Sahara: An Interview with Glynn Thurman
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By Wilson Morales
Glynn Thurman has been acting since he starred in the soap opera "Peyton
Place" and was cast in the offbeat film, "Cooley High", which to some
is a classic film. While Thurman has many characters in various films,
he will be known to many for playing Colonel Clayton Taylor, aka "Dr.
War" on the NBC sitcom, A Different World, opposite Jada Pinkett Smith,
Kadeem Hardison, and many other well-known actors. The colleagues Thurman
came up are still wondering how this man can still be the game, acting
wise, when many are retired or can't get the parts they auditioned for.
Well, Thurman is very level-headed and still giving his best when he gets
the chance. In his next film, Sahara, Thurman plays a doctor alongside
Penelope Cruz. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Thurman talked getting
this roles when the character was not black in the book.
What was working out in the desert like?
Glynn Thurman: Hot with a lot of sand.
When a sandstorm arrives, is it as bad as they talk about?
GT: When I first flew over and landed in Casablanca after the all night flight across the Atlantic and changing in London and then taking a plane from London to Casablanca, you couldn't see out the window of the airport, and so I figured that we were fogged in; it wasn't fog, it was sand. It is a blinding experience.
Had you ever been to Africa before?
GT: I had been to Ghana about 5-6 years prior to now for a celebration. I had never worked in Ghana. I was narrating a documentary of that celebration. In New York City, they found some bones of slaves in a burial ground near Wall Street, and those bones were dug up and taken back through the doors of no return in Africa, in Ghana on the gold coast at the same time that sort of an annual festivity was taking place to welcome all blacks from the Diaspora back home to Africa so it was called the homecoming.
What did you think when you first read the script that you knew you were going to be the first one killed - a black man being killed again?
GT: Well, I was on familiar ground. I was glad to be a part of this production. I read for several roles, and was very happy that I was chosen for the part of Dr. Hopper, which incidentally was not in the book as a black man. In the novel, Dr. Hopper is a red-headed Irishman so I was first taken by the fact that they had the courage and the sensitivity to cast an actor in this role regardless of race. That being considered I said, shit I won't be in the sequel.
Did you say you read for other roles in Sahara?
GT: Yes, I read for the role of Zeem, which is the bad guy. It was a wonderful role played by a fantastic actor and so I read for that role as well.
Did the crew feel comfortable on the set in the desert?
GT: We had a crew of about 400 people, it was an army of production companies and they're to be commended because of - you saw all the heavy equipment that had to be moved around and our director was a witness and non-conforming in what he wanted. In other words, if he (Breck Eisner) didn't get the shot that he wanted. He was not afraid to move all of that equipment back to square one and start again to get the shot that he wanted. It takes people to do that and so those people were working very hard in very extreme conditions so they really need to be commended.
Is that what it's like to walk into a show like The Wire? Did you come in at the second season?
GT: Third season.
Third season, so those are all established characters, and it's like a big family.
How long do you remain the outsider?
GT: Well, the company is run by very sensitive people. David Simon and Nina Noble are the producers and they had just lost one of their partners on the show, Bob - his last name escapes me at the time - so they were going through a very difficult time emotionally.
Lost by death?
GT: Yes, by death. And the focus was to keep the show going, keep the energy of the show and I think that because everyone was so emotional it was very easy to bond with them and for them to accept someone new coming in because all defenses were seemingly down and it was very easy to make that human contact. So I became a family member rather quickly.
How do you find the roles now? Obviously this is a role that was different from the ones you read. Is it more challenging now to go for certain roles or is it more difficult?
GT: Getting sent up for roles of people who die of old age. I don't like that. Yeah, that's challenging. I'm flattered when they say, "I'm sorry Glen can't get this role, he's just not old enough" and I go well, so I suffer, you know.
Where did you get your first start?
GT: Broadway, New York City 1959. A Raisin in the Sun starring Sydney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and directed by Lloyd Richards
The original production?
GT: Yes, the very original production. I created the role of Travis in 1959 on Broadway and I've been performing every since I'm Travis.
Did you go back to see the revival?
GT: I did. I sure did.
How did you think Sean "P.Diddy" Combs did?
GT: I think he did a commendable - not an embarrassing job at all. I was very proud of him for taking on the endeavor even though of course many of us had reservations in the beginning but the positive upside was that a play that means so much to me and should mean so much to the theatrical world was able to get a whole new life and a whole new audience as a result of his presence. It brought a whole new crowd and introduced them to Broadway and theatrically and now perhaps some of these young people will indeed attend other Broadway productions simply because he stepped up and made them aware of it.
What other productions are you working on?
GT: I just finished a motion picture called Bam Bam and Celeste starring the one and only crazy Margaret Cho and we had a ball. It's a very funny, crazy film.
What's she like to work with?
GT: She's a constant professional. She's a sweetheart and she's so pretty, and she always makes fun of herself on a standup. I was really surprised that she's as pretty as she was because television doesn't do her justice, but as a professional, she's been producing the film and it's just crazy. It's about two people who were misfits Bam Bam and Celeste and a young man by the name of Leonard Daniels' opening act and they go - they're trying to get out of their town because they're misfits in town, I wonder why and they go on the road and so we follow them as they go on the road.
Are you shooting anything now and what's happening with The Seat Filler?
GT: The Seat Filler? I don't know when they're going to release it. We just finished Bam Bam and Celeste and in May I go to New York with my one man show Movin' Man -
Is it off Broadway?
GT: Off Broadway, yes.
Is that a history of your life?
GT: Yes, it is.
You wrote it?
GT: I wrote it, yes.
Has it been done here in L.A.?
GT: Yes, it was done here in L.A. at the 2000 Square Foot Theatre right on San Lucenti and it was received very well.
What is it about?
GT: It's taken from clericals of my memoirs which I'm in the process of writing. I've been in the business long enough to write memoirs and as a result some of the stories that I tell in my book have been compiled into a one man show so its centered around A Raisin in the Sun and how a young boy from Harlem ends up in a Broadway major theater world changing production and how that affected him and here I am talking to you today.
How old were you?
How did that happen?
GT: I was afraid. Now you got me really into it. It was a heck of a journey.
Did they come right into your neighborhood, were you -
GT: I grew up in Greenwich Village. My mother moved to Greenwich Village from Harlem when I was a young man and her friends - it was very extraordinary people back in the Bohemian days and one of her friends - or James Baldwin - And people of that element and well as neighbor one block around the corner Lorraine Hansbury. So Lorraine would have to watch over the play and she and my mother were contemporaries.
And had Lorraine seen you in New York City?
GT: Yeah, as a kid in the neighborhood, you know, brought up with Jack Clubman and Bret Summers and these are all my mother's contemporaries.
After that experience were you hooked?
You knew that you wanted to be an actor?
GT: No, not at all. I was - just because I had to go through this as opposed to baseball on Saturdays, you know, I had to do matinees. I wanted to be - I quit the play after a year, you know, and it wasn't until I went to high school that I went to the High School of Performing Arts, you know the movie Fame, I went to high school and I got an A for the first time ever in school, you know, I was a chronic truant in junior high school and I got an A in theater and I said, I'm going to be an actor, and that's what I did.
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