411mania Interviews: Brian White (Men of a Certain Age)
Brian White has been appearing on your televisions for almost a decade with roles on Moesha, Second Time Around, The Ghost Whisperer, The Shield, and Moonlight. He’s also been up on the big screen in The Family Stone, Brick, Mr. 3000, Stomp the Yard, Fighting, 12 Rounds, The Game Plan, and I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Before acting he played professional football (New England Patriots) and lacrosse (in the NLL), and also worked as a licensed stock broker. White can currently be seen co-starring in TNT’s Emmy nominated drama Men of a Certain Age, which returns for a second season tonight.
Al Norton: I was going over your bio and you’ve played pro sports, you’re a licensed stock broker, you’ve got your own production company, you’re an incredibly active philanthropist, and oh yeah, you act do, which leads me to ask, what is it you’re not good at?
Brian White: Singing (laughing). Although I’ll give it a shot when someone asks me. My wife and I are coming into Boston for Kevin Youkilis’ charity event where we’ll be judging an American Idol style thing in February. As part of that I’ll do some karaoke style stuff, which should be fun.
Al Norton: You are as active in the charity world as anyone I’ve talked to. How do you choose what you choose to do?
Brian White: My foundation – Black Carpenter – is focused in four basic areas. It’s a multi-platform youth empowerment brand. We’ve got a book coming out in 2011, we’ve got a documentary, and a speaking tour. If focuses in four areas. The arts; I started Phunk Phenomenon, a dance company in Boston, I partner with a lot of arts organizations like the James Brown Foundation and A Place Called Home, which is a community center in LA. We use the arts to edutain – educate through entertainment.
We focus on education. In 2011 we’re focusing on financial literacy. Black Carpenter partnered with Project Hope to bring financial literacy to 5 million kids. We’ve got the Making Smart Sexy tour, which we’ll be doing in 2011.
The third discipline is spirituality. We work with church groups, temples, making sure kids have not necessarily organized religion but some sort of spirituality in their lives, a connection to something above and beyond themselves.
And the last is health and fitness, which is our biggest mandate and curriculum right now. We’ve partnered with the Joslin Diabetes Center and myself and Ray Allen co-hosted Celebrity Helping Hands last July in Saint Thomas.
We implement those four things all over the country through Black Carpenter. That’s how we select our projects; if it fits one of those four things – health & fitness, education, the arts, or spirituality – than you’ll see me championing it.
Al Norton: It sounds like free time is a foreign concept to you.
Brian White: (Laughing) When you enjoy and are inspired by what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. It all feels like free time to me.
Al Norton: Did growing up in Boston with who your Dad is (White’s Father is legendary Celtics’ player Jojo White) open doors for you or was it a tremendous amount of pressure to be as successful as he was?
Brian White: Because I’m like my Dad in that I thrive on pressure filled situations, it created a lot of opportunities. I suppose if I was not like minded or like spirited and didn’t like pressure, didn’t like being on the foul line in the triple overtime, then it would have destroyed me. I’m an athlete at heart, I’m a competitor at heart, I’m a true alpha male at heart, so those situations always lit me up like they lit up my Dad, whether it was an intellectual challenge, a physical challenge, a social problem to solve. Those are the kind of situations I turn on in, that engage and inspire me on a human level.
Al Norton: You’ve worked pretty steadily for the last 10 years but would you say The Shield was your big break?
Brian White: No, I don’t think there is one big break in my career. I was taught to take a workman like attitude towards acting, not to try and find that one role. We turned down a few roles that could have been a big break because they came along a little too soon and turned down some bigger parts to take smaller, more poignant, more relevant – to me at least – parts. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities and I’d say The Shield, Mr. 3000, The Family Stone are three of the big ones that, in very different ways, helped. Michael Chiklis became a huge mentor, Bernie Mac became a huge mentor, and on The Family Stone, I got to see in a mainstream world how the best of the best can come together in a very humble way with no big salary egos to make award caliber content.
My first three years out here I really got to work with the best of the best in TV and film and see no egos from them and that really set the tone for who I wanted to be and how I want to define myself as an artist, an aspiring artist.
Al Norton: What drew you to Marcus (White’s Men of a Certain Age character)?
Brian White: Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula. I had a meeting with Ray and Mike Royce before the series was a reality and basically talked about what they wanted to make. I was a fan of shows like Thirtysomething, Party of Five, dramedys that felt real, that didn’t have a laugh track but still made you laugh and soon after you were laughing you were crying. That’s what Ray and Mike said they wanted to make and the thing that they said that stuck out was that each of these guys had some sort of dysfunction they needed to work through but the most “normal” of the guys was Owen (Andre Braugher’s character). Andre is still married to his wife, he’s a smart well adjusted kid who is still connected to his Father, and his Father is still married to his Mother. I can’t think of another show on TV that depicts an upscale, affluent, aspirational, progressive African American family that looks like the ones I see in the real world walking down the street.
Marcus getting to be the foil, part of a lot of the development and arc of Andre’s character, is a lot of what drew me in to work with these three icons who are humbled, grounded, artistically aspirational…you don’t come across that a lot in this industry and they only had to ask me once and I went running through the door.
Al Norton: Did you use any of your experience buying a car to help develop the character?
Brian White: No. We work at a live dealership. It’s a real dealership – Rydell Chevy – and it’s open while we shoot. There are live customers are on the lot and the sales people will tell us if something we’re doing isn’t real. Marcus is probably the character most like the 30 male salesmen that work there.
It’s interesting to hear some of the fan feedback because Andre is such an incredible actor, he’s so likeable, that people get angry with Marcus but in that world, Marcus is pretty much the status quo. The feedback is interesting but it means people are engaged and are rooting for the protagonist, and that’s what it’s all about.
Al Norton: You’ve got the show premiering on Monday and I know you want people to watch but I’m pretty sure there is a football game (Patriots – Jets) you’re going to be watching going head-to-head with you.
Brian White: That’s what tivos are for (laughing). We understand its football season but it’s not something to shy away from; in the tivo age, we still get credit. What I tell people is set the season pass and that way you never have to worry about remembering when it’s on, and then watch it when you can. It’s going to make you laugh, it’s going to make you think, it will hopefully make you cry at some point, and it’s going to replicate people you actually know in the real world.
Al Norton: My wife was a huge Moonlight fan and I’ve always thought that if CBS had had the forethought to give it a second season, which would have coincided with the release of Twilight, you could have ridden that pop culture tidal wave for many years.
Brian White: I’m not really sure how network TV works anymore. The show had 10 million viewers strong, which right now today is a pretty good number. We had a good cast with a marquee star and a huge producer in Joel Silver. The irony was that the week before the show was cancelled we won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite New Drama and the American Red Cross names Alex O’Laughlin their national spokesperson. You get all this excitement and it goes away. TV is a business and we as actors have to count each and every moment we have to work as a blessing. Just like an athlete you give it your all on each and every play, set your hair on fire and let your passion show and leave it on the field, leave it on the stage. You can have the best show in the world and if they want to pull the plug, they pull the plug. I’m just enjoying every day.
Al Norton: Was The Cabin in the Woods your first experience with the genre (horror)?
Brian White: Yes, I’d never done anything like that before. I wanted to do it for three big reasons; Joss Whedon, Joss Whedon, Joss Whedon. I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan; I like his sense of humor, his sensibilities, how smart he is with his tongue in his cheek, and his eye for detail. Drew Goddard is fantastic as well and the two of them together have this sick, twisted, funny, and poignant, sense of humor, timing and story. Add in Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford and I was like, “get me up there.”
It’s a special movie. You don’t see horror, thriller, comedy, fantasy films that are this detail oriented, that look this good, that are this well acted. Richard Jenkins brought everything you would expect out of an Oscar nominee to the role, and Bradley Whitford is an Emmy winner and brings all the wit you’d expect. If you’re a horror and gore fan you’re going to get that times 10. I’m just hoping everything works out with MGM and we can get it out soon.
Al Norton: For those who may not have watched the first season of Men of a Certain Age, why should they tune in?
Brian White: If you’re a lady and you liked Sex and the City, this is the guy’s version. It’s much different, as it should be as men and women are different, but I think the things they liked about that show are what they will like about this show. It will make you laugh when you don’t expect to laugh, it will make you feel something when you don’t expect to feel something, and it’s going to make you feel uncomfortable in certain places like life does. I don’t think a lot of television can elicit those kind of emotions from people, real and genuine reactions that linger after the TV is off.
Don’t miss the season premiere of Men of a Certain Age, tonight at 10pm on TNT