Actor Louis Gossett Jr., 2012 Male Indie Icon Honoree at LVFF – Part 2
Part 2 on Filmmakers Notebook with Oscar-winning Actor Louis Gossett Jr., who received the 2012 Male Indie Icon Award at the Las Vegas Film Festival.
The role was demanding physically as well as emotionally. For one thing it required that Louis separate himself from his fellow cast members and the crew in order to develop his character. They built a mock base in Washington State’s Port Townsend and a real life drill instructor taught him how to dress and made sure he captured the right behavior and mannerisms for Emil Foley. The part also allowed Gossett to use his martial arts skills again. He’d originally learned them doing training films for the military and now he had the chance to resurrect them in this part, which has a demanding fight scene between him and Gere that took three days to film. “You get back what you give”, Gossett said when asked about all of the preparation needed in order to play Foley.
Between his success with this movie and Roots, Gossett made the list of the top five African American actors and credits his popularity with opening the doors for future thespians such as Denzel Washington. “I have a lot of respect for Denzel. He’s a hero,” Gossett said. During his own career Louis believes that there’s been a through line among the four characters he’s played in Roots, “An Officer and a Gentleman”, “Diggstown” and Iron Eagle” that has resonated with audiences and won their support allowing him to maintain his presence and status with them. Overall his thoughts about his profession are primarily positive although despite his successes he’s never received the pay days he feels he deserved. He could be angry and bitter about this, but instead he prefers to be grateful for the career he’s carved out. However, at the age of 76 and after playing 72 roles he stated, “I’d like to make one million dollars.”
Nowadays his pursuits have sent him in another direction besides acting that gives him a lot of satisfaction. In 2006 he started the Eracism Foundation, a non profit organization aimed at launching an all out offensive against racism, violence and ignorance by providing programs that foster cultural diversity, historical enrichment, education and antiviolence initiatives. “We’re a young country. We’re a young culture,” he maintains referring to the United States, then added, “We have to realize what our country stands for. We have to change.” At this point in his life he can’t take the poison of prejudice being handed down to the next generation and is determined to dedicate part of the last years of his life to curtailing it. “I have rules. We are all children of God,” he stated. On the other hand, when asked about the limited number of Oscars won by minorities he commented, “I don’t think there’s any abject racism in the Academy.” Instead he believes it’s more a matter of development. “Just show up at the meetings and that will change.” he said. He points to individuals like Magic Johnson and the growth of networks like BET as positive examples and doesn’t believe there’s an actual villain in this story. He concluded, “It’s in the DNA. Don’t put poison in your children.”
Gossett is an avid admirer of Nelson Mandela and told us he learned several life lessons from meeting and studying the life of the South African politician. Louis has visited Africa on several occasions including once following Mandela’s release when there was much tension. In fact, he discovered later on from one of his bodyguards that he was almost shot during that trip, but was saved after being recognized as the actor who portrayed Emil Foley. “What a unification the movies can do,” he exclaimed. Since then he has visited Africa another seven times.
Gossett put his thoughts and feelings together with some of his life stories into a book entitled An Officer and an Actor in 2010. The autobiographical piece begins with his days as a youngster on Coney Island which he fondly remembers as a time when people took care of one another and then continues on throughout the years giving great insight into both his life and career. Having had the opportunity to meet Gossett I’m sure it’s a very thought provoking and entertaining read.