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#SpotlightSaturday with Brian White – Star of Where Children Play

January 30, 2016 / Urban Movie Channel / tumblr

Today, we continue our ongoing series of interviews with Urban Movie Channel directors, writers, producers, actors & actresses, giving them a platform to share their filmmaking journeys with the UMC community.

Now, enjoy our latest conversation with one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood Brian White (Scandal, The Cabin in the Woods, The Family Stone, Stomp the Yard) whose latest film Where Children Play is an emotional rollercoaster.

UMC:  Brian, thank you for doing today's interview.  We know your schedule is quite busy. First, can you tell us a little about your latest film Where Children Play which premiered on UMC January 22nd.

Brian White:  I think the film, in broad strokes, is about forgiveness and the power of forgiveness to heal. It focuses on Teyonah Parris' character, Belle McCain, who's spent her adult life running away from a horrible childhood; only to get dragged back home and be forced to nurture the now sick father who abused her and her sister. In learning to forgive him, she's able to heal herself and move on.  She's also able to open up her future to the possibility of love.

UMC:  How did you come to this film?

Brian White:  I worked with Leila Djansi (the writer, director and producer of the film) on another film, And Then There Was You (starring Garcelle Beauvais). I'm a big fan of African, and International Filmmakers. Though Leila and are both Black, we are from different cultures.  As an African American, my history includes surviving slavery where Leila's does not. I also was raised in the country that created Hip Hop and Hip Hop culture.  Leila only came to discover Hip Hop as an adult. These things greatly affect how we each view the world, what we view as important in life, and the slant by which we frame and narrate our stories. I very much enjoyed her direction and influence on me as a human being and as an actor the first time we worked together, and feel blessed to have been able to work with her a second time. I believe that she is a bright new voice in filmmaking!  

UMC:  Tell us about your character in the film.

Brian White: I play Jeremy Spencer.  Belle (Teyonah) and Jeremy's lives remain forever connected by the death of his younger brother, her former boyfriend. Forgiveness between them again plays a vital role in the healing. I actually said 'yes' to doing the project before I even read the script, just based on the opportunity to work with Leila again.  But she literally said 'No, you have to read the script first.' And when I did, I loved 'Jeremy's' monologues and his perspective on life.

UMC: What about the subject matter of being there for your elders, your parents, and caring for them— was there anything there that you could relate to?

Brian White:  Oh, absolutely. In larger families (I have five younger sisters) chipping in, taking care of your parents, giving back for all that they've given you, is expected. So, it's nice to be a part of showing the benefits of being there for your parents (even begrudgingly) on screen.  In this film, Belle not wanting to come back and take care of her father still ends with her reaping the benefits, and being able to move past these traumatic events in her life; and she never imagined that.  If this story can affect one person who thinks they should try to move down the road of forgiveness, that they may also experience the same type of benefits that Belle does in the film (then that's a good thing.)

UMC:  What was the biggest challenge you had in portraying this character and in the making of this film?  

Brian White:  The amount of time (or lack thereof) we had to film the movie.   But, working with Leila, you have the unique singularity of voice.  The money to make the film, the words in the script and the artistic vision and Direction are all coming from the one person, so she's able to move swiftly and decisively..  She's great with camera, she's great with story, she's great with the actors.  Her stories are also very personal, and I think you can feel that in the result of the film.

UMC:  Excellent.  So, do you see yourself working with her on a third film?

Brian White:  Absolutely. I am a huge fan and would love to work with her again. We are actually discussing trying to find a 3rd project to work on together that films in her native, Ghana.  A big goal of mine is to work more internationally!  

UMC:  You've already touched on your relationship with Leila, this being the second time you've worked with her, and you're going to work with her again. Were there any other people on this production that you've worked with before?

Brian White:  Yes, Leon Robinson.   Leon and I did both Leila films together, and also had the pleasure of working together in  the play, Things Your Man Won't.  I've worked three times now with Leon in multiple mediums, and it's been a great experience each time. I was also a fan of Teyonah's from her film, Dear White People, one of my favorite movies from 2014.  Both Leon and Teyonah were attached to the project when it came to me, and big reasons why I wanted to be a part of it.

UMC:  How about Macy Gray?

Brian White: I've always been a huge fan of her acting and her music; and she was also attached when the project came to me and definitely another reason I chose to join the enselmble.

UMC:  You've done a lot of television and film and your IMDB page has nearly 100 credits.  Astounding!  Many of your film projects have been indies.  How important have indie films been to your career?

Brian White:  Well, the only time you get any real say creatively as an actor, or get to try things that are perhaps a bit outside the box, is with independent productions.  So, I'm very grateful to independent films, because they've always allowed me to try new things, to prove that I can do things that maybe a bigger-budget studio film won't take the risk allowing me to try.

UMC:  What was your first film?

Brian White: Me & Mrs. Jones (2001) a little romantic comedy directed by Ed Laborde, my dear friend from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.  He used to live in Oakland, CA back in the day, and he hired me to star opposite a person I was a fan of all my life, Kim Fields — everybody knows her as 'Tootie' from The Facts of Life. That film was the first thing I ever did.  Indie films…it's where I started.  It's where my passion remains.

UMC:  And were you set on becoming an actor at that point?

Brian White:  Absolutely not.  I'm a Dartmouth College grad, and worked as a licensed Stock Broker, after my brief and unspectacular professional sports career (NFL / NLL) ended. I came to Los Angeles, still chasing my football dreams and after having already chasing one dream, I was much more cautious the 2nd time around, with Acting. I don't think I really thought about Acting as a real 'Career', until my Manager took me to lunch one day, after about 5 years into being a steadily working actor, and told me that I needed to form a Corporation and hire a Publicist.  That is when I started to look at things differently, and at Acting as my 'day job'.  

UMC:   How has becoming a father affected your career (i.e. the projects you choose)?

Brian White: The main thing that has been affected is where (location) I can work.  Under no circumstances can I go longer than 7 nights without seeing my daughter in person, so certain travel restrictions are now challenges. Other than that, not too much else has changed. When I began acting 15 years ago, and decided it was something I was going to pursue full time, I thought long and hard about my professional goals and created a Mission Statement. That statement (below) has been published on my website ever since.

I've tried to challenge myself and play all types of characters and roles – sometimes I'm the Hero and sometimes I'm the Villain. But, I hopefully have always chosen to be a part of projects that make people do two simple and very human things:  1. Feel something; and 2. Think about the films subject matter and message(s).

Hopefully, as my daughter becomes of age to watch my films, we will watch them together and discuss the films, the roles and the messages behind them with her Mother, and they will make my daughter feel something and think.

UMC:  What is your mission statement?

Brian White: My goal is to seek out roles with which I feel a strong personal connection and see some social significance. Ideally, my work will inspire discussion among its viewing audience. My promise to myself – whether the platform be film, TV or theater, is to attempt to seek out material that is challenging:  mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

UMC:  Now, for a question we ask all our filmmakers, what does the word 'urban' in Urban Movie Channel mean to you?

Brian White:  When I began in the Entertainment business in 2000, 'Urban' meant for African-American consumers.  But in 2016 I think the definition has expanded to mean relating to people of all races who live in densely populated Cities and enjoy 'city-paced' lifestyles around the globe, as opposed to those in rural environments.

With American Mega Stars like Kevin Hart, Michael B. Jordan, Anthony Mackie and Jamie Foxx opening successful film franchises theatrically around the globe, to International Mega Stars from across the pond we recognize by one name like Idris, Chiwetel, GuGu and Lupita are now all able to greenlight domestic and foreign studio franchises alike with their simple, 'Yes!' the scale and scope of countries, content and perspectives contained within the 'Urban' umbrella now spans the globe.

What an exciting time!

UMC:  Well said.  So, of course we must ask this next question.  What is your take on the lack of diversity with the Oscar nominations this year?

Brian White:  I am certainly disappointed that some of my favorite performances did not get the recognition I and so many of us felt they deserved.   Jason Mitchell literally made me believe I was watching the late Eric Wright in the flesh in 'Straight Outta Compton'. Sam Jackson may have given the best performance of his entire career in 'The Hateful Eight'.  And 'Creed' Director, Ryan Coogler proved his talent grows proportionately with the escalating budgets of his exceptional studio films, with indie souls.

Though I am miffed these talents and others were not recognized by Oscar this year, I am at least given some comfort in the fact that these talents and so many other talented folks of color are now being so well received at the box offices around the globe, proof of a global desire for more content starring and created by 'Urban' folks.  

And, I must also admit that Chris Rock as the chosen Host, gives me at least some hope that the broadcast itself will not be totally lacking in diversity in it's commentary.

UMC:  Ok, now for an easier question.  Choosing from all of the characters you've portrayed in your films, which is your favorite?

Brian White:  I don't know, I don't watch them. (laughs) I've never seen any of my films in their entirety.  I pick them based on whom I get to work with, i.e. actors or directors, as well as the script.  Once I say the words, I pretty much never go back and watch anything, because, the words are no longer mine.  So, I don't generally watch whole movies, but I have experiences that have been my favorite.  For example, The Family Stone where I'm still close with the cast.  I learned a lot from being on that set and I learned a lot from being around those people — that was one of my favorites.  The Cabin In The Woods was another favorite.  To be on-set with somebody like Joss Whedon, and see his mind at work, and see how he interacted with his director, Drew Goddard as a producer/writer was a great learning experience.  It was also a learning tool for me, as an actor aspiring to be a director/producer one day like Joss, on the level of Joss. Those two films stand out.

UMC:  That's surprising that you don't watch your own films.

Brian White: No, I hate watching myself on camera. [laughs] I watched film of myself as a football player, 'cause I could use that to improve my play the next day.  I could see my stride, my arms and hands, positioning and analyze my technique, all which help me improve. When I watch myself or become conscious of myself as an actor, I become a worse actor. As an actor my job is to focus on how it feels, and the majority of how it looks doesn't help me with my part of the job. So I try only to watch what the Director asks me to see during filming, and of course what we see during the post process, and then not much more.

UMC:  What is your advice to aspiring actors?

Brian White: I would suggest to only become an Actor, if you love the craft so much you will happily do it forevermore highly underpaid and barely ever recognized (publically or industry wide) for your efforts; and be clear that your expectation going in should be that even a successful acting career will probably Not ever make you rich or famous.

UMC:  Great advice!.  Last question — I have to ask it. You are now on that top five list of go-to African-American actors to play the love interest in motion picture films and television.  

Brian White: Hmmm…(unsure about that).

UMC:  How does it feel to be on that list?

Brian White:  Well, that's news to me [laughs].  I feel very flattered, if it's true!

But, I don't really ever focus on that.  I've always focused on the things I can control: Doing the work to prepare for each role regardless of who I am working with, trying things outside 'my box' whenever possible, seeking out and/or creating new opportunities that are not readily there for me. And I guess if repeatedly doing those things for 15 years has helped me end up on some pretty awesome lists, then I can say I feel very proud of how I arrived on said list.

UMC:  I don't want to get you in trouble, but who has been your favorite leading lady up to this point in your career?

Brian White:  Oh, boy… Many people, for different reasons.  But the one that I learned the most from was Kerry Washington (Scandal). She's incredible— her work ethic, her humbleness, her talent, her grace, and with all that she has to juggle, being the superstar that she is and carrying that show, which she definitely does, on her broad shoulders. I just learned a lot about why people are successful, why people remain successful, and why people elevate them.  It does take a lot of people around her that elevate her up to the status that she's been able to maintain for many years now.  But the reason (people elevate her) is because of how she carries herself, how she treats people, and how she always delivers on her work. It just inspired me to be around her.

UMC:  Was Scandal the first time you worked with Kerry?

Brian White:  Yes, it was the first time I met Kerry.  I got a call one night— it was about 7 o'clock at night, and it was to show up the next morning. I was told nothing.  I wasn't told what the role was.  I wasn't told whether it was a 'good' or 'bad' character, or any details. I was just told it was a request from Shonda (Rhimes), and I would be working with Kerry if I accepted, and those were the only two names I needed to hear.  I said 'yes,' and I was filled in on all the details on-set when I met Kerry the next day in person. All I knew was the 5 pages of lines they sent me, and nothing more.  And as the say, the rest is history.  I walked in, Kerry said, "Nice to meet you," and I said, "My pleasure— I'm a big fan," and they said… "Action!" (laughs)

UMC: (laughs) That's a great story.  Well, we loved you on Scandal.  We also love you onChicago Fire.

Brian White:  Thank you.  It's a blessing to be on that show. I'm also working on another great show, called Colony (USA).  My character 'George' is an old acquaintance and new flame of Amanda Righetti's character, 'Maddie.'  I also just wrapped two indie films I am proud of — myself and Monica Calhoun, Sharon Leal, Loretta Devine, Amin Joseph, and a host of others have a film called No Regrts, which is a wonderful romantic dramedy – that'll be out later this year.  The other film I just wrapped is called Only For One Night.  It is a romantic thriller, kind of like Fatal Attraction meets Unfaithful. It stars myself, Karrueche Tran, Angelique Pereria and Omar Gooding who is hilariously fantastic in the movie.  I'm excited about both of those films.  Mark Harris, producer/director out of Chicago, directed No Regrets, and Chris Stokes wrote/produced and directed Only For One Night.

UMC:  What kind of character would you like to play that you haven't gotten a chance to play?

Brian White:  (I want to do) period pieces. I would also love to play a superhero. That would just be fun for me, and I've always wanted to do that.  If that ever happens that would be wonderful.  Yeah, period pieces and superhero movies! [laughs]

UMC: You would make a great superhero.  Okay, that wraps up our interview.  Any parting thoughts?

Brian White:  People should check out Colony, and they should be on the lookout for No Regrets,  Only One Night and Howard High (another film I am doing in March with Chris Stokes).Howard High is kind of Lean On Me, and I play the principal at a school in danger of closing, and the kids and teachers are some of the best performers you will have seen before. It's going to be amazing.  So, look out for all that later in 2016.  

UMC:  Okay!  You are very busy as always.  

Brian White:  I'm trying.  I'm trying, like I said, to make films that accomplish my mission statement — make people think in different ways. I think all the new films I have coming out will do that in one way or another.

UMC:  We wish you good luck with all of your 2016 projects.

Watch the UMC exclusive premiere of Where Children Play, written, produced & directed by Leila Djansi.  Where Children Play stars Teyonah Parris (Dear White People), Brian White (The Cabin in the Woods), Leon (And Then There Was You) and multi-platinum recording artist and actress Macy Gray (Brotherly Love). The story revolves around Belle (Parris), a beautiful young woman who never found a bright future because she was too busy running away from her heartbreaking past. News of her mother passing away brings Belle back home to her family and the painful memories she tried to leave behind. Only when she finds the strength to confront her family's shameful history, does Belle learn that forgiveness has the power to heal the scars of a broken childhood and unlock her heart to the possibility of love.  

Watch it now:  http://bit.ly/WhereChildrenPlayonUMC

Courtesy of Urban Movie Channel