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James McEachin: Actor/Novelist Moving Foward
Posted by Michael St John on Feb 2, 2013 - 9:51:41 AM
AMERICA!—When mentioning the name of James McEachin causes a smile. He is one of the few artists of color who was signaled out as being ready and special to tackle any role or character to play during the combustible sixties in
Hollywood. He carved out a special place of creative dignity no matter what he was asked to do by directors and producers. He is still an extraordinary artist and man.
MSJ: As a young man growing up, what did name or image of “
Hollywood” mean to you?
JM: Thank you for asking, Michael. But neither name nor the image of
Hollywood meant much to me growing up 'way back then.
Hollywood stars and starlets were a million miles away.
MSJ: Was “film” always your first interest or were you more affected by the theater as an actor of color?
JM: I don't really think I was that affected. Of course, like most kids, I was kinda taken with Westerns and playing Cowboy's 'n Indians. Later on I think I had a certain fascination with war movies. But in reality people like me didn't get to see that many films because we didn't have any money, and the few Saturdays we (as blacks) did get to the theater we weren't allowed to sit anywhere other than the balcony.
MSJ: Who were some of the mainstream actors who genuinely affected how you approached a role in film or theater?
JM: No one who I can think of.
MSJ: What was the down-side for you, especially as a struggling actor or performer?
JM: After eventually finding my way into the business (mostly by accident -- or better yet, being in the right place at the right time, the downside was -- and is -- resorting back to that first failure: struggling to learn lines. I believe it planted the seeds of ruination. It was my first experience being on a set and I didn't have the slightest idea what I was doing or what I gotten myself into. As an example, when I got the job in I Crossed the Color Line it never entered my mind that there was this thing called a script or "pages" they unceremoniously handed to you -- and worse, that you were supposed to read the script or "pages" and "remember" what you were to be saying and doing. The process was called acting, and while acting you was supposed to create some sort of natural movement. You certainly weren't supposed to freeze up and look into the camera while creating this natural movement. Understandably, it was a terrible experience, ranking right up there with someone trying to teach somebody from the Stone Age how to walk and chew gum at the same time.
MSJ: When your career began to take off, what kind of creative decisions were you forced to make?
JM: How to walk and chew gum at the same time.
MSJ: After so many years as a working actor, what did you learn about yourself as an artist – were surprised or amused?
JM: It's still a good laugh -- calling what I did "art." Calling what 99.9% of the people do on screen borders on criminality. Turn on your TV; watch the silver screen, see who the media spends time ballyhooing, is that art?
MSJ: What were some of the major concerns did you have as a recognizable actor and later on as a writer?
JM: I had always hoped to be guided by the notion I wouldn't forget the old days -- hometown and the roads and people that led thereto. To be an entertainer, I suppose is a good thing, it is thought you've brought a little sunshine into someone life; you've let them share in the bits and pieces of something you've seen, done, or heard. Maybe it's all fluff, I don't know; still it is a temporary thing -- here; there; gone, leaving only logic to tell us the world is round for a reason. Now, then, you perhaps ask which is better to be the writer or the actor? I say there is no contest. To act is to interpret; to write is to create. I remember reading about Marlon Brando demanding more changes be made to a script he was working on. Responding after a time or two, the writer came down to the set and said to the noted actor: "Marlon, where were you when the pages were blank?" Again I say: "To act is to interpret, to write is to create."
MSJ: As a writer/novelist, what excites you most when searching for subject matter? And which of your books are you the proudest and why?
JM: Never had to search for an idea. They just come. Maybe one or two were allowed to germinate, but ideas are always there. I just wish I had more of what it takes to deliver -- time and fortitude. Without them you have nothing.
As to the books, I am proud of all six. Maybe it’s because I was so seriously doubted when I was a youngster and wanted to write. I'll never forget the derision. But again I'm proud of all six books (play and essays.) But to say which is best, it's really not for me to say. Most people would say Farewell to the Mockingbirds since it was a Benjamin Franklin Award winner and received a great deal of acclaim. I love the book because it deals with the height of honor and injustice in the military and, perhaps was hardest to write. It's a deep and disturbing book, and I'm proud to say it'll be around long after I'm gone. I've found
Hollywood is too chicken to make a film out of it, but it no longer bothers me. This town was built more on hypocrisy than truth or courage and it ain't about to change. At the outset, Tell me A Tale (the audio version) is a rather innocuous book, but it's deceptively deep and disturbing. Though it's about the moral rot of slavery, it has elements of a love story -- the love of a boy and his father and uncle. It takes us back to a place, as said in the book: "...where once one raced the winds and chased all the joys of living." But among my favorites and surely not to be forgotten in case I'm marooned on an island, is The Great Canis Lupus. It'll be my next audio book; a fun project, designed for young and old. I particularly like it because of its off-the-wall use of the imagination -- by wolves. ...In
MSJ: When you’re alone and look in the mirror, who and what do you see? And how does it make you feel?
JM: I see a mirror. I see a face reflected in that mirror. As to how it makes me feel? Can't answer. I'm still in shock.
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