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November 2005
King Kong: An Interview with Evan Parke

King Kong: An Interview with Evan Parke

By Wilson Morales

According to the bio sent to me, Evan Parke is quickly becoming one of Hollywood's most versatile and commanding actors. Most recently, Parke was seen in Warner Bros.' Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, opposite Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer; the film was from producer Joel Silver and directed by Shane Black. He has also been seen in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes; The Replacements with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman; and Lasse Hallström's Oscar®-nominated The Cider House Rules.

Originally from Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn and Long Island, Evan was a full-time economics student at Cornell when he decided his senior year to take classes in black theater and dramatic literature-and discovered his passion for acting. After receiving his degree in economics, Parke worked for three years in various corporate jobs (including FedEx and pharmaceutical sales), but he could not get acting out of his system.

Following his dream, Parke went on to receive his master's degree from the prestigious Yale School of Drama and then went to New York, where he appeared on different daytime dramas (including All My Children and As the World Turns). He also began building his theater credits, appearing in Colored People's Time, The Old Settler and The Lion King on Broadway, among others. In 1997, Parke was the recipient of the William & Eva Fox Foundation Fellowship, which funded his attendance at the New York Film Academy, where he focused on film producing.

Shortly thereafter, Parke made his way into prime-time television roles. He was a series regular on the Dick Wolf/ABC series L.A. Dragnet, playing the role of Detective James Cooper. He also starred in the USA cable film My Brother's Keeper and the TNT movie Second String, opposite Jon Voight and Gil Bellows. His other television appearances include recurring roles on Alias and Jake in Progress.

In his latest and possibly best film to date, Parke will be acting along with Adrien Brody, Jack Black, and Naomi Watts in Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Parke goes over his role in the film and shares his experiences on working on the film with such as stellar cast and crew.

What role do you play in "King Kong"?

Evan Parke: I play a First Naval Officer, Benjamin Hayes. Hayes is a seasoned veteran of the 369th cavalry division of the 24th infantry in the American army-one of the first all-black, American units to serve in World War I. Now he is a servant on the ship, the S.S. Venture, as a first mate and in the story itself he serves as a relationship between himself and Jamie Bell's character, Jimmy, and he mentors Jimmy and he also ends up being on the island to find Naomi's character. That's pretty much the role I play. It's a strong role, which is good given the fact that it's a big movie and I'm the only black character in the film. It's definitely a positive thing to look at now, particularly in films.

How did you get cast for the part?

EP: Peter (Jackson) and Fran (Walsh) and Philippa (Boyens) had came out to Beverly Hills to do casting and I got a chance to meet them and they told me about the film and what they were planning to do. That was a lot of fun because originally I never saw the script. I don't think anyone saw a script going in. We just knew Peter Jackson and his work and we totally trusted that whatever we would get ourselves into, it would be excellent and on top of that, we knew that Peter Jackson's childhood dream was to do "King Kong". If he didn't do well with anything else, and here it is, the feature that I believe got him interested in filmmaking. I knew the passion would be there and on general practice, he's outstanding, so I knew that it was going to be a great film.

How was it working with Jack Black or any of the main characters?

EP: I had scenes with everyone except Naomi. Most of Naomi's scenes were with Jack and Kyle Chandler. Working with those guys was great in that they are used to working on a certain level and it's great to come into a situation where people are working on a high level artistically because it will challenge you and you learn from them and they learn from you. There's a lot of things that you can learn from people who have been doing this for a long time; so being able to operate in that environment was great. On a personal level, there were great people to work with. Jack's hilarious and Adrien and I are from New York, so we had that New Yorker thing going and Naomi was great. I didn't get to spend much time with Naomi but I did get the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving at her house last year and I got to say grace at Thanksgiving dinner, which was really fun. That's what I got from those three. I also learned from watching them and how they deal with situations they have been dealing with for years, which can be fairly new for me at some level and it's good to watch and take it in because they all work on a high level and it's good to be in that crowd and everybody's coming in from that perspective.

This is not the first time that you have worked on a potential blockbuster. You were also in "Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes". Although that was some years ago, how would you compare that film to "King Kong"?

EP: Well, what's the difference between working on both films? I think it has to do with resources. The resources were there on both films with the money they put into the film to make the best film possible. You are getting the top talent and crew, and the studio is behind it. This was a little different because of the setting; we were in another country as opposed to the stage setting in Hollywood. I think it's different when you are overseas shooting and you are away from Hollywood because Hollywood is right there, back door. There's freedom to work and there's not much pressure and you can get stuff done. There's still pressure because it's a lot of money to spend but as far as the distance from Hollywood is probably the biggest difference to me. Everything from the talent to the crew to the special effects and the costume design was the same in terms of resources, and much of the crew was from Australia and New Zealand. Another difference is the cultural aspects.

How challenging is it to go after a role in a film where there's only one black character?

EP: It's funny but when I get cast, I know what I'm going in for. The role in "King Kong" is defined as a black man. I don't think the role in "Planet of the Apes" was defined. It was a breakdown of all ethnicity. I don't think too much about that. I just want to go in and do well. With "King Kong", there's a lot of other talented black actors going in for the same role as many times in this town, it's about which role is right for you and which is your role and where do you really fit. I think it worked in that this is something I really fit for. Going in for the role, I knew that I would give my best and that it was a period film cause it's set in 1933 and I love doing period pieces.

How does a star football player from Cornell University become an actor? When did you know this is what you wanted to do?

EP: A football player becomes an actor by getting the bug; and I got the bug in my last semester of my senior year in college. I took a class of Professor Branch, in many respects a mentor of mine, and I got the bug doing a play called "Colored People's Time" and I couldn't get the bug out of my system and after college, I went to the Yale Drama School and from there, I really got the bug and decided to do this full time. So far, it's panned out and been successful. It's funny because during my senior year of college, some friends had encouraged me to be an actor because I used to always play around with different characters. Coming into motion pictures is great because I guess they were right that I would be doing a motion picture with basically one of the best directors in the world. It's mind boggling and to get an opportunity to do it in such a beautiful setting as New Zealand is even more mind boggling.

I also noticed that you have done some theater work and some TV work, which included a recurring role in the first season of "Alias" and a starring role in "Dragnet". Is TV something that you enjoy doing?

EP: I love doing television work and it's hard, but I love doing it; particularly if it's on the same level as film. I just love to work with the best people whether it is on film, theater, or television. If there's a high level of excellence behind the storytelling, then I'm in. I love solid stories. Even with "King Kong", although it's a remake, it's not going to be what you have seen before. It's not going to be what everyone expects it to be. It's going to be far better. I love swimming in the fish tank filled with good talent because it helps me to get better. If you are going to do anything, you might as well do it at the highest level while you have the opportunity; and that was one of the great things in part of "King Kong".

What are some of the best things you remember while shooting this film?

EP: In some films, there are some people you connect with more than others and relationships get better. Like I said before, Naomi had a Thanksgiving dinner; we went mountain biking one time. Early on in the film, I took a bike with me and took a couple of very hard spills and I think I bruised my leg and I realized I couldn't do it anymore because there were not going to ship me home injured so I decided to cut mountain biking off my list of activities after that first time but a couple of us traveled around the island. Wine tasting is something that became really exciting for me. I credit New Zealand for giving my love for wine. With the cast, we did as much as we could. A lot of times, we had functions early on, but once we got working it got tougher because of the schedule. We had situations where we hung out for someone's birthday. We had a party at Jack Black's place for his birthday. Some guys brought their families up like Andy Serkis. He threw a birthday party for his daughter so there a lot of families there as well because we were there for so long. We got a chance to bond on different occasions.

What's next for you?

EP: Right now, I'm looking at a couple of things. I'm writing a show that's basically geared towards a traveling channel. So, that's in the works. I'm also looking at a couple of projects that I would like to do.

KING KONG opens on December 14, 2005


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