Originally Posted Thursday, April 19, 2007
An interview with Russell Hornsby, who plays King in King Hedley II:
What has your experience of being in King Hedley II been like?
It has been an eye-opening experience. I feel like I've learned a lot more about myself as a human being and as a man. I've learned a lot more about the craft and about August. Doing this play has opened my eyes to the injustices of this country. All men are created equal, but not treated equally. I think this is something you learn more about when you get older and deal with different aspects of life. Doing King Hedley II at this age has taught me that you have to do the best with what you've got.
What attracted you to the role of King?
Overall it was the depth of King, the truth and honesty with which August wrote King. He didn't pull any punches. You get to see the true depiction of a black man being taken advantage of in America. I wanted to give a voice to that character, that man who lives in America every day who is trying to make a life, the man who is pre-judged and not given an opportunity. He doesn't have a "standard" education, I wanted to show dignity and humanity in that black man who society has taken advantage.
How did you approach the role of King?
I really looked at the words, they told me a lot about King, and let the story lead me. I feel like more than any other character or play this is the one I can truly identify with, or have an interpersonal understanding of. I don't feel like I had to go very far to find him. I approached him from an honest place. I see a number of "Kings" pass my way daily. I let the words tell, and inform me, about who King is.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I listen to music. I set a playlist for myself of all the pertinent music of not only the 80s, but music of the time that's socially conscious. That really gets me into the mind-set of King. I listen to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and a lot of 2Pac because of his song "Me Against the World" where he says, "I've got nothing to lose, it's just me against the world." King feels that way; it's just me against everyone else� if you're not for me you're against me. The rebel music has that energy and spirit to get me in the mind-set of America in 1985, in Pittsburgh PA. The music gets me energized and ready to tackle the huge role.
What was your first experience with August Wilson's work?
When I graduated from high school my mother took me to see Two Trains Running on Broadway. She said, "I'm going to take you and we're going to see Two Trains Running and Jelly's Last Jam with Gregory Hines." I had no idea what I was in for. We went and I got the chance to see the great Roscoe Lee Browne and Laurence Fishburne. It blew my mind - seeing my people, seeing myself onstage, really energized me. I wanted to do that. Six years later, getting to originate the role of Youngblood in Jitney while, working directly alongside August was a dream come true.
How did you get started in acting?
I was a sophomore in high school and one of my good friends dared me to try out for the school play, we were doing The Wiz. I ended up auditioning, getting a role, and fell in love with it. The audience was captivated and paying attention to me. I was drunk with the idea of people being here to see me; I wanted to continue to explore that. Upon leaving high school I didn't know what I wanted to do. Another friend said, "Why don't you just be an actor, they don't do anything." If I had known how hard it was I wouldn't have done it. I went full steam ahead with acting school. My mom said she would support it, but that if I was going to do it then I couldn't quit. She'll deny that now, it was a scare tactic and it worked - many times I wanted to come home.
If you weren't an actor what other profession would interest you?
I'd probably be a teacher. I spend a lot of time volunteering and working with kids. I can't be specific as to what kind of teacher, but I would be working with young people in some capacity. I'd be giving back as best I can. When I was growing up I worked with a recreation center as a counselor and always had fun creating activities for the kids. I remember putting on talent shows, getting excited about tapping into other aspects of creativity. I still volunteer and I know as time goes on I'm going to have the time to give more of myself to young people.
What will you work on next?
I'm going back to shoot the second season of ABC Family's Lincoln Heights. I play a police officer with a wife and three kids. It's a wonderful family drama, and I'm really excited about it.