Blair Underwood is not shy about discussing the incredible experience he had filming the Netflix limited series, “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker,” saying he “had more fun on this set than I’ve probably had in decades.” As he tells us in our recent webchat (watch the video above), one of the reasons was because he’s an avid history buff and loves working with the clothes and cars of the era. He adds, though, that to get to work with the likes of Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Garrett Morris and Bill Bellamy was other worldly. “Hear me when I say it was hard to keep a straight face on that set most of the time. We had a ball. It was a lot of fun,” he adds.
In “Self Made,” Underwood plays Mr. C.J. Walker, the husband of black hair-care mogul, Sarah Breedlove, who also went by Madam C.J. Walker (Spencer) who developed a hair-care product to help black women grown and style their hair. Mr. Walker helped his wife bring her vision to life with his skills as a marketer and an advertiser but would also become a foil to his wife with several of his personal issues.
Underwood also explains how the story of what Mrs. Walker did is so central to the story of the African-American experience shortly after the turn of the century, just a couple decades removed from being enslaved, because of how important hair is in the black community for self-expression. “It was a time in African-American history where it was very important and critical to present ourselves in the right way so we could evolve and crawl up the social ladder,” he explains. “It made sense for Walker to come along and say we can help you with your hair to make it grow but also have it styled in a certain ways that will make you presentable to the world and respectable.”
Underwood also discussed his recent guest-starring role on the Netflix comedy, “Dear White People,” where he plays a professor who is accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. One of the key aspects in portraying that role was in playing up the ambiguity of whether or not his character had actually committed what he was accused of. He starts by keeping everything in the realm of being realistic but to also, “Make it honest, believable and authentic but more than that, just from a presentation or performance standpoint, it’s always best to keep the audience guessing. In as much as you can keep them off-kilter, they don’t know what to expect or what’s real until it’s time to be revealed in the end.”
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