Blair Underwood is considered to be one of our national treasures. He has an illustrious career with numerous iconic roles in film, television, and onstage.
Underwood just wrapped his extraordinary role in Broadway’s powerful play, “A Soldier’s Story.” Now he stars in the not to be missed four-part limited Netflix series, “Self Made” that starts streaming today, March 20.
In an exclusive EUR interview at the Whitby Hotel in New York, Underwood talked about the importance of “Self Made,” his character, working with the cast, and the “screaming ladies” factor.
What were the circumstances surrounding you getting on board with ‘Self Made?’
The fact that Octavia Spencer was playing Madam CJ Walker struck me first. Secondly, the fact that she called to tell me that the invitation was coming down to join the cast. I said, ‘So I’m playing your man?’ She said, ‘Yes, but you’re playing the man that helped make the woman.’ Oh. All right!
How familiar were you with Madame CJ Walker?
I didn’t know anything about Madame CJ Walker. I didn’t even know that Madam CJ Walker was a reference to Charles Joseph Walker. Of course, as you well know, her name was Sarah Breedlove, but she was known as Mrs. CJ Walker, Madam CJ Walker. So that configuration and that relationship I wasn’t aware of.
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What is the significance of ‘Self Made?’
I think first and foremost one can be inspired by her story and really contemplate just what it took for her to accomplish what she did as a hair entrepreneur in the late 1800s and early 1900s at that time as a woman. She was the first female self-made millionaire. People often make the mistake of calling her the first black female millionaire. We need to know about these inspiring stories.
How was it on the set and working with the cast?
First of all, I gotta tell you, I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard on any set. I mean, you got Octavia Spencer, who I’ve known for 25 years, who is hilarious, number one. You’ve got Tiffany Haddish. You got Bill Bellamy. You got Garrett Morris, who had me dying. I loved coming to the set every day. It’s a great project and we laughed a whole lot.
What scene or scenes stand out in your mind?
The scenes I loved the most were the scenes where we got to really establish the love affair. We all know the relationship goes askew but this man really loved that woman. There are men in 2020 who have a hard time living in the shadow of a successful woman. Imagine the early 1900s, and this black man brought a lot to the team.
I was at ‘A Soldier’s Play’ and when you took off your shirt the women lost their minds?
[Laughs] A friend came backstage and she said, ‘Why did they do that to you? It’s such a powerful play.’ I said, ‘Listen. I’m a grown-ass, 55-year-old man. Nobody does anything to me that I don’t want them to do. If I take my shirt off and women respond favorably, I’m not offended by that. What are you talking about?’