Over the past three decades, Gary L. Gray has grown up right before our eyes. And while the former child actor may have gotten his start with wholesome roles in TV series like The Cosby Show and Disney’s Even Stevens, Gray can be seen stretching his acting chops to a deeper level when the new indie film Blackbird hits theaters on April 24.
The coming-of-age drama explores the often complex relationship between religion and sexuality, among other issues.
“This is one of those films that’s going to be whispered about for a long time,” Gray tells MOSWN.com in an exclusive interview. The Chicago native also dishes on working with Oscar-winner Mo’Nique, being an ally, and longevity in the entertainment industry.
MOSWN: So you’re in the new film Blackbird, tell us about your character.
Gary L. Gray: I play Efrem who is the main character’s (Randy, played by Julian Walker) best friend. I’m kind of the bad influence. I smoke, I drink, I’m promiscuous, and I’m telling him to be free and live out his upmost desires. I won’t reveal too much, but it’s definitely a really good character when it comes to being layered and dealing with multiple things at once.
Did you do anything in particular to prepare for the role?
I did. [When] I read the script I realized how much this guy was just really into everything bad, and I kind of took myself there. I mean I’m not a saint, but I’m also nowhere near as bad as he was, so I really just went there. I actually started smoking, just for authenticity purposes. I did drink when I was younger—a lot—and I kind of took myself back to that dark place as well, just the feelings you have when you’re relying on alcohol to get you through life. It made [the character] come out a lot better.
You’ve worked with Patrik-Ian Polk (the film’s director) before in Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom. How was this a different experience?
I think it really came from familiarity. Everything felt like family already. I didn’t have to learn the director. Learning a director can be tough sometimes, so the fact that I knew how Patrik worked, it was a little bit easier than Noah’s Arc.
How was it working with Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington?
Wow, fantastic. I learned a lot from Mr. Washington. I was already an admirer of his—he’s just fearless in everything. And Ms. Mo’Nique is like a big mom. She’s just wonderful, just a wonderful personality to be around. They made everything on the set that much more enjoyable.
Besides Efrem, which character do you relate to the most?
I would have to say Todd (played by Torrey Laamar). I know how it feels to try to hold up a facade of someone that you aren’t. In one sense Randy also does that, but it’s a little bit different. Todd knows who he is and knows he’s in love with Randy, but he’s not exactly fighting it as hard. He knows what he has to do in order for everyone’s life to be better. And the frustration shown at the end toward that relationship, it’s really representative of how I went through high school and college, trying to find my place, trying find my way as a person. I went through that. I knew what I had to do and how to get there. It was just the struggle of getting there, and looking out for everyone else and not for me.
What do you think will be the cultural impact of Blackbird?
It’s going to be one of those films that doesn’t go away because it is so powerful. I think people are really going to resonate with it. I think the general consumer, the general moviegoer, is going to be so moved by the message of acceptance and love. That’s what we hope for. That’s really the meat of the story and the mission of the story—acceptance.