Downtime with David Alan Grier
by Heather Courtney Quinn
David has been a close friend of our family for years. I even stayed at his house for a week and a half right before I gave birth to our son. He is one of the kindest men I know. And it is my pleasure to share what’s so special about him with you.
David Alan Grier is a an actor/comedian who most recently appeared on Broadway as Sportin’ Life in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. He was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for this role. He is currently back in L.A. shooting the CBS pilot, Bad Teacher. His new film, Peeples, which co-stars Kerry Washington and Craig Robinson and was produced by Tyler Perry, opens on May 10.
Heather Courtney Quinn: What inspires you?
David Alan Grier: Great work. In New York, I saw this play, Jerusalem, starring Mark Rylance . . . that inspires me. To see people do creative work gets me charged up to do my thing even more. It’s so easy to not mix it up and get lazy. It is really on the artist to get inspired. I worked with Audra McDonald in Porgy and Bess, and there wasn’t a day I didn’t revel in it. In life, my daughter inspires me. My greatest role in life is to be a dad. When you watch this human being form in front of your eyes . . . I just know that this is the deepest and most complicated relationship I am having. It’s an adventure. It really has changed the paradigm of my life. It makes me want to do the “right” thing.
HCQ: What’s your proudest Hollywood moment?
DAG: That I got into the Vanity Fair party. Val Kilmer was at the door and not on the list. It didn’t go so well for him. No, seriously . . . probably being nominated for a Tony.
HCQ: What’s your most embarrassing Hollywood moment?
DAG: I was in the Bahamas and I was doing an episode of My Wife and Kids with Damon Wayans. At the same time, Michael Jordan has this annual golf tournament that he puts on and the biggest stars in sports come to this event. I am sitting there talking to Ahmad Rashad. And, this other guy comes up and starts talking to me and Damon. He goes on and on about this and that . . . about how we’re going to hang out here and there . . . and I’m looking at him like he’s crazy. Then finally, he walks off and Ahmad goes, “You know who that was, right?” And I said, “I don’t know who the hell that was.” And he said, “That was Barry Bonds.” I said, “Oh shit, Ahmad please don’t tell anyone.” And he said, “Oh, I’m telling everyone.” That was a really bad, embarrassing moment. There are so many in my life, but that was one. There was another time I thought Harvey Weinstein was Joel Silver at a Golden Globes party. I was standing with Marlon Wayans and he just looked at me like, “I guess you’ll never do a movie with Harvey Weinstein.” He was wrong . . . we made up, but that was another classic dickhead move.
HCQ: What’s your philosophy for choosing a project?
DAG: I don’t try to over think it. Some of the best decisions I’ve made are when I’ve taken a lot of the thought out of it. Meaning . . . I turned down In Living Color a couple of times because it was an ensemble thing. It was a sketch show. I wasn’t the lead in it . . . I was just part of the company. I didn’t come from a background like Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans or those guys . . . I didn’t have a bag full of characters that I had been working on doing stand up for years . . . none of that. I was a classically trained actor. Intuitively . . . “Why should I do this show?” But, it was one of these years where I literally had read for 30 pilots, all of them were worse than the last. You know, it got to the point where I was always “the black guy” or “Leon, the black next door neighbor” or whatever. But when it came down to it, I knew In Living Color would be the most fun because all of my friends were doing it. But . . . it didn’t seem like the wisest career move. At the end of the day, I said “this is gonna be a lot of fun and I know I am really going to enjoy this, fuck it”. That was the best decision I ever made. Whenever I take my career out of it, as opposed to saying, “when I get this role with this director, it’s going to change my career” . . . and I make decisions based on that, it always blows up in my face.
HCQ: So you found it’s better to go with your gut?
DAG: Yes, go with your gut. I like this person . . . I know we’re going to have fun. That’s when it works.
HCQ: What’s the best career advice anyone ever gave you?
DAG: I remember when I was in Michigan and I just started acting, there was this guy who had been on Broadway . . . he was an alumni. He came back to see our shitty little play at the U of M and I was like, “Do you think I’m ready to go to New York?” and he just said, “You’ll know it when you’re ready. No one has to tell you that. You will know when you are ready to go to New York. That is when you should go. Somebody shouldn’t have to tell you.” That was great advice. This is a question I would ask repeatedly. I remember I asked Arthur Kopit, who wrote Wings and won the Pulitzer prize, I was in my 2nd year at Yale and I was like, “How do I get an agent?” I was getting ancy, I had another year to go and I said, “How do I know?” and he said, “David, you’re a wonderful actor. People are going to see your work. All you have to do is do good work. Don’t worry about that stuff. Somebody is going to find you. That’s the way you want it to happen.” Then, literally, I am doing Measure for Measure, I got reviewed in The New York Times and these agents started coming up to Yale to see me . . . and that’s where it all started . . . exactly as he told me.
HCQ: What book is on your bedside table?
DAG: I felt compelled to read this book because it will give me better life skills . . . it is Effective Negotiating. It is an old book that salesmen or business people are given . . . for some reason I just went old school on that. I also just ordered How to Win Friends & Influence People. But what I read more than that are cookbooks, but that’s kinda boring.
HCQ: Would you say cooking is something that relaxes you?
DAG: Yes, cooking does. I just made this veal terrine. I got into terrines . . . I like to cook things I haven’t tried before. I have this food blog. I love when I can get everyone out of the house and then I can just spend all day cooking some complicated, crazy recipe, and then try it. I usually do it by myself because then, if it is a great failure, which it was (the first terrine) then I had to scrap everything and cook for another three hours . . . so this one day I cooked for seven hours. It was great. I love to cook.
HCQ: So you have a food blog?
DAG: Yup, chocolateglutton.com
I started doing it when I did Race on Broadway. It’s just a place where I can totally geek out about food and recipes and my cooking . . . where I’m not being funny, not doing my schtick . . . I’m just being a food geek.
HCQ: Do you cook a lot of chocolate?
DAG: No, that’s just because I’m black. I don’t really like chocolate. I am more of a savory person. I don’t really cook desserts.
HCQ: What’s your biggest vice?
DAG: Food. When I came back to L.A. and I didn’t have eight shows a week . . . and I didn’t have to regulate my day where every minute wasn’t about “I have to eat at this time because I have to be at the theatre at this time” . . . I just cooked and ate everything . . . which is why I called my food blog “glutton” . . . I just pigged out. My biggest vice is probably breakfast . . . I just love breakfast.
HCQ: What would your message to the world be with only one request?
DAG: It would have to be some corny, hippy shit like . . . love each other. Man, I am so sick of sequesters, debt feelings, the financial cliff. I can’t even watch the news about Washington and the way politics is run in this country. I wish one person would say, “I want to do what is right for people in this country.” There are times that I look at my daughter and I get worried and frightened for the world that she is going to inherit. People need to be kind to one another. It doesn’t take much, but it seems to be humanity’s greatest challenge. Don’t be a dick!Tags: Ahmad Rashad, Arthur Kopit, Audra McDonald, Broadway, chocolateglutton.com, Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier, Film, Heather Courtney Quinn, Hollywood, Inspiration, Jerusalem (play), Love each other, Mark Rylance, Marlon Wayans, Measure for Measure, My Wife and Kids, Peeples, Porgy and Bess, Theatre, Tony Awards, Wings