Calling stage and screen actor Harold Perrineau “driven” would be an understatement in my opinion. He first appeared on film in Wayne Wang‘s acclaimed drama Smoke opposite Forest Whitaker, a performance that earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He’s been non-stop since then. With a filmography that includes such films and television shows as The Matrix Reloaded, Oz, The Best Man, 28 Weeks Later and Lost, he still finds time to get involved with worthy causes.
Recently, I had a chance to speak with him about a number of topics. Among other things, we talked about black films and some of the lessons he’s learned working with great directors. He also explained his new role as producer on a project he’s really excited about, Film Festival: Rwanda.
The documentary project follows the efforts of five Rwandan filmmakers producing and presenting their films in a 10 day traveling film festival. With meager resources, the filmmakers battle dramatic obstacles to bring their films to rural villages still healing from the 1994 genocide.
Right now, the producers have launched a fundraising campaign to help bring the project to fruition. A Kickstarter video is posted below and, to stay updated on their efforts, you can check out their Facebook page HERE.
Minutes ago, I was informed that they reached their goal but are still accepting donations to help with festival cost. So if you’d like to aid in this project, as I plan to, please feel free.
Growing up in Brooklyn, was acting something you aspired to? If so, how did you get into it?
Yeah. It was. When I say younger, I mean in my teens. It wasn’t something that everybody did in my neighborhood, so it was something I sort of found. My aunt was going to Long Island University when I was in high school, she was a student there. They had a theater program-this was back when the government was still funding theater programs. She took all of us-me, my brothers and all my cousins-to this theater company and that’s when I was like ‘Oh snap!’ I found something I fully fell in love with. Most people played sports or did other things in Brooklyn but I hadn’t really found my niche. When I found this theater company I was like ‘Got it.’ This is where I’m suppose to be. It was a real godsend for me.
Do you still enjoy acting or is it just a paycheck?
I still actually love acting. The business of acting is tricky, especially right now, when the economy is tricky for everybody. The business of acting is not as much fun but when I get a chance to act, I really do love it. So when I get to do theater-and usually when I do theater it’s something I’m really passionate about-it’s always really great for me. Television is fun. Sometimes I’m passionate about it but, quite often, it’s fun and you can make some money. Movies are, right now, really tricky because they’re doing a lot of comic books which is great because I’m a comic book fan. It feels like more of an art form for a lot of collaboration. There’re a lot of artists who contribute to that, it’s not just the acting. It’s about the costume design, special effects, etc…It’s a real collaborative effort so it doesn’t feel so much like just pure acting for me but it’s fun when I get to do it.
So probably stage acting is the number one for you?
Probably where I get the most bang for my buck…yeah. The last play I did was Topdog Underdog, me and Larry Gilliard. We took a tour from New York and we went to a couple of places over on the east coast then landed in LA. So that was great fun.
You’ve had a chance to work with some great directors and you probably can’t tell me your actual favorite, but who was your best teacher?
That’s an interesting question. I learned a lot from a lot of different people. When I did Romeo and Juliet, I learned a lot from Baz Luhrmann. He had such a vision and it was so clear, even though it was broad, it gave us lots of room to play. Being as specific as you can opens up a whole world of creativity.
Malcolm Lee, I did a movie called The Best Man. It was Malcolm’s first thing but he’s always been really mature and it was interesting to watch him negotiate making his vision and working with other artists to make the vision come through. I learned a lot about the art of being true to yourself and negotiating with grace. He’s really kind of amazing at that. He can still be your friend and still be your boss yet get the job done without you ever feeling offended or broken down. It was really quite fascinating to work with him.
Speaking of The Best Man, I understand you all recently met and had a night out. What does it look like in terms of a sequel for The Best Man? Are we any closer?
It looks pretty good. I think Malcolm is working on the script right now. Malcolm just wanted to see if we were all interested. Amazing enough, every single person was interested. We were all like ‘Yes Lord please. Make this happen.’ We all wanted to work together again. We all thought it was a great movie when we did it at the time. There have been a lot of copies of it but never capturing the same thing that I think we captured. It would be great to go and do that again.
Definitely everyone is waiting with bated breath, especially now, since the landscape of black film is so dry.
It really is.
It’s sort of unbelievable but hopefully things will change.
It seems when the economy is funny, people will only do what they know. Producers only want to pay for stuff with people they know. They just plug in names into a computer program and say ‘Yeah, we’ll make our money back’ and so the same five people keep working over and over. And that doesn’t account for any of us black folks.
And that is definitely are frustrations but I’m encouraged by the new platforms coming out and the indie scene being developed and pushed a lot more in the media. I know you have a new show coming out on TBS right?
Yes. I’m in New York right now for it.
What’s that about?
It’s called The Wedding Band. It’s a show about four guys in a wedding band. Three of them have like an indie rock group and to make ends meet they started playing weddings. I’m the fourth band member and I’m new to their band. I play a guy who’s a session musician and I’m stepping out for the first time. So we all become this band trying to make a name for ourselves. The pilot we shot was great and I’m looking forward to moving forward with it.
Can you tell me what’s been your most challenging role so far?
Oddly enough, Lost was one of the most challenging because you just didn’t know what was going. So it was just a different way of working. It was like, you didn’t know what they were going to write. It was hard to create anything. You couldn’t ever get a handle on what was going on.
True to the name then.
(Laughing) Very true to the name.
How did you get involved with Film Festival: Rwanda?
I was working on Lost and there was a crew member, Leah, who said ‘Hey, I’m leaving here and I’m going to go to this film festival in Rwanda’ and I started laughing. I was like, ‘Okay, right on. A film festival in Rwanda that’s funny.’ She said ‘No really’ and she started to talk to me about it. I was like ‘Oh snap! Really?’ So she told me about her and her crew going over there every year to film this thing they called “Hillywood” and these young directors trying to redefine what Rwanda was. So I was like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry I laughed.’
Every year we’d run into each other and I’d ask her how it was going. She would tell me about it and all the stories. I was like ‘Man, that sounds amazing.’ I was really excited and a little jealous because I hadn’t considered going anywhere to do anything like that.
Then this year she gave me call and said ’Hey Harold, remember when I talked to you about this film? I’d love to get together and share it with you so you could be apart of it?’ So then we started talking more and more about. Then I said, ‘I loved to try to help you get funding for it,’ so that’s how I became apart of the production team.
It’s just something I was really excited to hear about. I love to see an African nation, that’s been through so much turmoil, redefine itself. As an artist, I love to see how other artists help that journey.
What do you think the impact will be?
Hopefully, this film will not only raise awareness, but will be able to get a real film industry happening in Rwanda. According to one of the directors, one percent of the population has a television. They go around, for ten days, with this inflatable screen and they show movies that these directors have made. They show movies about Rwanda made from the Rwandan point of view that speaks to Rwandans.
It’s fascinating to watch people rebuild their identity of themselves. I love being apart of that so hopefully, we’ll be able to build schools to train, write movies and make plays. And that will be sort of a sustainable industry as Rwanda grows as a country.
My final question, we touched on this earlier, what’s your assessment of black films currently?
Right now, we know that Tyler Perry is doing his thing and that’s his genre. I think we as culture should have the right to be as far left or right as we want to be. Whenever black films come out, there’s a lot of pressure to make your people proud but we should have a right to be-and I’m not calling anybody a clown-but clowns and philosophers as well. And everything in between. That only one type of film is produced is sort of the problem, it’s not the film that’s the problem. It’s just that it’s one type of film but I’m really encouraged that lots of people are finding other ways to tell stories. Even though it’s slow going, just like Rwanda, it’s going.