Actor Louis Gossett Jr., 2012 Male Indie Icon Honoree at LVFF – Part 1
On Saturday, July 21st actor Louis Gossett Jr. was awarded the 2012 Male Indie Icon Award at the Las Vegas Film Festival during festivities that included a press conference and a special screening celebrating the 30 year anniversary of his hit film “An Officer and a Gentleman” followed by an audience Q&A. Gossett was joined on stage by actor/director Ash Adams, who moderated that part of the event, and the movie’s screenplay writer Douglas Day Stewart.
Born in Brooklyn, New York Gossett’s mother was a nurse and his father a porter and he recalls many lean years growing up. He spoke about the camaraderie of people who were poor and how he played with makeshift toys as a child. “We rubbed elbows whether we liked it or not,” he recalled adding, “We had a wonderful melting pot on the East Coast.” An alumnus of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Gossett supports the organization by working for and with them and in 2007 was an honored guest and keynote speaker for their alumni hall of fame gala in Florida. Although he continues to act, he admits to being more interested in mentoring youngsters and teaching them the type of rules that were handed down to him by his grandmother such as getting along with others, having compassion for those less fortunate, being clean in appearance and respecting your elders.
Louis also talked about the talent that grew out of the hardships and unrest of the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s citing people like singer/songwriter Carole King and baseball player Jackie Robinson. Although his early ambition was to play pro ball or to become a doctor he appeared on stage in a school production at 17 when a sports injury sidelined him and then went on to be selected for a starring role in Take a Giant Step on Broadway in 1953 beating out 200 other actors before entering NYU. There the 6’4” collegian turned down an athletic scholarship and the opportunity to play varsity basketball in favor of opting for theater.
Describing himself as a serious actor who was poor and broke and applied himself, Gossett appeared in A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway with Sidney Poitier and related how he was living in a $35.00 a month apartment on the Lower East Side while studying at The Actor’s Studio. He was joined there by such entertainment legends as Eva Marie Saint, Jimmy Dean, Marlon Brando, Martin Landau and Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Gossett fondly recalled having an acting class with Marilyn and receiving a phone call from her. Identifying herself as Marilyn from class she asked Louis to do a love scene with her from “The Rose Tattoo”. He confessed that he was too excited by her to do it so he turned her down and she did it with Landau. He still remembers identifying the scent of Lifebuoy Soap with her and claims that smell was connected to the erogenous zones. “It’s off the market. Thank God,” he added jokingly.
Gossett made his movie debut in the film version of “A Raisin in the Sun” in 1961. During the course of his distinguished career he’s also won an Emmy for playing Fiddler in the 1977 groundbreaking miniseries Roots, which garnered him widespread audience attention and then in 1983 was cast as Anwar Sadat in a miniseries chronicling the life and assassination of the political leader. Gossett won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1983 for his portrayal of drill sergeant Emil Foley in the romantic drama “An Officer and a Gentleman” making him the first African American male to receive that honor and the third African-American actor to win overall. His win also ended a 19 year Oscar drought for African Americans. “It feels pretty good,” he responded when asked about winning the award. “I’d love to work with Richard Gere,” he said if the opportunity presented itself for him to be cast along side his former co-star again. Gossett admits that part was important to him because he wanted to be relevant and getting the role represented having a shot to lots of people. He wanted to prove that an African American could do it and he beat out several others actors including Scott Glenn and Marc Singer who were vying for the part.
More with actor Louis Gossett Jr later in the week in Part 2 from the LVFF Press Conference.