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February 2005
Diary of a Mad Black Woman: An Interview with Shemar Moore

Diary of a Mad Black Woman: An Interview with Shemar Moore

By Tonisha Johnson

From being on the number soap opera on television, The Young and the Restless, to hosting the weekly music show Soul Train for three seasons, Shemar Moore continues to dazzle the women on the small screen. In his first big role since being features in "Brothers" a few years back, sexy Shemar Moore moves from his typical role of bronze black god to a more centered, simplistic role as Orlando Brown in the comedic dramatic play turned film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Moore talks about what drew him to take on this film and the challenges he faces as an actor.

Was that the Shemar in real life or was that just Shemar the actor?

Shemar Moore: I'm a lot of people, sweetie. I'm a lot of people. That's what we're trying to let you all know. You've seen a couple of masks I've put on, and this is a new mask to put on. You know, Tyler Perry - my mother will watch the movie and she'll say, that's my baby. That's my baby. That's the baby I raised. But then there's a thing called life happens to you and you've got to check yourself a little bit. What's exciting about this movie to me is there's a bigger movie within. I'm a part of it and it's a wonderful thing and I'm honored - and I'm just a small part of a bigger story - I think the through line of emotion is bigger than that. But specifically my character, which Tyler Perry - I have to take my hat off to him. He saw something in me and how and where I asked a lot of why, why, why, because I didn't trust him at first. I was like, OK, who are you? OK, you have a lot of money and you're successful in your world and now all of a sudden you come out of left field and tell me you can see through me. And he's now become a friend of mine. But he was able to take me back to a place that, you know, in a way I might have forgot, or at least I protected it to where I thought it may have been more obvious, but he said, Because of life you're kind of hiding it. I'm not sure people can see this side of you. So I'm giving you a vehicle, I'm giving you kind of a pedestal to doing something that I think people would enjoy you to do. So Orlando for me was a great way to take me back, but it's going to hopefully show men that it's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to put your heart on your sleeve. It's okay to not always be the block because that would be invulnerable. That shows by having that softer side - the softer side in the sense of being able to listen, to deal with fear, to not always be so dominant. Make yourself even. Let a woman have her place, because as you provide foundation for her, she provides a foundation for you. And through that vulnerability comes strength.

Why do you think Tyler is able to create such convincing female characters?

Shemar Moore: Tyler is a special man. Something happens to him when he puts that wig on. He's real quiet and then he puts that wig on and something flips. I don't know - I'm scared of him sometimes! But I don't know: Tyler's special. Just as I alluded to him - he saw into me and I think he sees people. He's a sponge. He watched and he doesn't miss anything. I mean, he could probably sit here for ten minutes and have you all figured out a little bit. And I think that's proven in his work. I think that's why he's made such a mark in the theatrical world with his plays. His plays are not Othello. They're not A Raisin in the Sun, it's a simple raw emotion with truth that everybody - everybody who goes into his theatre - yeah, it might be a predominantly African-American audience, but that's because they got hip to him first. So what's going to start to happen with his movies is - I don't care who you are or what color you are - if you go into the theatre, or if you go into his plays, you get what is happening in front of you. You can relate to what's happening in front of you. And somehow - call it a gift from God - he's able to sense the simplicity, the simplicity of emotion that people are going through in life, He puts that on the stage and he makes you laugh, he makes you cry and you go home kind of self-reflecting in the act of witnessing what this man has put in front of you.

Was it Tyler or the script that drew you into this project?

Shemar Moore: Tyler came to me first. We have a mutual friend in Cheryl "Pepsi" Reilly. I did a play years ago called Fabric of a Man, and it was first taste of live stage. It didn't have anything to do with Tyler. It was actually one of his competitors, Mr. David Talbot. But it was a wonderful experience for me, to be able to get on a live stage and to do my thing with Cheryl. She had done work in other plays with Tyler. Fabric was fairly successful, and so as rivals and competitors do, they went to see what the fuss is about. So Tyler came and saw the play and he saw me and from he told Pepsi that he wanted to meet me. So to make a long story short, I went to his play prior to what he's doing now, which is Madea Goes to Jail. The other was one was Madea's High School Reunion. I saw that, supported Pepsi, and went backstage, I met this man and within - in one meeting, we sat down and had a two-hour conversation. It was about the easiest conversation you could possibly have with a stranger. There was just a sense of feeling and getting each other and being interested in each other and into each other's craft. He said I see something in you that I think can bring some words to life that I have in a script called Diary of a Mad Black Woman. It was a play and I want to make a movie. Do you want to be a part of it? After we spent some time together and I really got a sense of who he was and what it was he was trying to do - and obviously business-wise, it made sense. But then when I saw the cast - Cicely Tyson, Kimberly Elise - I signed up!

If you weren't an actor what would you be?

Shemar Moore: Baseball player. Yeah, that was my dream before acting, or alongside acting. My uncle played semipro for the Red Sox. I lived out of the country for the first six years in my life and when I came to the country - my mother's from Brighton, Massachusetts. Go Red Sox. Go Patriots. My uncle, I watched him play, and I was just so awe-inspired by what he did on the baseball field.

What's your uncle's name?

Shemar Moore: His name is Stephen Wilson. He's 30 years teaching at Watertown High School.

What position would you have played?

Shemar Moore: I could run, but I was throwing 93 mph coming out of high school. So I got drafted by Baltimore and Boston, so I thought I had a chance to play at Fen way Park. But I got drafted out of high school, and my mother wasn't having it. She was like, you're not about to think that you can just play ball, because if you get hurt, you're going to be out of luck. So you're going to go to school, and you're going to get that piece of paper, and then you're going to do whatever you want to do. But because I could throw so hard when I got to college they made me a pitcher. If I had done it - if I had to it all over again, I would have stuck to playing in the outfield. I loved running. I can catch everything in the outfield. I could throw people out from the fence. That was my thing: you get to play everyday, you get dirty every day. Pitching you can only play every four days. You got to sit there and watch. I couldn't. But I did all right

You played an ideal guy. Was there any pressure?

Shemar Moore: It took me a minute to find the truth in it. Because I had to find it in myself. I'm like that with most of my work. I'm not saying that I am all of my characters, but in order for me to bring a charact5er to life, you're gonna have to find your own truth. So I didn't trust him (Orlando) at first. I have a line in the play where it's like, "You may not believe in fairytales, but if you did, I'd want to be your knight in shining armor." It took a minute for that one to [laughter] There's a thing called game, and when you're out and you're trying to push up on a female and you're going, "Yo, I want to be your knight in shining armor," chances are you're going to get a drink on your face. But that's the lesson in all this. It was truly a lesson in don't take something at face value. You know, so many of us do in life. Whether it's because of how somebody looks or because of what they're wearing or what have you, you kind of assess a person in the first five minutes before they even speak. And a lesson in this movie is dig beneath the surface. And so with my words, with my character, I purposely created a character that was away from how you've known me thus far in my career. So that's what the cornrows were. I gained 15 pounds. That's what the beard was. It's like, Let me just flip it. Let me just hide a little bit so you can get caught up in who this guy is. And with the words, I can really sit and let them marinade. It can be blah, blah, blah, but if you put true feeling behind it, true emotion behind it, you can make blah, blah, blah mean something. And there can be truth behind it. That was my challenge. So was there pressure? No. I put pressure on myself because I needed this guy to be believable, because I didn't believe in him going in. I had a lot of help from Tyler. He found me trying to coat it. He found me trying to add stuff to it. He said to me, no, you're hurting it, you're hurting it. Keep it raw, keep it raw. The words are the words. I need you to give it life. And so I just had to come from the very simple very raw place and that created that vulnerability that you see on the screen. So pressure, I don't know. Challenge? Most definitely.

This film had a serious side and a comedy side. Your role was pretty "dramatically" consistent. Was there any point where you wanted to add comedy to your character?

Shemar Moore: That's because I didn't have to work with Madea. [laughter] I only had to work with Madea once, and that was at the barbecue and I didn't have to get close to her.

Well, you can't compete with a six foot five man in a wig. I learned in Brothers. Morris Chestnut helped me learn that. In Brothers he said, Stay away from the funny man. Because for every joke you have, they've got a hundred more. D. L. Hughley and Bill Bellamy, that's what they do. That's what they're in place to do. But you see you can't have the funny man without the set up man. So the movie is set up so Tyler's there to be the funny man and we - Kimberly is the set-up. Steve is the set-up. I'm the set-up. But I didn't have scenes with Tyler as Madea or Joe. I had scenes with Brian, which is the straighter character that he played. But no, my job was to tell that truth. I had to play my character who was in that place. My character still had charm, but it wasn't about ba-dum-dum. There was still humor. You could tell this guy was an everyday guy who had a sense of humor and could be funny and could relate to Madea or Uncle Joe, because that was family. But he wasn't there to be the punch line. Hopefully when you see the movie, Maybe you don't have the Orlando in your life, but you know that guy. He goes to church. He's down the street. He's one of the boys at the schoolyard. They exist.

What kind of impact is the death of Ossie Davis leaving on Hollywood?

Shemar Moore: We're losing a lot of people, it just seems like lately. Ray is gone, he's gone, and there are some youngsters who have gone. There's the young cat from Moesha who's just left us. Yeah, it's just been a strange time. Michelle Thomas has left us - she was on the Young and the Restless. This was, what, six years ago or whatever it was. She was special and just the history of how she came up I don't know the impact. I think because people are passing - people that we are aware of are passing at - I don't say a great pace, but it seems like people are dropping, and I think it's just making - there's a consciousness and there's sensitivity to it. And I think it's going to make people appreciate where we are, and to look at them and see what part they played and how we all got here and the opportunities they created especially in entertainment and politics. But I mean, I think he'll be missed. I think we'll carry on with that tradition just as Jamie has done with Ray. There's awareness. There's a broader awareness. It's a shame that they have to leave us before we can get that knowledge, can get that awareness. Hopefully it's just a broader awareness. Who are your acting heroes? Shemar Moore: [Laughter] Billy Dee Williams? I mean, I get compared to Billy Dee and Harry Belafonte. There's been some talking about me doing his story one day and that would be an honor. And nobody's told his story yet, so we might play around with that. I'm it's like my music. It's just eclectic. I hosted Soul train but I listen to everything. I got rock in me. I got country music in me. I listen to James Brown, Donnie Hathaway, Cat Stevens, Judy Collins, and Styx.

You're talking about music, but I'm thinking more of when you're studying acting and wanted to be an actor.

Shemar Moore: You look at the obvious, Sidney Poi tier, Anthony Hopkins. I look at leading men because that's ultimately what I'm aspiring to do. But I also look at character actors and people that I'm just in awe by, just because I can relate to. I admire Brad Pitt, honestly, just because of how he started and the obstacles he had to overcome to have the career that he's had. Now at this point in his career he's getting the credibility that I think he deserved a long time ago, but you had to get through that shell that he has. Denzel. Jodie Foster. De Niro.

Do you face the same kind of challenges that Brad Pitt does - that they take you at face value and don't think about the talent underneath?

Shemar Moore: Sure. I'm stalling because you know, Brad Pitt's beautiful. But he's white. So there's a different. You know, I don't play the race card a lot. I'm half-black, half-white, and I'm proud of - my skin is brown. The world sees me as a black man, but my mother didn't raise me as a black man. She didn't raise me as a white guy. She raised me as Shemar Franklin Moore. She said; don't worry about being black or being white. Just be you, and go tell your story. That's why I can look at Brad Pitt and at the same time look at Denzel. You know, I look at Halle Berry, who has been judged and celebrated for her shell. She's had to fight her fight to be taken seriously and do Monster's Ball and things like that. So yeah, the reason I respect that is because I can relate to only be taken at face value, to be stuck in a so-called box because of the physical attributes and the whole bit. I don't take it all that seriously. My mama made me: this is what I got. But I know there's - you know, when we started this conversation, you said, Is Orlando real? Yeah. Orlando's a part of me. The next guy's a part of me. And the next guy's a part of me. That's all I'm trying to do, is tell cool stories that people can relate to. So yeah, there's obstacles. Because people, when they don't know, they want to make it up. That's why we're sitting here talking, so you can try and figure out a little something that you can go tell people. But I know that there's many a story out there for me to tell, and Diary is going to help break down some of those doors I couldn't get in, to tell the next story.

What is your next project?

Shemar Moore: Well, now that those doors are opening for me, the answer is I don't know, but I do know it's in the world of feature film. Television is in a different time because of reality television, so it's not as exciting. But there are still good shows like 24, Boomtown and the Wire, the Shield. I'm a drama guy. I mean, I like to have a good time, too. But, you know, I'm not Will Smith. I'm not Jamie Foxx. I'm not Martin Lawrence. I'm not those guys. I mean, they do that well. There's something in their blood. But I definitely want to get out there. If I can have an eclecticif I can have a broad career like Brad and Denzel, if I can do Brad did what, Thelma & Louise? And then it took a while before he got to 12 Monkeys. Denzel has been that leading man, but it took him a while to get to Training Day and Hurricane Carter. There's stories out there. If I could do Harry Belafonte, if I could bring him to life, like Jamie brought Ray to life, one day. That's not today. That's not tomorrow. Maybe five years from now. Maybe ten years from now. I want to have a good time. I want to tell some heartfelt stuff like Orlando. Then I want to do some action thriller stuff. You know, that was what was great about Motive. It was a chance for me to get outside of that box. Orlando gets me outside of that box. And Motive was just a thriller, where I got to run around and do some edgy little dark, some little heart attack stuff, than people are used to me doing. I got a range, and like you guys watching me, I'm having fun finding out what I'm right for.

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