David Alan Grier is Serious About His Craft & Seriously Funny
Parlé: You’ve done so much in your career, a lot of which I never even knew about, what has been the biggest moment in your career?
D.A.G.: I guess there have been a lot of moments. When I did A Soldiers Play by Charles Fuller—he won the Pulitzer Prize, Sam Jackson was in that production, Denzel Washington, we went on to do a movie, that was amazing. My first job, Jackie Robinson, to star in a Broadway musical, like I said I wanted to be a working actor, I couldn’t believe this. I would do these prayers, and I would say, ‘just give me one…’ Because all my family came when I graduated and I was like ‘God please just give me one job so they can see that I’m not crazy’. Then if I don’t work for ten years then I’m cool. I immediately get this job, I say ‘thank you God, just let me open on Broadway, just for a couple weeks, so they can see I’m not crazy’. We open up on Broadway and I get nominated for a Tony. After that I was good, I said if I don’t work for a couple of years then I’m good.
There is a multifaceted answer to your question. There was that moment, then my world got bigger and I wanted more. And to do that production of A Soldier’s Play was amazing. To do Race, which is the play I’m currently working on. For years people would ask me, ‘why don’t you do anything dramatic, because some people only knew me as a comedic actor. I really did not expect that after Dancing With The Stars and cursing out the judges, that I would get a lead in David Mamet’s play. Not just anyone’s play, but this play is banging. It’s probably the best role I’ve ever gotten, at this point in my career, redefining myself once again. I’m trying to answer it, but there’s not one moment, there are several moments that have been defining or have changed the direction of my life.
Parlé: How’d you get involved with In Living Color?
D.A.G.: I never expected In Living Color. I never thought they would put it on the air because it was too buck wild. We did an hour pilot, and it traveled around L.A. I remember I did a guest spot on Alf, to make some money, but all the crew had seen In Living Color. They were like ‘dude, I don’t even know what the name of this is, but its the funniest sh*t I’ve ever seen’. I didn’t think we’d ever be allowed to do that show, but when it got on, that was lovely. To finally be on the hippest, coolest show. Everybody wanted to be on it. It was really nice. I didn’t think I’d get on that show.
Parlé: For having such a start in drama, how did you become known as a comedian?
D.A.G.: People that know me, know I’ve always been the class clown, all my friends wanted to play the lawyer, doctor dude, on the lawyer, doctor show, but I never got those roles. I auditioned for them, but never got them. I auditioned for a slave role and didn’t get it, I was like ‘how didn’t I get that?’ Its funny now, but in the moment you’re so committed.
Parlé: Let’s talk about Race, the new play you’re starring in. Tell me about that.
D.A.G.: Opened Dec 6th. David Mamet is directing it, James Spader is in it, Kerry Washington, who I know and worked with on Little Man. Richard Thomas is also in it. Kerry, James Spader and I are lawyers in a law firm. Richard Thomas comes in, he’s been accused of a sexual crime against a black woman. So that’s where it starts. It’s all about race. I mean if you call your play Race, you gotta come with it. Either that or change the name. You can’t dance around it.
Parlé: You’ve worked with a ton of major actors in your career, what’s the best advice you’ve been given and would share?
D.A.G.: Different actors have taught me different things along the way. Probably the best advice was very early on. When I was in school we’re students, but we would act with professional actors doing small parts at the Yale repertoire theater or even at the University of Michigan and I would always ask, ‘Do you think I’m ready? Should I come to New York?’ They would tell me, ‘you have to know that you’re ready’. An older African-American, a casting director actually, she goes, ‘you’re probably going to be smarter than half the people who are going to hire you, so you have to define yourself to that person’. That’s what I tell young actors all the time. Meaning, when you come in a room, don’t let that person go, (snaps fingers) ‘oh I know who you are. I know who you’re going to be, I know who I’m going to allow you to be.’ You have to tell them who you are. You have to define yourself for others. Its an ongoing process but you have to tell yourself, this is who I am, this is who I strive to be, this is where I want to go and end up. So that’s something I carry with me to this day, cause we’re constantly redefining ourselves, or we should be. So that’s probably the best advice. And keep changing, be flexible, because there’s so many times in my career, I remember standing backstage at the Apollo Theater, and asking myself, ‘what am I doing?’ I never thought I would do stand-up but I was open enough to say, let me try this experience and see what happens. That opened up a whole nother aspect of my career and my life.
Parlé: You had a great show in Chocolate News, do you have any regrets now that it is canceled?
D.A.G.: No. I was determined, if they gave me one show or one hundred, to blast. Love it or hate it, I stand behind it. For the first time, it was my creation, my invention. I wasn’t doing your show or his show, this was my vision. The timing seemed perfect. I love it. And if it hadn’t been canceled I wouldn’t be able to do this play, I would be doing that. What would’ve probably changed is I probably wouldn’t be doing as much. I didn’t plan on doing eight billion characters. But it was crazy to do, especially in this time period.
Parlé: Let’s end it off with Barack Like Me, why should people pick up the book?
D.A.G.: Barack Like Me is my first book, I waited a long time to do this book, because I wanted to wait to have something to really talk about, speak about, to be honest about. Number one its funny, and it’s in my own voice.
Barack Like Me: The Chocolate Covered Truth is coauthored by Alan Eisenstock. It is published by Simon & Schuster and in stores now.
Race, the play, is on Broadway until June 13th.
David Alan Grier photos by Christian Ortiz for Parlé Magazine
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