The outbreak of gang violence and young offenders in the early 1990’s brought forth a new genre of films. Juice, Boyz ‘n’ the Hood, Menace to Society, all addressed the problems and struggles of young blacks in low income neighborhoods. They also paved the way for young actors, such as Cuba Gooding Jr, Omar Epps, Tyrin Turner, to establish a position in the Hollywood line of leading men. In 1993 “Blood in Blood Out” directed by Taylor Hackford, depicted the struggles of Hispanic youth, gang violence and identity. It also introduced us to a talented young actor, Damian Chapa, who unlike his counter parts, deflected the Hollywood mill and built a film making machine on his own rules.
I was born into a crazy family. You think yours is crazy? Multiply that by a hundred, add some crack heads and gangsters, that was us. My mother was a hillbilly alcoholic and my father was nuts. With a biography like that ,there’s only one career choice available, acting.
Acting gives you an escape. You can be someone else. No longer was I burdened by reality. I could create a reality all for myself.
“Be thankful for the theater. Your prisons would be over crowded by rapists and murderers without it”. I think it was Shakespeare who said that, but I’m not sure.
My first paid gig was being a stand in for the male lead in the Madonna video, Papa Don’t Preach. As I was leaving the shoot, one of her assistants stopped me and said “If you don’t have any plans, Madonna would like to invite you out tonight”. A limo pulled up to the hotel around 10 pm, she was inside. Some people are simply born to be in the spotlight. At the clubs, all eyes were on her as she danced and slithered around me like a bleach blond serpent. During one of her trips to the bathroom, a huge gay black guy came over and got right in my face ” Boy, you know she’s hitched, right?” Whereupon he informed me that I was messing around with Sean Penn’s wife? When we left the club, I asked to be dropped off at Columbus Circle. That was the last time I saw her.
The film industry is a seductive mirage that draws young people in. It encourages millions of kids to live worse than Ethiopians, doing unbelievable shit to get by, in hopes of becoming stars. It constructs this deranged belief, that when you get your big break, it’s all easy street. After Blood in Blood Out was released, we were astonished. People became so caught up in the story and our characters, that they couldn’t differentiate between fiction and reality. My character Miklo became an icon in the gang world. Guys would tattoo it on their arms and quote fragments from the script like they were Bible passages. I even got letters from social workers, asking me to be a spokes person against gang violence. How did I have the right to speak on a topic I had, and still have, no clue about? I was an actor, that was a job, a contract. I thought, if people wanna be stupid, let them.
In 1995, I was cast as James Dean in a CBS mini series. They flew me from New York to LA. All the formalities were taken care of. Two days before shooting, the producers were murdered in a drive-by. It turned out they owed money to a ‘silent partner’. It’s all in a book somewhere. Production was canceled and I ended up sweeping the floors, at the studio, that a year earlier, made me a star. Nothing is ever what it seems. You could be in the penthouse suite of a Miami hotel, lying in a bathtub filled with 50 grand in hundreds, and the next day find yourself in line at a soup kitchen.
It’s aggravating to live your life, knowing that it’s dependent on the decisions of a handful of suits in an LA office. With their lawyers, policies and paper work. You feel trapped and powerless. Like in a dream where you’re drowning. You have no clue whether or not you’re going to wake up, and if you do, where will you be tomorrow? But you don’t need them! You don’t need their unions, their guidelines. It’s all a scam to make you feel like your nothing without them. This business brings in big revenue and everyone wants a piece of the pie, in whatever way they can. I made my first film on not more than 10 grand. My actors were friends of mine, who helped me out. They new I was struggling. Nobody seemed to care about what I was doing at the time. Even the studios let me do my thing as long as it didn’t interfere with their schedule. Only when I started making money things did change. I was banned from the studios, my director’s rights were revoked, and all my actors turned against me because they got scared. They were scared that the studios would turn them down and they’d end up going back to waiting on tables in the Valley.
What people forgot and don’t realize anymore is that this country and practically every country on this planet, was built on people defying authority. On standing ground and not letting the big bully in the school yard boss you around. Just like the Government and banks who create policy after policy, not to help the little guy, like you or me, but themselves. Nevertheless, they’re like The Wizard of Oz. Everyone was afraid of the great Oz and he turned out to be a scared little old man, hiding behind a giant wooden head. It is how they operate and have been for years. Scaring people and extinguishing their confidence.
When Polanski’s agents heard that I was doing a film about his life, Jeff Berg head of the network, called me personally and said “We don’t want you to make this film. why would YOU want to make a film about Roman?”
To which I responded “Why wouldn’t I? Same reason Roman, is making a film about Tony Blair”.
It’s all the same. They will try to intimidate you, make you feel small. You just need to stand your ground. Polanski got bad reviews. Critics crushed it. In the end, I had my way. Without their bureaucratic policies and unions. Once you accept that concept, there’s nothing and no one, who can stand in your way, of doing what you want to do. If those bastards ever gave me an Oscar, I’d melt it and sell it.