Ruben Santiago-Hudson interview: ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ writer
“I play every role when I’m writing. If I write a scene and I want to hear how it sounds, I’ll play Ma Rainey,” explains “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” actor/writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson about how his experience as an actor informs the way he writes “I’ll play them all. I understand August’s rhythms, I understand the way these people do things, the way they sound,” he says.
We talked with Santiago-Hudson as part of Gold Derby’s special “Meet the Experts” Q&A event with key 2021 guild and Oscar contenders. Watch our interview above.
In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable “Mother of the Blues.” The film was adapted by Santiago-Hudson from the late great August Wilson‘s acclaimed play of the same name. Directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Tony Award-winning director George C. Wolfe, it stars Oscar and Emmy winner Viola Davis in the title role alongside the late Chadwick Boseman in his final role and Emmy winning veteran actor Glynn Turman.
Santiago-Hudson is best known for his performances in films “Blown Away” (1994) and “The Devil’s Advocate” (1997) and as Captain Roy Montgomery in the long-running ABC crime dramedy “Castle.” Prior to adapting “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” his second screenplay to date, he was nominated for an Emmy for writing his 2005 TV movie “Lackawanna Blues,” his first screenplay, adapted from his play and also directed by Wolfe.
“The people that he wrote in those plays are the people I lived with all my life,” Santiago-Hudson admits about adapting the particular style and cadence in Wilson’s esteemed play. The actor/writer was passionate about this story because it was so uniquely familiar to him. “This was my family, these people. The gentlemen that he wrote in this play sound exactly like the people I woke up with and had breakfast with every morning.”