Recently, I had a chance to sit down with director/writer/author/producer, Antwone Fisher. We discussed everything from his thriving career to his ever changing challenges as the father of two girls. Fisher, is best known for the screenplay based on his life story, Antwone Fisher, but he has come a long way from his troubled up bringing in Cleveland, OH. In order for the interview to proceed, I had to promise not to release the video footage of our interview—or else I would be subject to a good old fashioned Antwone Fisher beat down. He opened up to me about his current projects, life lessons learned, his inspiration, and his newly released book.
Parlé Magazine: As a child what did you always dream that you would become.
Antwone Fisher: A painter. I like painting with acrylic paint and water colors.
Parlé: Do you do that in your spare time.
Antwone: Yeah, one day I’m going to have a big art show somewhere.
Parlé: You will have to invite me to that
Antwone: I hope you’re not 50 by the time you are done.
Parlé: I hope not either.
Antwone: That will be a long time from now, huh?
Parlé: Yeah, several years.
Antwone: More than several
Parlé: Twenty-two years if my math is right.
Antwone: You know, that could happen, I think I could hang in there.
Parlé: How do you motivate yourself?
Antwone: Oh, I’m like really a self motivator. When I was growing up I always tried to prove myself in certain ways. Like when I was younger I used to like to keep myself busy cleaning up – which was something we were supposed to do, because were were told to do it, but then I found out that I got some kind of relief from doing it, you know? So now when I write – I mean I am the only guy in my neighborhood that cuts his own lawn, but I have to have something else to do. Otherwise I would just sit down writing all day. I have to have something physical to do. If I can’t think of a scene or if I get stuck, I go and do something. When I had my apartment, my wife used to ask me, when were were dating, ‘why do you always vacuum the floor? It didn’t need vacuuming.” I would start washing clothes and stuff like that, because I have to do something, because if I don’t I’ll leave and then don’t come back and then I don’t work work any more, start thinking about other things. So I found out that if I stay busy, it helps me to think.
You know they say Lionel Ritchie does gardening around his house and some people thought that was funny. But I think, you know, a creative person like that, you have to have something that you do.
Parlé: Like some type of outlet.
Antwone: Yeah, something. It has to be physical because I think what I do, and probably what he does is more mental and sometimes exerting yourself physically, and thinking at the same time, it’ll help.
Parlé: What event has been a major turning point in your life?
Antwone: In my early life or at this point in my life? Or, I could say the Navy. Joining the Navy.
Antwone: Yeah, because you know I was homeless right?
Antwone: So, that’s a pretty life changing thing to be able to sleep indoors. I was 17 though and I was an emancipated minor. I didn’t have a family so I didn’t have any place to go and so it took me some time to make that decision.
Parlé: Did you ever feel like, ‘Why in the hell did I join the Navy?’
Antwone: No, before I joined the Navy I was in reform school. Not because I was a bad kid, but because I didn’t have no place to go. No one would take a teenage boy I wrote in my book Finding Fish about some of the other kids complaining, and I remembered starting to complain, but then remembered I didn’t have any place else to go. I never complained. Even now, I don’t complain about anything.
Parlé: Well, I always fell like you can complain, but it’s not going to change the problem. Is your biological family apart of your life right now?
Antwone: Some of them. Just like everybody, there’s some people that you like and some you don’t, right? And I’m like a firm believer in not having people in your life that are going to make your life miserable wether they are your family members or not. Sometimes people you meet in life make better family members than people you are born in a family with. I think that the kids I grew up in the foster home with seem more like my siblings. I only recently met my family, even though it was 10 years ago it’s not like I’ve know them my whole life.
Parlé: Right, I can relate to that.
Antwone: Yeah, and even then I haven’t been really around them. I live in Los Angeles.
Parlé: They are still in Ohio, okay. It kinda smells weird in Cleveland, aren’t there a bunch of like paper factories there?
Antwone: Yeah, you know it was a big industrial city.
Parlé: P&G’s there right.
Antwone: Yeah, and there used to be a republic steel, and I think they had coal there. a lot of tool and dye companies. Beer breweries, they had a lot of those so its like one of those cities like Detroit and Allentown
Parlé: Very, very industrial. so a lot of blue collar there.
Antwone: Yes, But a lot of that is gone, but still the remnants of it are still there. There are some factories there—yeah it does have an industrial smell.
Parlé: Was the Navy your first job or did you ever have another job before that?
Antwone: Yeah, the Navy was my first job. I’ve only had three jobs in my whole life.
Parlé: Yeah? So you were in the Navy, a C.O. and you worked at Sony.
Antwone: That’s right.
Parlé: And now you are a screenwriter, poet/producer.
Antwone: Director. I have a movie that I wrote and directed, it’s in the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. It’s gonna premier on the 11th on this month. It stars Mykelti Williamson, you know him right?
Antwone: He played Bubba in Forrest Gump.
Antwone: Yeah, and a woman named Annie Abbott. You know Bill Cobbs?
Parlé: What’s he in?
Antwone: Oh, he’s in everything. When I show you his picture you will be like OHHHH. Cause everybody knows who he is.
Parlé: What’s the name of the film?
Antwone: My Summer Friend [Antwone pulls up Bill Cobbs’ photo on his iPhone]
Parlé: Okay, he is in everything.
Antwone: He played in a lot of things like Night at the Museum, Body Guard, Color of Money, everything.
Parlé: He’s been working for a long time.
Antwone: Yeah, he’s from Cleveland also. We’re homeboys.
Parlé: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Antwone: From different places, it depends on what I am doing – or what project it is. You know sometimes- like I did Training Day 2 the sequel to Training Day—I wrote the screenplay for it and i finished it some months ago, I didn’t watch the movie even though I had seen it before but i wanted it to be different, not so different that it’s not training day. I watched programs like “The First 48” and I have some friends that are police officers as well and I live in LA so it’s not hard to find those areas to be inspired by.
Parlé: Where did you get the idea to write Training Day 2?
Antwone: I was hired by Warner Brothers. You know I am a screenwriter, right?
Parlé: Yes! I know you wrote ATL.
Antwone: No, I just wrote the story for ATL. Tina Chisholm wrote the screenplay.
Parlé: Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Parlé: How has that helped you throughout life?
Antwone: I always feel like I get help from a higher source, or something. You know, I feel like, like apart of why I made it is that what ever spirit that guides you, that motivates you, that is not of you – but in you. You have to be in tune to it the fact, or to believe that or to consider that kind of thing. I call it my intuition sometimes.
Parlé: What advice would you give to young men and women who are pursing their dreams?
Antwone: Never give up, always do your best on your way to it. Sometimes you have a dream to do something, sometimes you are around someone who can help make your dream come true – but if your not doing a good job at what your doing they make think, ‘Oh this person is not serious.’ Like for example I was a at sony pictures i was security guard after I left working as a prison guard and I started writing the screen play and I wrote everyday and I gave it to the producer who produced my movie, Todd Black. He produced “Pursuit of Happiness,” and “the great debaters,”knowing and all that kind of stuff. Because I took the initiative and i didn’t give up, eventually it became a movie. I wrote 44 drafts of it before fox even bought it. If I would have given up then everyone would have given up – so you can never give up.
Parlé: What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Antwone: Not to feel sorry for myself.
Parlé: So, what projects are you working on now?
Antwone: I have a project called On American Soil, I wrote it and I am the director of it also.
Parlé: Oh, this will be a film.
Antwone: I have a new book proposal it’s called, Being a Girl Dad.
Parlé: How old are your girls?
Antwone: 12 and 8.
Parlé: 12 is a rough age, a lot of changes happening at 12 years old.
Antwone: Yeah, I know. It’s inspired me to write, Being a Girl Dad.
Antwone: Like, I always notice everything. My daughters never close the door, none of that stuff, and then suddenly she closed the door. I figured oh, she wants to close the door, so I didn’t think anything of it. So, I was helping my other daughter, they have separate bathrooms and separate rooms right. So I was talking to my younger daughter and my older daughter ran out of the bathroom into her room with her arms like this (crosses arms). I went, “What’s wrong with her?” So I said, “Whoa.”
Parlé: She’s growing up.
Antwone: So I went and got my wife, and we are standing in the closet, she said “What?” I said, “I think Indigo is developing breasts.” She said, “Why do you say that?” She was getting mad. I said, “I dunno, she came running out of the bathroom with her arms up like this.” So, we had to go talk to her and she was just sitting there looking like this .
Parlé: Looking like ‘are you guys serious?’
Antwone: Yeah, and its true we asked her and she said ‘yes’. So my wife was excited to be able take her to get her first bra, right?
Antwone: So then I went and took her, ‘cause I wanted to be apart of it too, because I have girls and it’s getting to the point where I am going to be left out of a lot of stuff if I don’t participate, and I am their Father. I have a cousin whose wife passed away and his daughter started her cycle and he sent her away to live with his wife’s sister because he didn’t want to explain anything. But I was thinking this is your daughter, this is life. You can’t separate yourself from girls because they are developing differently than boys. They are going to need you, and you don’t want them to think that they can’t talk to you or be embarrassed. But if everything is all out, you can talk about everything. Before we left the room, when everyone was cool I said, “The next thing that’s going to happen is that you are going to start your cyle.” Then I left the room. But she already knows about that, but when it starts it will be another conversation. It’s a real thing and it’s unfortunate because me separate themselves from their daughters when they are growing up, that’s they need them the most, I would think.
I’ll say to a boy [who is trying to talk to his daughter], “You saw the movie right?” I’m going to do him like this [makes serious face and stares me in the eye while nodding his head] “I’m Antwone Fisher, I’ll beat your ass” [explodes into laughter]
Parlé: [laughing] I believe it, I believe it. You can take the boy out the hood . . .
Antwone: [laughing] Yeah.
Parlé: Can you please tell me more about your book that was just released, A Boy Should Know How To Tie A Tie…
Antwone: Well a lot of people misunderstand, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. It’s not a book about tying a tie. Like some people assume, ‘I don’t need you to tell me how a tie,’ well maybe not, but, you might need me to tell you that you should not forget to wash your hands when you leave the restroom or to reinvent yourself throughout life. You have to manage your money no matter how much money you make. You have to understand that credit is for a lifetime, you can’t ruin it before you get out of your first chapter of life. I’m not telling anybody this, these are things that I have learned, and if it doesn’t apply to you don’t be upset about me saying it. There are some people who can use this information about keeping yourself valuable. One of the ways to keep yourself valuable is not getting involved with drugs and alcohol, or getting a girl pregnant before you are ready to take care of the baby or provide for the baby. I know tattoos are a fashionable thing now, there was another time that I remember that tattoos were popular, but tattoos are for a lifetime. You can get them taken off, but your skin won’t be the same.
This is just a suggestion. I am not telling anybody what to do, but if you have a tattoo on your neck and you go to get a job . . . you want to get a job where you will be able to take money and you may not anybody to have any knowledge your personal life or your business. But if you have your family members name on your neck or on your face, then you know. You have to think that the employer may feel simply that they may not want you standing there when their patrons come in and you have your girlfriends name over your eyebrow. You know what I mean?
Antwone: It’s a simple thing. I remember when women were getting tattoos on the small of their back and then some months after that they started calling it a ‘tramp stamp’. So you know, you don’t want to get caught with a tramp stamp on you back and if you get it taken off there’s going to be a scar there. It’s easy to follow the trends when its fashion, like clothes. But even 50 Cent, he wants to do movies and he has come to the conclusion that it’s too hard keeping makeup on his arms and keeping them covered when he’s doing movies, so he is having the tattoos removed on his lower arms. You gotta think about the future. The girl you like at 19 that you feel you will be with forever, when you get 23 you might not be able to stand her. Same with girls, you may not be able to stand him. Something permanent you have to give yourself a chance to grow. You may meet somebody and you have Charlene’s name on your neck, and her name might be Cheryl. You can’t keep changing it, you’d be scarred all up.
Keeping yourself valuable, keeping your credit straight, remembering your hygiene – I talk about all those things. These are not things that I just started thinking because I saw a kid out in the street. These are all things that I experienced, not the tattoos, but things I experienced and I thought, ‘Wow, if I had known that before I wouldn’t have done that, or I would have been more careful with my credit, you have to be more conscientious. I think developing a sense of purpose and worth, I discovered when I help other people I feel good, I feel worth while. Even if it’s like volunteering, it sounds corny, but you need that for your life. Sometimes helping a family member you almost feel like it’s your duty to do that, but if you go out of your way for someone else. Some people may not see how it might help, but all the while your building character and its good – people can see that in you.
Parlé: So this book is basically geared to young men and adolescents.
Antwone: Boys, young men, men and girls. I just came from VA and I was on a book signing and people were buying the book for girls. Well, I can understand. I didn’t think about it, but I can understand. Some girls may need to look at that to know what to look for in a young man. Single mothers, single fathers, people going away to college for the first time. You know.
Parlé: What was your main goal when writing this book.
Antwone: I feel like, I could have gotten along quicker [in life], if I knew simple some things. Not that it’s important to wear a tie all the time, because it’s not. It depends on what type of interview you are going to, but it is important to know how to tie one because eventually one day in life your going to have to wear one – whether you go to a wedding, a funeral, to meet someone’s parents or your going on a job interview. You don’t have to wear one if you don’t want to, but if you would like to it’s really frustrating because everyone knows what a tie knot looks like, and if you just tied it, it’s not going to look right. It says something about what you feel about where you and about yourself. I think if you wear a tie to someones affair its a show of respect to them, you know what I mean? There’s a place for it. If you were going to a job interview for a construction job, maybe you wouldn’t wear a tie, I wouldn’t suggest wearing a tie. Then still, you have to dress appropriately, because they are looking at you and people do judge. As much as people say ‘I do what I wanna do. If I want a tattoo on my forehead, I do it if I want to. I dress and wear my pants the way I want.” But yeah that’s true, I think people should wear their clothes way they want, and if they want a tattoo on your forehead then they should put it on there. But then you can’ be upset with anyone who says they don’t want to hire people with tattoos on their forehead or people with their pants hanging down by their knee caps, right? Don’t get upset with anyone else because they want to do what they want to do. If you want to get a tattoo on the small of your back, thats fine but depending on what it says, somebody may decided that they may not want to have a relationship with you. We are all going to get older, and when your 19 and you put a tattoo there, and then you turn into a 33 year old, and its like what the hell is that? You have to think about this stuff, sometimes people won’t think about it until someone brings it to their attention, “Oh, don’t do that.”
Parlé: Can you pinpoint the moment that you felt successful?
Antwone: Yeah, when I got my first apartment, I was in the Navy then. I was taking care of myself. I got my first paycheck when I was in the Navy and I bought something that I wanted and no one could tell me not to.
Parlé: What did you buy?
Antwone: It was crazy, it was summer time in San Diego – I bought a leather jacket. I always wanted a leather jacket when I was growing up, that’s what I did with my first check and for the rest of the month I didn’t have any money. It was crazy, but that’s how you learn, right?
Parlé: How long have you been married?
Antwone: 13 years. I met my wife in November and we got married the following November, less than a year later. We’ve been married ever since, we never have any issues about anything. I didn’t get married until I was 37, I got married when I was 37 and I had my first child when I was 37. All of these people that think that they better have their kids early, like life is gonna run outta life.
Parlé: When ever I tell my friends that I don’t want to have kids until I am 40 they look at me like I’m crazy, but I am like, ‘I can’t swing that right now.”
Antwone: Yeah, your 20’s are for having fun, for getting an education and traveling. Your 30’s are for like starting with a career, starting to get serious about down the line. For girls it’s different, my wife was 29 when I met her.
Parlé: Oh, so she is younger, so my time is running out, is what you are saying?
Antwone: No, not really. I feel like it’s different for guys and girls, guys need more time to get themselves together. You know, when you get married in the traditional sense of it, women are not expected to take care of the guys – guys are expected to take care of the women. You may need some time to get yourself together, to discover that there is nothing happening at the club. you go to the club and nothing is going on, so you don’t feel like going to the club every five minutes or every night and your more content with being in a family environment, a family setting. So if you get married at 25, you might feel like going to the club. Go to the club in your 20’s, go to work in your 30s and 40s. You have to manage your life, manage your time. You don’t know how long you are going to live, but you say the average life span is like 70-100. So lets say your going to live 75 or 80 years, you can manage it or divide it like chapters. You may say in this chapter I have to accomplish this, I have to do this by then – kind of manage it so you don’t have it all mixed up, thinking I didn’t have a chance to do that and then you go trying to do something that you should have done in your 20’s and you look silly doing it in your 40’s. Your not old, your just too old to be standing around in the club.
Parlé: Right, I have definitely seen some of those guys.
Antwone: Yeah, leave it alone. In every stage of life there is something to enjoy. I am enjoying being a family man. I enjoy my kids, my wife, my life and to me I don’t have thoughts about going to a club. Stay in your time zone and let people have theirs.
Parlé: Well, I don’t have any more questions for you. I really appreciate your time today. I thank you for your time.
Main Image by Donald Lee, Image 2 & 3 by Jesaca Lin
written by Brandice Taylor @BrandiceInNYC