Posts Tagged ‘Athol Fugard’

John Beasley has it all going on with new TV series, feature film in development, plans for new theater and possible New York stage debut; Co-stars with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash in TVLand’s “The Soul Man”

June 3, 2012 8 comments

Film-television-stage actor John Beasley is someone I’ve been writing about for the better part of a decade or more, and I expect I’ll be writing about him some more as time goes by.  You may not know the name but you should definitely recognize his face and voice from films like Rudy and The Apostle and from dozens of episodic television guest star bits.  His already high profile is about to be enhanced because of his recurring role in the new Cedric the Entertainer sit-com, The Soul Man, for TVLand.  The show premieres June 20.  The following story, soon to appear in The Reader (, has him talking about this project with the kind of enthusiasm that whets one’s appetite for the show.  It’s one of several irons in the fire he has at an age – almost 70 – when many actors are slowing down.  In addition to the series he has a feature film in development that he’s producing, a new theater he plans opening in North Omaha, and the possibility of making his New York stage debut in a new Athol Fugard play.  On this blog you’ll find several stories I’ve written over the years about the actor and his current theater in Omaha, the John Beasley Theater & Workshop.

John Beasley, far right, with his castmates from The Soul Man 



John Beasley has it all going on with new TV series, feature film in development, plans for new theater and possible New York stage debut

Co-stars with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash in TVLand’s “The Soul Man”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to appear in The Reader (


In his notable screen acting career John Beasley has done his share of television both as a one-off guest star (Detroit 1-8-7, Boston Legal, CSI: Miami, NCIS) and recurring player (Everwood, Treme).

But in the new TVLand series The Soul Man (formerly Have Faith) he has his biggest featured role to date, and in a comedy no less starring Cedric the Entertainer. The original show from the producers of Hot in Cleveland and Grimm premieres June 20 at 9 p.m.

“I’m third on the cast list and I’m getting a lot of work on the series, so I’m definitely happy about that,” Beasley says. “It’s a quality show. It’s very funny. The writing is really very good. We have the writers from Hot in Cleveland, one of the hottest shows on cable. Phoef Sutton is the show runner. He won two Emmys with Cheers. Plus, Cedric has got a really good sense of comedic timing. What he brings to the table is tremendous.

“And then Stan Lathan, the director, has worked on a lot of the great four-camera shows, as far back as the Red Foxx show Sanford and Son. A very good director.

“So we’re in very good hands.”

This native son, who’s continued making Omaha home as a busy film-TV character actor, has his career in high gear pushing 70. Besides the show there’s his long-in-development Marlin Briscoe feature film, plans for a North Omaha theater and the possibility of making his New York theater debut.

Beasley, who raised a family and worked at everything from gypsy cab driver to longshoreman, before pursuing acting, plays another in a long line of authority figures as retired minister Barton Ballentine. After years leading the flock at his St. Louis church he’s stepped aside for the return of his prodigal son, Rev. Boyce “The Voice” Ballentine (Cedric). Boyce is a former R&B star turned Las Vegas entertainer who, heeding the call to preach, has quit show biz to minister to his father’s church. He returns to the fold with his wife Lolli (Niecy Nash) and daughter Lyric (Jazz Raycole), who’ve reluctantly left the glitter for a humble lifestyle.

As Barton, Beasley’s an “old school” man of God who disapproved of his son’s former high life and racy lyrics and now holding Boyce’s inflated ego in check with fatherly prodding and criticism.

Cedric and Niecy



Speaking to The Reader by phone from L.A. where he’s in production on the series through mid-summer at Studio City, Beasley says Cedric’s character “can never live up to his father’s expectations – the father is always going to put him down no matter what he does, but he’s got a hustler brother who’s even worse.”  Beasley adds, “In the pilot episode the parishioners are filing out after church, telling Boyce, ‘Great service, nice sermon,’ and then I come up to him and say, ‘I would have given it a C-minus. The bit near the end was decent but I would have approached it more from the Old Testament. But that’s just me. God’s way is the right way.’ That’s my character and that’s his relationship with his son.”

Praised by other actors for his ability to play the truth, Beasley says, “What I bring to the table is I kind of ground the show in reality. It allows the other actors to be able to go over the top a little bit, to play for the laughs. I don’t play for the laughs. I treat this character just like I would an August Wilson character. In fact one of the characters he’s patterned after is Old Joe from Gem of the Ocean.

“I was doing Gem of the Ocean at the theater (his John Beasley Theater in Omaha) when I got the call for this. Generally Tyrone (his son) and I will put my audition on tape and send it out to L.A. A lot of times it will take us five-six takes to get really what I want but with this character it was like one take and we both agreed that was it. We did another one for safety and sent it out, and the next day I got the call…”

A chemistry reading in L.A. sealed the deal.

For Beasley, who’s worked with Oprah Winfrey (Brewster Place), James Cromwell (Sum of All Fears), Kathy Bates (Harry’s Law) and Robert Duvall (The Apostle), working with Cedric marks another milestone.

Cedric and Beasley in a father-son moment



“We play off each other so well. The chemistry between us is really good. I’m seeing it in the writing. I’m getting a lot of stuff written for me. Cedric has a lot to do with the show and he’ll say, ‘John’s character needs this,’ or ‘We should give him this,’ so he’s really very giving and a great person to work with. As is Niecy Nash.

“We’ve only got five members in the cast and it just feels like family. I don’t think theres a weak link.”

Season one guest stars include Anthony Anderson, Robert Forster, Kim Coles, Tamar and Trina Braxton, Phelo and Sherri Shepherd.

Beasley’s adjusted well to the four-camera, live audience, sit-com format.

“Having a good theater background has prepared me for this because the camera is almost like a proscenium -–you gotta play to the cameras, you’ve got to know where you’re camera is so that you can open up to it.  But you also have the feedback from the audience. For instance, in the first episode we did I appeared and Cedric and I just stopped and looked at each other because of the situation and the audience went on and on, so we had to wait for the audience to finish. That kind of thing happens.

“Sometimes Cedric or somebody forgets their lines or he ad-libs and the audience is with you all the way. It’s a lot of fun. It’s really like doing stage and I’m having a great time with it.”

My 20111 cover story about John Beasley  for Metro Magazine



Beasley’s invigorated, too, by how the writers keep tweaking things.

“The writers continue to write right up until taping and if something doesn’t work then they huddle up and they come back with something else and by the time we finish with it it’s working.”

It’s his fondest desire Soul Man gets picked up for a second season but Beasley has something more pressing on his mind now and, ironically, the show may prove an obstacle. On March 23 at the University of North Carolina Beasley and Everwood star Treat Williams did a staged reading of famed South African playwright Athol Fugard‘s new drama, The Train Driver. Fugard was there and Beasley says the writer made it clear he wants them for the play’s August 14-Sept. 23 run at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, part of the fabled Signature Theatre, in New York.

Trouble is, Soul Man doesn’t wrap till July 29. “I told the play’s producers, ‘Listen, nobody can do this better than I can. I want to do this. And so whatever we can do to work it out let’s do that.’ That’s where we left it,” says Beasley.

Whether it happens or not, he’s convinced Soul Man is a career-changer.

“I really feel this is going to be a difference-maker just as The Apostle was because people aren’t used to seeing me do comedy, so it’ll give them a different look at me as a performer and that’s really all I can ask.”

“It’s been quite a journey” to come from Omaha and find the success he has and still be able to reside here. And the best may yet be ahead.

Activist actor Danny Glover takes creative control

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Several years ago I interviewed actor Danny Glover in advance of a speaking engagement he made in Omaha to help usher in the city’s Holland Performing Arts Center.  Glover is one of those weighty figures who brings a certain gravitas to his work, no matter the genre or the role, and in some cursory reading about him before the interview I discovered, not surprisingly, that he’s involved in many social and humanitarian causes.  This short story gives some insights into the foundation for some of his activist beliefs and actions.  I was also interested in how he has fashioned a career in which he’s used his more mainstream commercial work to help leverage his riskier art or political work in film and on stage and how he’s become quite active behind the camera as a producer and director.  The following story refers to a Charles Burnett film he was to star in, Nujoma: Where Others Wavered, whose title became Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation.  The story also refers to a couple projects he was planning to make with his production company, Toussaint Louverture. But neither Toussaint nor God’s Bits of Wood has been realized yet, which is not unusual given the development hell that is common in filmmaking.  There can be a price to pay for being as outspoken as Glover is and one wonders if the reason he’s not seen in big studio films anymore is because of his political activity or because his interests lead him to smaller independent projects that are more aligned with his passions.  It’s also interesting to speculate if being black and politically controversial carries a heavier price tag than for, say, someone like Sean Penn or Tim Robbins or Martin Sheen, who are also known for their vocal and visible social actions and yet seem unaffected career-wise by their stances.






Activist actor Danny Glover takes creative control

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in The Reader (


The heavy, breathy, jazz-tinged voice greeting you on the phone is unmistakably that of Danny Glover, the earnest actor whose work increasingly reflects his deep-rooted social consciousness and world-wide humanitarian interests.

Glover spoke to The Reader in advance of his emcee duties for the Holland Performing Arts Center’s Friday grand opening, where he’s replacing actor Richard Dreyfuss. A marketable name and impassioned artist, Glover’s eschewed the popcorn antics of the Lethal Weapon action pics that made him a star in the 1980s and 1990s to focus on more serious, personal projects.

Earlier this year he announced the formation of his new production company, Louverture Films, a name inspired by Toussaint Louverture, the slave-turned-leader of a Haitian revolution (1789-1804) that won independence from French colonial rule. Aptly, the company’s first of six planned independently financed feature and documentary projects is the dramatic historical epic Toussaint, with Don Cheadle starring as the charismatic title character and Angela Bassett as his wife. Glover is directing the film, which begins shooting in April in Mozambique and South Africa. Glover’s co-founder in the company is screenwriter Joslyn Barnes, co-scenarist of Battu, a 2000 film by Malian director Cheick Oumar Sissoko that Glover cameoed in.

Louverture’s stated mission of developing movies of historical relevance, social purpose, commercial value and artistic integrity is an outgrowth of Glover’s long held commitment to doing relevant work. A self-described “child of the civil rights movement,” his humanist sensibilities came of age in the rich counter-culture stew of San Francisco, a fertile ground for the Black Power, anti-war and gay rights movements. His postal employee parents were involved in union and NAACP struggles to achieve workers’ rights and racial equality.

”I was very much shaped by that,” he said. “Both the idealism and the reality. That’s an important part of my life. That’s the foundation. My parents came out of organizing the union they were in. They were politicized as well. So, there’s a whole kind of legacy that goes along with my own involvement. It happened long before I became someone that people recognize on the screen or on the street.”

At San Francisco State College he fed off the fervor of the times through campus and community activist groups. He assisted inner-city children and ran reading centers. It was at college he met his future wife Asake Bormani and got his first taste of working in the theater. After college he worked six years in San Francisco’s office of community development, where his grassroots advocacy is still remembered by residents today.

But it wasn’t until 1975, at age 28, he devoted himself to acting. His experience in the Black Actors Workshop at the American Conservatory Theater and his work with area stage companies allowed him to explore his social concerns in a new way.

”Theater became a different, more expressive form of saying things and trying to re-envision the world and my relationship to the world,” he said. “For me, it was a real important moment defining how much I wanted to be an artist. It was a vibrant theater community here in San Francisco and without that vibrancy and dynamic I don’t think I would have grown in the way in which I’ve grown as an artist.”

 Actor and activist Danny Glover, seen here in 2013 speaking at a BART rally in Oakland, is in a new ad for Propositions F and I.  Photo: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle

Photo: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle



Glover first came to national prominence via his association with Athol Fugard, the South African playwright whose acclaimed works reveal the evils of apartheid. The actor appeared in a revival of Fugard’s Blood Knot off-Broadway and was chosen by Fugard to play the lead in Master Harold and the Boys on Broadway, a part that brought Glover to the attention of Hollywood. He went on to act in and/or produce many films dealing with the African-American and African experiences, including The Color PurpleMandelaA Raisin in the SunTo Sleep with AngerGrand CanyonBopha!Freedom SongBuffalo SoldiersBoesman & Lena and Battu.

He said any great work has something to say about the human condition.

”If you’re going be doing the work of Athol Fugard, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, Bertold Brecht…you’re going to be doing socially conscious work.”

Sensing fewer American films are drawn from the best sources, he reads widely in a never-ending search for top material. He casts his eye all over the world for stories so that he doesn’t limit himself or his vision.

”I think we all try to see ourselves beyond the work that we’re often hired to do,” he said. “You come into this business with some sort of idea of what you want to do and how you want to shape your career. You see films and you say, I want to do those kinds of films. You read stories and you say, I want to tell those kinds of stories. You watch. You read.

”I see films from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia, India, Europe. Ther’∂s a whole feast of films and ideas around the world. They offer other ways for you to see yourself in the world. This is what informs and fulfills me. I try to see myself as the company sees itself — as part of world cinema. We want to become a part of that. We want to expand the kind of limited space we often occupy when we look at ourselves as solely having a relationship with U.S. cinema.”

Glover, who’s made many films in Africa, where he’s a much revered and popular figure, raised his awareness of that contintent’s issues in the ‘70s, when he first went there. He worked on the African Liberation Support Committee. Later, he was swept up in the anti-apartheid effort. He’s said, “It’s clear the destinies of the people of Africa and those of African descent are incredibly connected. This is what I take as my starting point in my life and, I hope, in my work.”

Danny Glover Turns 65



He chairs the board of the Trans-Africa Forum and is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. His public service has won him many honors, including the 2002 Marian Anderson Award and the 2003 NAACP Chairman∂s Award.

His inclusive Louverture venture is devoted to ”the employment and training of cast and crew from the African Diaspora, minorities and/or marginalized communities. That’s a critical part of what we’re doing. We want to establish a way of doing things differently and changing the demographics about who makes films and whose stories are being told and exposing people” whose lives and abilities have been hidden.

After Toussaint, Louverture’s next major project is God’s Bits of Wood, a novel about a 1947 railway strike on the Dakar-Niger line that sparked West Africa’s move towards independence. The film will be written and directed by Ousmane Sembene, whom Glover calls “the father of African film,” from Sembene ’s own novel. ”It∂s a really powerful moment in a people’s evolution and how they come to have a different realization of themselves and their power,” Glover said.

Among Glover’s latest acting gigs is Nujoma: Where Others Wavered, a new film by Charles Burnett (To Sleep with Anger) based on the autobiography of Sam Nujoma, the first president of Namibia and former head of the South West African People’s Organization. Carl Lumbly (Alias) plays the title role and Glover plays a government minister. He’s also completed Manderlay, the second in Lars von Trier’s American trilogy, and Missing in America, a story about an isolated Vietnam vet. The former should be released later this year, while the latter still awaits a distributor.

Meanwhile, Glover speaks out when he sees a need to. On the early failed response to Hurricane Katrina, he said while it’s “elementary to give and to give generously in the aftermath of a catastrophe, the question is, How much do we really understand the underlying systemic and structural problems we’re dealing with?” He said the outpouring of giving and second-guessing “disguises the real problems and don’t allow us to deal with them.”

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