Entertainment Plus

Actor Wood Harris talks to Jalen Rose about Tupac, ‘Creed’

[ad_1]

If you’re a living breathing, human, you are a fan of “The Wire.” That means you are a fan of my next “Renaissance Man” guest, actor Wood Harris, who played ruthless drug kingpin, Avon Barksdale in the iconic show. (Rest in Peace, Michael K. Williams.)

But ironically, Wood, who also played a cocaine slinger in “Paid in Full” launched his acting career with a more wholesome anti-drug pursuit. He landed his first acting gig at age 19, acting out skits meant to discourage drug use. The audience wasn’t theatergoers. He said it was for corporations hoping to send a positive public service message to employees.

But it was lucrative, and for a young man from the hard streets of Chicago, the gig provided focus for a young Wood Harris.

“I made $900 a rip,” he told me. “And I would do that like twice a week, three times a week. And it was 45 minutes.” Wood, who later earned a master’s at NYU, was attending Northern Illinois University as an undergrad and started making $1800 to $2600. The fast money was eye-opening. “I started to understand. I just took it very seriously. At that point. I never I never thought of it as a hobby,” he said of acting.

His mindset shift worked wonders because his first movie role was in 1994’s “Above the Rim,” which as far as I am concerned is like winning a title and a Finals MVP during your rookie season a la Magic Johnson. While making that classic, he learned from the great Tupac Shakur, who he said at the time was pre-icon Tupac.

“I met Tupac, I didn’t meet the superstar dude. I met the young actor, rapper. We would sit around and rap,” Wood said. “He was very intelligent and very smart … He brought John Singleton on set, [they’d made] ‘Poetic Justice.’

“I understood some things about filmmaking from my first film because of him. For instance, he realized how much power he had on the set and he didn’t relinquish it just for any old reason. And I’m kind of like that, like so when I’m on the set, you know, I just really stick to myself. I’m in the trailer,” said Wood. Although Tupac was more social, Wood saw him harness his energy how he saw fit. That inspired him.

“I kind of pick that up from movie No. 1. And I think those habits were good for me. Because I watched Tupac use his power,” he said. “You know, my interpretation is to do it the way I did it.”

Another observation of Tupac on the set?

“Outside his trailer every morning when you get there he’d have fans, he’d have women lined up outside the trailer. It was crazy.”

Wood Harris attends the Premiere of Warner Bros "Space Jam: A New Legacy" at Regal LA Live on July 12, 2021 in Los Angeles.
Wood Harris says he learned a lot by acting while filming ‘Above the Rim’ with Tupac.
FilmMagic

A few years later, Wood worked with another legend. He acted alongside Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans.” Wood, who is 51, noted that anyone his age who wanted to be an actor had Denzel and his impressive career seared into their mind. Working with him was “pretty dreamy.” But above all, he learned the finer points of professionalism from the Oscar winner.

“Denzel shows you skill. He’s not just winging it. Sometimes in our profession, you could be winging it,” said Wood, adding that while Denzel is a giant celebrity he was down to earth and like a big brother while making the football flick.

Though we have pursued different avenues, both Wood and I have lived somewhat parallel lives. We are both Midwest boys with a chip on our shoulders understanding what it’s like to live through volatile conditions. We both had talent and an older brother who ensured we kept our noses clean (Wood’s brother is actor Steve Harris). And we both used basketball as a lifeline just to different ends.

“It put the dreamer back in the neighborhood,” he said of hoops. He played at St. Joseph’s, the same high school as my idol Isiah Thomas. That’s the same school, where a few years later, they would film the groundbreaking documentary “Hoop Dreams,” where Arthur Agee and William Gates played. I was also in the documentary playing on a team with Gates at an All-American camp.

Wood Harris
Wood Harris opens up on his role in ‘Creed’ on this week’s ‘Renaissance Man.’
FilmMagic

“I had to, like, find glimpses of another place … so outside the community, it gave us an opening. Like it gave me like an open window or something like that. At the time, I don’t think I’d looked at it that way, but it’s a good thing that I went to those schools. You know, I went to St. Joe’s. I went to Resurrection Grammar School and followed behind Isiah Thomas playing basketball at those schools or wanting to play basketball so much every day. It really was an escape.”

Another intersection between us? He’s in “Black Mafia Family,” which premieres Sept. 26 on Starz. The Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson-produced series is inspired by the story of Detroit brothers Demetrius and Terry Flenory who ran a massive drug syndicate in the 1980s. Wood plays their OG mentor, once again portraying a hard-nosed, no nonsense street player. His brother Steve plays a detective.

As a kid, I knew both brothers who went by “Big Meech” and “Southwest T” respectively. And our relationship, to bring it back to Wood again, was similar to that of the ballplayers in “Above the Rim” with drug dealers who ran their hood. I was the All-American player and they were always around in the stands with their flashy duds and cars, making the game itself, an even bigger showcase. Their sister Nicole was even a cheerleader when I played.

Wood is still a massive NBA fan and loves to talk about the game. He also dove into an important role in a movie about another sport: boxing. In “Creed” he plays Tony “Little Duke” Evers, the son of Tony “Duke” Evers, who trained Apollo Creed and Rocky in the earlier movies. During the first film, he was able to work with Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler, who have become a golden duo in Hollywood.

“That’s like Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese,” Wood said of the pair. “You don’t always end up with a director next to you who is a Scorsese. Coogler is a Coogler, you know what I’m saying? He’s a Ryan Coogler. Give a big shout out … they both mad young,” said Wood, who met a teenaged Jordan on the set of “The Wire.” Wood said in the upcoming third Creed movie, which will be directed by his former teenage castmate, his character evolves and has a bigger role.

If you have seen Wood on the red carpet, you’ll notice he’s got a sartorial flare. He has a classic, dapper look. Back in his more youthful days, he enjoyed wearing labels, logos and trends. However after almost being shot for his leather jacket, he changed his perspective. At the time, he was wearing all the hallmarks of ’80s and ’90s urban style: his leather jacket with the fur-lining Girbaud jeans and a Malcolm X hat.

“Just to make a long story short, even the gun came out, you know what I’m saying? I feel like I had a guardian angel literally, because this car came out of nowhere, was a long stretch, white Lincoln with his bright lights on winter in Chicago.” He said he saw the car lights illuminating the white snow. He said the light was blinding and he felt like he was in a movie — luckily one with a happy ending.

“I dipped, I dipped, bro, and I got away. I got home, I took the leather coat off, I put that joint in the closet,” Wood said.

He took his brother’s car and went looking for the guys. Luckily he did not find them but his father saw him coming home and asked him what happened. That night ended his pursuit of the perps and his pursuit of conspicuous consumption. “That was it. That was it. That’s what took me out of wanting to have more Pelle Pelle. I don’t care if you have Prada or red bottoms, if you ain’t fresh with it.”

Those are some words of wisdom from a man who knows it and lived it. And for the record, as someone who knows a thing or two about flavor and style, Wood, is more in vogue than ever.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.

[ad_2]

About the author

mm

Kathy Lewis

Kathy Lewis is an all-around geek who loves learning new stuff every day. With a background in computer science and a passion for writing, she loves writing for almost all the sections of Editorials99.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment