We recently interviewed actor Al White who has starred in such films as “Airplane!”, “Back to the Future Part II” and a vast television career including roles in “Wonder Woman”, “The Incredible Hulk”, “The Dukes of Hazzard” and more recently in “CSI: Miami” and “The King of Queens”. Here’s our interview.
1. Tell us about yourself, where are you from, and what is your background in acting?
I was born in Houston, Texas. My family moved to San Francisco when I was two. I was a janitor in Golden Gate Park for eight years when I all of a sudden one day decided to become an actor. The next day I read about an acting class being held at the local YWCA, so off I went. I took that class for a couple months, then the instructor told me about a friend of her’s needing a replacement actor for her thesis at S.F. State College. One of the actors from that group told me about Plays For Living, a local acting troupe. An actor from that group told me about a theatre down town holding auditions for a play called “The Ballad of Dangerous George”. I of course played the lead, and the president of American Conservatory Theater, William Ball, saw it and asked me to audition for the company. At the time ACT was one of the greatest theatre companies in the world. In 1976 the U.S. government sent us to the Soviet Union for the bicentennial cultural exchange. They sent the Bolshoi Theater here. We performed at the New Moscow Art Theater for two weeks, in Leningrad for a week and Rega for a week.
I was a member of the company for three years, performing in more the seventeen plays from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams. Mr. Williams was a playwright in residence at the time and I originated the role of the military officer in his newest play “This Is An Entertainment”. ACT also has a two year training program which as a company member I was able to attend free of charge. I also originated the role of Memphis Lee in August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running”. The original cast also included Lawrence Fishburn and Samuel L. Jackson before they became famous. We rehearsed and performed at Yale, before I went on the road with it for two years, ending up on Broadway for five months. It was directed by Llyod Richards, the first black director on Broadway. He was also the head of Yale’s drama department for eleven years and head of the Eugene O’Neal’s National Playwrights Conference. In my career I have performed in more than thirty five plays, sixty five TV shows and fourteen films.
2. Who has been your biggest influence as an actor?
No one actor has influenced me more than any other. I study all actors male or female. The man on the street. I study life in general.
3. You’ve had an extensive career in film and television ranging from The A-Team, CSI: Miami, The Incredible Hulk to Airplane!, what has been your favorite role to date?
My favorite role has been of course the Second Jive Dude from “Airplane!”
4. How did you prepare for that role?
Besides drawing from my own experience, I prepared for the role by going to the library. I also picked up a couple of books on black idioms and slang.
5. What aspects of that character did you relate to?
I related to the characters good natured philosophizing and the food poisoning.
6. From an actors point of view, what’s the most important thing a director should bring to the set.
The most important thing a director can bring to the set is his knowledge of acting, how to relate to people. Also a clear vision of where he wants to go and how he wants to get there.
7. Any advice for aspiring actors?
My advise for any one who wants to be an actor or actress…is to sharpen their memory banks, reading skills, study and then put themselves out there. Also, network-follow through and send thank you notes.
8. When all is said and done, what 3 things would you like for people to remember about you?
Most to be remembered for relative to acting…He is very natural, commanding and easy to work with.
9. Any new projects in the works? Give us the scoop!
New projects…A book of poetry next year and I’m one of the voices on a project called “For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots” coming soon to PBS.