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Lou Myers - Charming Audiences Time After Time
By Ramona Prioleau

Stage, television and film actor Lou Myers warmed his way into the hearts of millions as the irascible, but lovable Vernon Gaines in the 1980's sitcom, A Different World. A spin-off launched to showcase eccentric Cosby daughter Denise (Lisa Bonet), A Different World hit its groove when the ensemble cast mushroomed to include a broad array of personalities. And Myers' Vernon Gaines was an integral part of the audience-pleasing ensemble. To Gaines, Myers brought humor, wisdom and endearing crankiness borne of bluesy Mondays, jazzy Tuesdays and weeks of good eating, a loving family and cheerful friends.

 

Although, Vernon Gaines is Myers most widely known role, Myers has distinguished himself in a variety of performances on stages and screens the world over. Myers' stage credits include The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and King Headley II. For King Headley, Myers won an NAACP Image Award for his portrayal of Stool Pigeon. His trophy case also includes the prestigious Off-Broadway Audelco Award for his performance in Fat Tuesday.

 

Lou Myers
Courtesy Lou Myers
Lou Myers

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In his many roles, Myers brings a flair for song and motion. It's no surprise. Myers was founder and director of the Tshaka Ensemble Players, which toured with Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the acclaimed play set in Africa. He also performed as the griot and dancer for the Dinizula Dancers, Drummers and Singers.

Currently, Myers can be seen in All About You and The Fighting Temptations. Temptations stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. as a New York advertising executive who must transform a discordant church choir into harmonious gospel singers to claim his inheritance. In Temptations, Myers plays Homer T, a long-standing member of the choir.

 

MOSAEC caught up with Lou Myers and asked him about his role in Temptations as well as his varied career.

 

Where in West Virginia were you born?

 

I was born in Cabin Creek, West Virginia which is not far from Charleston, West Virginia, the capital. I supposed it's called Cabin Creek because in the old days when my grandparents and all went up there, there were a lot of cabins and there was a creek

 

When you were a child did you know that you wanted to be a performer?

 

When I was a child, I didn't know that I wanted to be a performer because I really didn't know what a performer was. But now that I'm older and I look back, the same feelings and inclinations were with me. I was very excited when my first Sunday school teacher, Miss Henrietta Daniels, assigned me to recite a poem…. I was very excited about that. I think that that was the very beginning of my career.

 

Who from your childhood encouraged or influence your artistic pursuits?

 

I had music in junior high school and Dr. Knowle introduced me to the clarinet and that was a beginning. I also did some theater in junior high school…. Through the years [I] more or less added to that and continued that. I was always interested in it. Where I was from in West Virginia, you didn't go to be an actor. So I couldn't tell anyone.

 

Why did you decide to work behind the camera as well as in front of it?

 

I see so many young people who have production companies and they're trying to do their films and they have such great ideas. I'm working with GBI, Global Business Incubation, and our idea is that if you have 15 people that have production companies, let's set up a studio. There's more power together than there is separate. So I've been trying to work behind the scenes to get young people to see themselves as a corporation so that it can stand.

 

Throughout your career you have worked with a number leading lady icons. Who was your favorites and why?

 

Throughout my career, I have worked with some of the great ladies of cinema, including Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, Patti Labelle, Angela Bassett, Debbie Allen, Jasmine Guy, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, Halle Berry, Cicely Tyson, Melba Moore and several of the other great divas I've worked with. My favorite was Lena because she was the first.

 

What appealed to you about your role in the film "The Fighting Temptations"?

 

The role of Homer T. in The Fighting Temptations appealed to me because he was a lay member of the church… He was there when the preacher wasn't there; he was there to take people home and he was there for the Sunday school. Every church has a Homer T. Sometimes we don't know those people's names, but we depend upon them. Years later we think "that person." But that person was very important to us and to the running of the whole church.

 

Did your role as Homer T. in "The Fighting Temptations" enable you to expand your range in anyway? 

 

I did have to stretch to play Homer T. because Homer T. was a religious man. He was a dedicated man. He had strong emotions although he may not have shown them. He was a fighter. He had as much energy as [other member of the choir] had, but in a different way. He saw the big picture of what [the choir] was doing. Their success was his success. He was into it what they were doing - the outcome, achieving excellence in the music, in the choir, in the church and in the community. He was all about that.

 

In a lot of characters that you have played there is a lot of humor. Is that important to you?

 

I had a teacher once that told me to find the humor in the character. Every human being has a lot of humor in them. Every human being has something that they really want in life - even if that person is not able to express it. So the job of the actor is to go beneath the skin of the character and find out what that character really wants. The character himself may not be able to verbalize what they really want, but the actor has to go under there and find out what he wants. In the humor of a person, you'll find out what that person truly is about.

 

What statement do you want to make with your art? When people look at the breadth of your career and your body of work, what do you want them to take from it?

 

 

I'm a child of the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement came along and it sort of gave me another side to my performing. It gave me a reason to perform. You don't just jump up, sit down [and] act simple to be acting simple; but if there's a reason for it… I think in all great art, the artist has a reason for what he's doing and why he wants to participate and do this in the community. There's always a bigger picture. So I've been able to have this bigger picture, which was the struggle for goodness and equality of all people through the Civil Rights Movement. In a way that's the continuation of my struggle, my acting is all part [of it] - one in the same of trying to better the part of humanity that I belong to.

 

What was your very first job in arts and entertainment?

 

My very first job in entertainment that I was actually paid for was touring colleges with a show called Negro Music in Vogue. It was put together by a saxophone player named Granville Lee. His idea was to tell the story of African American music from the time of the slave ship up to the present time, going through the development of blues and jazz music. The band would play and I would narrate and tell the story.

 

What would you consider your big break?

 

My big break was when I worked on The Cosby Show. From the Cosby Show, Bill [Cosby] told the people who were putting together A Different World in Los Angeles to find a spot for me. That's how I got to A Different World.

 

How do you decide on the roles that you take? What do you look for?

 

I really don't decide on the roles that I play; I take what roles that I can get…I have turned down some things that weren't to my liking. The roles that I did take, small roles, I never complained about what had been written, I just expressed it the way I wanted to and sometimes it was quite different from what [producers] had set out to do.

 

Does stage performance sharpen your acting "chops" as compared to film and television acting?

 

Stage performance really does sharpen your skills and gets you ready for the stage, film, TV or anything. It's really all the same, but the stage will sharpen you because you get immediate reaction from the audience.

 

What other projects are you working on?

 

The other project that I'm working on that I'm excited about is my cabaret show. I sing and tell stories. It's a combination of singing, the stories and the movement. I won't say dance, but I'll say movement. I do move on the stage. The whole combination of me playing a little piano, singing, acting and storytelling all that coming together is my final piece.

 

What's your favorite color?

 

The colors that look best on me are blue and purple.

 

What's your favorite meal and who do you like to prepare it?

 

My favorite meal is my mother's Sunday afternoon chicken and dressing, with some good ole gravy and mashed potatoes and probably some greens or green beans. She'd make some banana pudding in the afternoon or a blackberry pie if I had gone on the hill and picked the blackberries and a glass of lemonade with some hot light rolls…that would be the ideal meal that I remember as a child and what I would like to have now. M

October 2003

 

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