Call him a triple threat. In addition to appearing in many Hollywood blockbusters including American Gangster, Mr. Brooks and The Devil’s Advocate, actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson is also an accomplished writer and director. His 2005 film Lackawanna Blues received a Christopher Award, an Emmy and an NAACP Award, among many other honors. This past summer, he headlined New York’s Shakespeare in the Park production of A Winter’s Tale, which played in repertory with The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino. This fall, he will reprise his role as Roy Montgomery in the ABC series “Castle.”
Despite his accomplishments, Santiago-Hudson believes he and other African-American actors, filmmakers and writers have a tremendous amount of work left to do. He recently reflected on his past achievements during a recent interview with the AFRO and expressed his ultimate aspirations for Blacks in the media.
AFRO: How did you feel following the success of your first screenwriting debut, “Lackawanna Blues?”
RSH: Lackawanna Blues was quite a blessing because it really brought my name into the circle of writers of color. But what has happened since then is that I haven’t had another movie produced. So, people aware of me in the industry, but it didn’t green light any other thing that I’ve done. If we don’t—as a people—nurture our writers and protect our history and images, no one else will. What baffles me is the “powers that be” that are the same color as I am haven’t approached me. Everyone that has approached me has been someone that doesn’t look like me. We have a powerbase and an artistic stronghold. So, [Lackawanna Blues] has been a blessing more than anything but it hasn’t made my road easier.
AFRO: You’re a triple threat; an actor writer and director. What do you enjoy doing the most?
RSH: I love to work, I must admit. Acting has always been what drew me into the arts. It was the thing that sustained me in the arts for over 30 years and I seem to have an affinity for that. Also, I get a tremendous amount of pleasure directing and writing because in those positions—especially in writing—I have a clear voice. The more independent my writing is, the clearer my voice is. The more I get from industry people, the more distorted my voice gets. So, I do take pleasure when I’m writing things and making statements. Really, my statements usually are about the integrity of all my people and the humanity of my people. So, I take pleasure in being able to control that image.
AFRO: Of the three professions previously mentioned, what has been the most challenging?
RSH: I think writing, because you can write incredible projects and things you think are profound and to get them produced is a tremendous challenge. The stakes are raised so high in films and everybody wants a star and Hollywood goes by numbers—“What has sold?” and “What did your community go see last?” Opposed to, “Do you have a different actor?” And, “What other stories do your people have?” The challenge really is writing and getting things produced.
AFRO: What drew your participation in the Shakespeare in the Park production?
RSH: Well, I’m a classically trained actor. My first master’s degree was from the Hillberry Classical Library Theater in Detroit. I’ve done several Shakespeare productions and when I have an opportunity as an actor, to play the strongest, most challenging roles, I will always take them. This was offered to me and I leaped at the opportunity. I love working at the Public Theater because they practice the inclusion of all artists of all colors. There are certain theater companies that seem to make a policy that they don’t do plays concerning us. The Public Theater will always open things up and I’m very happy to join in productions there. When that role came, I would have been a fool not to take it, so it was quite challenging and quite rewarding.
AFRO: Your Broadway career spans over 30 years and in that time, you’ve accomplished a lot. Is there something you’d like to achieve in your career that you haven’t already?
RSH: That’s a huge question. There’s so much that I want to achieve. What I’m driven by is the fact that I want to do something to make a difference in the images that we project in the media. We have to battle those images of us being handcuffed, or those other images that the media portrays. We have to battle that with the real images—like my mother and father who , your grandmother, your grandfather. We’re survivors. We’ve taken what has come our way and not only survived it, but overcame it and achieved tremendous things. I write depictions of the people who showed me love and made me feel that it was possible for me to achieve. So, my challenge is to continue to write undauntedly and to not be deterred by anybody saying “this won’t sell,” and write the images that I want to project so these young folk will know who we are and what we stand for. This is important to me and I’ll do it until the Lord decides to take my last breath.