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March 2004
Dawn of the Dead,: An Interview with Ving Rhames

by Niambi Sims

Dawn of the Dead,: An Interview with Ving Rhames

If there's one actor willing to try anything and still be good at it, it's Ving Rhames. From his secret service role in "Dave" to his "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass" role as Marsellus Wallace in "Pulp Fiction", Ving has definitely created some memorable film characters. He's always willing to lend his support to even small films and TV series like "Little John" the CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame film, and "UC: Undercover". His other roles have included the animated film like "Lilo & Stitch" and playing a drag queen in "Holiday Heart". Who could ever forget the amazing thing Ving did at the Golden Globes a few years ago when he gave his award for playing Don King in "Don King: Only in America" to the late Jack Lemmon. Besides doing the animated sequel, "Stitch! The Movie", Ving will be reprising his role as intelligence operative Luther Stickell opposite Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible 3". His persona as the tough-minded no-nonsense brother will once again be displayed in his latest film, the remake to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, where Ving plays a cop named Kenneth. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Ving talks about generating fear from this film and what gets him going as an actor.

N: Hey Ving it's great to see you.

VR: Thank you

N: What made you want to participate in Dawn of the Dead? Were you a fan of the original?

VR: I didn't see the original and in general I'm not a fan of the horror genre but I read the script and I liked that it brought people of different cultures and ethnicities together who need each other.

N: In this film, you're running from Zombies all day and night! I was scared out of my seat! How did you generate fear?

VR: If the actor stays true to the moment to moment reality, the given circumstances of that situation and commits one-hundred percent, then you'll always be fine with whatever the outcome is.

N: What are the socio/political undertones of this film and how are they relevant to our current climate?

VR: When I look at the world I recognize that unfortunately, it sometimes takes an atrocity like 911 to force us to come together. If we can set aside race, culture, skin color and ethnicity and just work together...why do we only work together when an atrocity happens? Maybe if I can love you and you can love me now we can make the world a better place for our children. Maybe we don't have to wait for an atrocity. I think that God or the universe sometimes says "Oh you guys don't want to love each other? Here's an earthquake. You don't want to live together? Here's a flood! Here's a famine! Here's a 911. I think that is the subliminal message of the film.

N: Most people don't know that you graduated from Julliard. What is the most important thing you learned from school?

VR: The more versatile you make yourself, the more work you get. Training makes you more versatile and ultimately gets you more work. Julliard taught me that.

N: Is there a particular method that you rely on?

VR: Most American actors are taught the Stanislavsky method.... Method acting, but I really think that as an actor you have to develop what works for you. There is really not one way of doing anything. There are many ways of achieving the same goal.

N: What other mediums of art do you use for inspiration?

VR: Jazz, Hip Hop. I find early jazz to be the most revolutionary music of its time. I find Hip Hop to be the most important voice of black America today and American youth period because for Outkast & 50 cent to be number one...that means that white kids are buying it and its crossing over. So I'd have to say that Hip Hop is one of the most important art forms. That's why I listen to it.

N: What's in your CD player right now?

VR: Kanye West, Joe Budden, a Puerto Rican rapper named Tego Calderon, I picked up Lil Flip but I'm not really into the country vibe as much. I can listen to a couple of songs but not the whole CD.

N: I feel you! Who are you favorite authors?

VR: My favorite is James Baldwin. {I like}Dr. Ivan Von Sertima, Francis Cress Welson, theatre wise, Chekov. I find a lot of parallels to black America.{in his work). I'm reading a book now on prison called "my Bloody life: The making of a Latin King" and another on gang life by Tookie Williams, one of the founders of the Crips

N: How have you managed to stay true to yourself and your craft without selling out or playing stereotypical roles in Hollywood?

VR: What is the most powerful word in Hollywood?

N: You got me

VR: "No" and literally that's it.... and I'm willing to deal with whatever the consequences are

N: But how about keeping the bills paid?

VR: Now if you really need the money then you have a choice to make. If your baby needs milk, take the job and do what you have to do but you can also say "This is not what I'm trying to do with my career". However, I think a good actor can always find something positive in a role.

N: Speaking of challenging roles, how did you get the role of Holiday, the endearing transvestite in "Holiday Heart"?

VR: I was working with Showtime and they wanted me to do something else. I ended up reading that script and I said "you know what this a powerful script" I'd never thought about what it would be like to be a triple minority. People love that character. Holiday Heart is going to be a classic.

N: What has been your favorite character?

VR: One day I'm going to play Martin Luther King and that will be my favorite character.

N: Any advice for young actors?

VR: Try to accept God's path for your life. try to live a righteous life. You may not understand why certain things are happening to you now but you will in time. I didn't realize that when my dad wasn't around for me, maybe there was a reason for that. Maybe I had to develop a certain character...Maybe if he was there, I wouldn't have developed it. I look at things from a positive view. I grew from him not being there. I learned responsibility.

N: What are your keys to success?

VR: I try to put God first in my life. Secondly, I don't worry about things. Do you know what spermazoa got through to reach the egg? A man has millions of spermazoa yet millions of them die on the way to fertilize the egg. I look at that analogy. I look at what our ancestors went through. What do I have to complain about? I have the right to go where I want. I have the right to vote. I have opportunities that my ancestors didn't have. The key to success is to do what you love doing. and be good at it. Don't be a follower.

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