerous place for anyone to be, but we have to understand that it takes time for people to get there. In that meantime, they’re being failed by the support system that are around them. The people that are suppose to love them the most for whatever their intentions are, are the people that are abandoning them. Sometimes if you look at the relationship of the characters of Minnie and Gugu, that abandonment doesn’t come from lack of love. It comes when other ambitions become more important than the actual health of a person. It can happen over time, which is dangerous. We see it a lot with our kids, I have four daughters. So I see them look at like Ariana Grande and the Beyonce’s or whatever artists and they have no context. They don’t know what that person’s life is like. But in their minds, what they see is what they think they could get if they could have that persons life. So I think that it’s our responsibility as parents, as educators, as film-makers, as journalists to have these kind of conversations. We have to create platforms for these discussions to take place. I think it took courage for Gina, she could of just made a straight love story and not dealt with that aspect. It could of just been a cop meets a girl, you know. But the activist and feminist in her thought that it would be irresponsible to miss out on the opportunity to really change the conversation about what we’re seeing and what we’re supporting by virtue of reality with the hyper sexuation of women. And the mass epidemic misogyny that’s happening in music as well. So the fact that we’re talking in this interview about it, shows her courage in making this film wasn’t for naught.
UrbanBridgez.com: What was one of your favorite scenes to film during the movie?
Nate Parker: I think everything that happened when I took her away. When we had the opportunity to get away to a quiet space. Not only did the acting get quiet and the performances get quiet, but the filming got quiet. Gina had this projective vision of what that part of the film would be like. So she gave us these CD’s to listen to, that just kind of got us in the mood. We listened in our car, on the way to set, on the way home from set. Once we got into that space I was ready to emote. I was ready to be vulnerable for her and ready to be supportive of her. The size of the crew members shrunk, it just became this very quiet and intimate safe space for us to act as artists and for us to exist as characters. She created that, that wasn’t just something that happened by chance.
UrbanBridgez.com: How was it to work with great and legendary actors such as Danny Glover and Minnie Driver?
Nate Parker: It was great and you know what was so great about it? Is I got the chance to work with them both. The fact that Danny Glover played my father, someone who in so many ways has been a surrogate father for so many years. Just because I came up in a single-parent household and seeing him in his roles and seeing him in his quest to reunite the diaspora and reach across the continent and rebuild that bridge. His work in Haiti, he’s just always been someone that I have looked up to. So when Gina told me that I would have the opportunity for him to betray my father I was very excited. The only thing that excited me even more was meeting him and he was so excited to play this role.
UrbanBridgez.com: Black cinema seems to be on the rise from the small screen to the big screen again. How do you feel about this movement?
Nate Parker: The reality is this, people are always like is there a renaissance? The reality is black people are people. And guess what, we have experiences that are just as normal as anyone else. So the reality is, they say if you build it, they will come. What does that mean? If you build any film that is honest and authentic, people will go to watch it. So I won’t say that black films is up because the reality is the appetite will always be there. It’s just up to the filmmakers to have the courage and fortitude to fight to make these films that are about the experience real. And not create characters and not perpetuate stereotypes, but just to present real life. Like this isn’t a black film, this is a film about love. It’s a film about sacrifices, a film about obstacles, and a film about identity. These are things that if you play this film with in China, with the sound down and no sub-text and by the end of the film people will be moved. Because it’s a human experience, to see in every frame that there is authenticity happening. You know I think that where we fail is when we try to make black films. In your quest to make a “black” film there are certain stereotypes you have to perpetuate just to make it fulfill that design of a black film. But you can look at a film like Boyz N the Hood, that is a film that highlights elements of the black experience, but is it a black movie? No, and I can prove it to you. If you go and look at all of the reviews of that film, all across the board, race or whatever…all those people that review that film say the same thing. This is authentic, it was real, it dealt with manhood, it dealt with rites of passage. These are things that are human elements. So with that said, I think that artists job is to create art. If it happens to highlight the black experience, then that’s great. It’s worthy and deserving. If it happens to highlight a European experience, or an Asian experience. These are just themes and ideas. The reality is, as long as it’s truth, there is a place for it in the world.
UrbanBridgez.com: You did an interview recently with BET.com, where you took some heat from, is there anything from that interview that would like to speak on more so people get a better understanding?
Nate Parker: Yeah, you know what. I do feel like it was taken out of context. As a black man in America, there have been so many things that have been designed to attack our manhood and masculinity. I mean everything from slavery, to being lynched, to being castrated and these are things that are very real. So in that interview, my goal was to be very clear about me wanting to speak against those things. It wasn’t even a play on sexuality, at all. Actually one had nothing to do with the other. It’s funny because I sent out a tweet that said there is nothing in my DNA as an activist that would at all denigrate or lesson the experience of the gay and lesbian and transsexual…activism is activism. I stand for justice. My thing is a lot of my fight is for the rights of people that have been marginalized for whatever reason. I have a friend I called, who’s a journalist as well, his name is Patrick Riley. When this happened I called him and I said, you know this is what I said did I say anything wrong? The last thing I want to do is be divisive within our own community. He said for whatever group, if you feel like you’re marginalized, if you feel like you’re under attack, sometimes you reach and sometimes you’ll hear a certain statement. You’ll hear it a certain way based on your experience. He said he was happy that I called and brought it up, but he didn’t see anything offensive. So if anyone felt offended, I want it to be clear that was not my intention. That I do think what I said was taken out of context. But now here is an opportunity for me to be clear. Anything that has anything to do with marginalizing or creating disparities between people, whatever their believes are or whatever their preferences are is wrong. I like to believe that I stand on the side of right when it comes to that.
UrbanBridgez.com: What’s next for Nate Parker?
Nate Parker: I’m actually in pre-production of a film I’m directing called Birth of A Nation, it’s a bio-pic on Nat Turner the slave preacher. Who led the slave rebellion. I’ll be portraying Nat Turner in this film and it will come out sometime next year.
“Beyond The Lights” is In Theaters Now!
UB Review: “Beyond The Lights”