All That Sparkles… - A 2012 Interview with Michael Beach!

by Darnell Meyers-Johnson

(Phone interview recorded on July 31, 2012)

On August 17, the long anticipated remake of the 1976 film “Sparkle” will reach a theater near you.  And though you haven’t seen his face on any of the posters and probably didn’t know it, among the film’s costars is Michael Beach.

Michael Beach’s film credits are too long to list but perhaps you remember him well from turning a table over on Morgan Freeman in 1989’s”Lean On Me” or getting chased by a knife wielding Vanessa L. Williams in 1997’s “Soul Food”.  And who can forget when Angela Bassett burned all his stuff to the ground in 1995’s “Waiting To Exhale”?  

He plays the bad guy very well, but is going for laughs in his smaller costarring role in “Sparkle”.  He shares with Darnell Meyers-Johnson his recollections of being on set with Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks and reveals what it is he won’t waste his energy on anymore…

DMJ: Good Day, this is Darnell Meyers-Johnson for The Meyers Music Report on  Usually, we’re speaking to one of your favorite recording artists about their music, but today we’re doing something a little bit different.  We’re speaking to one of your favorite actors.  

You know this gentleman from his fine work in many movies like “Lean On Me”, “Soul Food” and “Waiting to Exhale”.  And my television fans will know him from recurring roles on shows like “ER” and “Third Watch”. 

Today he’s coming through to tell us about his costarring role in one of the most anticipated movies of the year, the remake of “Sparkle”.  Today I’m speaking with Mr. Michael Beach.  How are you sir?

MB: I’m fine.  How are you today?

DMJ: I am good and I’m glad that we’re finally connecting here.  We do appreciate the time you’re taking out to speak with us today.

MB: Oh yeah, my pleasure, my pleasure.

DMJ: Before we talk about “Sparkle” I want to cover a little bit of your history.  Can you give me the Reader’s Digest version of how you got into acting?

MB: It’s been over 30 years now.  I started in high school.  I was a football player that got hurt, didn’t know what else to do, somebody suggested acting, I laughed at them.  And I tried out for a play and fell in love with it.  And I’ve been doing it ever since then.

DMJ: I read that you attended the prestigious Julliard School in New York.  How would you best describe your time there?

MB: People that went there years ago used to call it “The Yard”, because it was like being in a jail yard.  It was no joke.  I’m sure they softened up a lot now, but you basically showed up at 9am and you left at 9pm every day except the weekend but you did work a lot on Saturday as well.  It was intense.  It was very, very strict, very rigid training, which a lot of people say doesn’t kick in until years later when you really become acclimated in terms of everything that you learned, when it starts to settle in.  And I think that was pretty much true.

DMJ: And has that served you, particularly in the movie making process?  Because I understand that that can often be a little tedious with long hours.  

MB: Yeah, I think what really served me is the knowledge of breaking things down, reading a script, understanding it, breaking it down, making sense of it.  Finding out details about character, about story.  That’s really where it helped me.  Making movies is so much different from being on stage but ultimately the truth in finding out how you get this information is pretty much the same.  It’s just the shooting process and the fact that you don’t have rehearsals; that’s what the major different is.  The search, the detective work in finding out that information is very similar.  It just happens in a slightly different way.

DMJ: We know that entertainers, particular actors, are often out there grinding for many years before being “discovered” or catching their big break.  What was the big break for you?

MB: Well, it’s funny because a lot of people say “Oh my big break was this and that and this and that,” but I think big breaks are for like, STARS, movie stars.  I consider myself a journeyman actor.  I mean, a lot of people know me and a lot of people don’t or they know my face but they don’t know my name.  I don’t open movies or headline TV shows or anything like that so I’m more of a journeyman.  So I really haven’t had a big break.  It’s kind of been a process that I’m fortunate of because I’ve only supported myself as an actor.  If you’ve been around this business, that’s called being successful enough.  I supported my entire family, my entire life through acting so there’s nothin’ to complain about.  But in terms of big breaks…obviously I’ve had peaks like “Exhale” and “Soul Food” and “Third Watch” and “ER”.  And a lot of films that the general audience may not know but were very big business wise, because they showed a certain range and certain abilities that made other producers and other directors want to work with me.  So the process of staying relevant is something that I’m pretty happy about.

DMJ: As you just said, when people think about you, even if they’re not sure what your name is, your face is pretty recognizable to many.  You may not see yourself as being a movie opener so to speak, but I think right now when people think of their favorite Black actors, you’re in that group they immediately think of.  And there’s so many out there who, as you said, aren’t working or haven’t reached the level that you have.

MB: Yeah, well listen, I’m pleased with how things have gone for me.  Of course, you’re always aiming for more, reaching for more.  One of the problems in my career has always been that I’m not a big publicity guy.  I’m not a guy that goes out and seeks or pays someone to have me on magazines or to do all the TV entertainment shows, because it’s just not my comfort zone.  Not that I can’t or that I don’t enjoy having a a discussion with people about what I do and about what’s going on and joking around and stuff but it’s not something I feel excited about or passionate about.  That is part of how things work.  If you get out there and promote yourself, if you do it properly and you back it up with work then it’s helpful.  It’s been something I have not pursued throughout my life.  And you pay for it in one way and you reap benefits in another way.  I love being able to walk around and not worry about paparazzi spoiling my day or trying to get pictures of me or my son or my wife or any of my other kids from my first marriage.  It’s nice to be a person that lives where they live and they can do what they do and can walk to the mall and enjoy what everybody else enjoys.  

DMJ: It’s funny that you say the mall.  I had an interview with the singer Regina Belle and she basically said the same thing you just said when I asked her why certain people felt her career should be on a higher level because she’s so talented and she basically said what you said: she didn’t do a lot of the PR stuff or go to a lot of the parties.  She wanted a basic life and wanted to be able to go to the mall and not get mobbed.

MB: It really is true.  Obviously, I would like to be able to do more in terms of what I choose to do.  I would like to make a little bit more money.  All of those things.  But with that comes other things so you have to be careful about the things that you say and do and choose to do.  And not that I don’t still want to do more but I really appreciate my anonymity when I need it.  You do get stopped from time to time but it’s really just a couple of fans here and there that want to say hello.  And that’s great too!  I love saying “hi” and “thank you” and “I appreciate that you appreciate my work.”  But the comfort of just being able to go where you want, that would be hard to give up.

DMJ: In just a short time after this interview is published, the movie “Sparkle” is going to be in theaters everywhere.  Tell me a little bit about the role that you’re playing in it and how you got involved with the project.

MB: The writer, producer and director, the Akils, they do “The Game” on BET.  They also did “Jumping The Broom” and they’ve got a lot of stuff coming out, “Being Mary Jane”…  So a couple of years ago I started doing a few episodes on the game as the owner of the football team.  I think I did about six of them and may go back to do some more.  And there was this role they were trying to cast.  I think they had gone out to a couple of people, I’m not sure.  For whatever reason, it didn’t work.

It’s not a big role; it’s a smaller role but it was a lot of fun for me.  It’s actually one of the more character driven roles for me.  He’s the family reverend.  He runs the church where Whitney Houston’s character spend an awful lot of her time.  And there are a few scenes, a couple of them got cut out, but a few scenes where he’s with the family.  It will be surprising because a few people that have seen the film did not recognize me because, I don’t want to say too much, but I definitely don’t look like I normally look in film.  It was a lot of fun.  

When I did “The Game” I was a little nervous because I’m not really known for comedy.  I was worried that I was going to have to be jokey.  And they said, “no, no, we don’t want you to be jokey on ‘The Game’.”  They said, “Listen, we got this stuff, just go for it and have fun.”  And although my character on “The Game” is not really funny, there are a few laughs here and there.  It eased me up and with this character, the reverend, who I think is kind of funny, it was fun.  As soon as I got into wardrobe, the guy started coming out.  It was a lot of fun.

DMJ: Something to look forward to then.  I didn’t know that about the part.

MB: Yeah, it’s funny because Mike Epps and I were talking about two weeks ago.  Mike is often the funny guy and he’s got some funny moments in this, no doubt about it but he’s the heavy in this.  We were laughing because I’m normally kind of the heavy.  And I said, “Well, Mike now you’re making them cry and I’m making them laugh.”  A little switch over there.  

DMJ: As everybody knows, this was Whitney Houston’s final production.  You worked with her previously on “Waiting To Exhale”.  Was that the first time that the two of you worked together?

MB: Yes, “Exhale”, in however many years ago, 18-19, that it’s been in between “Exhale” and this.

DMJ: And how was Whitney Houston, the actress, on set?

MB: Oh she was fabulous on “Sparkle”.  She was so happy to be there.  She is one of the producers of the film and they’ve been trying for a long time to get this film made.  So she was happy for a lot of reasons.  And I think she was really glad to be back in front of the camera and just enjoyed her time.  When I was there, most people didn’t go back to their trailers too much.  We were in the church and then we were in the house.  People just hung out and talked and joked and she was doing it right along with everyone else.  She seemed very happy to me.  

DMJ: You mentioned that there was that big time period between the two films (“Waiting To Exhale” and “Sparkle”), what’s the biggest difference in Whitney that you noticed?  And you can address that in terms of how she operated as an actress.

MB: Well, I think that in “Exhale” she was a little less accessible.  She would go back to her trailer.  She had her bodyguards and they were always around.  For “Sparkle”, she still had her bodyguards around, a couple of different guys, really nice guys.  But they blended into the background as opposed to making themselves scary.  She was such a nice woman.  The difference for me, from my perspective, is the fact that she seemes to much more at ease with herself, as we do when we grow older.  Obviously, when we did “Exhale” she was super on fire.  She was the biggest thing out there and I guess had a lot of pressure.  She was still young, because she and I were the same age.  I think she really settled into who she was and was able to relax a lot more when we were on the “Sparkle” set.  And she treated everyone so wonderfully and was so appreciative.  She has an amazing song in the church and all the extras that were there were so enamored and so happy to be around her and to feel her energy as we did it over and over again.  And she was equally as happy and loved interacting with all of the people that were there.

DMJ: Also in the movie is American Idol winner Jordin Sparks.  This is actually her film debut and also your first time working with her.  How did she do?

MB: She was great.  When you see the film, her smile is ridiculous.  Obviously, she’s beautiful but her smile and her warmth are what really comes through for me in the film.  She is the more shy, reticent of the sisters.  The film is really about her coming into her own and moving out of the shadows of her sister and the large foot of her mother about what she’s supposed to do and living the life her mother wants her to live, being able to break out of that.  I’m not really sure how old Jordin is.  I think she’s 21 or right around that age and to see her breaking out throughout the course of the film, finding her strength and knowing Jordin and how excited she is to be on and to have so much of the film rely on her, I think she did well.  I think if she wants to have a career in front of the camera, I don’t see any reason why she can’t.  She definitely learned a lot and have the ability to learn more and go farther.  

DMJ: There have been some debates in recent years from other trained actors like yourself who feel that it’s a bit unfair when people from the music industry take on acting roles.  What’s your opinion about that?

MB: You know what, it started with, I remember “New Jack City” when Ice T played opposite Wesley Snipes and back then there were a bunch of us that were up for that role.  We weren’t happy that he got it then but it’s been so prevalent and not just people from the music industry but athletes and of course reality stars now.  After you’ve been around for awhile, you just realize, “you know what, this is a business and it’s about business.”  Does it do me any good to complain?  And the truth is, not just complaining, but for my life, for my sanity, for my well being, is it going to be advantageous for me to have anger about what is?  I have no ability to change it or to make it all make sense or anything.  So it is a waste of my time, a waste of my energy to bitch and moan about it really.  I don’t like the fact that people smoke either but they have the right to.  I don’t smoke so it’s all good to me.  I don’t know if that answers your question but what we do is a business.  And I can’t waste my energy on something that I can’t change.  

DMJ: The original “Sparkle” from 1976 with Irene Cara became a cult classic and whenever people remake anything that is considered a classic in any way, people often wonder is it going to live up to be as good as the original.  What would you say in this case?  

MB: Well, it’s hard because the truth is although it is a cult classic, you have to remember it’s a cult classic because most people don’t even know it was a movie before.  And even if you do, most people I know have never seen it.  Again, Hollywood is always redoing things or taking TV shows and making them into movies.  I have another film coming out in November called “Red Dawn”, which is a remake from a Patrick Swayze film from the 80s.  And I don’t know what people are gonna say, if they’re gonna be upset.  There are a few differences in the (“Sparkle”) story.  I almost feel like, if you’re going to make a remake you better make it your own as opposed to saying, “well, we’re going to do the same exact thing that they did in another film that was made almost 40 years ago.”  You have to make it your own, otherwise, why do it?  It’s a different enough film that obviously, I would say, I would think, because of the people involved, because of Whitney that this film will be much more known than the original.  

DMJ: Here at The Meyers Music Report, we’re all about the music so I can’t let you go without asking you to tell us a little bit about the music in the film.

MB: Well, it’s not really a musical.  It’s not like “Moulin Rouge” where they’re breaking out in song like in “Chicago”.  When they sing, they’re actually supposed to be signing.  They’re at a venue where they’re singing so it’s not like…

DMJ: …they’re in the middle of Wal-Mart or something.

MB: …right, exactly.  They’re having lunch and then they just break into song.  It’s not that type of classic musical.  But the music is exciting.  It has a very exciting opening with Cee Lo that really sets you in the mood, puts you in the time and gets your head boppin’ and jumpin’.  Some of the songs are really fabulous, like I said, the song with Whitney does in the church is really moving.  And her voice is, not what it was, but you could still hear the soul .  You still really hear her intentions, her love for music, her love for the Lord.  I mean, it’s really quite moving.  For me, that particular song stands out.  

DMJ: I think that was “His Eye Is On The Sparrow”.

MB: Yeah.  And let me see, I can’t remember because I saw it a while ago, how many songs there are in it.  But the sisters, you follow their short-lived career and there are some nice numbers, some really nice wardrobe, but not really being a musical guy I’m not really sure how to answer that question.  I found you really got into the mood and the times of the piece and it’s a fun movie that has really moving moments.  

DMJ: Before we go, real quick, let everybody know what you’re doing.  You said you have a movie coming out in November.  Anything else on deck for you?

MB: Yeah.  Chris Hemsworth who plays Thor  in “The Avengers”, he’s the lead in “Red Dawn” which comes out, I think, on Thanksgiving.  And I play the mayor of the town.  It should be a pretty interesting film and then in January I have a film coming out called “Broken City” with Mark Wahlberg where I have a few scenes in that.  And I’m waiting to hear right now on a couple of projects that I think look good but I have to wait to get the official word on whether I’m going to be doing it.  And you know, I’m just out there auditioning.  

DMJ: And I understand besides being a working actor, you are also an acting teacher.

MB: Right, I teach.  I teach an acting class most Mondays, but sometimes work takes me out.  But I love teaching.  I’ve been teaching for 20 years now and I just love breaking things down and trying to help actors understand the quickest, most powerful way to figure out the things you need to figure out in order to play the scene, to be active in the work.  The idea that acting is just about listening, of course you have to listen, but you have to participate so I love the idea of helping people and helping myself even at this point, delve deeper into the inner workings on how that happens.

DMJ: And how can someone get into one of your classes?

MB: I have an email that people can email to and we have auditions because I keep my class pretty small so that we can make sure everyone is involved.  I don’t like people sitting in the back and not participating.  It’s about participation.  So that’s how I keep my class small.  And I’m fortunate because I don’t need the money to survive so it’s not a business where I’m just herding people in because I need to make a living.  It’s not about that for me.  The email is  

{Editorial Note: Michael Beach’s Actors Gym is located at The Nate Holden Theater, 4718 West Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016.  Classes are 7pm-11pm, PST and the cost is $200 a month.  Auditions are by appointment only.}

And if anybody wants to hit me up, I’m on Twitter too.  My name is @MichaelBeach5.  I started Twittering a couple of months ago.  It’s kind of fun.

DMJ: You like it?  I don’t use mine that much.

MB: Yeah, I do like it.  It’s fun.

DMJ: We haven’t heard anything about you yet getting involved in any of those Twitter arguments like some celebrities, for lack of a better term, do.

MB: A lot of those people have a hell of a lot of followers and people who are paying attention.  I got a couple of thousand and I just like conversing and jumping in and throwing in my opinion but I doubt you will see me in any Twitter wars.

DMJ: Alright, let’s put some information out there about “Sparkle”.  That’s coming out the 17th of August?  

MB: Yeah, August 17.

DMJ: Mr. Michael Beach, I know you have other things to do man, but I appreciate your time so much.  And anytime you got anything going on, I’ll be in touch via Facebook and Twitter and I’ll let the people know what you’re doing.

MB: I appreciate it.

DMJ: Thank you so much man.

MB: Thank you.

DMJ: Be Blessed!

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