Onstage / TEN QUESTIONS FOR Alphonso Walker Jr.
(Bigger Thomas in NATIVE SON at Paul Robeson)
Photos courtesy of Alphonso Walker
What’s your relationship to this show?
It begins with Bigger Thomas, the fact that we are both black men in America; and what that means for us. He’s a young man trying to stay alive in a world that society built against him. He wants to provide a better life for his family, peacefully. But through a series of violent and unfortunate acts, he becomes the very thing he did not want them to think he was. I am a proud black man—never wanted to be anything else—but there were times, especially during the years between college and transitioning to New York City, where I felt the need to prove I was educated. That I was not the “stereotypical black boy” that people were exposed to in media or real life, especially if they did not live near or know any people of color personally. Whether I wear a hoodie and sweatpants or a three-piece button up suit, that does not take away from who I am, the knowledge I have acquired through life and education or the content of my character. A person should not have to change who they are in order to make someone else feel comfortable around them. I like to think that if Bigger lived in present time, he would be well aware of this.
What’s the best acting advice you were ever given?
There are no right and wrong answers. This is art. Art is interpretation. There are choices; make strong ones.
What’s your best “the show went on” moment?
It’s absolutely one for the books. The night after opening night of the show, a castmate showed up still drunk from the night before fifteen to twenty minutes before we were to go onstage. I would just like to say that night proved our strength as a cast. It helped that we knew cue lines and transitions for scenes we weren’t in. We survived and promised to not mention it ever again...until now.
What’s the role that got away?
I would like to think there isn’t a role that got away. It’s either my time or not. I’m a strong believer in what’s for me is for me... But there is one time I auditioned for a film, and it was a really badass character; I got the callback and thought I sealed the deal. I thought I was in this movie for sure. I never heard from them again... I like to think it just wasn’t my time.
What line from a former play have you never forgotten and why?
[I was Troy in] my college production of Fences by the legendary August Wilson. Rose and Troy are in the yard having a discussion about their youngest boy, Corey, and Troy yells, “I don’t want him to be like me...I want him to get as far away from my life as he possibly can.” I’ve never forgotten that line because it seemed so harsh when you first read it, as if he hates his son. But really what I learned from it was that Troy was just so weighed down by the life he was currently living versus the life he planned for himself. He didn’t want his son to face those same failures and heartbreak. It made me reflect on the generations of my parents and grandparents and wonder, what were the lives they dreamed for themselves versus the ones they were living?
What “against type” role are you dying to play?
I don’t really have one. I just want to tell really great stories that make people feel and think and take action. I want to tell stories that push the culture forward. A worldwide movement.
What’s your classic actor nightmare dream?
I get on stage, trip, fall, and draw a blank. Like, I literally can’t even think of the name of the show. I’m just staring at my scene partner mouthing “help me!” before running offstage.
Which audition do you want a do-over on and why?
The one I never got a chance to do because the casting agent sent the wrong date and never updated me. Yeah...thanks.
What’s been the best thing you’ve seen this season and why?
The best thing I’ve seen was actually on television. I’ve been watching more TV/film because I also want to work in those fields more. Insecure by Issa Rae is brilliantly written, funny, relatable, and deals with real life situations. Plus its on HBO. I want a few shows and specials on HBO.
A web series co-created by Terri Black and myself entitled The Quarter Life Crisis will begin production on a film entitled The Quarter Life Crisis Movie to catch viewers up with the show since its season 1 finale, which aired in 2015.
Paul Robeson opens Native Son, adapted from the novel of the same name, on January 18 (aaccbuffalo.org, 884-2013).