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May 2008
An Interview with Nate Parker

An Interview with Nate Parker
By Wilson Morales

May 12, 2008

One of the breakout stars of 2007 was Nate Parker. Not only was he was the three individuals chosen by Denzel Washington, along with Jurnee Smollett and Denzel Whitaker, to play the leads in his film, ‘The Great Debaters’, but Parker was also featured opposite Terrence Howard in another film based on a true story, ‘Pride’.

Since then, many offers have come his way, the one that piqued his interest has him starring opposite a bevy of female talent in ‘The Secret Life of Bees’. Joining him in that film will be Queen Latifah, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okenedo, Dakota Fanning, and Alicia Keys.

In speaking to blackfilm.com, Parker talks his role as Henry Lowe and about the release of ‘The Great Debaters’ DVD, which comes out on May 13th, and working with Alicia Keys on ‘The Secret Life of Bees’.

How was it working with Jurnee Smollett and Denzel Whitaker on this film?

Nate Parker: It was a beautiful experience. I give a lot of credit to Denzel (Washington) because he did a fantastic job of allowing us to form a relationship with each other well before we stepped on the set. He took us to Texas Southern University where we had the pleasure of working with Dr. Freeman and really learning how to debate. It was during that time, where we spent a lot of time together and none of us had debated before. My understanding of debating was that it was an organized argument, but what I learned was deeper than that. I learned how to make an argument and how to use the tool of words to really punch holes in my opponent’s argument.

How was it working with Denzel Washington as a director and as a co-worker?

NP: It was probably the most enlightening experience that I have had so far in my career. Every opportunity on my days off, I would put a chair behind his chair and I would sit and everything he said, I would try to learn from, and everything he did, I would write it down. Every once in a while he would lean over and would say something so important that I thought it was unbelievable. He would tell me things that helped progressed as an actor.

Did you learn about the time period when you did this film?

NP: Absolutely. I learned about the Jim Crow South and the growth of the black community and how it reflects today. This was like two movies, doing the 1935 version and me acting in the 2007 version. It has so many parallels with young women of color and how much they fought for. There is so much more besides the theme of the film and it’s important to give back to the community.

With ‘The Great Debaters’ and ‘Pride’ both released last year, you definitely had a breakout year. How has the Hollywood exposure treated you so far?

NP: It’s interesting because with the whole Hollywood thing, I’m doing my best to keep it about the work. I think the goal of actor is to focus on the work and to put the work as your first priority and everything else is secondary. As I watched Denzel (Washington), I really studied him and everything he gave to me without even knowing he was giving it to me. The only time you see him is when he is working and when you don’t, he’s a family man. That’s the direction I want to go.

What should we appreciate from watching ‘The Great Debaters’ on DVD?

NP: Besides the film, you will get to hear some commentary about the making of the film and how we were felt about doing certain scenes and how I, as Henry Lowe, responded to them. It got really deep and at times it got really emotional. I think you can expect some honesty, which is probably rare among other DVD releases.

You have another film coming out this Fall, ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ with Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys. Can you talk about your role in the film?

NP: I play the role of Neil, who is the love interest of Alicia Keys. I’m pretty much the only male figure in the film. It’s a story of women discovering women empowerment. I play the guy that supports and encourage Alicia Key’s character through what she’s going through. I’m that guy that’s around and helps the family. At times I’m the handy man and the male voice when it comes to whatever situation is going on. At other times, I just listen, observe, and learn and that’s important too. I took the film because I really enjoyed the book and I really respect its director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and above everything else, I really support the message. With Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo, and Alicia Keys in the film and the characters they play, they are representing millions of women’s lives where they are dealing with their baggage and they are dealing with their own inner demons and needs at the same time. I learned so much from that set. It was a joy to shoot.

How was it working with Alicia Keys?

NP: It was great working with her; even better that I would have imagined. Like I told someone before, when you work with someone who’s also an artist from another area, this one being music, you never know how much stock they will put in the acting. The day I met her, Gina put us together and we ended up talking for while about whatever and we talked about for about an hour and I really got to see all that she has put into this character. I was blown away. I was very, very impressed with the time and commitment she put into this role.

I see that you also have a lead role in ‘Blood Done In My Name’. What’s the story about?

NP: It’s about a reverend that comes into town and tries to integrate a church and what it does is causes a turmoil that leads to a black man being killed. I play a teacher that, in the mix of all this chaos, becomes an activist and leads a community like my students and everyone else to a movement of activism, like, ‘This is what we are going to do’ and ‘We’re not going to let this happen to us anymore’. Racism is still strong in some communities that it takes someone to put their neck out and do something. The character I play stood up and cost him nine years of his life. He was in jail for nine years, basically a political prisoner. I’m really excited to play this role.

Why should anyone pick up the DVD of ‘The Great Debaters’?

NP: I think people should pick it up because it’s a film about life, progress, education, and all the things that we should instill into our kids. Second, it’s entertaining. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will be moved. Third, it’s a film that embodies something that all of us should be attached to, and regardless of color, and applies to our lives to make us a better person.

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