Nashawn Kearse : The Pursuit of Hollywood HappinessMay 23, 2007 at 3:45 pm | Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment
The name Nashawn Kearse probably doesn’t ring a bell with most television/film fans or even fanatics. However, the Brooklyn born actor has trailblazed a path that few other black actors have accomplished. Over the last three years, Nashawn has landed highly coveted roles on television’s top series like, “Entourage,” “Desperate Housewives” and “The Sopranos.”
What heightened his appearances on these shows is the fact that black actors appear on these highly rated series as often as rappers appear on Oprah. And no, he didn’t play an athlete, or drug dealer , or rapper…well he did play a rapper’s (Saigon) cousin on “Entourage,” but for the most part Nashawn’s roles have been uncharacteristically un-cliched for a black actor. His roles as a mentally challenged character on “Desperate Housewives” and a worker at a mental institution on “The Sopranos,” were meager, yet meticulously executed. They also exposed Nashawn to a demographic that has probably never seen his revered roles in indie flicks like, “Cross Bronx” and “My Brother.” As you’ll find out, it’s Nashawn’s undying determination and dedication that keeps his head above the staggering seas of Tinseltown.
TheSource.com: How long have you been acting?
Nashawn Kearse: I’ve been acting for fifteen years. I started out doing theater in
New York and then moved into television and film
TheSource.com: Talk about the realities of being a black actor in Hollywood.
Nashawn Kearse: It’s challenging because there aren’t as many roles available for black actors. There are only so many times you can play a drug dealer. Hollywood doesn’t believe that black actors are as marketable as white actors. Just look at how many new white actors break out every year; there’s a constant flow of young, fresh talent emerging every year. But with black actors we rarely see new faces. We’ve seen the same black actors – like Denzel and Will Smith – get the major roles for years, with no signs of up and coming successors.
TheSource.com: To make things even more challenging, now you have to compete with rappers for roles. What’s your take on rappers acting?
Nashawn Kearse: I understand the business aspect of it. As a producer if you have a movie and this rapper has sold five million records, hopefully if I put him in a movie those five million people will come see the movie. But as an actor who’s studying his craft it’s disheartening, because I love acting and I went to school for it. Then you give the job to someone who has never acted before. They’re some who are really good, and they’re some who are really bad. But it’s hard when you audition for a role and you know you’re the better actor but a rapper gets it because he sold five million records. At the end of the day it’s not about the talent, it has become a popularity contest.
TheSource.com: Would you say that the positive aspect of this is that there’s a greater presence of black faces in films, regardless of whether they’re professionally trained actors or not?
Nashawn Kearse: It is positive. I think the black acting community doesn’t branch out enough, because they’re so many great actors but black Hollywood tends to use the same actors all the time. Like I spoke about earlier, I think Hollywood needs to branch out and give up and coming black actors the opportunity to become stars. Because they’re so many talented black actors out there. I definitely agree that the more black faces we get out there, the better it’s going to be for others down the road.
TheSource.com: You’ve actually costarred with a rapper. You played Saigon’s cousin on HBO’s “Entourage.” How did you land that part?
Nashawn Kearse: Me and Jerry Ferrara, who plays Turtle on “Entourage,” did a movie called “Cross Bronx” together. Mark Wahlberg’s manager saw the movie and he wanted to sign me and Jerry to his management company. So we signed on to his management around the same time that they were developing “Entourage.” Many people don’t know that “Entourage” is based on Mark Wahlberg’s life, and in real life his entourage is all black guys. So they had black actors auditioning while the show’s executives were figuring out what they wanted to do. Then they decided to make the show all white and Jerry got the part. Later on when the role for Saigon’s cousin came about, I auditioned and got it.
TheSource.com: Being that both you and Saigon are from Brooklyn, were you familiar with his music before you met him?
Nashawn Kearse: I’d heard of him in Brooklyn. I knew he was a rapper but I’d never heard his music. When I heard his music I realized how talented he was.
TheSource.com: What other rappers do you listen to?
Nashawn Kearse: I listen to Jay-Z and Rakim a lot. I like the old school rappers a lot.
TheSource.com: You character on “Desperate Housewives” is mentally challenged. How challenging was it preparing for that role?
Nashawn Kearse: It was challenging just trying to find the nuances of that character and how I wanted to bring him to life. I loved the challenge, because, like I said before, black actors don’t get that many opportunities to play these sorts of roles. So to be able to play that type of character on such a big show was great.
TheSource.com: What kind of research did you have to do for that role?
Nashawn Kearse: I had finished doing a movie called “My Brother,” that I did with Vanessa Williams. I played the older brother of a mentally challenged younger brother. We actually had a real mentally challenged actor play him, so I got to work with him for a month and a half. So to prepare for my role on “Desperate Housewives” I fed off what I learnt from him. I developed my character from what I learnt from him, and that was my biggest form of research.
TheSource.com: I’ve seen clips from “My Brother,” and you have great chemistry with your costar Christopher Scott. How was such good chemistry developed with a mentally challenged actor?
Nashawn Kearse: Well, we had a week of rehearsals with him about how to act, but we forged a bong during filming. He came in as an actor, so it wasn’t as tough as I thought it may have been. Initially, my concern was that there would be pauses between our dialogues. As an actor that’s one of your major concerns, but he was right on top of it and made it easier for me. It was a great experience.
TheSource.com: What advice would you give other aspiring actors?
Nashawn Kearse: Know that you love this craft and this is what you want to do. You have to be prepared to be rejected because nine times out ten you will. But when you do get the job it washes a lot of that rejection away. I just feel the most important thing is that you got to love acting, because it’s not an easy industry to be in. You have to love and understand the game. Back in the day it was about talent – if you had talent you were going to work. Now it’s a lot about who you know and the business of acting and who’s opening doors for you. So you can’t take a lot of stuff personally, you just got to look at it as part of your challenge. Sometimes the roll just doesn’t fit you. You may be too tall or too dark. Sometimes you may be too good looking to play the roll, because they got someone else playing the leading role, and he doesn’t want anyone to outshine him in his movie. So you know, there are a lot of intangibles that go along with getting a job.