It isn’t easy being suave for a living, but Blair Underwood has made a career out of using his powers for both good and evil.
"When I was doing ‘L.A. Law’ it was really important to me to play
very uplifting, positive characters," Underwood recalls. "When that
was over, I made a conscious effort to look for roles that were darker and showed
a different edge. I went directly from the last day of ‘L.A. Law’ into
rehearsals for a movie called Just Cause where I played a serial-killing pedophile."
Underwood plays a different kind of villain in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s
Family Reunion, the follow-up to Perry’s surprise blockbuster Diary of a
Mad Black Woman. Underwood is Carlos, an upwardly mobile sophisticate in public,
but an abusive fiance behind closed doors.
"You have to really straddle the fence," says Underwood of tackling
the complicated character. "Definitely, you don’t want to be a caricature.
I hope to never play a caricature and that’s the challenge – what are
the subtleties and nuances in the character himself and how do you bring those
out and make him more realistic? But then also, you can’t make him too sympathetic,
because at the end of the day, you have to be able to dismiss that kind of character
because they’re wrong in every way, shape and form."
While mainstream media outlets were taken aback by the success of Diary, Underwood
had been aware of Perry’s growing theatrical following. He also knew that
while Perry’s signature character of Madea – she’s the tough-talking
woman who looks like a linebacker in a dress – seemed like a caricature to
some viewers, she’s much more than that.
"The Madea character in my life is a combination between paternal grandmother
and my mother, that person who loves you, who’s not afraid to rattle your
cage a little bit if it needs to be, which is not actually politically correct
nowadays – not only in a loving, physical sense, but in an intellectual sense,
saying what needs to be said and telling you the way it is – minus the pistols
in the purse," he admits.
Of course, the only thing more difficult than playing a complicated and compelling
villain may be playing that kind of character opposite your director in drag.
"You’ve just got to know that going in – children, animals and
Tyler Perry, you’re gonna get upstaged," Underwood says with a chuckle.
"Truthfully, he’s a very giving collaborator, whatever hat he wears."
Underwood, also currently on the big screen in Something New, just hopes that
viewers of all demographics will be able to see the movie and recognize their
own Madeas and their own families.
"One person said – who happened to be Caucasian – at one of the
test screenings said, ‘This movie is for anybody with a pulse,’ and
it’s true. It’s the same basic themes for anyone who’s human –
of forgiveness, of redemption, of empowerment, of joy, all those are human emotions."
© 2006, Zap2it.com.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
Madea’s Family Reunion is currently in theatres.
Film: Interview [Blair Underwood: Madea's Family Reunion]
Blair Underwood: Good at Being Bad in Madea’s Family Reunion
By Daniel Feinberg
Article posted on 2/27/2006
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