Blair Underwood's Advice to Black Creatives: If You Want More, Create More

Blair Underwood’s Advice to Black Creatives: If You Want More, Create More

Image: Collin Stark

What are your thoughts on blacks in Hollywood; particularly the need for stories that expand the African American narrative?

I believe that there’s always room for more, but I also say ‘if you want more, then create more.’ In other words, it’s not enough to stand on the sidelines. … You can create your product and distribute your product by yourself on the Internet, on YouTube. There are more avenues today than ever before – Hulu,, Netflix. There’s more than just the traditional route of networks, or even studios for that matter, for movies.

You can make a film for much cheaper today because of the technology. You can make a film with your iPhone. It can be high quality, have a good story and, if it’s good enough, get you attention. Not always, but that’s life. There’s so much that happens to be in the hands of the creator, [now more] than ever before. It’s not enough to say ‘nobody’s allowing me to do anything.’ Go do it yourself. There’s not enough diversity, but there’s more than there has been in a long time – Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Empire. Because of that there are many more opportunities for African American actors in this coming season of new shows.

What characters are most exciting for you to play and where do you see your acting career in the future?

I don’t know. I don’t know what the future brings. This is my 30th year in this industry. I’ve been very blessed to work almost consistently for 30 years, and part of that is because I’m non-reliant on expecting people to cast me. I started my own production company almost 20 years ago. So I can kind of control my own destiny … but also create my own characters. … I’m doing a play right now, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, playing a powerful character. The play is called Paradise Blue, and it’s a brand new play by a writer named Dominique Morisseau. So right now, the most exciting character I can think of, to answer your question, is the one I’m playing right now, which is Blue. Everything is Blue.

What are your thoughts on Hollywood’s history with typecasting? What advice do you have for black actors who are faced with the challenge of wanting roles of a certain caliber versus the roles offered to them?

If you don’t like it, change it. You don’t like the roles you’re being offered? Create the roles. Now, granted, not every actor is a writer. Most actors are not. So what I encourage people to do is partner with a great writer – friends of yours who write, who have a passion for that. Create a partnership. Create a team. Create a production company. Create an entity where you can create products for yourself. What you don’t want to do is be the victim. What you don’t want to do as a young actor is [enter] this industry – this multi billion-dollar industry – with your hat in your hand and say ‘Please, hire me.’ Forget that. Create your own avenues. Create your own opportunities. It keeps you from being a victim. It keeps you from complaining and being unhappy about the system or ‘The Man.’ You become ‘The Man’ or the ‘Wo-man.’

This piece was written by Rebecca Nichloson.