Art Carrington

One of the most revered and innovative tennis coaches in the North-east also happens to be the preeminent authority on the culture and history of black tennis. In fact, Arthur A. Carrington Jr. wrote the book on it. Born and raised in Elizabeth, he learned the game at the legendary North End Tennis Club and, in the 1960s and ‘70s, became one of the most formidable players in the American Tennis Association (ATA), the oldest African-American sports organization in the United States. EDGE editor Mark Stewart spent a Sunday morning swapping tennis stories with Art, who received an education at North End that transcended the strokes he perfected there.

EDGE: Growing up in Elizabeth, do you recall how you first became acquainted with the North End Tennis Club?

AC: My mother had introduced me to the North End, but I didn’t really get with it until I was in the fifth grade. A friend of mine moved across the street from the tennis courts and we would come from the playground and see all these black adults and all these nice cars—you know, guys wearing white shorts and playing tennis. Naturally, we were curious and we’d wander over to the club. Well, the members got us involved right away and we started playing. Sydney Llewellyn was out there—he coached Althea Gibson—and he would work with the younger fellows. All the top African-American players from the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia areas would come and play there. It was quite incredible. It was very busy on the weekends, and in the evenings. In the summertime, me and my boys would play throughout the days.

EDGE: How important was the club to your development as a player and a teaching pro?

AC: I’ve been teaching over 53 years now. Every day, since my introduction to North End, whenever I go to a tennis court, in my mind I’m going back there because it became a safe haven and a place that we could really grow and learn from the kind of adult that was there. We had a small junior program at the club, but we interacted with the adult members tremendously. We had a lot of cookouts in addition to tennis tournaments at the North End Club. I got hooked on the social life as much as the tennis. You never really saw much alcohol, so there was no disruptive behavior. It was the place where you learned about conduct and etiquette. It was a different environment—this is where the black doctors and lawyers and schoolteachers and funeral-parlor directors from all around Union and Essex Counties would come to play and socialize. This was my first exposure to people who we would now call middle-class, that were employed outside of, say, factories or the construction world. This is also where we were introduced to the idea of attending black colleges, such as Howard, Hampton, Morgan, Fisk, Morehouse, Delaware State and Lincoln University.

 

 

 

 

 

EDGE: What type of tournaments were held at North End?

Art Carrington and Arthur Ashe

AC: We would have our little state ATA tournament, which drew people of color who lived in New Jersey. I would see really high-quality tennis players come in. The first one I remember was a guy by the name of John Mudd, who lived in Orange. He was like 17 years older than me, but we later became doubles partners and he was very instrumental in my life—influential as far as tennis and socially. He was an entrepreneur who owned a nightclub in New York and a nightclub in Asbury Park, where he was from originally. He had a topspin forehand and a kick serve—he opened my eyes up to another level of tennis.

EDGE: Did you have other mentors at the club?

AC: Yes, many. One was Dr. William Hayling, a gynecologist who delivered thousands of babies. He was one of the founders of 100 Black Men along with Jackie Robinson. He grew up with Mayor Dinkins in Trenton. I met African Americans from all over the country at the North End Tennis Club and gradually I began to spread my wings. I would go to these people’s houses, where for instance I remember seeing my first finished basement. I mean, I came from good parents—working parents—but this was a step up, financially and socially speaking. This led me to be introduced to their counterparts in the white world. White doctors, white lawyers, and their kids.

EDGE: Describe the location within the context of Elizabeth back then.

AC: North Avenue was a very commercial strip. At one time, around 1900, it was a leading thoroughfare that went from Elizabeth to Newark. There was a doctor who owned a large house and he had the only double lot, which extended all the way back to the next street, which happened to be the start of the black neighborhood. His family sold the house, but the tennis court was sold to the North End Club.

EDGE: What kind of friendships did you forge at the club?

AC: There was a guy name Eddie Eleazer who lived near the club, who was a very good player. We went from fifth grade through Hampton Institute together. When colleges started recruiting me, I would tell them about him, as well as my brother, who was a year behind us and also was very good—he went to Rutgers. Eddie and I graduated from Hampton together and we won all the conference and national black titles together in doubles. There’s nothing like having a comrade, you know what I mean? We were on the same teams together going back to Thomas Jefferson in Elizabeth. He and I and Ron Freeman, an Olympic 400-meter man, formed a partnership that is unbreakable to this day. We all speak several times a week. We used to say, “We are doin’ our thing and movin’ on.” [Laughs].

EDGE: At the other end of Union County was Shady Rest. In what ways did that differ from the North End Tennis Club?

AC: Shady Rest was a country club out in Scotch Plains. That was the number-one country club for black people. The people who built Echo Lake built Shady Rest and sold it to black owners in 1921. It had nine tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course and a large dining hall. It had the same kind of people as North End but was much larger. Shady Rest was the kind of place where you’d go to see Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan. Segregation made black entertainers go to places where black people socialized. It was the spot. There was nothing else like Shady Rest in the country.

EDGE: Let’s get back to your coach, Sydney Llewellyn for a moment. He seemed like quite a character. Can you paint a picture for me?

AC: I met him when I was 12. He came in from New York and he was always a real smooth dresser. He had his safari suit on with the safari hat—he was dressed to kill. He was the first tennis “pro” I knew, in that he had the tennis pro look, he had the gear, but he was also very cosmopolitan, a very smooth brother. [Laughs] As young urban kids, we loved to listen to him. He came from Jamaica at about 18 years old to New York. He told us he came to America to be a dancer, a hoofer and whatnot. Dancing was like the rap industry in those days. I learned a tremendous amount from Sydney about life and spirituality and family and manhood. He was a tremendous mentor of mine.

EDGE: What is it that made him special as a tennis coach?

AC: He was a purist as far as his stroke production. So he was like Nick Bollettieri—very fundamental.

EDGE: I worked with Nick on a book, by the way, and it was the most stressful year of my life.

AC: [Laughs] I can imagine that. That’s what I’m saying, because when you don’t have a real tennis background, you just pound them fundamentals, I guess. Actually, Sydney did have tennis in his background from Jamaica.

He had worked somewhere as a young man and had access to a white tennis club, so I suspect he was introduced to tennis in the proper way.

EDGE: After college, you kind of kept the North End club alive. What was happening at that point?

AC: Starting in the 1960s, some Jewish doctors offered their black colleagues an opportunity to come join their clubs for tennis and golf. It was just enough that we lost our leadership, which kind of just filtered away. In the 1970s, we finally gave up our place in Elizabeth. It’s understandable. Everybody wants better facilities. When I didn’t know anything else other than North End, that was the greatest facility. As my game improved and I competed at other clubs, I realized that there were better places to play. After I graduated from Hampton in 1969, I kept North End open in the summertime to run my tennis academy until 1975.

EDGE: What made you decide after college to get into coaching? What new perspective did you feel you could offer other players?

AC: I liked being independent in terms of the business part. Also, I believed in order to coach, to be a good teacher, you need to be your own best student. You’ve got to gain inspiration in order to pass it on. I’ve always believed in whole-body integration, in purely flowing movement. I use rhythm as the special thing that makes the game flow. This has allowed me to be in tennis all these years with no injuries, no rotator cuff issues. I have a nice-looking game. I move with it and I move in a flow. So I teach people how to move properly and to respect rhythmic cycles and sequences, to understand how the body is supposed to work.

EDGE: Has it become harder to get young people to buy into this?

AC: No, because I use martial arts tools and other tools, including music, that are fun in my teaching. So when students go back out onto the court, they are more coordinated. That’s what you need to do in order to be good. I’m a physical education teacher with tennis as a specialty. I think that’s something that is missing from the game. Kids need to have a foundation, phys-ed-wise, that they can use all their lives.

EDGE: It is a rare thing for historians to be participants in the history they cover. While you were coming up as a player at North End—obviously long before you began researching your book Black Tennis—did you have a chance to interact with some of the pioneers from the early days of the ATA, the great champions like Ora Washington?

AC: Yes, I did. They were older people by then, of course. But you know, there were no books that told their story, no place you could go to learn about them. Even many years later that was the case. You hear about Arthur Ashe, you hear about Althea Gibson, but there is almost nothing about the tennis communities that produced them. If you didn’t have the doctors and lawyers and other professionals—backed up by all these progressive African Americans—at facilities like the North End Tennis Club, you might not have had an Ashe or a Gibson or an Art Carrington. That is why I wrote Black Tennis and archived it the way I did. The story is in the community and that’s what people are missing about places like we had in Elizabeth. During the time when tennis was booming with blacks, we were coming from little neighborhood clubs like North End. Most people don’t know about this. They ask me, “How did you get into tennis?” And I’m like, growing up, I thought tennis was a black game! [Laughs] When I first set my eyes on tennis, it was all black people. There wasn’t anything that told me I’m not supposed to do this, you know what I mean? It’s not like I was aware there was a “white” game. I embraced tennis and the people that went with it.

Editor’s Note: Art Carrington was the national singles champion among historically black colleges and universities three times in the 1960s and was the second African-American player after Arthur Ashe to compete in the US Open. In 1972, he played in the ATA singles final, which was the first-ever televised match between black players. In 1973, he was crowned ATA champion. Art says that keeping the history of places like North End alive is “a way of making my own black life matter.” Signed copies of his book Black Tennis can be ordered through The Carrington Tennis Academy, which operates in Amherst and Northampton, MA, at (413) 977-1967.

 

Tamron Hall

EDGE Interview

There is no magic formula for breaking down barriers. The individuals who do so, by nature and definition, are the ones who bring unique skills and perspective to an obstacle where others have tried and failed. Tamron Hall began her career in broadcast journalism as a small-town reporter and outworked, outhustled and, let’s face it, “out-Tamron’d” the competition until she was co-hosting the third hour of Today, sitting behind the anchor desk on NBC Nightly News and had her own primetime hour on MSNBC. In 2019, she launched The Tamron Hall Show, a syndicated talk show that has already won her a pair of Daytime Emmys. Gerry Strauss was curious how a gifted storyteller with a passion for detail could make such a splash in a format where other people do the talking. It turns out, Tamron Hall’s other secret power is listening.

EDGE: Have you always been intrigued by people and their stories?

TH: I have. My grandfather, who was born in 1901, lived on a very small street in Luling, Texas called Cosi. All of the people there had either been sharecroppers or had worked in conditions that were the real challenges of black Americans. And that’s putting it lightly. I was always curious about their lives. There was a woman named Mama Susie, who was a hundred years old. I think I was 10. I would go down and talk with her. She was a midwife who had outlived all of her children and her husband. So I guess, looking back, I was always honing the skillsets needed for my job. I just didn’t know it.

EDGE: When did the idea of becoming a television journalist start?

TH: When I was a teenager in the ’80s. I finally saw a woman doing it that looked like me. My father and I were watching television one day—I was not being the best student, we’ll say—and he said, “If you get your grades up, that could be you.” He pointed at this woman, Lola Johnson. At the time, she was the first black woman to anchor the news in North Texas. I saw a black female journalist, I saw this anchorwoman who was sitting next to this white man, and she was as composed and as strong, and had this really beautiful, rich, baritone voice. Wow! There was something about it emotionally that connected in a way that nothing had prior to that. I grew up like any kid at that time, with Michael Jackson and Madonna posters on my wall. I ran out to the mall to get all the bangles and the layers that Madonna wore in her “Borderline” video. I was an MTV junkie. I loved that…but I knew I couldn’t do that. Seeing Lola Johnson, there was something about her delivery of the news that I felt was my destiny. This was a job I hadn’t known was possible. It was not on the list of things when you have Career Day at Carroll Peak Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas.

Heidi Gutman/Disney General Entertainment

EDGE: As a black woman in your field, was it an uphill battle to earn the types of serious, high-level assignments that would help enhance your reputation as a journalist?

TH: Oh, I think it’s still challenging for me, to be quite honest. The first and only time I’ve ever lost a job in my life, I was 48 years old and I’d been a journalist for 30 years. I went into interview for job opportunities after leaving the Today Show as the first black woman to ever do that show. I’d won an Edward R. Murrow Award and had been Emmy-nominated for work that I’d done as a consumer reporter and covering the election of Barack Obama with the NBC News team. I’d filled in that last week for Lester Holt. I hosted my hour of the Today Show. I filled in for my friend Savannah Guthrie, who was on maternity leave, and hosted my hour on MSNBC. I went into a number of news organizations who essentially were offering me kind of journeymen fill-in roles. I remember a conversation where someone said, “Oh, well, someone’s going on maternity leave.” I said, “Oh, Anderson Cooper’s going on maternity leave? I didn’t even know that he was going to have a baby! Congratulations to him.” [Laughs] I say this very cautiously because every opportunity is an opportunity to shine. Some of my biggest breaks were when I got a chance to fill in for someone. That said, direct to your question, I felt my résumé—and the response from viewers when it was revealed that I was leaving—gave me some value. But it didn’t. And I think that is an example of the ongoing challenges, to the question you asked, being a black woman in this industry.

EDGE: Having lived and worked all over the country, in so many different cities, do you feel the perspective you’ve gained makes you a more astute journalist and observer of the world?

Disney General Entertainment

TH: Oh, absolutely. Listen, my summers were spent in Luling, Texas after my mom—who was a 19-year-old single mom—took advantage of an opportunity in a bigger city so she could become the person that she wanted to be, a teacher. This was a very small, rural town. Even now, when my relatives are ill, they’ve got to drive 45 minutes or an hour to just see a doctor—and I’m not talking about specialists. There is one doctor who comes in to Luling who provides medical care—I believe it’s like once or twice a week—to people who cannot afford to go into Austin or Houston. That happens right now. I have a relative who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For her to see anyone, she’s got to drive an hour, and she is on government healthcare. I think about that every day I walk through the streets of New York and I see a rental that’s $30,000 a month for two bedrooms. This dichotomy not only has helped my journey as a reporter, it helps my journey as a human. It reminds me I was lucky enough to be a reporter covering some of the biggest stories in a local market, because that gave me perspective on a national scale. I always tell people when someone says to me, “Oh, I hate watching local news,” that you have the wrong perspective, because local news is going to tell you when that highway is closed down that you take every day, or when there is a disaster coming your way in your town. So I was fortunate not only to your point of having lived in all these different cities, I was a local reporter in the streets of those cities.

EDGE: Does this depth of experience make you a better talk show host?

TH: It definitely helped me and what I do right now as a talk show host. I think that when I launched this show, people wondered what it would be. And I always knew that it was going to be those steps that you just mentioned as a reporter, as a kid from a small town, as a kid who’s lived in the heart of Manhattan, and in the smallest street in Luling, Texas. Those tools and those experiences were what I always planned to bring to the show, and that’s why the show is the type of show that it is.

EDGE: When you signed the contract to co-anchor the third hour of the Today Show in 2014—which was a history-making opportunity for you—you chose to wear a jacket that was previously owned and worn by Lena Horne. What was the connection that you felt with Ms. Horne and what she brought to the world?

TH: Growing up, Lena Horne was everywhere. She was this fairy godmother. You know Glinda in the Wizard of Oz? That was Lena Horne for me. I always admired the elegant but strong way she floated through rooms. There was always a presence of power, of strength, of being unapologetic. I also recognized her authentic voice as a kid, in the beauty salon, with my aunt reading Jet magazine, reading Ebony, reading about Lena and Harry Belafonte. I felt that what she represented and embodied was what I wanted out of my career. And so fast-forward when I ultimately lost that job, I thought about how would she have handled it. Would she get down in the dirt and try to leak stories and get mad? Or would she elegantly learn that there are more than one set of wings available? I thought a lot about how she handled adversities that I can’t even imagine—and did it in a way that made black people proud and also made white audiences root for her. That’s something that didn’t happen a lot then when you belonged to the black community. She, in so many ways, belonged to the greatness of America, and the greatness that a black woman can present as a representative of this country.

Disney General Entertainment

EDGE: Having rolled the dice on yourself, and now that The Tamron Hall Show is a such a success, do you feel you were prepared for it?

TH: I was not prepared. I’m a journalist! I’m used to working for the big network with the three letters behind it and was able to go in, do my job, and leave. Suddenly, I’m not just a journalist, I’m now a host and I’m a businessperson. It required me to make big decisions, such as changing executive producers, making sure the voice of the show was the voice that I went in and pitched. That didn’t mean I wasn’t open to changes, but I had to have my north star. I just read Trevor Noah’s [The Daily Show] exit interview, and he said he never imagined having to chime in about set design, having to chime in about HR and hiring. I had no idea. I felt that I had this very open life that was right for daytime television. As Liam Neeson said, “I always felt that I had a particular set of skills.” [Laughs] But I had not run a business. Disney backs my show, but they expect me to make money. They expect me to get out there and use my name and my connections to build the show. I liken it to an artist who goes on a tour that Pepsi sponsors. Pepsi sponsors it, but you’ve got to sell the tickets. When your name is on the show, buyers buy that, but sometimes they don’t, if you know what I mean.

EDGE: How so?

TH: “Oh, great! We like Tamron Hall. We like the storytelling. We like the real people. Now…how many celebrities can you get?” Well, I didn’t pitch a celebrity-driven daytime show. We want celebrities on, but we don’t want people who come on and say, “Here’s my movie. Come see it. Bye. Oh, and don’t ask me about the reason why I was trending two days ago.” We can’t do that. “No, just book them, book them, book them. Have them come on and have them pitch and leave.”

EDGE: So that was the pressure early on?

TH: Yes, and I had to stay strong on my beliefs. I grew up watching Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore and Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue—people who got you to talk. That’s where “Let’s talk about it” came from. It started when Yoko Ono and John Lennon hosted on a daytime show. When Muhammad Ali was a regular, not on Carson, but on Mike Douglas. He came to talk about racism within America as it correlates to sports. People forget that. So that’s what we wanted to bring, that type of energy. It took some time, to be honest with you, before all parties who believed in me believed in that concept.

EDGE: What is the key to having memorable conversations with your guests?

TH: It’s curiosity. The most important trait in being able to connect with people is being curious. That helped me as a reporter, and that got the attention of the networks when I was in Chicago. I think it helped the quality of work that I was doing. I was as curious about Ryan Harris, a kid who was murdered, and what happened in this situation that turned his life into a tragic story—just as curious as I was about how did Barack Obama, a kid raised in Hawaii by his grandparents, become the president. I was lucky enough to interview him in Chicago, but my curiosity about him was not greater than my curiosity about Ryan. Or about a young girl who was murdered on the South Side of Chicago, who actually inspired my first novel.

EDGE: What else in addition to curiosity?

TH: I went from being the youngest person in my newsroom when I started in Dallas, Fort Worth or Bryan-College Station. By the time I left MSNBC, I think I was the third-oldest woman on air. I tell my team, there are people right now who grew up where I grew up who could probably do this job better—timing, preparedness, work ethic. Not to say they didn’t, but what are you willing to sacrifice and give up? I remember being out covering an Amtrak derailment in Bourbonnais, Illinois. It was like 15 below zero, and I hadn’t layered that day. Because you’re a general assignment reporter, you don’t get to pick your assignment. And I was assigned going out the door, this derailment, dark of night, and just thinking, This is what? I don’t want to do this. This is not what I want to do. But these are the moments where you ask yourself, What am I made of? And I’m made of whatever the good stuff is that makes a reporter. I’d like to believe those are some of the things that I have within me.

Tamron Hall/Facebook

EDGE: For many years, you have dedicated yourself to educating the public about domestic violence. In what ways do you feel we have made the most progress?

TH: Oh, I think many, many ways. I remember the Ray Rice story. He was the NFL player who, in 2014, was captured on video beating his wife. He admitted to it and did the rounds, if you will, of interviews. I think he did a big one on the Today Show. At the time, I remember so many people asking, “Why does she stay with him? Why doesn’t she just leave?”

EDGE: Turning their attention to Ray Rice’s wife—

TH: Yes and holding her somehow responsible. Also, expecting her to suddenly leave her family and leave her husband. We don’t talk like that as much anymore. You don’t see that wagging of the finger. There is a more nuanced conversation, even when you talk about men who are guilty and who’ve been convicted of abuse. Can you rehabilitate? Can you help this person learn the skill sets that are needed to keep them from believing that a fist is the best way to resolve? Those conversations are happening now. I remember when I started out, it was take the family and the dad goes to jail, or whatever, and blame the mom for being there. That was even in the media. Now you’re seeing people recognize that it is not black and white. It is a complex conversation, but it is one that we can have together.

EDGE: What’s a project you’d like to do purely for enjoyment?

TH: You know what? I’ve worked since I was 14 years old. I’d love to produce some shows that are fun, that are places that you can genuinely bring people together. I would love to sit around and consult on a few shows and give ideas. But honestly, I tell my team this all the time: I want to retire and I want to watch shows and see their names on the credits, and I can take credit for them. I’m a TV junkie. I was a latchkey kid. To anybody not old enough to know what that is, I was the kid who came home and unlocked the door and watched TV. I just want to sit around and enjoy good TV and laugh and smile and cry—all the things that I hope people do when they’re watching our show. But my “kids” will grow up and they’ll do it better…all our producers on The Tamron Hall Show, they’ll do it better.

 

Editor’s Note: During this interview, Gerry Strauss asked Tamron Hall about her work as a novelist. Needless to say, that took their conversation in an entirely different direction.

Continue reading below to learn more about Tamron!

 

 

James Warhola

Andy Warhol was a lot of things to a lot of people. To artist James Warhola, he was Uncle Andy. During a career that stretches back four decades, Warhola has been celebrated for his technical mastery, fertile imagination and sly sense of humor. Are we seeing a pattern here? After creating hundreds of covers for popular science fiction titles, he wrote and illustrated a best-selling children’s book about his boyhood visits to his uncle’s New York City studio and home. EDGE editor Mark Stewart sat down with Warhola to find out more about this unique window into the life of a Pop Art icon, and how James found his own niche in the “family business.”

EDGE: What are your memories of the early interactions you had with Andy?

JW: When I came along in 1955, my uncle was already working in New York as a commercial illustrator. I knew him as kind of a bit of an odd creature, living outside the family, who was not like my working-class relatives employed in steel mills and scrap yards around Pittsburgh. His mother, Julia, my grandmother, raised Andy and his brothers in Pittsburgh, but she moved with him up to New York. It was a disconnected situation for me because I couldn’t picture my father having this younger brother who was a very creative, unique individual—into all sorts of great things. I aspired at a young age to be an artist like my uncle. He was illustrating all sorts of things—shoes, appliances, record albums. It just seemed like a wonderful world to get into.

EDGE: Were your parents behind this plan?

JW: Knowing that he made a really good living at it, they were very supportive. Ultimately, I ended up going to Carnegie Mellon University—which used to to be called the Carnegie Institute of Technology, which is where my uncle went. I had a few of the professors that had taught him and they always had “Andy stories.” Apparently, he left quite an impression on his teachers and fellow classmates in college.

EDGE: This was in 1946, right after the war ended, and all these GIs were coming back to school. I’m trying to picture a class full of soldiers and teenage Andy Warhol, and it’s not easy.

JW: Yeah, he was a youngster next to his classmates. And yes, exactly, that first year was difficult for him. He almost was kicked out of school because they had to make room for these vets who were coming back from the war on the GI Bill. Andy was maybe three or four years younger. But he made up a few of his courses during that summer and they allowed him to stay. He ultimately became kind of a star amongst his fellow students. I’ve had the good fortune of talking to many of his classmates and they were just in awe of his ability. He was a little awkward and shy, but his work spoke for itself.

EDGE: Earlier, you mentioned shoes. I covered the footwear industry in my early days as a journalist and people would always say to me, “You know, Andy Warhol, started in this business.” He must have made an impression on the people in that business, too.

JW: Oh, yes. In fact, his very first job was for Glamour magazine—a story titled “Success is a Job in New York” At the beginning of the article, there were a few shoes that needed to be illustrated which he did in a very realistic way. But in the rest of the article his illustrations were kind of whimsical, with these types of young women climbing ladders.

EDGE: What was different about his commercial work?

Courtesy of James Warhola

Courtesy of James Warhola

JW: He had this technique which he started in college, called the “blotted ink technique.” He would basically use pen and ink on paper and then hinge another piece of paper to it that he would blot with. The blotted image that had an irregular line became the final art.

Art directors just loved that spontaneous style. It was almost like it was printed, but quite accidental at times, and he got a reputation for it. Lo and behold, one of the upscale women’s shoe companies called I. Miller, which had several stores in the city, contracted with him to do their New York Times advertising. He was able to represent shoes, which were basically boring if they were photographed, in a way that made them look very sleek and wonderful in the advertising. I always felt that the 10 or 12 years he spent in the commercial world was the ultimate graduate program. It was a really great experience. He learned how to work with people, a lot of whom were great art directors and designers. He learned a lot about color, about promotion and how to be noticed amongst the crowd. He caught on really quickly. I never heard of any art director or designer that did not like working with my uncle. A lot of times, he would come in with not just one illustration, but with three or four for them to pick from, which was kind of unheard of at that time. Whether people realized it or not, he was elevating the everyday to the mundane.

EDGE: It sounds like it prepared him well for what was on the horizon.

JW: Yes, I guess it was his training ground for that approach to his art. He was perfectly groomed to be one of the top pop artists of the day. There were several—Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist—quite a group that started all about the same time in the early 1960s. They were all working in the same vein, pushing imagery of the popular culture of the time. But my uncle was the one as I said, perfectly groomed to know what he was doing. He was truly plugged into that world.

EDGE: What did Andy’s rise to fame in the early 1960s look like through the eyes of a child?

Courtesy of James Warhola

JW: I was five or six years old when he moved with Julia from his rented apartment on 35th Street to a beautiful townhouse uptown on 89th and Lexington. It had a lot more room and, at that point, he started experimenting with doing fine art canvases that were related to his commercial product drawings—only more experimental, more spontaneous—imagery of refrigerators, typewriters, windows, telephones and canned fruit. In the beginning, they were kind of loose and drippy. He thought that being expressionistic was making it more artistic. These were his early “pre-pop” paintings that he thought was the direction to go. At some point, he shifted to doing them more cleanly—somebody actually recommended that the drippiness wasn’t necessary—but the idea was still to use the images from advertising in his art. So then, like in 1962, he started doing these clean images of soup cans, which were hand-painted; he hadn’t quite discovered the silkscreening process yet. I didn’t quite understand where he was going with it. It was different. The images were blown up on the canvas using an opaque projector. I remember as a boy his using that projector, which I inherited and used in my field when I was going into illustration. It was soon after that he discovered that silkscreening images was better, so there at his townhouse he experimented doing multiples.

EDGE: What do you recall about of your time with him on your New York visits?

Courtesy of James Warhola

JW: I used to love watching him draw. It was like magic. His hand would dance around the paper. He practiced using a ballpoint pen and he had these 16” x 20” pads and he would just fill them up with drawings. I think it was his way of keeping his talent, keeping his hand going. But he did thousands of “practice” drawings. They’re all wonderful and a lot of people who know him from his silkscreens don’t realize that he actually was a really incredible draftsman. I remember wanting to be like him in that way, being a good draftsman. When my siblings and I would visit from Pittsburgh, we often saw him paint. He’d let us watch and sometimes he would give us little chores to do while he was painting. I thought it was quite an exciting time. I mean, of course, he was special to us. He wasn’t really famous at that point, but he was famous to us. He lived in this strange place that was so different and we were all captivated by him.

EDGE: So I have to ask…are there silkscreens hanging in museums that you had a helping hand in?

JW: We did help him by holding the frame so he could pull the paint through. That was when he was doing the smaller silk screens, for instance the Coke bottles, the Fragile labels, the little ones of Elvis and Natalie Wood, in his small studio room. So, yeah, those early silkscreens were done at home. In fact, the early Marilyn Monroes are the ones that have “mistakes.” Some of them have a lot of ink. Some of them have hardly any. Silkscreening is not an easy process. The ink very often has a powerful smell to it and it dries really quickly. So you have to clean the screen out continuously, otherwise the image gets lighter and lighter. If you look at the early silkscreens he did in 1962, those are full of mistakes. To me, my favorite works of art that my uncle did are those early silkscreens of ’62, because I can just picture him working at home doing the best he can.

EDGE: When did he start working in a studio that was separate from the townhouse?

Courtesy of James Warhola

JW: He wanted to do large silkscreens of Liz Taylor and Elvis Presley and he couldn’t do them at home, because they required much more space so in 1963 he had to get an outside studio and an assistant. Nathan Gluck continued to help him with his illustration assignments at his home studio and Gerard Malanga was hired to assist with the large silk screening at the firehouse studio he rented two blocks away.

EDGE: In what ways do you think you were inspired or influenced by your uncle?

JW: I was inspired by the fact he was an artist and he was an illustrator. But as far as being a fine artist, I didn’t quite make it to that point. I was too much of a traditionalist, I think, and because of my upbringing, I had a totally different viewpoint. I was part of the television generation starting in the 1950s and ’60s. I didn’t quite understand the creative avant garde aspects of what my uncle was doing. So he didn’t really have that great of an effect on me, although he did support what I was going through. When I told him I was going to study at Carnegie-Mellon, he thought it was great idea.

EDGE: Did he offer any advice at that point?

JW: He thought that I probably should go more into photography than illustration. He believed that illustration was a dying art in the 1970s—that they were using much more photography. And he was right about that. The Golden Age of illustration from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s was kind of going bye-bye, and they were using a lot more photography. So the available work for an illustrator was more in book publishing, which is where I ended up.

EDGE: You were one of the most prolific sci-fi cover artists of your era. How did you get into that genre?

JW: I had this interest in science fiction and fantasy, being that I grew up with comic books and watching science fiction movies. So I had an idea that I’d go into illustrating books that were science fiction-oriented. And that’s what I did for many years. I illustrated a lot of well-known authors and did three or four hundred covers. I loved reading the books and envisioning some important part of the story to put on the cover. Then the opportunity came up to do children’s books and that kind of opened up a whole new area for me. Instead of illustrating just the one cover that represents a whole book, I would illustrate the entire story, which is a lot more satisfying.

EDGE: What was the actual process for creating a cover that sells?

Courtesy of James Warhola

JW: I would get a big, thick raw manuscript. I’d read it over a few times, pull out details and come up with some thumbnail sketches. I would show those to the art director, the art director would go to the editor, the editors would discuss it, and then they’d get back to me with suggestions—or they might like one that’s going in the right direction and give me the go-ahead. I never spoke to the writers. In fact, the process was always that the editors and art directors purposely kept the writer and the artist separate. So we would start with sketches of multiple cover ideas and then I would do one they liked in color. I kept to an organized process so I wouldn’t have to do any kind of corrections in the final art. Since I worked in oil paints, it wasn’t an easy thing to correct. Of course, you wouldn’t want to give away any details in the story that would ruin the ending, but you wanted to pick a climactic moment. I mean, if there was a dragon in the story, you’ve got to use that dragon somehow—also, personally, I loved doing dragons.

EDGE: What set you apart from other artists in the sci-fi/fantasy world?

JW: Over the years, publishers discovered that I was really good at doing covers that had a sense of humor. If there was some kind of humorous aspect to the story I could capture, I loved that aspect. I kind of got a reputation for that. I used to do these books by Spider Robinson who wrote stories about a futuristic bar room with all these crazy alien creatures in them. So, I usually did these scenes for the covers.

EDGE: Did any of your covers become movies posters?

JW: No, not specifically. When a book is turned into a movie, they’ll usually eliminate the illustrated cover and use a photograph from the movie. Like, I did Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and sure enough they came out with the movie, so they republished the book with the lead actor on the cover, my original illustration was kind of jettisoned. I did do the very first cover for William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which became a groundbreaking science fiction book. It delved into the whole computer world and was the first of its kind, known as Cyberpunk. They only published a few thousand copies at first, but then it ended up winning the Nebula Award that year in 1985, which is the big science fiction award. It was never made into a movie, though it was attempted.

Courtesy of James Warhola

EDGE: I recently unearthed some articles I wrote in the 1980s and thought, “Wow I might actually hire this guy!” Do you look back at the early work you did coming out of Carnegie-Mellon and the Art Students League in New York and feel positive about it?

JW: I’m quite impressed with it, actually, because the detail and amount of time I would put into my paintings was so beyond what I’d have the patience for today. I guess it’s just the gradual evolution of an artist who becomes a little more impressionistic. But I quite often marvel at the amount of detail that I used to work with, and the patience. I tell you, that’s quite a gift at a younger age. It’s hard to recapture that.

EDGE: It’s the energy of youth…

JW: Yes…and sticking with a painting! I mean, I can remember sitting at an easel, probably for 16 hours straight, taking a quick break for a bite to eat, and just plowing through all the work that would be required to paint every little creature in those covers. And then, quite often, you’d pick something out and have to repair it or repaint it.

EDGE: As you mentioned, you’ve done a lot of work in children’s books, as both an illustrator and a writer. How did that come about?

JW: Initially, an art director came to me with a manuscript, The Pumpkinville Mystery and said, Try this.

Of course, the whole project didn’t pay as much as a book cover—it was a lot less money and a lot more work, so I kind of resisted at first. But then I did give it a try and liked the result—and everybody else that I did it for liked it, too. So they continued to give me book projects to do. Mapping out a whole children’s book is fun because you’re actually showing the plot and the climax as you come to the end. I have to say, it’s one of the most creative areas that an illustrator can work in. There’s not one type of accepted style, like in the paperback market, where you had to be kind of photographic and couldn’t be cartoony. But in the children’s book area, you can be anybody you want. I like that flexibility. At some point, I was encouraged to try to write my own stories, because if you write and illustrate your own story, you get the full royalty if the book sells well.

EDGE: Which brings us to your Uncle Andy books.

Courtesy of James Warhola

JW: The first book that I authored as well as illustrated was Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbulous Visit with Andy Warhol. It was about my visits with my family to my uncle’s and grandmother’s house in New York City at a time when he was producing all that early pop art. It was also a window into my uncle’s homelife. Most people didn’t realize that he lived with his mother and had two brothers with large families that would occasionally show up unannounced. It was kind of fun to enlighten the world on his personal life. At one point, my uncle had a lot of cats. They were all Siamese cats and they paraded throughout the house for several years. Everybody saw the cats in the first book and they said, Oh, you gotta do a book about the cats! So I did Uncle Andy’s Cats, which was very enjoyable.

EDGE: Do you think of yourself as coming from an “art” family?

JW: Yes, I do in a way. From an early age, thanks to my uncle Andy, I felt that I that I was a part of the art world. And now my daughter, who’s 25, graduated a few years ago from Cooper Union and she has this obsession with being an artist herself. She doesn’t want to be an illustrator—she saw the pain and agony that I’d go through with my strange books—so maybe the fine art aspect skipped my generation. But, yeah, I definitely feel I’m part of an art family. And I think that my grandmother, Julia, played a significant part in that. She felt there was an artistic aspect to everything—a beauty, whether it’s visual or just an idea. She connected with her kids, who then connected to us. My grandmother was a very creative person. She liked to sing and dance, she did all kinds of art and sewing projects. She brought this belief directly from the “old country,” the Carpathian Mountains in eastern Slovakia, that you could create something different from anything. She emphasized this to her grandkids and I think that’s what I’ve been inspired by. She was a very unique individual who was the one person most important in nurturing my uncle Andy’s creative abilities.

Editor’s Note: In the off-the-record part of their conversation, Mark Stewart and James Warhola found they had something in common beyond the children’s books each has written. In the late-1970s, both studied at The Art Students League on 57th Street in New York.

 Kevin Smith

New Jersey’s contributions to American popular culture are historically significant and meticu-lously documented, if not always fully appreciated in real time. Kevin Smith is practically the embodiment of real time. He is in the moment and of the moment, and that has defined his work as a film maker, podcaster and all-around multi-dimensional entertainment visionary. Clerks III, which debuted in September at an historic Jersey Shore movie theater he now owns, is the latest chapter in a three-decade career that has included critically acclaimed films, innovative live tours and podcast mega-success—punctuated by a near-fatal heart attack. The grassroots success of Smith’s first effort, Clerks, taught him valuable lessons about the movie business and the importance of forging a personal connection with his audience. Gerry Strauss asked Kevin to explore the roots of his fascination with film and examine how building connections —with actors, directors and fans—has enabled him to keep moving forward in dynamic, surprising and impactful ways.

EDGE: I admire the passion with which you stay connected with your New Jersey roots. Now that extends to the theater you’ve bought in Atlantic Highlands.

KS: It was one of my hometown theaters where I grew up. We’re coming up with this big mural to put into the lobby that’s got all the people from New Jersey who became successful. Look, there’s Tom Cruise, he was here once, and DeVito and Nicholson and Brittany Murphy. The idea of some kid coming into theater looking up and being like, These people came from New Jersey? Maybe I’ve got a shot—it takes me back to when I was a kid.

EDGE: How so?

Upper Case Editorial

KS: When anybody would reference New Jersey in a movie or TV show, it was like, They know we exist. You felt positively cosmopolitan. You felt like you were part of the conversation. It was thrilling. I think that’s what I’ve always been trying to accomplish, to be part of the conversation. And I found that Jersey is an excellent conversation-starter worldwide. It carries with it credibility that other places don’t necessarily have. If I was from Rhode Island, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

EDGE: I was thinking about films from my youth with a New Jersey connection, like The Karate Kid, and then realized the first few minutes of that movie they were getting the heck out of New Jersey.

KS: Yes! [laughs] Most Jersey origin stories have people leaving the state. That was one thing I was always proud about. My characters were content to stay within state.

In Clerks II, the plot hinged on whether or not Dante’s going to move away to Florida, and then ultimately he decides to stay. So yeah, New Jersey is in my DNA, man. I absolutely adore the state. It adds this weird layer of working-class credibility—which I think Bruce and Bon Jovi are kind of responsible for—that I have been benefiting from, and it has been absolutely magical. Being from New Jersey has sometimes been the only thing that’s kept my career alive.

EDGE: How do you think storytelling became part of your DNA?

KS: My journey with self-expression, for lack of a better word, began because of a Jersey Girl—specifically, my sister Virginia. I found a composition notebook under her bed when I was about five or six years old. I opened it up and the front page was a drawing of her and her friends kneeling around a cellar door. The title was The Secret of the Cellar Door. “What is this?” I asked. She said, “This is a book that I’m writing. It’s a story about me and my friends on an adventure.” I was like, “You can’t just write a book. You’ve got to ask for permission from the government…we have a library card and Anybody can write whatever they want at any time.” That really captured my imagination. The family had this big electric typewriter, this thing you plugged in and it hummed and it sounded official, and it was very powerful. Once I learned how to use it and tell a story, that electric typewriter became one of my best friends. the flag is on it, and the eagle. It’s official.” She goes, “Look, not every book looks like the books in the library, and you don’t have to get ‘permission’ to write, ever.

EDGE: When did you become conscious of movie making?

Film Venture Intl

KS: There was a movie called Don’t Go into the House that was shot in our neck of the woods, in Atlantic Highlands—including in front of that movie theater that I’m buying. It was a horror movie and the house that represented the killer’s lair—where he would bring women and chain them up and then use a flame thrower on them—is now the Historical Society of Atlantic Highlands. When we were kids, you would watch that movie and you’d be like, that’s here. I could bike to that house. That’s real, that exists. Little tangible moments like that.

EDGE: Nothing locally in the way of influences or role models?

KS: No. The role model had to come from outside of the state: Richard Linklater. When I saw Slacker I was like, Wait, you could be in nowhere, Texas, and make a movie? I didn’t know it was Austin [laughs]. I didn’t realize Austin was the capital of Texas. But a little ignorance went a long way because, when I saw the movie, I was like, This guy making a movie in Texas means that I can make a movie in New Jersey. It was saying that you ain’t got to be from New York or Los Angeles—make it up in your world. He made Austin the backdrop of the city, almost the main character. I was like, where I live is interesting and I’ve got that whole convenience store. So he inspired me more than anybody.

EDGE: Do you take pride in the fact that you’re now serving that role, inspiring up-and-comers?

KS: I love that. Money was never the big driver for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a communist, I’m a capitalist as much as the next guy, but it has never really been the motivator. The motivator at first was for people to hear my voice, my stories, my opinions. Now the driver is the people that you inspire along the way. Richard Linklater did it for me. He wasn’t looking for me. He wasn’t thinking about me. But his art made me believe that maybe I could do something. The same with Spike Lee. I recently saw Spike Lee in Minneapolis at VeeCon, the big NFT convention. We share mutual friends. I told him, “When you started your journey, when you made She’s Gotta Have It, and even before that when you went to NYU, I know you weren’t trying to reach me. But you did and I can’t thank you enough, it launched my ship.”

EDGE: How did he respond?

Miramax

KS: He said, “The professor teaches all students, Kevin. So if I reached you, then that was the point. Then I did my job.” Later he said, “We’re still here. We’re still doing it.” That “we” meant the world to me. That made me feel like such a professional. Seeing Spike take off with She’s Gotta Have It, that was fuel for me later on. It’s no coincidence that She’s Gotta Have It was a black-and-white movie and so was Clerks.

EDGE: It strikes me that the Clerks franchise is the thing you go back to when you’ve got something to say from the heart. Are these movies most personal work among all of the films you’ve done?

KS: I would say of everything I’ve done, the Clerks movies always strike closest to home. Chasing Amy runs second. There’s personal stuff in all the movies, but Clerks started me on this path.

EDGE: You told that story in the first movie so naturally.

KS: It was easy to tell the story because I was in that world. I worked at that convenience store. I was a guy who tended register, man, at a bunch of different convenience stores. So I knew retail and I knew what it was like to deal with customers. When we made Clerks II, twelve years after the first one, at that point I had a full-blown movie career. I didn’t know about retail anymore, so it had to be infused with something else altogether, because it lacked that personal edge of knowing what it’s like to be an employee. The boys had to go on a journey that was kind of similar to mine, where, by the end of the movie they realized, Oh my god…we can be our own bosses instead of just working for somebody else. But Clerks III is super personal because not only does Randal have my heart attack, but then the boys go on and make my movie. They get to make their version of Clerks. That’s been the formula for Clerks since the beginning: take my personal life and fictionalize it to some degree. Clerks III was like midlife crisis fantasy camp. I got to go back to the job that I have a very complex relationship with. When I worked at Quick Stop, I didn’t want to work at Quick Stop. I wanted to be any place else—until 10:30, when we locked the doors and I would hang out inside Quick Stop ’til three, four in the morning with my friends. It was a clubhouse. I loved the place…I just didn’t like working. So I got to go back to Quick Stop all summer when we were shooting the movie, but in the best way possible. I would literally walk in and out of the store and walk in RST Video like I used to in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But I didn’t have to wait on customers and I didn’t have to be there. I was there by choice. And when we were done making pretend that we were working, we all left, walked away. I didn’t have to mop the floors like I used to back in the day. It was the best possible version of working at Quick Stop.

EDGE: You’ve worked with a number of different actors who were just arriving in the film world—Ben Affleck and Jason Lee come to mind—whom you helped shepherd into becoming the stars they became. Do you look back at those times with pride, knowing that you were able to be a part of that development?

Smodcast Pictures

KS: There was a time where I was the big story, so I was able to help Ben and Jason and others. Now I’ll never be as big a story as Ben. So it actually helps me that I was like, “Here, man, let me jump in and let me try to get your movie made” because I had juice back then. The older you are and the longer one stays in the business, the less they give a crap about you…but…because I have people on my side who I’ve been working with since the beginning, since I believed in them before they were famous, I’m able to whip out some cool people to put in a flick. It makes you look hip to some degree. It makes people think, Oh, if that person will still work with them, I guess he’s still relevant. But for me, it’s just like, these are cats that I believed in dearly. And when they get famous you’re like, I knew it! I knew I was right! They’re special and you feel special and smart because you got to identify that quality before anybody else. It’s a sense of authorship. I think of people like Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson who played Dante and Randal in the Clerks movies, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee who played Holden and Banky in Chasing Amy, or Ben and Matt Damon who played Bartleby and Loki in Dogma. Those actors will inhabit those performances for the rest of my life; they are the co-architects of my entire world. Also, it’s nice that they got famous because it certainly makes it easier for me to convince people to let them be in my movies.

EDGE: Initially there was resistance?

KS: In the beginning, I would have to drop the budget to get them into my movie. Chasing Amy was meant to be a $3 million movie. They wouldn’t let me make it for three million with Ben and Joey and Jason, so I dropped it to 250 grand, and then they were like, “Go ahead…now you can make it with your friends.” I hate to make it seem like war—because making art is not like war at all—but I was in the trenches with these kids, making my dreams come true. They were laying the track with me, so forever they maintain in an incredibly special place in my life. So I’ll always reach out to them to try to bring them back into whatever I’m doing. But even if I never worked with them again, the sense of pride I feel when I watch them kind of ascend. It is breathtaking. It’s fun. Ladies and gentlemen, meet these cats that I find really interesting. They’ve become part of the establishment now, part of the business. It’s really cool.

EDGE: Do you think much about your legacy?

KS: I do. The older one gets, the more it’s like, look, it’s paid all my bills and I’ve been happy for the last 30 years, but has anything I’ve done made an impact, or is it just going to go with me when I drop dead. Did I make my mark? You didn’t think about it when you’re making your mark because you’re just focused on doing it. I think I’ve done enough things where it’s like, Oh yeah, they’re going to know you were here. Never mind the actors we’ve worked with who have gone on to be huge movie stars, or dopey stuff like me and Mewes getting our handprints in the cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Love or hate my movies, you can’t deny that they happened, you can’t deny that we were a part of [the culture]. So that makes me happy, knowing that for a few minutes after I drop dead, my work may go on without me. I mean, there seems to be no expiration date on Clerks.

EDGE: Does that surprise you?

KS: It still blows my mind to this day.

EDGE: Have you ever fallen out of love with movie-making?

Allan Amato

KS: Between Red State and Tusk, I took three years off. While I was promoting Red State in 2014, I kept saying, “I’m retiring. This is it. I’m doing a Soderbergh, man. I’m retiring.” Rolling Stone did a big article on it and my mother called me up crying. I had reached a point where I was really disenchanted by how much it costs to release a movie. I knew how to control the cost of making a movie. I made Clerks…I know how to get it real cheap. But you could make the movie as cheap as possible and then you hand it over and they pour $20 million in marketing all over it. That’s how movies don’t get made! I was like, “I don’t have that kind of audience. You don’t need to spend that.” I was so tired of them talking about how We’re going for the widest possible audience. I’m like, “Why? I’m an acquired taste.” If I could admit that, why couldn’t they? I’m not ever going to make a blockbuster, man. I’m an indie film maker. I make Kevin Smith movies and there’s a ceiling to that. Finally, I was like, I don’t want to do this. I’m going to take the movie out on the road myself and not spend any money on marketing. Let’s see if that’s possible. And that was the root of what we do now, the root of the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Road Show Tour and also the Clerks III Convenience Tour that we’ve got coming up. Anyway, during those three years off I did a ton of podcasting.

EDGE: And how did the podcasting feed into what’s happening now?

KS: I had been touring by myself for years at that point, just standing on stage and talking. But then I started going out there with my friends and these podcasts that I’d been working on. That was where I built the live-show business that I have with my friends. When we go on tour, it’s a blissful experience. People pay $100 to “watch a movie with Kevin Smith.” I am both the celebrant and the celebrated at the same time—I get to connect with the audience. I found something that works for me that makes me happy. During that three-year gap of me not making movies, I had to rebuild my business and all I did was devote myself to podcasting and live shows, which were very successful. And eventually, podcasting led back to film.

EDGE: To Tusk?

KS: Right. Scott Mosier and I were doing episode 259 of SModcast, which was called “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” telling this ludicrous story that we’d read online about a guy who was offering you a room for rent in his house. You’d pay nothing, but for two hours a day you had to dress up in a very realistic walrus costume. So we [brainstormed] this movie just fooling around, going back and forth, and I was like, You know what? That ain’t a joke. That’s a legit movie. So the thing that brought me back to movies was the desire to see a thing that nobody was ever going to do. On the podcast I asked, “Where are all the brave filmmakers who would make this man-to-walrus transformation? Where are the guts?” And then I realized, you used to be a gutsy filmmaker. Why don’t you do it? That’s why, spiritually, I consider Tusk to be the “sequel” to Clerks. Clerks was a movie that was made without thinking about critics, not thinking about box office, not thinking about film festivals—I didn’t even know about film festivals. I just wanted to see the movie. Tusk brought me back into movies and that passion has stayed reignited ever since.

EDGE: Did the heart attack you suffered four-plus years ago help reignite your passion, too?

KS: It sure upped the ante. When you almost die, suddenly you’re like I’ve still got a bunch of things I want to do. I just wasn’t done talking yet.

Editor’s Note: The Atlantic Moviehouse had its gala opening in September. For photos from that event and more on Kevin Smith’s plans to use the space as a multimedia venue, go to edgemagonline.com and click on his Q&A.

Rhea Perlman

If you’re among the millions of dedicated television viewers who feel that sitcoms simply aren’t what they used to be, Rhea Perlman may shoulder some of the blame for that. Her 11-season turn as brash, vulgar and uninhibited Boston cocktail waitress Carla Tortelli on Cheers ranks among the most original and imaginative performances in entertainment history. If you don’t agree, tell it to her 10 Emmy nominations. Perlman’s ability to infuse her characters with a stunning range of qualities and emotions—from sugary sweet to disturbingly deviant—has kept her on Hollywood’s A-list for the better part of four decades. Her current project, 13: The Musical (airing on Netflix this August) brings Perlman back to her roots on the stage. Gerry Strauss caught up with Rhea to talk about the arc of her career and what tempted her to say Okay to her latest role in the midst of the pandemic.

EDGE: When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue acting? RP: That didn’t come until after college. I liked acting starting around high school, but never really thought that it was something you could do. I didn’t know anyone who was an actor. I didn’t come from a background of people who went into the arts at all. They didn’t explore that part of their lives in terms of making a living. So, when you talk about making a living, I didn’t know anyone who did that. But then after college I had a good friend who had written many plays while I was in school. He was very talented, and he got into Columbia Film School, and I would go up there sometimes. I lived in New York then, and I’d come act in a movie of his and there were a lot of people around him pursuing acting careers.

EDGE: What were you doing to make ends meet then?

Upper Case Editorial

RP: I was like an assistant at a vet’s office. I thought I could do both of those things. I could be an assistant at Dr. Nelson’s office and try to become an actress. So, I took some classes. It was a slow roll to actually making this into a career.

EDGE: A lot of your fans first got to know you from your recurring role as Zena Sherman on Taxi—a sweet, mild-mannered character who couldn’t have been more different than Carla Tortelli.

RP: That’s funny. Zena was actually called “The Nice Girl” when the character was first created… that’s what she was called.

EDGE: Was it a challenge for you to convince the Cheers people that you could play tough-as-nails Carla?

RP: I really never thought about that when the opportunity to play Carla came up. I just thought, What fun this could be, playing a person that speaks their mind and doesn’t give a damn… someone who can be tough and that stuff. I never thought about having to convince anyone of anything. It just was, Wow, what a great part this is! EDGE: Had you played roles like that before?

RP: Coming from New York, and the little bits of work that I did there that I never got paid for—I mean, off-off-off-Broadway parts—I’d played many different kinds of people. And playing the bad guy was always fun. Carla, although not being a bad guy, had elements of that, and the people who cast me in it, who wanted me to play it, were people who knew me from Taxi: the Charles brothers [Glen and Les] and Jimmy Burrows. The Charles brothers wrote many Taxi episodes and were producers of it, and they also created Cheers. So, they wrote that part thinking of me.

EDGE: Was there anything about Carla that you suggested or made a personal choice to include in your performance?

Netflix

RP: When Carla’s sister, who was very racy, was written into one episode, I just said, “Maybe I can play my sister”— and I did get to do that. As far as Carla goes, the writers were so great at writing all of our characters that I don’t think anybody did anything but enhance what they wrote.

EDGE: You touched on your stage background so I am wondering if that theater experience made the transition to television sitcoms a comfortable one?

RP: Yeah. I think that that was one of the things that made it easy, as you said. You’re right, it does feel like a play, even though you’re being filmed, and you can do things over—which is like the best of all worlds. Because when you’re in a play, you always want to do it over. You end up doing it over the next night, but you wish you could do it over right then [laughs].

EDGE: Your 1996 family film Matilda has become a classic. It’s watched and beloved by children and their parents to this day. Did you ever expect it to transcend generations as it has?

RP: Yeah! [laughs] I mean, I did have kids that were young at the time, and I know how they were with the movies that they watched—they watched their favorites over and over and over. They never wanted to stop watching it, whether it was animated or live action. I didn’t expect it to be, but I wished for it that it would be a classic movie. I mean, it did come from a Roald Dahl book and his books are classic.

EDGE: You’ve also lent your voice to a ton of characters from many of their favorites, including the Disney+ hit, Star Wars: The Bad Batch. Do you find a different type of creative freedom in giving a unique voice to characters who look nothing like you?

RP: I absolutely love doing the voices for animated characters and stuff like that. And I do think it’s freeing and fun and it’s challenging, too, trying to find a voice, although you usually play mostly yourself. If they cast me, they want me—they don’t want me to be sounding like a Wookie. You know what I mean? There are some incredibly talented people in the business who do lots of different voices. They can talk to themselves or even a group. They can be around a table doing every voice. I wish I had that talent. It would be incredibly fun, but I love doing what I do.

Netflix

EDGE: In some respects now you’ve returned to your roots for your latest project, Netflix’s 13: The Musical. How did you get connected to this undertaking?

RP: You know what? Out of the blue. I just got an offer through my agent from somebody at Netflix, or Tamra Davis, who is the director of the film. Someone asked for me and I said, “Okay!” I think I got the offer and had to be there in a week. That was challenging because it was during the pandemic and there were a lot of costumes to get, and there was nowhere to shop…not for me, but for the designers—especially in Toronto, where everything was incredibly locked-down.

EDGE: What excited you enough about the role to make that leap on such short notice?

RP: Well, I loved the idea of working with kids, and that every kid in that show was 13 or 14 years old at most. They are incredible. I just got to watch the movie last week and it’s a ton of fun, with great dancing and singing and those kids work their butts off, getting it together. I think they rehearsed for months. They didn’t film it for months, but they rehearsed for months, and Tamra did a fantastic job. I also liked the idea of working with Debra Messing. I always thought she was great. My part is relatively small in that show, but I liked it, and it was exciting to think about working with these kids.

 

Michael Chiklis

Christian Witkin Inc.

One of the profound challenges for an actor is portraying the humanity of a character in subtle and unexpected ways. Michael Chiklis can do it in his sleep. He made us root for the bad cop on the riveting and often unnerving FX series The Shield and made our hearts ache under fifty pounds of orange rock makeup in Fantastic Four. This year basketball aficionados are loving him as NBA legend Red Auerbach in HBO’s Winning Time and he just finished filming The Senior, the true story of a 50-something college football player. Gerry Strauss wanted to get a feel for how Michael manages to inhabit the myriad characters he has played. Leveraging his own life experience and passion, it turns out, is what makes them leap off the page and onto the screen.

EDGE: What is your process for playing a real person like Red Auerbach?

MC: I basically research them and get a sense of the kind of person that they were from their own words, as well as from others. And then I try to pay deferential homage to them. But I try to keep it real, obviously. To play someone like the late great Red Auerbach is a joy, especially with someone with the pedigree of [executive producer] Adam McKay. My first episode was directed by Jonah Hill and all of my scenes were with John C. Reilly [as Lakers owner Jerry Buss]. We had a great time working together.

EDGE: You grew up a Celtics fan.

MC: Yes, and I wish my dad was still around, because he was such a huge fan and he loved Red Auerbach. I don’t know how a lot of the things that Red did back then would play in today’s world. I mean, can you imagine a guy on the sidelines lighting up a stogie because he feels like the game is over? He was known for his gamesmanship—it wasn’t beneath him to turn the heat up in the guest locker room to 95 degrees and shut the windows. He wasn’t a cheater, but he would definitely push some boundaries, for sure. But I’ll tell you what, when you read books that he’s co-authored or you read books by people like Bill Russell, the way that guys speak about him, his players loved him so much. When you play for someone for years and all you have to say is how much you adore him, there’s something to that, it speaks to a person. Red knew how to manage people. He understood what people needed and treated them with respect. He didn’t just tell them, “I’m the boss, and this is the way it’s going to go.” My understanding of Red is that if you played with him, he loved you and listened to you and collaborated with you. He was very inclusive, progressive and forward-thinking, especially in the city of Boston. That’s why his name is etched in the parquet floor. I’ve had an opportunity to play some really iconic, real-life people through the course of my career, and I approach them all in the same way with tremendous respect— with no ax to grind and no agenda in terms of the way I want to portray them.

MC: I play another real-life guy who was the oldest player in the history of college football. Mike Flynt, at 59 years old, tried out for and made his old college football team. He had been thrown out of school his senior year for fighting with another player and he always regretted it. It’s a redemption tale, an underdog tale, and it’s a really wonderful story and a great script.

EDGE: Your first big role was playing John Belushi in Wired, the film version of Bob Woodward’s book. Not many people outside Hollywood know this story.

Christian Witkin Inc.

MC: It was heavy, heavy stuff for a 24-year-old. I was a well-trained, raw visceral actor. But this was my first on-camera job. Most people I know in this business, they put their toe in the water, they get their feet wet, they’re an extra on something, they get to see how things work. My very first job was playing an icon in an incredibly controversial mess of a film. I didn’t know what a “mark” was! Someone said, “Hey, Michael, Ed Feldman, an Academy Award-winning producer, and Bob Woodward, the guy who took down Nixon. On the other side of it was Mike Ovitz and Dan Aykroyd and all of the Saturday Night Live folks and the powerhouses of Hollywood. And I had no idea, I was really ignorant. I just thought, Wow, I get to play John Belushi. After Wired, I was being told that I would never work again. snuggle up on your mark.” I’m like, “What’s a mark?” I had no clue, from a technical standpoint, what I was doing. When I played Belushi, people said at the time, “Oh, you were so brave for doing that.” I wasn’t brave. I was ignorant. I didn’t know. And the honest answer is, I don’t know if I would’ve done it if I knew it was going to be so controversial—and especially if I knew that the family was against it. On one side of it was To think that [my career] was over for me before it started—that was a scary time. But I have no regrets. I’m glad that I did it because it started my life in film and television, and I learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself.

EDGE: How did that experience change your perspective?

MC: When you go through adversity of that kind early in your life, it gives you an acute appreciation of simple things—your health, the people around you and, of course, your work, how thrilling and awesome it is. I thought, I have no power, there’s nothing I can do about this. All I can do is do the best work that I can do in whatever situation I can find myself in, and hope that the work speaks, and that I can come up that way. That’s the only thing I knew. I didn’t have any recourse at the time. It certainly wasn’t like now, where the world is so full of grievance. So I just did whatever I could to keep going forward. And I’m still here, and I’m still working and doing really cool projects.

EDGE: When did you first become interested in acting?

MC: My parents tell me that when I was around five, I announced to them that I was going to be an actor and they thought, Next week you’ll be a baseball player, or a fireman, or whatever. But I was an oddly focused young person. I always knew that I was going to do it, and I never changed my mind. I had this sort of myopic view of acting. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, and I don’t know why. As a 58-year-old man, I look at that and I shake my head, and I’m like, How? Some people still struggle with what they’re going to be when they grow up and they’re in their forties. I feel very fortunate that I always had that personal awareness that I wanted to do this for my life.

EDGE: Did you have any early influences?

FX Networks

MC: There were a couple of things that flipped switches for me. One was a television show with Frank Gorshin and Rich Little called The Kopykats that was on when I was about five or six years old. I used to do a ton of different voices and I would do them doing other people—like Frank Gorshin doing Rodney Dangerfield. I would stand in front of my big, fat Greek family, and I would go, “Hey, I’ve seen better faces on an iodine bottle.” I’d get a big laugh and that dopamine high from it. So, that was sort of affirming. When I got older I watched movies like On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire—two films that Marlon Brando starred in. They had a profound effect on me. I remember watching those films in the dark and going, I know this is what I’m going to do. I know I have to do this.

EDGE: Who else moved your career along?

MC: This gentleman named Mark Kaufman became sort of an early theatrical mentor of mine. I had an incredible opportunity to help him open the Merrimack Repertory Theater, a regional theater in Lowell, Massachusetts, the town I was born in. I had sort of a backstage pass to watching that whole process happening, to be there every step of the way. It further affirmed to me, yeah, this is my life, this is what I want to be doing. Also, I was taught very early on that people who have longevity in their career are people who have a root or a foundation in classical training. That’s why I went to Boston University. It offered a classical conservatory setting, and I studied the craft in earnest.

EDGE: How did you envision your acting future as a young man?

MC: I thought my path would be off-Broadway, Broadway, and then to the silver screen from there. That was what I had in my head, but the best laid plans, right? At 21, I moved to Brooklyn after graduation and hit the pavement. I took jobs bartending and waiting tables, and then started doing off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway. Those were fun times, very Dickensian times— the best of times and the worst of times—because it was extremely exciting to be in Manhattan pursuing what I always wanted to pursue. But it could be frustrating and terrifying, fraught with all different kinds of problems and issues. But it was amazing too, it was exciting. I was there for three years when I finally got what I have to consider to be my big break in Wired. I mean, there’s nothing normal about the progression of my life or career as an actor. It’s very, very different.

EDGE: The role with which you’re most frequently associated is Detective Vic Mackey, the lead character on The Shield, which ran for seven seasons. Mackey and Tony Soprano and later Walter White were pioneers of the television antihero in the early 2000s. What went into making The Shield so good?

MC: A couple of things. To me, everything starts on the page. In the case of The Shield, you started with the pertinent thematic question: What are we willing to accept in post-9/11 America from law enforcement to keep us safe? There were other sub-themes, but that was the thematic question posed by the entire series. That’s why it holds up today; it’s an incredibly relevant question to this moment. Having said that, you need very, very thoughtful writers—writers who aren’t heavy-handed and just want to proselytize and beat the audience over the head with something—people who actually want to ask questions from every corner. That’s the basis for a great film or television show. Then you have to cast it correctly. When you think about it, it really is an incredible confluence of things to come together for any film and television show to be good, because it’s such a team sport, right? So many things have to go right. And literally, one thing can go wrong and derail the whole project. We did seven years on a show where I think, as a collective, we all looked at each other and knew that we were doing something special and sort of remarkable, and no one wanted to drop the ball. Everyone wanted to carry their own water, if you will. So, I just think that it’s a miracle of cooperation, it’s a little bit of luck, and it’s a lot of thoughtfulness and restraint.

EDGE: How difficult is it to assemble a cast like the one in The Shield?

MC: Artists notoriously have egos, right? We all have our egos. But I think if your egos are healthy, you keep them in check. You know when it’s time for you to add your pinch of salt, and you know when not to be another cook in the kitchen‚ to let other people do what they do well. If you look at any great series, you’ll hear everyone involved say how collaborative people were, how exciting it was to get up in the morning and go to work every day, how the collaboration was rare and distinct in their career. We’ve all done shows that we wish weren’t on our résumés, and that’s part of it—that’s how you learn what you don’t want to do, how not to collaborate, and how things aren’t supposed to go. I’ve been very fortunate…I’ve been in a number of really, really good collaborations. I noticed that you guys did a cover interview with Jason Alexander, who I recently saw on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. That’s an incredible production, incredibly well made, beautifully shot, great cinematography, crisp writing, amazing acting, pacing—that’s a lot of hands, that’s a lot of people. And it’s thrilling when you see something come together that way. It’s thrilling to be a part of something like that.

EDGE: Michael, what keeps you centered at this point in your life and career? I see you’re producing and directing, recording music, getting involved in Alzheimer’s advocacy and even dabbling in martial arts.

MC: All of the above. Peaceful, joyful and centered. Variety is the spice of life, and these things keep me interested and connected to my artistry. I think I’ll never read all the books I want to read; I’m humbled at all that I don’t know—and that I’ll never be able to imbibe. I’m a bit of a seeker in that way. I want to learn as much as I can. The one thing I’m terrified of is complacency. I’ve always felt that, the moment you start to believe in your own hype and think that you’ve got it all figured out, is when the bell has tolled for you. I feel like life is short enough that you can continue learning until your last day. And that’s what I intend to do. I want to try to get better with everything that I do. I’m a drummer, right? When I’m playing drums with friends and singing, it’s pure joy. I don’t go out of my way to promote my music, but I put it out there a little bit so people can find it, but I don’t pursue it in that way. The things that are important to me are very, very simple: my family, my friends, my work, the world, people, I love to travel, I love to read, I love to listen to music of all kinds, every kind. I have the most eclectic music collection of anyone I know. I’ll listen to Rachmaninoff, and then The Tubes, you know what I mean? And everything in between. I guess this is part of my Greekness.

EDGE: How so?

MC: I grew up around a bunch of philosophers. My father is a very philosophical person. And in New England you have the winters and there’s six months at a time where we spent a tremendous amount of time inside talking and arguing and debating and philosophizing. I’m concerned for the world right now because people are increasingly afraid to speak their mind and say what their opinions are, for fear of repercussion. If not for all the debates I had with my friends and my family over the course of years, I wouldn’t have learned so much of what I know. So, I really am a big believer in conversation. I love talking to people, to my children. My oldest daughter is really coming into her own as a writer. She’s a woman of letters, and she’s very bright. My youngest is just going to—I don’t even know—I’m scared of her. She’s so incredible. They’re both incredibly bright. I know I sound like a very, very proud father—which I am—but they merit it, and I’m brutally honest. Fortunately, my oldest lives a mile down the street and my youngest, who recently graduated from college last spring, moved back in, and she’s here temporarily and working hard, and socking money away, trying to set herself up. It’s wonderful that my kids are close. The other thing is, my family loves to cook. The table is a big part of our lives. So we cook together and we sit at the table, and then it gets loud. We’re talking about this thing and that thing, and running things by each other constantly, and it’s impossible to get bored.

EDGE: As you look back at the arc of your career, what thoughts do you feel you can share with actors who are just starting out in the business?

MC: No two people have the same life path, right? So it’s impossible to give someone real advice about how to become a successful actor. There are things I can tell you that I think will help and work for you, and be there for you through the ups and downs. But no two paths are the same. I say this to people all the time that aspire to film and television careers. Actors may have crossover in their careers, but no two actors have the same trajectory. We have crossover in terms of places that we may have worked, or things that we’ve gone through along the way, but I’ve never met two actors with the same trajectory.

 

NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams

Don’t say anything about New Jersey around BRIAN WILLIAMS unless you have something good to say. The Garden State was a springboard into a news career that has seen him defy the odds and reach the pinnacle of his profession. When Williams has to dig deep for strength or inspiration, New Jersey serves as his touchstone. The instant he motors past that center stripe in the Lincoln Tunnel, he feels he is home again. In his chat with the NBC Nightly News anchor, EDGE editor MARK STEWART discovers that what you see (and hear) is what you get. Whether getting a story right, hosting Saturday Night Live, or putting his money where his heart is, Williams is as authentic as they come.

EDGE: To reach the level you have in the business, an anchor must find the perfect balance between being a newsman and a performer. How did you find that balance?

BW: I’ve never had a lesson in performance. I’ve never had anybody tell me how. I have had great role models, from watching Cronkite every evening of my young life—I lived in a household where dinner would not be served until he said, ‘That’s the way it is’—to working beside Dan Rather at CBS and, more importantly, being taken under the wing of Tom Brokaw at NBC. He made sure I was in the right spot at every point. When it was time to be chief White House correspondent, he made it clear to me that it was time to be chief White House correspondent, and I moved down to Washington with my family. So at every point I’ve been so fortunate either to have watched a great example or worked next to one, and be mentored by one.

EDGE: Cronkite was your idol.

BW: He was my absolute, North Star idol. Walter Cronkite was the guy I always wanted to be, and he lived long enough for me to make that very clear to him. That was one of the great moments of my career.

EDGE: You started your climb in Middletown, New Jersey. How did you work your way to the top?

BW: I didn’t have any contacts. I had no way in through the front door or the back. So climbing in the window of the television news business and coming up through the basement is the only way I know how to get ahead. That meant moving out to Kansas, learning the business, and being willing to crawl through broken glass to get ahead. If you have your eyes on a prize in this country, there’s nothing that can stop you—I’m a living example of that. I am not college educated, I did not grow up with honed skills or a family that knew what a prep school was. I didn’t know what the Ivy League was when I was in high school. It just wasn’t in my ken. But if you’re a hustler—and I’ve never regarded that as a pejorative, that word’s a positive in my book—the world is your oyster.

EDGE: At what point did you become comfortable being Brian Williams?

BW: I’ve thought about it a lot. Various local stations in my twenties on my way up made vain attempts to put me with consultants. I had to sit through a focus group once and listen to what they said about me. That is not for the faint of heart, and something I don’t recommend to people. But after a while, as I came up through the industry, I thought Well, this must be working. I have no choice but to be who I am. I went with who ‘brung me to the dance.’ Even so, my daughter will tell you the Brian Williams on Nightly News is not the Dad she knows. She knows someone else entirely. She will tell you that the Brian Williams of Saturday Night Live or Jon Stewart or Conan is much closer to the guy she knows.

EDGE: How did the SNL hosting gig develop? Who pursued whom?

BW: I was pursued. Lorne Michaels had made noises about it for years, actually. Lorne, sadly, has to sit through a lot of dinners and charity events that I emcee, and I tend to mix it up during those because they can be as dry as dirt. Finally he came to me and said, ‘This is a serious offer’ and gave me an airdate. I told him I had 26 years of a career to worry about and I knew I could easily dispose of it in 90 minutes. I asked everyone in my life—I asked not just Tom Brokaw, but also his wife Meredith. Jane and I talked about it for hours. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t flushing what credibility I had down the toilet.

EDGE: I recall saying to my wife when you were announced that this was the bravest hosting decision in the history of the show.

BW: When I wrote the monologue, the first thing I said was, ‘I know what you’re thinking…is this really a good idea?’ That was actually my favorite moment in the show, because it was the elephant in the studio.

EDGE: So what made you say Yes?

BW: I had never met Chevy Chase and I saw him outside SNL in the hallway talking to a friend of mine. I went up to him, introduced myself, and asked him what he thought I should do. I explained that I owed Lorne a decision tomorrow. He said, ‘I watched Dan Rather for years and I never got any closer to knowing who he is. I think if you do this, I might get to know who you are.’ And that was the clinching vote. I called Lorne and accepted. I had to reject about fifty percent of the sketch ideas the writers proposed. Their job, of course, is to make a total horse’s ass out of the host.

EDGE: The skit I remember is the one where you played a firefighter. It was a totally authentic performance. Where did that come from?

BW: Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that the helmet on my lap said OVFC #11 and Williams. That stands for Old Village Fire Company, Engine 11, in Middletown Township. That was my gear. As a firefighter years ago, on a volunteer basis in Jersey—who still hangs around New York City firefighters— that was the easiest ‘character’ I could have done. I knew the lingo already, so it was easy.

EDGE: There’s still a lot of Jersey in you, isn’t there?

BW: When I pass into New Jersey there’s something that happens to me at mid-span on the GW Bridge and midway through the Lincoln Tunnel. I call it my ‘power corridor’. I feel most at home there. I speak New Jersey. New Jerseyans are real. It’s the most densely populated state in the union and yet I can tell from your accent if you’re from South Jersey or North Jersey. I can usually tell if you’re from the Mid Shore. We have a lot of different regions, and yet I think there’s a baked-in pride. We have to put up with a lot of crap. I don’t take kindly to a lot of Jersey jokes because I know a lot about my state. Way too many people judge our state based on one stretch of highway on the Turnpike along refinery row. And that’s unfortunate. I think if we had it to do over again, we wouldn’t route so many millions of motorists right past the most heavily industrialized region of the East Coast.

EDGE: So what is it that defines New Jerseyans?

BW: There’s a moxie, there’s a street smartness, there’s a reality to being from New Jersey. New Jerseyans have texture. They have grit. We aren’t always the most earnest members of the jury pool, but we’ll be the jury foreman, and we’ll get you a verdict.

EDGE: What role does grit play in your job?

BW: Grit is what it’s all about! Grit is life experience. It’s having a few layers of paint worn off of you, so you’re not shiny and new. This is not your first rodeo. A little skepticism. Even some cynicism. Grit has served me well in life. I just think grit equals authenticity today. And to make it today, you’ve got to have it.

EDGE: What do you remember when you look back on your New Jersey days?

BW: I had the perfect upbringing; I wouldn’t do it any other way. I get very emotional and gauzy, warm and fuzzy, and romantic about my upbringing—even though at the time it felt ordinary and at times a struggle. There were kids at Mater Dei High School who had a lot more than me, and it wasn’t my proudest moment to look at the back page of the yearbook and see the colleges other kids were headed to. And while I screwed up my education and came within inches of becoming a colossal failure—I interviewed for a police dispatch position out of Freehold thinking that would be a good, steady job—life went in a different direction. But when I go back there now I would like to think I have a flag in that soil that is mine.

EDGE: One of those flags will be in Newark soon, where the Horizons Summer Enrichment Program is opening a new location. You and Jane must get pulled in so many directions, and yet you’ve devoted yourselves to Horizons completely. What is it that you have found so appealing about it?

BW: You know how they say We know you have a choice in airlines and we appreciate you flying with us? My wife and I have been blessed in many ways in life, mostly financially—we never thought we’d have any money—and we have chosen to give most of our charitable dollars to a single cause, because Horizons changes lives in front of your eyes. The children chosen for the program end up in a different life. They are transported, as if by a giant hand, and lifted up. It’s just the most extraordinary program, and it only exists because of the good people who run it. Mr. and Mrs. Williams will only be happy when there is a Horizons-affiliated school in every city, town and hamlet that feels they need one. If people would just go to the web site [horizonsnational.org] and watch the piece we did, it would be the leading school enrichment program in the country. I’ve just never seen a return on the volunteer hour or donated dollar quite as dramatic as Horizons.

EDGE: EDGE readers live and work relatively close to the new location. Tell them why they should volunteer or donate to Horizons?

BW: It’s that feeling you get when you give a gift that’s so great that it gets your endorphins going just to give it away. The feeling you’ve knocked one out of the park. Multiply that by a hundred. Or a hundred thousand. That’s how giving to Horizons will make you feel. Most Americans, in the course of their lives, are lucky if they get to change one or two lives. This is a very easy way to do that on a larger scale, with a tangible, human, smiling result.

 

Rutgers hoops coach Vivian Stringer

Grant Halverson/Rutgers University

If you had to win one game and could take any coach in the state, Vivian Stringer would unquestionably be among your top candidates. If you could select a coach to guide your daughter through the most important four years of her life, the Rutgers basketball legend would be a no-brainer. Coach Stringer has graced the Garden State with her presence since 1995, and during that time she has elevated the state of the game, both on and off the court. A three time Coach of the Year, she is one of only three people in women’s hoops history to win 800 games.

As it happens, EDGE Assignments Editor ZACK BURGESS has some history with his interview subject—they first crossed paths 10 years ago when he covered her Rutgers team for The New York Times. He knows as well as anyone that her triumphs have not come without their share of tragedy. She has persevered through the deaths of her father and husband, a daughter devastated by meningitis, and a son who nearly lost his life in a car crash. Some people define “grace” as the bestowing of God’s blessing. Zack pulled Vivian Stringer off the court to talk about this idea, as well as the dual challenges of being a coach and mother. And yes, he managed to sneak in an Imus question!

EDGE: Given the dramatic ups and downs and challenges in your life and career, do you feel blessed?

VS: Yes, I do. I wake up every day and witness other people’s plights, and just shake my head and wonder, ‘How do you handle it all?’ You just have to understand that when there is life, there is hope. Blessed? Yes.

EDGE: What does it mean to you to go into the Basketball Hall of Fame with Michael Jordan this year?

VS: I really haven’t allowed myself to think about it. I probably would be paralyzed if I thought about it too much. To go in with arguably the greatest class the Hall of Fame has ever seen is an honor. I have to prepare myself for the greatest day in my life, besides the birth of my children. It’s overwhelming. When I started at Cheyney State (in Philadelphia), I never believed that I would find myself receiving such a huge honor.

EDGE: How soon after you got the coaching job at Cheyney State did you know this was your calling?

VS: Are you kidding me? The minute I got there! I was just grateful they gave me a chance to coach the team. It was magical. I was 22 years old and loving every minute of it. It’s what I was meant to do.

EDGE: How do feel you did raising a family and being a college basketball coach?

VS: I did a masterful job as a parent of keeping basketball and my family separate. But now I wish I wouldn’t have kept things so separate. Those trips through the Midwest were tough. We were going from Iowa to Wisconsin. Instead of being on the team bus, I wish I had ridden right behind the bus for those six or seven hours, giving my kids more mommy time. Listening to them say mommy this, and mommy that. I was fortunate enough to have the best husband in the world.

EDGE: Where did being a coach and being a mom intersect?

VS: My son David played Division-I football. So not only do I know what it’s like to go into a home and recruit, I know what it’s like to be on the other end of the recruiting process as a parent. I know during his recruitment process I often looked for who was going to care about my son—who was going to push him to be the best that he can be, who was going to understand how special he is as a person. Ultimately, that’s what every parent wants. They want to know that their child is going to be safe and understood. I try to be the coach I would want for someone to be to my child. I want parents to understand that I am a parent, too. Parents have a right to see their child walk through your program okay, and emerge a better person at the end.

EDGE: Yet you have a reputation for being tough on your players. Is that fair?

VS: They say that I don’t get players sometime because I am known for being hard. What makes what I do any different from anyone else? Players who go to the University of Tennessee know they are going to a place where they just flat-out had better get it done. What I am trying to teach my players is to be good women. I want them to understand that when they come to Rutgers, they are not only here to play basketball, but to become young women who know how to empower themselves as well.

EDGE: Someone once told me talent and hard work always wins out. Do you believe that?

VS: I think perseverance, talent and hard work is what we should say. Thirty-eight years of doing this. I would like to think when my story is told that it’s one of perseverance, because you can have all the talent in the world—and you might even have a good work ethic—but without perseverance, none of it matters.

EDGE: What are the qualities you look for when you are recruiting a player?

VS: She has to have the will and the drive to be the best, and the skill to play the game. Someone who is not satisfied unless she is as good as she can possibly be, which means she is probably never satisfied. The more difficult something becomes, the more she sees it as an opportunity versus an obstacle. These qualities will carry her throughout the rest of her life.

EDGE: Have you ever gone against your rule and taken a player who had the skill but maybe not the drive?

Larry Levanti/Rutgers University

VS: Sure I have. It doesn’t work.

EDGE: Getting back to the idea of grace, I have a final question. Lost in the uproar after Don Imus made those infamous remarks about your players was the fact that you were quite gracious in accepting his apology. Why was that important to you?

VS: I think we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to forgive. My faith wouldn’t have me do it any other way and I knew that. When Imus said what he said, it hit me to the bone. I’ve never been one to be able to smile and say it’s over—I really need to do a much better job—so in order for us to go forward, we just needed to forgive.

EDGE: How many of those girls are still on the team?

VS: We have four kids left from that class who are now going to be seniors.

EDGE: And how are they doing?

VS: One is going to be doctor, one a pharmacist, one wants to be lawyer and another who can do whatever she wants. To see what these young ladies went through and have them come through it with their dignity and honor intact is a wonderful thing. I’m very proud of them.

 

Meghan Duggan

Remember when you played sports in school and there was that one kid on the other team who made you want to take a seat on the bench? You know…an athlete who saw things a split-second sooner, who was a step quicker, and who administered a hard lesson in physics if you were foolish enough to make contact. Meghan Duggan was that kid. She grew up to become captain of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team, which, after silver medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, won a gold medal in 2018 in South Korea. After 13 years at the apex of her sport, Duggan hung up her skates, moved to New Jersey and, last spring, became Manager of Player Development for the New Jersey Devils. A new mom in a new job, she brings her leadership, hockey experience and keen eye for championship intangibles to a club looking to hang a fourth Stanley Cup banner from the rafters at the Prudential Center. No pressure, right? EDGE caught up with Meghan to talk about life on her new home ice.

Andrew MacLean/New Jersey Devils

EDGE: Sports fans don’t realize what’s involved in the transition from star player to team executive. For some, it’s a natural transition, for others not so much. What has been the easiest part for you these past six months or so?

MEGHAN DUGGAN: The easiest part of the transition is coming into a culture that’s based around what I’ve built my life around, the sport of hockey. I’m working with hockey minds and that “hockey family” mentality, which I love. There are a lot of people in the Devils organization, and pretty much everyone with whom I interact on a daily basis has played at a high level and was a leader at a high level. I’ve felt welcomed since day one.

EDGE: What has been the most challenging aspect?

MD: Continuing to learn the ins and outs of building a successful NHL team. For a long time, I’d just had to focus on playing and leading a team as an athlete. Now I am digesting and understanding all of those components in a short period of time, including development, analytics, amateur scouting, pro scouting— just learning the terminology and how all the different groups work together toward the same goal—so that I can add value in the best way possible.

EDGE: Having been the captain of a successful team, does that give you a sixth sense about young players who might bring a similar quality to the Devils?

MD: Filling that role for so long, having to go through different experiences and highs and lows, it shaped me as a person and the leader that I wanted to be. I was challenged many times and learned a lot about having the will and the drive to compete. Using what I learned as a captain to identify and help develop great leaders and great culture is something that I want to bring to the Devils.

U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team

EDGE: With the women’s national team, you often found yourself advocating for financial support and better conditions. Is it a relief to be working for a team where those challenges don’t exist?

MD: You know, every situation brings its own challenges. On the women’s side, something that we’ll always continue to fight for is visibility, accessibility and resources. In the NHL, there certainly aren’t those struggles, but we have our own set of hurdles to clear. In both cases, that’s what you have a team for, and why you need a great group of people strategizing and solving problems. But advocacy is always going to be a part of me. Sports has given me so much in my life, I am always passionate about advocating for kids to be involved in sports and around sports, and to have great role models in general. I was recently named president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for 2022. I’m really looking forward to finding ways to marry my two roles, generating excitement about the Devils among young girls and women, and getting them to games here in New Jersey.

EDGE: I am curious about your thoughts on something. I believe that American sports fans don’t quite know how to process a silver medal, particularly in a team sport. What was it like to win silver twice and how did winning gold in 2018 alter that perspective?

Upper Case Editorial

MD: That’s a good question because the way you think about it does change and evolve. As an Olympic athlete, and a hockey player specifically, all the training I did in the four years leading up to the 2010 and 2014 games—and then winning the silver both times—there was a little sting at the beginning, as you might imagine. You don’t train and prepare and do everything you do for second place. You’re not running on the treadmill ’til exhaustion thinking I can’t wait to win silver. In hockey, in order to win a silver medal, you have to lose in the final game. So as competitive as I am and our teams were, it’s tough to swallow at first; it takes a little time to get over that and adjust. But when you are able to step back and reflect on the journey and the process and the lives you touched on the way there—and what it does mean to bring a silver medal back to your country—you can be proud of it.

EDGE: So what happened between 2014 and 2018?

MD: Our team really transformed and took on the challenge of becoming something bigger, becoming something more than silver, figuring out what the missing piece was to get the gold medal. We worked hard for four years and lived by the motto You can’t stay the same and expect a different result. We had to dig a little deeper and we were able to do so. I am very proud of our team for winning the gold medal—and then how, as a group, we used that gold medal for advocacy work, as well.

EDGE: How would you describe Meghan Duggan as a player when you were at your best?

U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team

MD: I’ve been a really competitive person since I was young. I’ve always held myself to the highest standards when it comes to competing and work ethic and the will to do the little things to help my team—win battles, block shots, kill penalties, go to the dirty areas to score goals—so I definitely brought those elements to my game. When I was at my highest level, I was a high goal-scorer and point producer. But as you get older and younger players come in, you turn your identity into something different. I was always a physical player who protected my teammates, created havoc, brought energy and was a really hard player to play against. To be honest, those are qualities I admire and look for in a player in this day and age. It’s not something everyone has, and it’s not something you can pull out of a player. It’s something deep inside players who I find exciting to be around and watch.

EDGE: What’s it like playing on a line where everything clicks?

MD: It’s the best. I had that multiple times in my career. Every night you’re showing up and your line is putting up three, four goals and you’re on a roll. It’s a nice feeling when you find that chemistry. On the flip side, being able to work through the adversity when that’s not happening—I think great players do that.

EDGE: Is that a coaching thing or something the players work out themselves?

MD: It’s a combination. There’s a lot that goes into it, which is something we deal with on the development side with the Devils. You’re trying to develop players from a technical, tactical, mental and physical perspective. However, as a player, when things aren’t going well, you have to be able to evaluate all of those components of your game, too, and find your way out of it.

EDGE: When you were growing up, playing youth hockey in Massachusetts, the American women’s team won the gold medal in Nagano. How did that change your life?

MD: My teammates and I have always said that the 1998 women’s team lit a fire in us. It really did change my life because, growing up, I had idolized NHL players. I thought I’d go on to play in the NHL, because that’s all that I saw. Being able to experience women playing hockey at an elite level was life-changing for me. And then having the opportunity to meet some of them, to put their gold medal on, to put their jersey on, that was pretty special for a 10-year-old kid. From that moment, I told everyone I knew that I was going to play in the Olympics and captain the team to a gold medal. I built my life around it.

EDGE: At what point did you feel like you were being groomed for the national team?

MD: During my freshman season in college at the University of Wisconsin, when I was invited to compete at the training camp for the women’s national team, right after Christmas. From that camp I made the World Championship team in the spring. After that, I stayed on the team for 13 years, until I retired a couple of years ago.

EDGE: You’ve talked about what you like to see in a player. Are you going to be doing a lot of scouting in your role with the Devils?

MD: That’s a major component of my job. Our department has to understand how the young players we’ve drafted or the young pros on the team or the prospects out in the field are developing, and then give them the resources to enable them to become the best players they can be.

EDGE: Is there a “Devils kind of player” that the team looks for?

MD: When you think about what the end goal is, for the organization to win a Stanley Cup, it’s more about finding the pieces that fit together in a great puzzle in order to do that. And there are a lot of pieces: your high-skilled players, your energy players, your identity players, your players who will go through walls, your goal-scorers. The Devils are very well organized. The way we go through discussions and challenge each other to be the best we can be, it’s very exciting to be a part of that. We have dynamic leadership in Tom Fitzgerald, our general manager. I’ve already learned a lot from him. As for my role, I interact with a lot of different groups within the organization. I’m in on the hockey-specific stuff and understand how players are playing right now, and where they are physically. I also have to understand who are the amateur players who might potentially be drafted and fall into the hands of the development group. So I’m still learning, but that’s what I love about my job—it gives me a unique opportunity to see how the organization runs from a number of different scopes.

EDGE: You have two very young children, so you probably get asked a lot whether you’ve gotten them on the ice yet?

MD: My son will be two at the end of February. We got him out on the ice once last winter at 10 months and I look forward to getting him on skates this winter. My daughter was born this fall and we’ll definitely be getting her on skates, as well.

EDGE: Are they looking like forwards or defensemen at this point?

MD: Too early to tell. But we’ll support them either way. I don’t know that I’d be a great goalie parent, though. I think I’d be too nervous to even watch the game. So we’ll steer ’em away from that [laughs]. We’ll see. EDGE

Editor’s Note: Meghan Duggan is an iconic figure in the history of women’s ice hockey. She was a First-Team All-American and the NCAA’s top scorer in 2010–11, and won multiple honors as the top player in women’s college hockey that season. She played six years of pro hockey following her graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Biology. In her eight career trips to the World Championships, Duggan and her U.S. teammates won seven gold medals.

Sarah Chang

As 20th Anniversaries go, Sarah Chang’s is one of the more remarkable. She has been captivating audience since age 8, mastering some of the most challenging violin concertos with awe-inspiring passion and precision when her peers were still proud of how well they tied their shoes. Now 28, Chang’s résumé is pages long when others her age are just getting their career-defining breaks. She has enchanted audiences from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center to the great concert halls of Europe and Asia. She has shared the stage with fellow luminaries from Pinchas Zukerman to Yo-Yo Ma. Chang’s CDs are best-sellers. She has even carried the Olympic torch. EDGE sent ZACK BURGESS on assignment to profile Sarah Chang. His job was to peel away the layers that typically accompany international stardom and acclaim, and get to the heart of this transplanted Jersey Girl. Sarah made it easy. Her poised and stunning facade notwithstanding, she is still a kid at heart.

EDGE: Every parent of a talented daughter dreams that their child will have the life that you do. So let’s get the obvious question out of the way. Do you ever yearn to be someone other than yourself, to slip out of your skin and into someone else’s?

SC: Maybe for a day, but not any longer than that. I love my life. I have been traveling all over the world since I was a 10-year-old. I’m 28 and have seen and done things that are just unimaginable.

EDGE: When did you request your first violin?

SC: At four. My father played the violin and I wanted to be like him—I’m a daddy’s girl, like most little girls. I was playing the piano at the time and thought it would be great to play something else. Besides, I wanted something to carry around.

EDGE: At what point did you realize that your life was going to be different?

SC: I performed with the New York Symphony Orchestra when I was only eight. I knew there was something that wasn’t normal about that. But I didn’t think I had a “gift.”

EDGE: As an adult, have you ever experienced the fearlessness you did back then?

SC: No. I was a kid. I just did it! I didn’t think about it. Of course, now, I’ve been doing it forever and this is my life, but back then I just went with it, like most kids do.

EDGE: What was it like working with older musicians?

SC: Everyone would be going to parties after a performance and here I had to go back to my room or go study. It was frustrating then but, hey, I was a kid, a teenager. Nothing is fair when you’re that age.

EDGE: So today, as a 28-year-old, what is the downside of being Sarah Chang?

SC: The travel. Sometimes I wake up and don’t know where I am, or what city I’m in. But then I remind myself of what I do, and how I get to entertain people all over the world— and that, at an age when others are just breaking into this business, I have been doing this for twenty years now. I’m already booked out to 2012, which is a great “problem” to have when you’re an artist.

EDGE: What’s your greatest obstacle as an artist?

SC: Having to be good every night, even on those days when I don’t feel well. It’s what the public expects from me and, realistically, it’s what I expect from myself.

EDGE: Which can get rather difficult.

SC: Because I’m human.

EDGE: Does it all seem surreal sometimes?

SC: Sometimes. But for the most part I’m used to it. I don’t go through this wow syndrome, where I have to pinch myself. I’ve been doing it for so long. I’m a professional. You know what I mean?

EDGE: How does dating work when you’re Sarah Chang?

SC: It’s a challenge as a young woman on tour. It’s really hard to have a personal life when one person is in one place and the other is somewhere else. I would like to settle down someday, but I would also like to be a committed mother and wife when that happens.

EDGE: When were you finally on your own?

SC: My parents stopped traveling with me when I was around 18 or 19—which presented a challenge because they were no longer there to protect me. I made my fair share of mistakes. But I’m having fun at this point in my life.

EDGE: What was life like before that, as a 13- or 14-yearold?

SC: I was just like any other teenager who thought the world owed me something. In retrospect it was no big deal. You know, here I am performing one minute and doing homework by fax for Germantown Friends and Juilliard the next. I was always struck by how much younger I was than everyone else, and that bothered me. I missed a lot of parties. But now that I’m older, in retrospect it really was no big deal.

EDGE: What do you do on days when you’re not performing?

SC: I’m just like everybody else. I’m human. I have everyday highs and lows just like everyone else. I would say I just like to have a day to myself. No cell phones, no Blackberrys, no emails. But that rarely happens. I probably wouldn’t know what to do if it did.

EDGE: Is there anything you miss about being a Jersey Girl?

SC: Of course. I miss the driving—and the space. I’m a terrible driver, so I could really use the space!

Photos courtesy of Sheila Rock/Opus 3 Artists
  
Multi-tasker Norma Kamali

Timing is everything. NORMA KAMALI knows a thing or two about that. She shook up Madison Avenue in the 60s, put the first Pull Bikini on Christie Brinkley in the 70s, pioneered fashion video in the 80s and Internet shopping in the 90s. In 2008, Kamali launched what might just be the best-timed fashion line ever—a timelessly styled and budget- friendly collection for Wal-Mart. Her Spring 09 offerings are right on the money. Norma Kamali has always followed her own path. As this chat with EDGE confirms, she is at her best when her plate is full…and even better when it’s overflowing.

EDGE: Are you as excited about Michelle Obama as others in the fashion industry?

NK: I am. She is wearing affordable clothes. That is the best fashion statement.

EDGE: In a tough economy, sometimes you have to eliminate a couple of pricey items from your shopping list. What is the one thing a stylish consumer absolutely, positively cannot do without?

NK: If she is stylish, she really has everything, and doesn’t need anything else. However, styles at a price—and carefully chosen—can be a spirit-lifter. Anything expensive and not timeless might make you feel guilty or irresponsible.

EDGE: Last year you designed the costumes for Twyla Tharp’s ballet Rabbit and Rogue. What drew you to this project?

NK: I had worked with Twyla Tharp on a number of different productions. One being The Upper Room. Twyla came to me with the Rabbit and Rogue project as the evolution to this classic piece. The Upper Room is such a success. What drew me to this new project? It was the next wave of The Upper Room.

EDGE: What part of this production influenced you most during the conceptual process—the music, the movement, a dancer, a character?

Photo courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

NK: The concept of dark to light. The speed of the music. The type of music, film music. The music influenced the speed of the dance. Danny Elfman’s music came first and then these visual concepts. My concept for the costumes was to take the dark to light by using black, then silver, then white. I wanted to keep the color concept of silver from the beginning to the end. Brad Fields’s lighting design used the dark-to-light concept as well.

EDGE: Did Twyla coordinate your efforts?

NK: Yes. It’s a process. I would create a costume, the dancer would try it on, we’d tweak it, keep evolving it, until it worked. It’s a lot of fun, building on steps, like a painting or any creative project.

EDGE: Did you approach Rabbit and Rogue in a similar way to your runway shows and collections in terms of practicality? Drape, flexibility, breathbility, etc?

NK: Absolutely. First I figured the colors then I built on it. The way I approach something is to start, then edit and change, edit and change. The product just gets better and better that way. I would do a fitting and take photos with my IPhone. Twyla would look at them and write or call me back.

EDGE: Is designing costumes for a ballet different from designing for a musical on Broadway?

NK: I like dance a lot. It’s my preference. I’m not as excited personally with musicals or other Broadway forms. Other people do that really well. With dance I have an open palette. There’s a more creative spirit to it. It’s more fluid, less defined to a story line.

EDGE: You are a world-famous multi-tasker. What’s on your plate as 2009 starts to unfold?

Photos courtesy of Norma Kamali, Inc.

NK: Anything that relates to the new economy. I like to reinvent and think out-of-the-box.

EDGE: Can you sum up the inspiration for your Spring 09 line in a couple of words?

NK: Yes. Timeless style.

 

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Leah Soltas for making this interview happen. To see Norma Kamali’s new collections log onto normakamali.com

Sofia Milos

Dolce Publishing, Inc.

Series television, almost by definition, thrives on over-the-top characters. Yet the actors who land these coveted roles often stand out by underplaying them. It’s a brave, sometimes risky choice that requires trust on the part of the audience, director and fellow actors. Sofia Milos has made a career out of earning that trust. Her relationship with the camera transcends pure physical appeal and brings depth and nuance to her roles. As EDGE Editor at Large Tracey Smith discovered, what you see on the screen with Milos is just an intriguing tease for what you get.

EDGE: The characters you’ve played tend to project a blend of feminine vulnerability and powerful independence. Is that a European thing?

SM: I think it is partly my very European upbringing, and partly my living here in America. It has brought me to what seems rare sometimes among actors. Typically, either you’re just an artist and not a businessperson, or a businessperson and not a creative person. I enjoy both sides equally. So the characters I tend to play are nuanced women where there is this great sensitivity and passion—very European—but also independent, strong and powerful women in high-ranked positions. Like Homeland Security Special Agent Bianca LaGorda in The Border, my Canadian show. Or Yelina Salas on CSI Miami, whose role changed several times over the years, from detective to undercover cop to private investigator. Or Annalisa Zucca, a mafia boss, in The Sopranos. And quite a few more strong women like that.

EDGE: You were raised in Italy, educated in Switzerland, and then moved to New York. That’s quite a combination.

SM: Yes. And I came here at a young age. I was 19 when I first hit the ground in New York. This is really the land of opportunity. You’re given a chance here no matter what race you are, no matter what gender you are. In Italy, it wasn’t like that at the time. An Italian woman? Are you kidding me? You aren’t supposed to leave the house until you’re ready to get married! Here, I was given the opportunity to find myself and explore things I liked and through that I became very empowered. That empowerment, I think, it shone through in the roles that I picked and did best with.

EDGE: In The Sopranos, you went toe-to-toe with Tony as a female mob boss.

SM: James Gandolfini. I remember him so fondly. For a man this big and so important, playing a mafia boss, he was just a big teddy bear. Truly, he made it so wonderful to work with him. Each of the three episodes that I did, I had a great time. We had some long hours—18-hours a day—and you wouldn’t feel it. I had the best time working on those scenes. I was extremely sad when I heard he had left us—and on top of that in my city, in Rome.

EDGE: How did you work with David Chase?

SM: I was so grateful to have gotten that role, and grateful for his very particular, precise, concise requests, even on how much accent he wanted (laughs) coming from an Italian. He had an exact idea of what he wanted, yet I loved the freedom he gave me. To bring in those silent moments, those silent communications—he loved it and he let me do it!

EDGE: In a way, those Sopranos episodes were a turning point for you.

SM: They changed my career. Instead of having a 70 percent male audience, I suddenly had at least a 50 percent female audience. Women were saying Thank you for that character. Women are very, very strong. They always have been. They have been suppressed by cultures, religion, marriage, fears, customs of different countries, education—but I believe they are much more courageous than their male counterparts. I’d always thought of myself as a strong person, coming to the United States alone as a teenager, tapping into that strength, going out as a warrior while holding on to my traditions. All those things came through for the first time with Annalisa, this traditional Neapolitan, who was very strong and could go toe-to-toe with a mafia boss.

EDGE: How did you prepare for that role?

SM: Tim Van Patten, the director, gave me a book called Women and the Mafia, and I loved it. These were some brilliant, brilliant women, just on the wrong side of the law. I learned the difference between La Cosa Nostra, which is the Sicilian mafia, where the women would be quiet, didn’t see anything, hear anything, don’t talk, and the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia. If the husband dies or is incarcerated in the Camorra, they are next in rank, and they take over. So Annalisa Zucca took over. That’s what she is, her husband. That infamous scene where she goes eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose, lip-to-lip with Tony Soprano and says Bleep you, you’re gonna have to deal with me!—that was the beginning of the fire between them. If Fifty Shades of Grey had existed back then, he would’ve called me Mrs. Zucca (laughing) and I would’ve called him Mr. Soprano!

EDGE: On CSI Miami, how much of Yelina Salas was you, and how much came out of character research?

SM: It was both. Understand that when you come on board a series and sign a contract for seven years, whether it lasts or not, there has to be a big part of you in the character. You are potentially in 20 or more episodes a year. You’re an actor. You have to bring that character to life, even if it’s very far from you. But you also bring something that is yours—your mannerisms, your looks, your little ways of doing something. As far as Yelina, I think the silent and unspoken moments—having a dialogue with your eyes—that was me, very Mediterranean. I’m very grateful for the “silent dialogue” between Horatio and Yelina. People enjoyed that very much, even though CSI Miami was a very fast-paced show. You know, I think that’s a difference between European movies versus American movies. In Europe, there are brilliant silent spoken moments, but overall perhaps the writing here enables actors to work more within the dialogue. I just thank God for all the amazing writers out there. They make my job easy.

EDGE: CSI Miami ran for 10 seasons. That’s extraordinary when you think about it. The show had a lot of moving parts.

SM: It was a brilliant, topical, creative, very aesthetic, choreographed show that required a solid team—from the wardrobe, to the lighting, to the writing, to the performances. I think they did a wonderful job on the clothing. The costume designer was amazing, and at least a couple of times a month I would just ask if I could buy the Dolce & Gabanna suits that my character wore, because I loved them and they fit so perfectly. Obviously she was a well-paid detective. I loved her style. You fit the glove, Sofia (laughing) or the glove fits you!

EDGE: You mentioned European films. As a fan of the movies, if you could jump into a time machine and slip into a classic role, which would it be?

H Magazine

SM: Marriage Italian Style with Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. I thought they were brilliant together. They were the epitome of brilliance. There was so much strength in her character, Filumena—so much pain, passion, attraction, history—to me it was a very ageless role that you could relate to in so many ways, and not just because of the way it was written. I actually have played Filumena, under the guidance and study of Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. We put up some pieces in our master class and one was from Marriage Italian Style. I received a standing ovation as Filumena. That role had so many facets. It’s a role that I really loved.

EDGE: Elaborate a moment on your work with Milton Katselas. His students read like a Hollywood Who’s Who— including George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ted Danson…

SM: I was just so fortunate and blessed to have gotten to study with the Beverly Hills Playhouse under his guidance. He squeezed a lot out of us. He really pushed us. He brought us to our knees and then up to the clouds and then to the sky. He “let us have it” so that we could have it.

EDGE: You filmed an episode of Friends before it was even on the air. Did you sense that it had the makings of a hit TV show?

SM: I knew it. I could see that it was a tight family. They were so much fun, so down-to-earth, so willing to give each other freedom. Nobody had an ego, at least when I worked there.

EDGE: How did that ensemble cast differ from The Sopranos cast?

SM: In terms of teamwork, they didn’t, actually. The same thing was true on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Of course, that was an unscripted show, so you got the freedom to bring whatever and it was appreciated. On The Sopranos— especially the ten days in Naples—the whole cast was giddy, singing Italian songs. Seriously, the shortest day was 12 hours and the longest day was 20 hours, but you didn’t feel it. It was great. I had an amazing time.

EDGE: You’re pretty comfortable with different languages and dialects. Is there one you could never quite nail?

SM: No, because I don’t give up until I have succeeded. I can be very tenacious. I am currently studying Hebrew, and you’d think it’s a very difficult language, but after having only studied for a few months, I can have a simple conversation. It doesn’t seem so hard to me.

EDGE: Could you do a Scottish accent?

SM: For you? Now? Nope! (Laughing) But I do like Scottish men!

EDGE: What do you feel defines you as an actress?

SM: When I began in this business, I decided I wanted to have a choice of what I do—and that I would always maintain my integrity. Integrity ranks higher than anything to me. It’s my way of being selfish. I won’t compromise it. My dream would be to have so many offers that I could always be a working actress, yet still have integrity in everything I do. And always feel like OMG am I getting paid to do my hobby? If you talk about freedom in this business, real freedom is the ability to have clean hands. Is it a Hollywood thing to do? Maybe not so much. But it’s a Sofia thing to do.

Christian McBride

Christian McBride may be the hardest-working man in Jazz. The virtuoso bassist has played on nearly 300 records and has earned three Grammys for his own albums, which number more than a dozen heading into 2014. McBride learned his craft from his father (Lee Smith) and great uncle (Howard Cooper), refined it further at Juilliard, and went on to play with a who’s who of jazz luminaries, including Chick Correa, Sting, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, David Sanborn, Joe Lovano, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Benny Green and Ray Brown. All by age 40! McBride and his wife, jazz singer Melissa Walker, live in Montclair, where they lead the Jazz House Kids program and play starring roles at the annual Montclair Jazz Festival. Next March, he will host Jazz Meets Sports at NJPAC, an evening of music and conversation with sports superstars and jazz connoisseurs Bernie Williams and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Editor at Large Tracey Smith, who knows a thing or two about jazz herself, talked to McBride about the next step in his already over-the-top career.

EDGE: You’ve made a really impressive transition from in-demand sideman to bandleader. How does that journey work?

CM: As a sideman, when someone hires me for a gig, my first job is to serve the vision of that bandleader. It’s almost like being an actor—if someone calls you in for a role in a movie, you have to thrive within that role. Musicians often say they don’t want to have any limitations or work where there are guidelines. Finding your own place within these guidelines? For me that’s fun! It means I can do this but I can’t do that—or vice versa. Hmmm, let me see what I can find in here. I think that’s how I’m able to still retain my own identity while serving the bandleader.

EDGE: Talk about your work with Chick Correa and Sting.

CM: I’ve had a working relationship with Chick Correa since 1996. And every group I’ve played with him in, it’s quite surreal—he allows me to do whatever I want, do whatever I hear. He wants me to read the music he gives me, but once I get off the paper, I can do my thing! He’s really cool. He trusts me. I’m appreciative and honored by that. Sting, on the other hand, now this is how I think most bandleaders are…or at least should be. When I first started working with Sting, he was only just a little familiar with my playing. He’d heard a couple of the songs I had played on, but mostly it came from reputation. A few of the guys in the band told him if he was looking for a new bass player, then he should look at Christian McBride. When I started rehearsing with him, I realized I had to earn his trust, because we hadn’t played together before. To gain a bandleader’s trust, you must do exactly what they ask you to do—don’t step out of bounds, gain their confidence, and then when they start trusting you more and more, with each performance you get to establish more of your own identity, while serving the bandleader’s vision.

EDGE: Isn’t that still constrictive?

CM: Why would I go on Sting’s gig and start playing all my Ray Brown licks? That isn’t what’s called for. It’s about being selfless and serving the vision. After a few months of playing in his band I was able to throw in—every once in a blue moon—some of my own stuff. Sting would look over and give me a wink, or he would look over and give me a frown (laughs) depending on what lick it was.

EDGE: Now you are primarily a bandleader. Did that take some settling in?

Photo courtesy of Christian McBride

CM: Yes. It’s taken quite some time to feel comfortable being a bandleader all of the time. Over the last, I would say, five or six years, the majority of my time has been dedicated to all of my own projects, my band—Inside Straight—my trio, my big band. Before that, I kind of just dibbled and dabbled at it; most of my time was spent playing with other people, being the sideman. It wasn’t a very good balance of being able to do both. I think most people viewed my being a bandleader as something I did every once in a while, when I wasn’t busy with Pat Metheny or Chick Correa. But now the tide is starting to turn.

EDGE: Both roles demand a certain degree of, as you mentioned, selflessness.

CM: I think that would be the main thread. As a sideman, you have to realize that you are there to serve the vision of the bandleader. Too many musicians are always looking for someone to tell them how great they are, even when it’s not their gig. They somehow want to have a lot of “say so” even though they’re not the bandleader. But that’s not what it is…the greatest musicians I’ve ever been around are very selfless musicians, and as a bandleader you have to be sensitive to your sidemen or collaborators. It’s a democratic process. In order for them to help you carry out your vision, they have to be on your side. You can’t be selfish, you can’t be a mean-spirited slave-driver. That only works for a hot minute, it doesn’t work for the long run (laughs). The band will turn on you at some point.

EDGE: Who do you consider your important influences?

CM: My primary influence when it comes to composition has always been Wayne Shorter. I cannot write like him. Nobody can write like him. In terms of what he writes, and how he writes, he’s always been my number-one hero. But then, there are musicians like Duke Ellington, Oliver Nelson, Chick Correa—they have always been some of my biggest inspirations.

EDGE: When I listen to you, I hear Ray Brown with Jaco Pastorius bass lines. Who are your musical mentors?

CM: Well, those two people you just named are my top two influences of all-time. If I could somehow tell someone what my playing is based on, it would be those two guys, Ray Brown and Jaco Pastorius. Again, particularly with the electric bass, I’m not as well-balanced playing both the acoustic and electric bass, at least publically, as I once did with my old band, The Christian M Band. I would say by the end of next year or early 2015, I want to start doing some work with my fourth group, called A Christian McBride Situation, which is a pretty even balance of acoustic and electric instruments. Ray Brown, Jaco, Ron Carter, Bootsy Collins, they are all my top heroes.

EDGE: 2013 has been a busy year for you.

CM: It has. I’ve had two CD releases already—People Music, with my group Inside Straight was released in May, and my new trio’s CD, called Out Here, was released in August. I also performed at the University of Maryland a piece I was commissioned to write for the Portland Art Society, The Movement Revisited. It’s a four-part suite dedicated to four major figures of the Civil Rights Movement: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., performed by my Big Band and Washington DC’s Heritage Signature Chorale, with spoken word selections by special guests, including civil rights activist and artist Harry Belafonte.

EDGE: The digital age has certainly changed the recording industry landscape. How has the Internet changed things for you?

CM: It’s been like the Wild Wild West. It’s definitely a new frontier for everyone in the music industry. I think we’re still trying to plant our feet to try to get some stability. It seems like it is affecting everyone across the board, not just jazz musicians. One could argue that it is leveling the playing field, but I think that is only half-true, because what is happening now is that people are crafty and they are finding ways to get around paying for music. That’s not good on any level, because artists have to make a living. I don’t know how we can somehow change the thinking of Americans. I really feel it’s only an American problem, because people have no problem paying for music anywhere else in the world—even people who don’t have a lot of means. They realize the importance of art, but it seems like here it’s, “Why should we pay for music? All these guys are millionaires anyway!” Someone always has this knee-jerk reaction that all musicians are millionaires, or we don’t need the money, or what we do is not really an occupation, it’s a hobby.

EDGE: Who’s on your playlist when you are listening for pleasure?

CM: I really don’t do as much recreational listening anymore. I’m working on so many different projects, that most of my listening is dedicated to that. But James Brown usually dominates any of my musical devices. And there is always plenty of Cannonball Adderley, Ray Brown with Oscar Peterson, plenty of Quincy Jones—especially during his big band stuff. Those are always going to be in my player.

 

Terence Winter

New Jersey has been good to Terence Winter. The Garden State furnished him with the inspiration and settings for two of the most iconic series in television history. Winter was a writer and executive producer for The Sopranos, and the creator of Boardwalk Empire. The Brooklyn born ex-lawyer sat down with EDGE Editor at Large Tracey Smith to talk about the two shows and their protagonists, reveal a nugget or two about the upcoming Boardwalk Empire season, and his upcoming film, The Wolf of Wall Street. What’s the key to writing a great series about crooks? Honesty…what else?

EDGE: Explain how you were able to transition so easily from The Sopranos to Boardwalk Empire?

TW: It might have looked easy but it wasn’t. There was a lot of research involved for Boardwalk that I didn’t need to do on The Sopranos. For example, on The Sopranos, because it was contemporary, I didn’t need to look up pop culture references, I knew the way people spoke, acted, and dressed. For the 1920s, it’s a whole different ball game. I needed to learn about World War I, I needed to learn about the Temperance Movement, I needed to learn about the year women got the right to vote—I needed to put myself in the mindset of characters who were born in the 19th century. So colloquialisms, what books did they read, what movies were out then required months and months of research before I was even able to begin to write the pilot. So even though they are a similar genre, and the characters cover some of the same territory psychologically, it’s almost a hundred years earlier, so the prep work was massive.

EDGE: One of the first things Tony said on The Sopranos was that he felt like he was coming in on the end of something. Steve Buscemi’s character in Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thompson, is right there at the start of something.

TW: Right. Prohibition was the single event that made organized crime possible. That, more than anything else, was the impetus for criminals to start working together to make money. The interstate trafficking of alcohol made millionaires of criminals overnight, and enabled them to then infiltrate other businesses, and ultimately become organized throughout the country.

EDGE: How do Nucky and Tony compare as protagonists?

TW: In terms of their psychology, they both at their heart are depressed people, sort of searching for something that will make them happy. They are both very smart, both natural leaders, and both are ruthless. Tony’s fatal flaw is that he has a conscience. If he were more of a true sociopath, he wouldn’t pass out, wouldn’t have panic attacks, and wouldn’t care. Nucky, I think, is the same way. We’ve explored a little bit of the psychology of Nucky. We learn by the end of the first season that his wife lost a child very early on, and he is still haunted by that, and that he had a difficult relationship with his father. He’s trying to repair a broken childhood and to recreate a happy family life that he can’t quite seem to replicate.

EDGE: How did Steve become your Nucky?

TW: I’ve been a fan of Steve’s since a movie he did in the 90s called In the Soup. The moment I saw him I was just fascinated with this guy. I was lucky enough to get to know him when he directed a few episodes of The Sopranos that I wrote, and we became friends. Then, of course I got to work with him as an actor when he portrayed Tony’s cousin. I’ve seen everything that Steve’s ever done as an actor. I’ve seen him portray every possible color of human emotion, back and forth, every which way. So for me there was never a question of whether or not he could be convincing as Nucky. When we started to cast for the show, Martin Scorsese and I were talking about who is going to play the lead role. Our Nucky is based on a real person, Nucky Johnson. We fictionalized him as Nucky Thompson, so he’s a version of that person. But we realized since nobody really knew what the real Nucky looked like anyway, it didn’t really matter who we cast in terms of whether or not they looked similar. So Marty said, “Well, let’s just pick an actor that we both like. Who are people you want to work with?” I’m pretty sure it was me that said, “What about Steve Buscemi?” He jumped on it and said, “Oh my God, I love him.” About a week later, Marty called me up and said, “I can’t stop thinking about Steve Buscemi.” I told him I couldn’t either, and he said, “Let’s do it.” HBO was on board—their feeling was Wow, what an interesting choice. That was it. We were off to the races.

EDGE: Why didn’t you use Nucky’s real surname?

TW: I wanted the opportunity to take my Nucky into places where the real Nucky might not have gone. For example, I’m pretty certain the real Nucky didn’t kill anybody. I’m pretty certain he didn’t embrace gangsterism the way our Nucky does. Fictionalizing him gave me artistic latitude and allowed me to sleep at night.

EDGE: How difficult is it to develop so many characters simultaneously?

TW: It’s a massive juggling act. There’s a lot of plotting out, there’s a lot of characters on the show, we’ve got action taking place in several different cities—it’s a big, big, chessboard of characters. That’s the work that goes on in the Writer’s Room. It all starts with “What if?” If suchand- such happened, what would the result of that be? What’s the fallout from that? Where do we want to end up? I’ll come into the season and have a pretty good idea of where I want things to end by episode twelve, sort of like a roadmap. We’re gonna drive from New York to California—alright, well, how do we get there? Those are the story beats that bring us to various places, and it takes a lot of sitting around the table and talking and banging your head against the wall, and plotting, and figuring it out. Eventually, it all works, but it’s a big, big, juggling act.

EDGE: And now you have two new characters to blend in.

TW: Yes. Jeffrey Wright plays a character this season called Valentin Narcisse. He is a Doctor of Divinity who also happens to be the most powerful gangster in Harlem. He crosses paths with Nucky and Chalky in Atlantic City, and that is about as much as I can tell you at this point. If you know anything about Jeffrey and his work, he’s a phenomenal actor, just incredible. We were so thrilled to be able to work with him and have him on the show. The same with Ron Livingston. I’ve been a fan of Ron’s for years and years. He’s so versatile. His work on Band of Brothers, Office Space—I mean, he’s one of these actors that can do comedy, drama, anything in between. He becomes an acquaintance of Jillian Darmody’s, and has a really interesting storyline as well. I’m really excited about both of those guys.

EDGE: A lot of people were shocked when you killed off Jimmy Darmody at the end of season two, just as they were when Tony killed Christopher in The Sopranos. What’s involved in the decision that a major character has to go, especially a protégé?

Photo courtesy of HBO

TW: First and foremost, I try to write the show truthfully. I try to avoid making decisions based on what would be the popular choice, what the audience would want me to do, what the conventions of television would be, which is: You don’t kill your second lead on the show, a beloved character. As season two was playing out, it became really clear to me that if we were going to tell this story honestly, Nucky would kill this guy…and he would kill him immediately. If I were watching this and he at the last minute changed his mind and Jimmy got off with a stern reprimand, I’d say, “This is not true, this is a TV show!”

EDGE: It is a TV show.

TW: But I want it to feel real. I think over 60 or 70 years of TV history, we’ve sort of lulled our audience into a sense of complacency. People say, “Oh, well, they’re obviously not gonna kill this guy, I know it looks like they are, but they won’t, because he’s one of the stars of the show. So, of course, people couldn’t believe when we did it, which made me even more certain I’d made the right decision. The louder the uproar, the louder the outcry, the more I was convinced we did the right thing.

EDGE: You have some interesting projects coming up with Leonardo di Caprio, Martin Scorsese and Bobby Cannavale.

TW: In November, Wolf of Wall Street opens. That’s, as you said, directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo di Caprio. It’s the true story of a stockbroker named Jordan Belfort who, in the 90’s, made tens of millions of dollars a year as the head of his own stockbrokerage firm. He found a way to sell very inexpensive stocks to rich people. He sort of cracked the code, and he and hundreds of young brokers working for him made a fortune. It was just an incredible roller coaster, a wild ride with incredible amounts of money and drugs. Leo is terrific in it and, of course, we’ve got the master, Martin Scorsese, directing. I’m also working on another series with Martin Scorsese for HBO, this one involving Mick Jagger. It’s set in the world of rock music in 1973 New York City, starring Bobby Cannavale as a cocaine-fueled, A&R executive for a record company. That was the year that punk, disco and hip hop were all invented in and around New York City, a time of great change, of great upheaval in the city. I’m really, really excited about that project. Hopefully, the pilot will be directed in the early part of next year, and we’ll go into series right after that.

EDGE: Cannavale was like a bull in a china shop on Boardwalk Empire.

TW: Oh yeah! There was nobody better to play the Gyp Rossetti role than Bobby. He was great. I think we had one conversation about who that character is and what motivated him, and Bobby got it immediately and ran with it and became Gyp Rosetti. It’s so funny, because nothing could be further from the real guy. Bobby is just the sweetest, funniest, most gentle person in real life, and as an actor he can sort of give you anything. He can turn into Gyp Rosetti on a dime and then go back to being himself again—it was pretty amazing to watch.

EDGE: How many more seasons?

TW: I would love to do seven seasons all together. We’re starting down the homestretch in season four; whether or not we’re fortunate enough to get to do them remains to be seen. It all really is going to depend on what the public’s appetite is for this show, and HBO’s, of course. I would love to do three more years, I think that could take us to the point in Nucky’s story, and the point in history that I’d like to get us to. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to do that.

EDGE: Are you a nostalgic person?

TW: Very much so. I love history. I am the family’s historian. I’m the one who archived all of the family photos and films, the genealogy and all that stuff. I love the idea of leaving that behind for my children, and grandchildren, and their children. I’d give my left arm just to read about what my great-great-grandfather’s day was like. “What did you do, where did you go, who did you talk to?” That stuff is fascinating to me. 

Editor’s Note: There are no short conversations once Tracey Smith gets you talking. For (a lot) more on Nucky, Chalky, Margaret, Richard and Van Alden—and the inside story on the brilliant “Pine Barrens” episode of The Sopranos—visit edgemagonline.com and read the rest of our Q&A with Terence Winter.

50 Cent

Fate is a cruel mistress, especially in the entertainment industry. Reaching the top, even for a moment, is a longshot at best. Staying on top is a near impossibility. In the world of rap music, this is especially true. Which is what makes Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, someone worth talking to. He has used his top-selling albums as a springboard to do well in a number of other businesses—consumer electronics, energy drinks, boxing promotion and movie-making, to name four—and more importantly, to do a lot of good. EDGE’s Tetiana Anderson connected with 50 Cent at a technology trade show in Berlin, where he was promoting SMS Audio’s newest headphones. In a wide-ranging Q&A, she discovered a three-dimensional thinker with the drive and vision to redefine what a celebrity can (and should) be.

EDGE: Why is diversifying into multiple forms of entertainment so important for you?

50 CENT: The artist community can create a negative energy for you. My first record, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was the largest debuting hip-hop album. I went on to sell 13 million records. Later in my career, people compared me to that first impression I made, and you don’t get a second chance at a first impression. In order to allow me to explore my passion for music, I moved away from it, gave myself other projects to be involved in. This is why there is such diversification of the portfolio of the things that generate an income. It secures the freedom to do things creatively as I please.

EDGE: You had two movies out in 2012—Freelancers and All Things Fall Apart. In All Things Fall Apart you dropped 60 pounds to play a college football star dying of cancer. How did you prepare for such a huge personal commitment?

50 CENT: I had all the emotions necessary for it ’cause I lost my best friend growing up under those circumstances. That was why I committed to a project that would take so much physical discipline. The scene where I’m on the bed with Lynn Whitefield and I actually start crying, my friend said the same words to me. He said, “Why is this happening to me? I haven’t done anything wrong.” Interestingly, everything that he was saying he didn’t do was something I did—a mistake I made in my past.

EDGE: How so?

50 CENT: When my mother got killed, I moved to my grandmother’s house as the new ninth child. We lived on my grandfather’s income, so there was not a lot of finances around. You kind of got things when someone was done with them. I was given a special want for nice things from my experience with my mom—everyone that I’d seen that had something nice was from her life. They had nice cars, jewelry, beautiful women around. It’s pretty tough to suppress that want for instant gratification when you see people that have things…and when you don’t have someone to say, “You go that route, you’re gonna have a bad outcome.”

EDGE: So to get those things you turned to selling drugs?

50 CENT: My mom’s involvement in it kind of gave me birthrights. There are no requirements, there’s no specific level of education you have to have.

EDGE: Getting back to the movie, you actually financed the project.

50 CENT: I look at money like it’s freedom. It gives me the ability to better myself and to go after my ideas, like SMS Audio. You’ll see a lot of other talent sign licensing agreements with companies and receive an advance on the royalties of sales of products with their likeness. I invested in it. I own this company, so it’s a huge difference between what you’ll see from those other artists and what you’ll see from me.

EDGE: SMS Audio donates a portion of sales proceeds to Feeding America and SK Shot—your energy drink company—does the same thing to help feed hungry children in Africa, while creating entrepreneurial opportunities for people there. Do you feel others in the rap industry are doing a good job of giving back?

50 CENT: You know, the traditional way of giving back, we gotta modify it. Most rappers that have some success have organizations that they put together in their names, but those things are being done for tax purposes. When you reach a certain level of success, you start to be interested in what your legacy is. The people who resonate the strongest are those people who consistently helped others. In terms of what SK Shot does, traveling the last time in Africa it was unbelievable. The numbers are astronomical. You wouldn’t even believe that that many people die from not having something to eat—and meanwhile we choose what we’re gonna eat, and throw away what we’re not.

EDGE: How does that affect you?

50 CENT: When you get to a certain point you become more interested in philanthropy. You start to look at who you are. You start asking yourself what’s really important to you. It’s not an actual dollar amount. It’s about your happiness.

EDGE: How have you incorporated that philosophy into your businesses?

50 CENT: You create a model. When you see people in the park on Occupy Wall Street or Occupy LA and Chicago and all, it’s clear that they feel the major corporations don’t care about people, period. But if they adopt models like SMS Audio or like the SK model— where every product that is sold provides for someone in need—it says they’re conscious. To promote conscious capitalism is the way we actually find the finances for social change. There’s no other place that I see enough money.

EDGE: Is that something that is missing in the hip-hop industry?

50 CENT: Well, because a lot of talent comes from not having very much, it’s about living life on the highest level possible. Overall, within hip-hop, we haven’t had people get to where they’ve actually stopped being conscious of having more than someone else and say, Am I actually comfortable? Am I happy? What do I want? If you ask a person what defines their life, and they offer the answer I’m gonna make a billion dollars, I’m gonna be a billionaire, that would be pretty vain, wouldn’t it? But if you ask someone who is completely content with their financial space and conscious of their surroundings What defines your life? they’re probably going to say their loved ones. We get tunnel vision. We’re ambitious. We move from one goal to the next goal to accomplish the next thing and the next thing. I could easily be mistaken for a workaholic, but I exercise that “Whistle While You Work” concept. I’m enjoying myself. This is what I am supposed to be doing.

EDGE: Yet, there are tremendous stresses that come with succeeding in your industry—including pressures to stay on top, to make money to remain relevant.

50 CENT: There’s a level of confidence required to be yourself enough to create a separation. You’ve got to understand the history of music and entertainment. You build entertainers to destroy entertainers, for the sake of entertainment. The way around the destruction process is having something to fall back on. That allows me to do what I actually feel like is the hottest material right now. Otherwise, I would pull my hair out trying to second-guess what someone else is going to think or feel.

EDGE: You branched out into boxing promotion this summer with TMT (The Money Team). Where would you like to take professional boxing, which now gets stiff competition from mixed martial arts?

50 CENT: Doing the research, 56 percent of UFC’s (Ultimate Fighting Challenge) demo is 18 to 34. With boxing it’s 30 and up. I think professional boxing lacks what the UFC has. So, to bring youth culture, maybe you need to bring the theatrics you see at a WWE event into professional boxing. You have to pay attention to the successful models that people have utilized elsewhere in order to make minor changes to the natural sport of boxing.

EDGE: Can Atlantic City reclaim its status as a Mecca for professional boxing?

50 CENT: Absolutely! Between Atlantic City and New York City, I’d be looking forward to put on shows in those areas.

EDGE: If you had a choice between your next record going platinum or developing one of your fighters into a heavyweight champ, which would you choose?

50 CENT: My record. I have a stronger passion for music than anything. I love having the ability to be a part of the other businesses, but I remember they came by way of music. If I didn’t have the finances or the popularity from my music, I wouldn’t be able to be a part of those projects.   

All photos courtesy of SMS Audio.

Editor’s Note: If Tetiana Anderson’s name sounds familiar, you may have read her interview with Roberta Flack earlier this year in EDGE—or seen her face and heard her voice on television. She’s chased storms for the Weather Channel, covered Operation Iraqi Freedom for MSNBC from Baghdad and is currently a freelance reporter/producer for organizations including NY-1 and CNN. A journalism fellowship recently took her to Berlin, where she crossed paths with 50 Cent at an SMS Audio media event.

Frank Vincent

In the opening moments of Goodfellas, a murderous threesome played by Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta struggles to dispose of made-man Billy Batts. It’s the beginning of the end for these characters, but for actor Frank Vincent, the part of Billy helped catapult him to iconic status. As “Shovel Ready” roles go, one might say this was the capo di tutti capi. EDGE Editor-at-Large Tracey Smith has made a study of the mob movie over the last year or so. Through her interviews, she has uncovered a rich tradition of storytelling, a dynamic passion for filmmaking, and a core of actors who care deeply about their craft. Frank fits this mold as well as anyone in the business. An accomplished performer long before he made his screen debut, he is always looking beyond the camera and over the horizon.

EDGE: You’ve delivered several indelible performances as a New York mobster, including Billy Batts in Goodfellas and Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos. But for the record, you’re a Jersey Guy.

FV: I couldn’t think of myself as anything else, even though I wasn’t born here. Of course, I know New York well. I’ve done a lot of New York movies and know all the boroughs. But I’m a Jersey guy. I’m proud to be from Jersey. I think it suits me.

EDGE: When did you move to the state? My father’s family came to America and settled in North Adams, Massachusetts. I was born in Massachusetts and so was one brother. My second brother was born in New Jersey. My father’s friend had a girlfriend in New Jersey, and he (my father) went out with them one time and met my mother, who was from Jersey City. They wound up getting married and eventually we moved back there.

EDGE: Who were your role models growing up?

FV: Like most men, my biggest influence was my father He was a very charismatic man—uneducated but very smart and hardworking. A great work ethic. He was the guiding light in my life. I loved my mother, but she was more of the disciplinarian in the family; my father was my idol. When I was a little boy I would watch him getting dressed in front of the mirror. He was a flashy guy, he loved to groom, his hair was always impeccable He wore Old Spice cologne and had a pencil-thin mustache. He saw himself as kind of an Errol Flynn type. My mother dressed nicely, too—when they dressed up, they dressed up. My brothers are the same way.

EDGE: Before acting there was a career for you in music. Was that your father’s influence?

FV: I think that actually started with my mother. I would come home from school for lunch and she always had music playing in the house. We would sit together and eat and listen to the radio. That implanted a love of music in my head. My father thought of himself as a singer, but he didn’t really have the ability—I think he was tone deaf. Yet he had the moxie to do it in front of people. Anyway, when I told my parents I liked music they made me take piano lessons, which I did not like because it took me away from the kids in the street. The Jersey City Department of Recreation had a drum and bugle corps, and I joined. I wound up being a bugler because I had taken some trumpet lessons. Many of my friends went on to become cops, fireman or went to jail, because it was a pretty rough neighborhood. But I stayed with the guys that played music. I finally ended up joining the St. Joseph’s Cadets from Newark. I traveled the country with them, and we were national champions. Competing in front of 70,000 people at Yankee Stadium as a 14-year-old gave me the confidence to go further. I was never afraid of an audience.

EDGE: How did you end up with your own band, playing the drums?

FV: I bought a set of drums for $100, auditioned for a band and got the job. Now all of a sudden I’m in show business! We were Bobby Blue and the Aristocats. We played in a lot of top clubs here and in the city. We were good. We were well-dressed. We were the real deal. One of the guys worked as an arranger for Frank Sinatra. Eventually I took over the band, and over the course of time we became a trio, Frank Vincent and the Aristocats. Between dates, I was in and out of New York sometimes four or five times a week working in recording sessions— backing up artists, working on albums, playing jingles. A record producer named Bill Ramal got me into that part of the business. He worked with Del Shannon, Dion and the Belmonts, Steve and Edie, and Paul Anka.

EDGE: What happened with the trio?

FV: Well, my piano player left me in 1969. That summer I hired a young guitar player who used to come to our club dates and occasionally sit in with us and sing. Our first gig was July 4th at the VIP Lounge in Seaside Heights. We ended up being the toast of the Jersey Shore that summer. We went from being piano, bass and drums to guitar, bass and drums.

EDGE: And that guitar player was…

FV: Joe Pesci. We had such chemistry. Not just playing. We’d do bits back and forth. I had a sort of Don Rickles thing going. The club entrance was right near the stage, so as people walked in off the street I’d always have something to say. We both got a lot of laughs and before you know it, we’re doing two hours of comedy a night. A couple of years later, this movie producer is in the audience and likes what we’re doing. He asked us both to audition for a low-budget movie called The Death Collector. Later they changed the name to Family Enforcer and put our faces on the cover. Joe played a little mob guy and I played a Jewish businessman. Bob DeNiro and Martin Scorcese saw that film and hired Joe to play Joey La Motta and me to play Salvy in Raging Bull. That was our first studio movie. I got my SAG card and an agent, and Joe got nominated for an Oscar. Thirty years later, 60 or 70 movies, TV shows, commercials—that was how it began.

EDGE: You mentioned Sinatra. Was he one of your main influences?

FV: Yes. The utmost person in my life, besides my father, professionally was Dean Martin. He wasn’t a great singer, but he was a great stylist. From him I learned timing, how to speak to audiences, how to carry myself, how to smoke a cigarette. Dean Martin was hypnotic. Frank would be second. Musically, I don’t think anyone in the world compares to him. I probably know the lyrics to every song he sang—that’s how much I listened to him. I learned to play the drums listening to his records. The style of music my band played was the music he sang.

EDGE: Do you think your father had an impact on your professional career?

FV: Sure. I learned to be fearless from him, that you cannot be afraid to fail. That’s what kept me going through my music years when I worked from week to week or month to month. When the acting came around, I wasn’t intimidated by Robert DeNiro or Bruce Willis or anybody that I worked with.

EDGE: What was your first meeting like with DeNiro?

FV: I had to audition for Raging Bull at a hotel on Central Park West. I went up the elevator and got to the door, knocked, and a production assistant let me in. I came face-to-face with DeNiro, and he said, “Hello Frank. I’m Bob and I loved your work in Death Collector.” I said, “Hello Bob, I loved your work in Deer Hunter.”

EDGE: How did you get along with Scorcese?

FV: He’s a first-generation Sicilian like myself, and I think that shared culture really opened a lot of doors for us. That’s probably why I did three movies with him. And, of course, Joe and I had that chemistry, which he utilized really well. Marty really knows what he’s doing when it comes to putting a cast together. His mother and father were wonderful people, in fact, may they rest in peace. It was like being home, this was the way my home was! At my house we always had Sunday dinners, I spoke a little Sicilian and Neopolitan, and we always had espresso and played cards afterwards.

EDGE: About Pesci—he beat you up in Raging Bull and again in Goodfellas. Then you gave him a “well-deserved beating” in Casino. Did that even the score?

FV: You know [laughing] when you’re on a film, you don’t think “revenge” as you’re doing those scenes. It’s what the characters are doing, not you personally. It’s only afterwards, in interviews, that it comes up. But yes, it’s true, Billy Batts got his revenge. Although I think technically Billy got his revenge at the end of Goodfellas, when Joe got killed. And for the record, in those scenes those are stuntmen.

EDGE: All of the characters you’ve done have given you some interesting “street cred” in the Rap and Hip-Hop world.

FV: They have. In 1996, Hype Williams was directing the big-budget rap video for “Street Dreams” by Nas. It referenced the movie Casino and I was in the video. Hype asked me if I would serve as an acting coach for his first movie, Belly, which starred Nas and also DMX, Method Man and T-Boz. The rappers had already interviewed three traditional acting coaches and rejected them. They wanted a real “made guy” [laughing] so I went to meet with them and they agreed to work with me because of the image I portrayed. That’s the truth. And you know what? They had no knowledge of acting, but they were brilliant. They were all poets, so the dialogue came easy to them. It was keeping them on the spot so they stayed on camera that we had to work on. I also was in a couple of scenes. That movie was quite an experience.

EDGE: What roles do you look back on and feel like you really enjoyed doing?

FV: I liked Lou Maranzano in Chicago Overcoat, which we shot in 2007 and was released in 2009. Lou had some interesting issues. Frank Marino in Casino was a good role for me, too, although it wasn’t a great speaking part. People think you have to speak a lot to have a big role but that’s not true. And of course, I enjoyed playing Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos because the writing was so brilliant. The level of discipline on that show was a real eye-opener as an actor. We shot each episode like a movie, on film, but in only 15 days. You could not deviate from the script. To change a single word—an uh or an and—you had to get permission.

EDGE: Is Billy Batts the character you relate to most? It seems to be the one your fans gravitate towards.

FV: That’s certainly my most iconic role. You know, I didn’t realize how big Billy Batts would become—he really didn’t have a lot to do in that film. The fact I did that “Get your shine-box” scene with Joe is probably why it worked so well. If you played back all the takes we did at that bar, I mean, the timing of each was perfect every take. Marty said that to us. By the way, he also let Joe ad-lib in the famous “Do I make you laugh?” scene with Ray Liotta. Watch that scene again—you’ll see that Ray didn’t know what was coming.

EDGE: So will we see Billy again?

FV: In a way, you will. I have been working on a memoir with Steven Prigge, which I’m calling I Went Home and Got My Shine Box…Now What? Steven was my coauthor on the first book, A Guy’s Guy to Being A Man’s Man, which, by the way, is being optioned for a Hollywood comedy by J.C. Spink, who produced the Hangover films.

Editor’s Note: You may recall that Frank Vincent was our “cover boy” for the Gray Matter Issue earlier in 2012. You may also have seen him channeling the Rat Pack in a commercial for Ciroc Vodka with co-stars Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Williams and Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame. Ever the entrepreneur, Frank is busy promoting Iso-Test, a performance-boosting dietary supplement. He is also prominently featured in Alan Robert’s new Killogy series of graphic novels, which debuted on Halloween. And if you are stumped for that perfect holiday gift, log onto frankvincent.com and check out the MOBblehead Doll, which utters Frank’s favorite movie lines, including Go home and get your shine box! Nobodys breakin’ up my party! and Give those Irish hoodlums a drink!

Vince Giordano

Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks perform in Atlantic City

Bix Biederbecke once said the thing he liked about jazz was that he didn’t know what was going to happen next. The legendary 1920s bandleader could just as well have been describing HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. It is loud and loose and right on the edge of crazy. Vince Giordano and his band, the Nighthawks, supply the music that drives the hit series. They can be seen performing in the lavish party scenes, and heard throughout each episode. Authenticity is the hallmark of the show, and Giordano is as authentic as they come. The Nighthawks work off the original band arrangements from that era— Giordano just happens to own the world’s largest collection. In 2012, he won a Grammy for the Boardwalk Empire compilation soudtrack…and suddenly, everyone is talking about (and downloading) the joyous music of the Roaring ’Twenties. EDGE Editor Mark Stewart—also a devotee of early jazz—spoke with Giordano after his weekly gig at Sofia’s Restaurant on West 46th St. in New York.

EDGE: At what point did you get the call for Boardwalk Empire?

VG: Right from the get-go. The same music team I worked with on The Aviator with Vincent Scorcese was asked to put together the music for Boardwalk Empire. They knew I had two houses bulging with 60,000 scores. We had such a fun time on the movie I said, “Let’s do some more!”

EDGE: With the added bonus that the show is filmed in Brooklyn.

VG: It’s really convenient. The set we work on is actually the recreation room of an African-American church in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The Boardwalk Empire team went in and rewired and repainted it, basically got it up to code, so when the show is done they’ll have a nice recreation hall. Some other scenes were shot in a mansion built in 1804 that’s part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

EDGE: How much acting direction do you and the Nighthawks get?

VG: When Scorcese supervised the pilot, he had a lot more direction for us. I even got some speaking lines. In subsequent episodes we’re more in the background. Our job is to mime the music we’ve recorded in the studio. So we have to look like we’re having a good time and make sure were in synch. We have these little devices called earwigs, which are wireless speakers we put in one ear. So when they want to knock out the music so they can capture the dialogue, we’ll still have it playing in our ears. You don’t want to be strumming or fingering and be really off—it looks bad.

© Zoetrope Studios

EDGE: People are always trying to spot that in movies, aren’t they? Hey! He’s not really playing!

VG: Oh, yeah. In the old days there was some real bad sidelining—that’s what we call it—where they put Joe Blow up there with a bass or a trombone or a saxophone and it was really apparent he had no idea what he was doing. You watch those scenes and say, “Oh my God, they couldn’t find some out-of-work musician to do this?”

EDGE: What was the first movie you and the Nighthawks were in?

VG: In 1984, a small version of the band was in The Cotton Club. Richard Gere portrayed a trumpeter named Dixie Dwyer in the movie. He had actually played a trumpet in his high-school days. He tried to get his lip back, which is pretty hard. The trumpet is a very demanding instrument. But he pulled it off. He did a pretty good job recreating those big Louie Armstrong solos. Richard was a very nice fellow, too. Very interested in our music, and very open to any suggestions we could give him.

EDGE: Do you have an opportunity to get to know the actors on a series like Boardwalk Empire? I ask because I know that Michael Pitt is a musician. By the way he’s definitely been bumped off, right?

VG: Oh, yeah. He’s gone. A lot of people were upset that they killed off Jimmy. I say just don’t kill off the band! No, but generally we don’t get a chance to hang out much. We’re so far away from the main actors on that set, and with time clicking away and so many people involved there’s just not the opportunity. Movies can be different. When we did The Aviator, Leonardo di Caprio came over and mentioned to me that he was very surprised that this music had so much spirit and fun to it. He said, “This is really exciting music!” Being a younger person, he was like a lot of people who’d never been exposed to this vintage music. It was a revelation.

EDGE: When you won the award for Best Soundtrack it was not on the Grammy television show. How did you find out?

VG: It was on the Grammy internet channel. The news came sometime the afternoon before the Sunday evening broadcast. I was playing a jazz party up in Connecticut and I got a text that said: WE WON. So you can imagine, we were running around screaming. People thought we were a little nuts. I’m happy we won. I’m even happier that the music will now get a little more attention.

EDGE: You shared that soundtrack with other musicians who’ve devoted themselves to the music of the 1920s and 1930s. Performers like Leon Redbone. What’s the feeling in that larger group? Does the Grammy give you all some validation?

VG: Definitely. All this work we’ve put in for all these years with doubting Thomases saying, “What are you doing with this old music? Get with the times!” We hung in there and it did something good for all of us.

EDGE: The Nighthawks formed in the 1970s. It’s quite something to keep a musical group together for 30-plus years. What was the band’s first break?

© Elektra/Asylum

VG: In the early 1980s we were bouncing around different night spots in New York City. We were playing at this club on the West Side called Sweetwater’s. An interesting fellow came in with thick glasses and a goatee. He asked for my card after the show. It was Ahmet Ertugun from Atlantic Records. Ahmet was extremely connected. He called Peter Sharp, the owner of the Caryle Hotel, and said, “You gotta get these guys in your room.” We worked there Sundays and Mondays. Those were Bobby Short’s dark nights. We did two seasons there. He and his wife also got us a lot of charity balls and private parties. We were working like crazy—the guys were actually complaining!

EDGE: You also played with Woody Allen.

VG: Yes, I was fortunate to work with Dick Hyman as a side man on about a dozen Woody Allen films. Dick called me up and said, “You really love playing this music. Sometimes I get musicians who are really talented, but who don’t have the spirit for this older music.”

EDGE: You’ve had this spirit all your life.

VG: Since I was five years old. The impact of this music really came from winding up my grandparents’ old Victrola and listening to their 78 collection. I have it in my home now—it’s my Rosebud, so to speak. Anyway, as a teenager I tried listening to rock ’n roll, but it just never sat well with me. The other kids were listening to the Beatles, of course. Coming home after school and turning on the TV you’d see those old comedies—The Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy, the Warner Brothers cartoons—and they used a lot of that peppy music from the 1920s, with synchopated brass and whining saxaphone. So people would say, “There goes Vince with that ‘cartoon music!’” They just couldn’t understand what I was doing. It was tough as a teenager.

EDGE: Let’s talk about your vintage music arrangements. Is that the right term?

VG: Or stock orchestrations. These are band charts—not just the old piano sheet music you see in antiques stores. So if you were a bandleader back in the 1920s you would buy this packet of music and hand it out to all the fellows in your band. If you didn’t have your own arranger, these stock orchestrations were enough to get your band up and running. There were thousands of bands all over the world doing the exact same arrangements.

EDGE: Is it fair to say the “value” of these scores is that you don’t have to listen to the 78s and deconstruct the different parts?

VG: That’s quite true. For us to play this music exactly how we hear it on the recordings, it takes away a lot of the guesswork. Also, sometimes I’ll hear a great recording and pull out the arrangement, and see that someone in the band or one of the arrangers did something really special.

EDGE: How did you begin amassing your collection?

VG: I was a member of the musician’s union and put an ad in this publication that went out to the whole country, VISIT US ON THE WEB www.edgemagonline.com asking if anyone had these arrangements from the ’20s and ’30s. A lot of bandleaders who were getting up there in age—or their widows—offered to box them up and send them to me if I paid the postage or gave them a few bucks. This started in the mid-’70s. Then I went even further and began contacting the families of old musicians who had passed away. I would hand-write letters to their relatives explaining who I was and what I was trying to do. Many people called me and said, “Wow, we were going to throw this out—come over and take it.”

EDGE: And now you’re up to 60,000. Where do you keep them all?

© Stomp Off Records

VG: I own twin houses in Brookyn. I moved there in 1979. The people across the driveway we shared passed away and I put a bid in for the house and got it. Once I got the second house my collection expanded. I am like the goldfish you put in a bigger pond who gets bigger.

EDGE: What’s the end game? Where does the collection ultimately reside, say, 50 years from now? What’s the ideal scenario?

VG: I plan to donate these to a foundation that is being set up by Michael Feinstein.

EDGE: I would think that a college or university would love to get its hands on these vintage arrangements.

VG: Our institutes of higher learning don’t seem to see this as valuable music. The jazz music they’re teaching kids is more modern—it starts with Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. I’m all for that but, unfortunately, it almost seems as if one style of music is being erased by another.

 

 Editor’s Note: Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks play every Monday and Tuesday night right on the other side of the tunnel at Sofia’s. To keep track of Vince log onto vincegiordano.com. To read about how Vince began his musical career, log onto edgemagonline.com for exclusive content.

Roberta Flack

Genius loves company. That may be the simplest way to account for one of 2012’s most ambitious and successful album releases, Let It Be—a reinterpretation of Beatles classics by Roberta Flack. For someone whose musicianship covers every genre from Classical to R&B to Jazz, however, nothing is simple about the 12 songs that made the final cut. Each one is like taking hold of Flack’s hand and finding a new walkway through lyrics and melodies that are as familiar to most of us as breathing. As Tetiana Anderson discovered, for the fourtime Grammy winner it’s all about the journey. Indeed, from Flack’s early years as a music prodigy through the twists and turns of a fascinating and celebrated career, she has become quite adept at discovering the path less taken. And, the title of her new album notwithstanding, Roberta Flack has never been one to simply let it be.

Photo courtesy of Roberta Flack

EDGE: You really want people to make connections through your songs. Where did that come from?

RF: I don’t know where that came from. But I can tell you that connecting through songs is what I am all about, period. I was watching recently some footage of Bill Cosby introducing me at a jazz fest back in the ’70s. He was telling the audience that Roberta Flack tells stories so you can understand them. I think that is a true description of how I feel about music. It speaks to me. I try to speak back and once I get the conversation going—and figure out what the whole point is—I’m ready to dig in and come up with a very individual interpretation of a particular song.

EDGE: Your own story is incredible. You were the youngest person to ever enroll at Howard University, and later the first black teacher at an all-white school. Do you think of yourself as someone who breaks barriers?

RF: No. But I do believe in destiny and fate. If you are practicing five or six hours every day—and that’s all you live for as a child because there are no other options—if you are able to grasp that and hold onto it, it will tell you where you are supposed to go. I did go to Howard early. And I did become the first black teacher at an all-white school in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which was a little tighter wound in terms of the people and their personalities than Virginia. When you’re a child and you have the gift of music, the gift of art, the gift of conversation, nothing stops you.

EDGE: What impact did the church and gospel have on your appreciation for music?

RF: I belonged to an interesting church and my mom was the church organist. The choir director was a Howard University graduate, and many of the choir members were people who had graduated Howard or gone to school with him. That church, as we would say as young kids, was “uppity.” It was uppity because the church that Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, the Soul Stirrers and the Five Blind Boys visited was not our church. That was Macedonia Baptist, down the street. I spent a lot of time as a young person going between churches. Actually, the first genre of music I was exposed to was not gospel music; my background was actually classical. But I loved gospel. What is there not to love? It doesn’t have to be something where people are shouting. It can be a song’s subtle embellishment, it can be the malisma that Whitney Houston brought to her pop music. Melisma is a gospel characteristic when you take a note that’s supposed to be da and go dahahahahahaha and add all those other notes up and down the scale. That is a beautiful experience and it’s also very moving. Your soul cannot help but be stirred when you hear Aretha Franklin sing “God Bless the Child” or “Amazing Grace.”

EDGE: Do the classical works of Chopin and Bach give you the same goose bumps as gospel?

RF: Yes. Yes. I can play some Chopin for you that would make you say Girl, that ain’t Chopin! I’ll tell you who uses the melodic flow of romantic composers like Schuman, Brahms, Chopin, Shubert and Beethoven: Stevie Wonder. When you hear him sing, when you hear him play any of those songs that are so melodic, like [singing] A Ribbon in the Sky for our love…he does a lot of that.

EDGE: You worked on songs with Stevie Wonder but are perhaps best known for your partnerships with Donny Hathaway and Eugene McDaniels. What did you learn about the craft from those two?

RF: I was humbled by their talent. I’ve been watching a performance Gene and I did in the studio of a song that Gene wrote for an Eastern Airlines commercial. It was called “Chasing the Sunshine.” How clever is that as a title? This is the same guy who wrote “Reverend Lee,” “Feel Like Making Love” and “Compared to You.” He was a profound writer, Gene McDaniels. Absolutely, absolutely brilliant. Donny and I cut “You’ve Got a Friend” in 20 minutes, which isn’t hard to understand. I am a musician, not just a singer, so you don’t have to teach me something. I have the presence of mind and the ambition and the appreciation for my craft to sit down and practice. So I practiced, came to New York, and Donny and I did “You’ve Got a Friend,” which went to the top of the charts. So they said Let’s do an album. Okay, so the next thing we did was “Where Is the Love.” Donny and I finished that first album in three days! I should say that I did whatever Donny asked me to do as a duet partner. In terms of putting it together, sketching it out, bringing all the pieces together so that everybody understood what was happening—that was Donny, that was the kind of mind he had. Three days.

EDGE: You accompanied Donny on piano on the classic “For All We Know.”

RF: Yes. When we finished that album the producer asked, “Ro, you got another song?” I said, “Donny do you know this song?” He said, “Yeah I know the song but I don’t know the words.” So I wrote down the lyrics of “For All We Know.” I played it and he sang it and we recorded it. You know, I had really cut my chops as an accompanist. I’d played piano while I was teaching school in DC at the Tivoli Opera Restaurant. I mean we were doing Aida and Madame Butterfuly, we were doing Tosca and La Traviata and Verde and Chelini. Oh, it was just so wonderful. Here I am this little girl from Black Mountain, North Carolina. I’d never read that stuff but my musicianship, my gift—thank you, God—allowed me to do it with the same kind of comfort that I’m playing for Donny. I just looked at him and listened to the way the song was developing. When we did that together it was one of the highlights of my recording career.

EDGE: You also worked with Bob Marley. How did you meet? What was he like?

RF: Beautiful. Fine. Sexy. He was a friend. We were both Aquarians. I am on the 10th and he’s on the 6th. When he got sick I was so upset. I lived for seven years in Jamaica accidentally. That was part of that Eastern Airlines – Gene McDaniels thing. Part of my payoff from the airline was to close my eyes, pick from their map any place, and my finger landed on Montego Bay. I stayed for about two days and said, Now I want to go to Kingston. I was with a couple of guys. We went to Kingston and ran right smack into some Rastas who said, “Sistren let me take you, let we go see brother Bob.” So he and I became friends and as a matter of fact I brought down later my band and we went into his studio and worked on “Killing Me Softly.” Then I came back to the States and recorded it, and of course that was a hit for me, too. But Bob was a wonderful friend. He spent several hours in my apartment in New York sharing musical ideas and good vibrations and was just a beautiful person. When he was sick I tried to find some holistic doctors for him to see. I was able to introduce him to a few, but it was a little bit past the time where they could help.

EDGE: You’ve seen more than one great talent leave this earth before their time, whether its Bob Marley or Whitney Houston. That’s got to be tough for you.

RF: It is tough. I think about it especially since Whitney died. I think about it a lot. A couple of days ago I found myself rattling off names of people that I have known and worked with, or knew musically in a very special, intimate way, who are gone. I said, Okay I gotta stop this. You start to feel your own vulnerability.

EDGE: You mentioned “Killing Me Softly,” which went to number one. What do you recall about that?

RF: When “Killing Me Softly” was released as a single I was performing in Germany. My one source of Englishlanguage entertainment was the army base radio station. I had it on and woke up to Well, here it is again, Roberta Flack’s next big single, Killing Me Softly! I remember thinking Oh, boy! But at the end they finished by repeating “…killing me softly with his song” over and over and then fading out. I said “No, that’s not it!” I called the producer and asked, “What did you do?” He said, “Oh I just faded it.” I said, “No! No! No!” He said, “Man, only like a million three hundred fifty thousand of these have been sent out all around the world. Can’t you live with that?” I said, “No.” So they changed it.

EDGE: Let’s fast-forward to your new album. One of the interesting things about the Beatles is that they evolved so rapidly and had such a huge effect on popular music. When you went back and sorted through their catalogue of songs what are the things that made you go Wow?

Atlantic Recording Co./David Redfern

RF: When I was looking at “I’m Looking Through You,” which is the first song we laid down, there is the line Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight. Disappearing overnight. Every time I sing that it makes me almost want to cry, because love does have a nasty habit of vamoosing overnight. You can be ever so intense and sincere and real, then all of the sudden it’s like Who is this person? What am I into? I’m married to who? What and why did I do this? Because the love you thought you identified as love was something else, and wasn’t based on something that could stand all the pressures of being, of becoming, Roberta Flack. I was married to a wonderful bass player who worked with Roland Kirk, the great jazz horn player. Roland thought I was a great musician and he’d say, “Ro, come on, you need to play some jazz girl. Come on.” My husband said to me one day, “You can’t do this, because if you do, you’ll change.” I asked him, “How will I change?” He said, “I don’t know, but women always change.”I told him I wasn’t going to change, that I’d been playing the piano and singing and helping other people play and sing all my life—so this is just another format, another audience. I’m doing it. I want to do it. He said, “If you do, we can’t stay together.” I said, “Okay. Bye. See you later.”

EDGE: You chose your music.

RF: Of course! How could I not? I had no choice. I wasn’t selling my body. I wasn’t prostituting. I wasn’t doing anything except making music, which I had been doing all my life!

EDGE: So back to the Beatles, is what grips you their lyrics?

RF: No, it’s everything.

EDGE: How did you decide which songs to include and which to cut?

RF: It wasn’t easy. I listened to myself and I listened to my heart mostly. I think if you’re a trained musician like I am, or like Alicia Keyes or Stevie Wonder or Donny Hathaway, it helps. You have the ability to see how a song is built from the bottom up. And after you see the song and you fall in love with the song, then you get inside of it and break it down again. It’s an incredible process.

EDGE: Still, the process took five years.

RF: Yes, well the longer I worked on the songs the simpler they became, and the easier it became for me to hear them in their finality. Even though I hadn’t finished them, I could still hear what was going to be the final song. I could hear my voice singing the lyrics and singing the melody and putting it all together, and the accompaniment underneath. I wanted mostly guitars, because I think of the Beatles as guitarists. There were three major players in their band—John, George and Paul—so I wanted it to have that sound.

EDGE: Do you think songwriting and popular music has changed dramatically since the Beatles were around?

RF: It has to. Can you imaging doing the Hand Jive? Can you imagine doing the Charleston? Can you imagine every song sounding like something Billie Holliday had to sing? Weren’t we glad when Esther Phillips came out and sang “What a Difference a Day Makes?” The world must evolve and everything must change, especially music. If it doesn’t, where do we go? I can’t imagine doing all of the Beatles songs the way they did them.

EDGE: I have to ask—you crossed paths fairly often with John Lennon when both of you had apartments in the same building on Central Park West. Were you buddies?

RF: He invited me to the studio, and I did work with him a couple of times on stage and stuff like that, but it was never like buddy-buddy. It wasn’t buddies, no.

EDGE: So what’s next for Roberta Flack?

RF: I really wish I knew what was next. I have an album of songs I’ve done with a group of young people. We all call ourselves the Real Artist Symposium—symposium meaning a group of very musical people. We’ve come up with an album we want to release under the title: Real Artist Symposium featuring Roberta Flack. Not because I want to be featured, but because using my being a member of the group will attract interest and people won’t have to look at something and say What’s RAS? Maybe they’ll be curious enough to check out the music of these other young artists who are with me. I’ve done some of the music already and I am excited about it.  

Editor’s Note: If Tetiana Anderson’s name is familiar, it’s probably because her face and voice are, too. A television reporter who has chased storms for the Weather Channel and covered Operation Iraqi Freedom from Baghdad for MSNBC, Anderson is currently a freelance reporter/ producer for organizations including NY-1, CBS Newspath and CNN. Needless to say, she knows her way around an interview.

Mekhi Phifer & Dulé Hill

Anyone who questions whether acting is a craft needs to spend a little time with the cast of a play like Stick Fly, which opened to rave reviews this past winter at the Cort Theatre on 48th Street. Produced by Alicia Keys and directed by Kenny Leon, Lydia Diamond’s engaging family drama explores themes of race and class through the story of an upper-class African-American family. While this may be unfamiliar territory for most Broadway theatergoers, the two male leads of Stick Fly are instantly recognizable. Mekhi Phifer (ER) and Dulé Hill (The West Wing and Psych) rank among the most beloved and talented ensemble television actors of our time. Hill is an old hand where Broadway is concerned, while for Phifer Stick Fly marks his debut. EDGE Assignments Editor Zack Burgess met with the co-stars before a performance at the Cort over the holidays. Three-way Q&A’s can be tricky—especially with so much ground to cover—but as usual, Zack just pointed his subjects in the right direction and they took it from there.

EDGE: Did either of you have a professional relationship with Alicia Keys prior to this production of Stick Fly? Dulé Hill: No. But I have always been a fan of hers. Who’s not a fan of hers? Mekhi Phifer: I knew her, but of course not to the level of our friendship since this project got started.

DH: I had done a version of Stick Fly about five years ago in L.A. It was a staged reading with mikes. It kind of reminded me of old-school radio. It was fun. I hadn’t thought about it since then, and then I got a call back in the summertime to do a project. I knew they had an offer out to Mekhi, which really piqued my interest. Once I was told the name of the play, I said I’m in. Alicia’s involvement was the icing on the cake.

EDGE: You both have done lots of television and film work so you have a good background in terms of shared experience. The exception is probably that Dulé has spent time on the Broadway stage. Mekhi, how has Dulé helped you adjust to performing on stage?

MP: Dulé has done Broadway four times. I’ve never done a play, so I’ve asked him a lot of questions. It’s always helpful to be surrounded by people who are veterans and who are good at what they do—who know what is entailed in making this thing work. Being able to go to Dulé was very helpful for me to get acclimated to this environment.

DH: Remember that the other pieces have mostly been musicals. This is only the second produced play that I have done. So it’s still kind of a new world for me. I’m not going to be putting on any tap shoes or singing.

EDGE: Dulé, what did you see as Mekhi’s immediate strengths in terms of stagework when you guys started rehearsals back in the fall?

DH: It comes down to being a brilliant actor. He brings it every time. That’s the case whether he’s on ER playing Dr. Pratt or the star of Paid In Full, coming on Psych or playing Flip in Stick Fly. That alone is it. Having those skills. There are things you have to do when you’re dealing with the stage versus film and television, and Mekhi took everything in, learned and adapted. He asked questions and processed information very quickly. You wouldn’t know that this is the first play he’s ever done. I really respect him for that.

EDGE: Dulé, are there any parallels between the LeVay Family in Stick Fly and your own experience growing up in New Jersey?

DH: I grew up in a middle-class family, although I don’t think we had anywhere near the type of money of the LeVays. But I definitely relate to the LeVays’ dysfunction. I have a great family, but we have our level of dysfunction, too. There are things we don’t talk about. We don’t always address issues when we should and they end up simmering underneath and then exposing themselves in other areas.

EDGE: What about similarities to your character, Spoon?

DH: Spoon is trying to figure out where he wants to go in life. And that is foreign to me because I started doing theatre at the age of ten, and started tap-dancing when I was three. I’ve always been on a journey of self-discovery and owning who I am as Dulé—not trying to fit into the mold of what other people think I should be. Spoon doesn’t own his vision. He starts to figure it out during the play, but in a way his family never supported him or gave him the opportunity to really find out what he wanted to do. I’m very thankful that my parents supported me, exposed me to new experiences and let me find where I want to go in life.

EDGE: Is that what Stick Fly is about?

DH: It’s about family dysfunction, self-identity…and daddy issues.

EDGE: Daddy issues in what respect?

DH: The idea that, when you’re a child, your father is perfect. For instance, I love my dad to death, but growing up there’s this issue of trying to fit into the mold of who you think you should be because of your father. Then one day you realize that your father is a man just like you. He has his own faults and Achilles’ Heel.

MP: My character, Flip, emulates his father. He’s a doctor, like his dad. He’s just living life. He’s off the cuff. Flip has what is seemingly a closer relationship with his father than the one Spoon has. But I think what makes Dulé’s character stronger than mine in certain respects is that Flip took the more accepted route by becoming a doctor.

EDGE: What was your family background like, Mekhi?

MP: I grew up in a single-parent home and never met my Dad. At the same time, my mother was a schoolteacher, a dancer and a choreographer. She always stressed academics, but she was also about the arts. There was never one way to do something. She favored an obtuse way of thinking versus an acute way of thinking. So my mom wanted me to have great grades and she looked over my homework. But she was always supportive of the arts. So when I was a kid and I would do little talent shows, or rap in freestyle and battles, she was always very supportive.

EDGE: What nuggets of wisdom have you guys picked up from your co-stars over the years?

DH: We’ve worked with phenomal co-stars.

MP: I agree, we’ve both been blessed to work with some dynamite co-stars.

DH: On The West Wing, Martin Sheen used to say to me, “It’s got to cost you something. If it doesn’t cost you something, then it’s meaningless.” Whether it’s the journey of the character or you as an individual, you really have to put yourself into it. Something—time, energy, whatever— has to be sacrificed if you’re going to have a successful career. For example, if I’m hanging out all night partying and then try to come on stage the next day, it’s just not going to work. You have to make choices and say, “This is where I want to go. This is what I want to do.” That always stuck with me. What also struck me about Martin was his humanity, how personal and gracious he was with everybody. I try to take that part of him and apply it to my own life.

MP: The first piece of advice that really stuck with me came while I was doing my second film, Tuskegee Airmen. Laurence Fishburne told me then that “less is more”— especially when you’re dealing with film and television. Another piece of advice I got was from Bill Cosby. He said somebody had asked him what was the key to success, and he said he didn’t know, but he did know the key to being unsuccessful, and that’s trying to please everybody. Those two poignant statements have stuck with me throughout my career.

EDGE: From Martin Sheen and Laurence Fishburne we move on to Jon Lovitz…Mekhi, what do you take away from a crazy comedy like High School High?

MP: Jon Lovitz was wonderful. We were all young in that movie and I always remember him being so nice. He was extremely successful at that point, just coming off of doing SNL. That was early in my career and it was a little bit of a whirlwind for me. But Jon’s one of those guys that will stop you on the street and talk to you, and after awhile you’ll be like, All right Jon, enough is enough. Enough jokes. I’ve got to go. So like Dulé said about Martin, yeah be successful, but be gracious as well. Live life and get to know more people.

EDGE: Dulé, you got to know Wesley Snipes working together on Sugar Hill. What insights did he give you as an actor?

DH: There was one thing that Wesley told me that stuck with me. I had just gotten to L.A. and it was right before I got The West Wing. I was auditioning for stuff and I wasn’t getting the roles, the scripts weren’t very good, and I was going to get dropped by my agent. I ran into Wesley one day and he said, “If there’s always one way, there’s always another.” I asked him what he meant by that and he explained that if you see a bunch of people going up a hill and falling back and not making it through, then try to look on the other side. There’s not just one way to get to your destination. I don’t know what he meant for me to receive from that, but it always stuck with me. From then on I’ve always looked for different angles on how I approach a character, and my career.

EDGE: I am curious how the involvement of a major musical personality changes the culture of a movie or a TV show or a stage production. For instance, Mekhi, when you worked with Eminem on 8 Mile, was that a very different experience than the other films you’ve done?

MP: It was great. Pure fun. I’m 26, 27, we’re in Detroit, Eminem is at the apex of his career. We had a month of rehearsals so that Eminem could get dialed in. We partied hard and it was fun. It was a great experience working with a director like Curtis Hanson and all these actors who were relatively unknown at the time. We had a blast. What I loved about Curtis was that he trusted us. Even when we were doing the battles—that stuff was not scripted. And the people in Detroit were great. What made those battle scenes real is that those people were real people. They were not day-to-day extras, they were real people from the neighborhood.

EDGE: Every successful actor has that role that he almost got, but it went to someone else. So tell me, each of you, what was the “one that got away”?

DH: That’s a tricky question, because if it got away then it was never really mine. There are roles throughout my career that I wanted, but I’m very happy for the actors who got them. One was Savion Glover’s role in Tap, because I’m a tap dancer. To work with Gregory Hines, Steve Condos, Harold Nichols, Jimmy Slyde and Sammy Davis, it really hurt when I didn’t get it. I just wanted to be in that space with those great actors. A lot of those guys started passing on right after that. Antwone Fisher was another role I really wanted. I would love to have shared the screen with Denzel Washington for that amount of time. Derek Luke got the role and Derek’s a good friend of mine. It really exploded his career. I was happy for the actors who got those parts, but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t wanted those roles.

MP: Right after I did Clockers with Spike Lee, I auditioned for Dead Presidents. I was right down to the wire for the role of Anthony and they decided to go with Larenz Tate, which was fine because Larenz is a friend of mine. They were shooting in New York, it took place in the Bronx, and the Hughes brothers were just riding high off Menace II Society. I remember meeting with the casting director, who thought they were going to give me the part. But I guess the Hughes brothers already had a relationship with Larenz—who had stolen the show in Menace II Society. I guess they figured We’ll ride with him.

EDGE: Have you ever walked out of an audition thinking you’d messed it up?

DH: Going back to Antwone Fisher, I got a chance to read with Denzel. Now normally after I read a script, I don’t usually get caught up in the things that are in parentheses— words like ANGRY or UPSET. I leave that alone and go with my own journey. For some reason in that particular situation, I saw the word ANGRY sticking out. So when I’m in the room and it’s me with Denzel, that word kept popping into my head. So I’m reading and I’m being angry. The first thing Denzel said to me was, “Why you so angry?”

EDGE: But your career survived.

Photo courtesy of Nadine Raphael

DH: It did. So to all the people out there, I say just because you mess up on one thing doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.

EDGE: Back to Stick Fly—Dulé, how does this cast compare to some of the others you’ve worked with?

DH: One of the perks of being in this business is just the camaraderie that exists with the people we work with. That’s what makes a show like Psych successful. These people are really good at what they do. And they also happen to be really nice people—people that you want to hang with and have drinks with later. Look at Stick Fly. When you work with actors like Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Tracie Thoms, Rosie Benton—they challenge you just to step up to another level. Ruben is a bona fide professional veteran, Tony Award winner and dynamic actor. You can’t half-step it with Ruben. It’s not going to happen. They’re all phenomenal actors. Then you get blessed to be in a situation where you’re seeing someone like Condola Rashad—someone who is already great, but her career is just getting started. I’m really honored to be on the stage with her. She’s knocking it out of the park now, but in ten, fifteen years I truly believe I will be saying that I was a part of her journey to greatness.

EDGE: What does your director, Kenny Leon, bring to the show, and how might someone in the audience at Stick Fly experience that?

MP: Kenny brings a realism to it. I’ve been to many Broadway shows and the worst thing in the world is to sit there and you’re bored out of your mind. You start fidgeting, you start falling asleep. Kenny not only stresses pace, but telling a story and being good at what you do as an actor. A good analogy would be a dog race. We, the actors, are the rabbit. The audience is the dog. We want them to come up to our speed, and I think we succeed. Doing a play is a totally different machine when it comes to directing. I love Kenny’s direction.

DH: I have to say that most of the directors I have had a chance to work with have been brilliant. But there are things about Kenny that remind me of George Wolf, the director of Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. They are both very specific about every little detail. Everything we’re doing on stage in Stick Fly is meant to draw the audience’s attention to where Kenny wants it to be. That’s cool, because sometimes as an actor you forget those things.

Editor’s Note: Zack Burgess writes about politics, sports and culture for a variety of publications and web sites. You can read his work at zackburgess.com.

Chazz Palminteri

As a performer and storyteller, Chazz Palminteri holds a special place in American popular culture. Coming of age in the Bronx during the 1950s, he was surrounded by the neighborhood characters and themes that would one day populate A Bronx Tale, the beloved one-man show and film that catapulted him to stardom. Palminteri’s creative journey has been marked by artistic, critical and financial successes—both as an actor and writer (and, yes, even as a restaurateur). Yet as EDGE’s Assignments Editor Tracey Smith discovered, as far as Palminteri has come, his comfort zone is still that stoop at 187th and Belmont. All these years later, for an observer of the human condition, it’s still the best seat in the house.

EDGE: The apocryphal story about A Bronx Tale is that you turned down a million dollars for the movie rights because you wanted to write the screenplay and play Sonny yourself. True?

CP: Yes, it is absolutely true that I turned down a million dollars. I wrote Bronx Tale: A One Man Show to showcase myself and show people that I could play eighteen different characters. I wanted to play Sonny. I wanted to write the screenplay. It’s about my life and I didn’t want anybody from Hollywood taking it and doctoring it up, sanitizing it or whitewashing it. I wanted it to be real, you know, and truthful. They felt they couldn’t make a movie without a star. I wanted people to see what I could do. So I just said no.

EDGE: That’s commitment.

CP: Everybody in Hollywood went crazy. The first offer was $250,000, the next offer was $500,000. I just said no. Don’t forget now Tracey, I was running out of money. I was down to my last $200. Actually $187.00 to be exact. I kept saying no and then they said $1,000,000—and I said no again.

EDGE: Enter Robert DeNiro.

CP: Yes, a week later Robert DeNiro walked into the theater and saw it, loved it and came backstage. He told me how much he thought it was great and how great I was, and said, “Look, you’d be great as Sonny. And you should write the screenplay, because it’s about your life. You should be Sonny and it’ll be real and I’ll make it real. You make it with me, I’ll make it come to life, I’ll play Lorenzo, your father, and I’ll direct it and we can be partners. I give you my word.” I shook his hand, and the rest, as they say, is history.

EDGE: You and DeNiro became good friends.

CP: Bob is a really good friend. We’ve been friends for 25 years. We’ve done several films together, and been involved in many projects. He’s the best. He wants everything right, you know, and he doesn’t care how long it takes. He’s a perfectionist, as am I. That’s why we get along so well. We have great chemistry.

EDGE: How would you rate him as a director?

CP: I’ve always said that the reason why A Bronx Tale turned out so good is because I had a great director who wanted to make it “life.” A bad director can spoil a great script, and a good director can make a bad script into a movie. But a great director can make a really good script fly, and that’s what Bob did. I wrote a really good script. Really good. And Robert DeNiro made it fly. He made it real.

EDGE: Which parts of the story were autobiographical?

CP: I would say a good 80 to 85 percent of the movie is autobiographical. It really stems from when I was nine years old sitting on the stoop and I saw this man kill another man right in front of me. Just like they did in the movie, exactly the same. My father came down and grabbed me upstairs, and then the cops came. The reality is I never went down and did a lineup. I just said I didn’t see anything, and that was it. Also befriending the wiseguys when I was a kid, throwing the dice for them, going to get things for them—that’s all true. Also my dad was a bus driver. He worked right off of 187th street. My mother used to be out the window all the time. I fell in love in with a black girl at the age of 17. Some of the guys I knew died in a racial attack with some black youths. The majority is true. But I had to blend it all in the same timeframe.

EDGE: There are a lot of complex themes in A Bronx Tale. What affects people most deeply? What aspect of the story do they identify with the most?

CP: I wanted to talk about the working man and what my dad instilled in me. Yet as good as my father was, he had some qualities that he had to change. And regardless of how much of a bad guy Sonny was, people loved him. They were sad when he died. Taking the best of Sonny and the best of my father and becoming this man who I am today—that’s what resonates most with everybody. Also, I think because it’s not about black and white or good versus evil, people just love the story. They identify with the different characters.

EDGE: Out of curiosity, how does one play 18 characters in a one-man show?

CP: A lot of practice and a lot of rehearsals. But God has given me the gift and somehow I’ve mastered it.

EDGE: What prompted you to write the one-man show?

CP: Desperation. It was desperation. I was doing a lot of small roles and couldn’t break into the higher echelon. I thought, if you won’t give me a great part, I’ll write one myself and show you how good I am. I’ll make my own story, and make you listen to me.

EDGE: Your next role after A Bronx Tale was Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway. You played a mob heavy with a genius for writing dialogue…and were nominated for an Academy Award. Was that character in the original script, or did it evolve after you got the part?

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

CP: Woody Allen always tells people, “When I found Chazz Palminteri, he was born to play the part.” It was written that way. When I first read it I was like “Holy smokes, this is amazing!” I couldn’t get over it.

EDGE: After these two films, how did life change for Chazz Palminteri?

CP: Oh God! More money! Much more money! And more opportunities, oh yeah! I exploded out of the box!

EDGE: Of the 50-plus films you’ve done since then, which ones should I go back and watch again to see you in a really interesting performance?

CP: Okay, let’s see, Hurlyburly is one. A Guide to Recognize Your Saints is one definitely. And I would say Mighty Fine, the one I just did with Andie McDowell, is a great one. Mulholland Falls is another one.

EDGE: You have a recurring role as Shorty on the hit series Modern Family.

CP: Modern Family is a great show, I love the people. They write me in as often as they can and I return. They’re like family, I truly enjoy working with the cast. I play Jay’s longtime best friend. It is just hilarious, a great show.

EDGE: Okay now to the serious stuff. The Yankees. What happened in the playoffs?

CP: Well, you know, they just didn’t win. It’s that simple. We won 97 games during the regular season. I never liked five games as a playoff format. I think everything should be seven games. That’s how you can tell who the best team is.

EDGE: You are playing Babe Ruth in the new movie Henry & Me. How great was that?

CP: That was great. Anything to do with the Yankees is not bad. I have always loved sports. My father used to take me to the games at Yankee Stadium. I loved Mickey Mantle back in those days and collected his baseball cards. I love the Giants, the Rangers.

EDGE: I read that John Franco was one of the producers of Henry & Me. Were you okay working for a Met?

CP: That didn’t bother me. I’m not rooting for his baseball team, but that didn’t bother me at all. John Franco is a very nice guy.

EDGE: So when is the long-awaited Chazz Palminteri autobiography coming out?

CP: I write screenplays and I write plays, but not a book yet. It’s just not time. I get my point of view out in my movies or my plays. My new four-character play, Human, should be out in 2012. I’m very excited about that. Maybe when I have more time and I’m older, I’ll sit down and write a book about my life.

EDGE: You are performing A Bronx Tale at the Mirage in Las Vegas this March. This past summer, you had a nice run in Atlantic City. Having performed this play in various places, have you noticed any regional differences in the way you relate to the audience—or the way they relate to you?

CP: I thought I was going to see that. But it’s the same thing everywhere. No difference from region to region. I can’t explain it. What I find flattering and a little strange, though, is how certain lines from A Bronx Tale have seeped into the dialogue and culture.

EDGE: How so?

CP: Once, I got on a plane, and as soon as the door closed, the pilot said, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, now you’se can’t leave.”

EDGE: Sonny’s line from the scene where the wiseguys lock the door at the bar and work over the bikers!

CP: Right. I laughed. I was like, Wow!