ED GORDON, host:
Actor Blair Underwood is making moves in the publishing world. He's edited a new book titled "Before I Got Here." The book features stories, quotes and insights highlighting the wisdom of children. The collection includes Underwood's own son, Paris, who inspired Blair to create this book.
Mr. BLAIR UNDERWOOD (Actor): He was trying to understand the mechanics of a joke, why jokes were funny. And I was explaining to him oftentimes it's, you know, what you say, it's the delivery and whatnot, but sometimes it's--the best jokes have a double meaning, a double entendre. So double entendre became the phrase for the day. All day long he was trying to find--this has two meanings, this has two meanings.
To make a long story short, later on that evening, I'm driving somewhere; it's just the two of us in the car. I look in the back and he's got this real deep look on his face; he's very introspective. And I said, `So what's going on? What are you think about?' He said, `Well, Daddy, I had this dream last night.' And he said, `Hey, by the way, Daddy, last night has two meanings. It's a double entendre.' He's four, mind you. And he said, `It means last night, a few nights ago,' in his way of speaking, `and the last night before there are no more mornings and no more nights.' And he said, `And that's when all the people go up to heaven.' And I said, `Well, who told you that?' He said, `Well, God told me when he made me, but I only had one ear at the time so I could only hear a little.'
GORDON: What was it that took you from a wondrous conversation with your child to trying to put it in book form?
Mr. UNDERWOOD: Having conversations with friends, you know, just talking about it. I said, `Man, let me tell you what my son said.' And invariably, Ed, they would say, `Well, listen, let me tell you what my daughter'--or son or godchild or--`let me tell you what they said. And it's just--it's more than "Kids Say the Darndest Things." It's really those profound, insightful and sometimes prophetic things that kids say. And we realized that a lot of people have these conversations.
GORDON: You know what I found most interesting about the book and the idea that we do it all too often? We discount, I think, the wisdom of children.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: Man! Well, that was the reasoning. You know, when I first started pitching the book to different publishing companies, I thought initially we're going to do a children's book. Yes. But, you know, during the evolution, I realized that it's really more for adults. You know, it's really more for us to encourage and not discount, as you say, you know, whatever these kids may be saying.
GORDON: Let me ask you about your career, Blair, and one of the interesting things that I found. You have, unlike many African-American actors, found a level of crossover appeal by virtue of your roles in "Sex and the City" and "City of Angels," "L.A. Law" and the like, but you've also stayed true to doing black production and, more importantly, you understand the idea that there are many--i.e., what you've done on the publishing side--many aspects of the black community that have a strong and huge following that may not see the light of day if left up to mainstream vehicles. I'm thinking of what you and Will Smith have done, trying to get distribution for alternative films and the like.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: That's right. Yeah. It's called the Momentum Experience and it was a company, a distribution--as you say, an alternative distribution company started this summer. But it came from just that, knowing that there are--man, there are so many stories that speak to the African-American experience that never see the light of day, that don't get a chance to be financed, don't get a chance to be produced, and definitely don't get a chance to be distributed. I have a movie in theaters right now called "G," and that was that case. We shot that film four years ago and could not find a distributor. So we said we have to find a way to get these films to the audience because we know that we are a viable market--I'm speaking of the African-American market--that is an underserved market.
GORDON: What of the idea of the imagery that particularly young African-American males see? There is that important notion of wanting to portray images that aren't often seen for us. Where does that fall on your plate?
Mr. UNDERWOOD: It's huge. It's huge. It's imperative to me. I mean, I feel blessed to have been in the game 20 years now. This is my 20th year in show business. And really the first half of my career I was adamant about only wanting to play positive roles. Now a lot of roles that really interest me are the ones that have a different kind of underpinning, the ones who--bad guys. "G," I'm not--I'm the bad guy in "G," actually. And I love that. As long as the overall message of the story is right and what I feel is moral and ethical.
(Soundbite of "G")
Mr. BLAIR UNDERWOOD: (As Chip Hightower) I don't want my wife socializing with gangsters.
Ms. CHENOA MAXWELL: (As Sky Hightower) God, Chip...
Mr. UNDERWOOD: (As Chip Hightower) Well, Sky, I think somebody should be honest here. Now I have read about your little rap lifestyle and I know what goes on in it. I am not comfortable with my wife being a part of it. At least I can be up front about that.
Unidentified Man #1: Look, Chip, come on, I mean, we don't have to believe everything that's written in the press...
Mr. UNDERWOOD: (As Chip Hightower) Now you going to tell me about the press?
Unidentified Man #2: I can't speak for the press, but as for my intentions, they're completely honorable.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: (As Chip Hightower) Well, maybe you can tell me why my wife finds it necessary to hide a photo album of you under the bed I sleep in?
GORDON: Finally, what's coming up for you on either the big screen or the small that your fans can look forward to, man?
Mr. UNDERWOOD: Yeah, a couple films coming out in February. One is the ever-popular Tyler Perry, who did "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." The sequel to that is called "Madea's Family Reunion." We shot that this summer in Atlanta. That'll be out February 24th. And a few weeks before that, I'll be in a film starring Sanaa Lathan, the beautiful and talented Sanaa Lathan--come on, brother. That's called "Something New." And I'm actually in the middle--in between the book tour--of shooting a miniseries for CBS up in Toronto called "The Hades Factor," which is a political thriller with Anjelica Huston and Mira Sorvino and Stephen Dorff.
GORDON: Yeah, I feel for you man. That ain't a bad gig. Sanaa Lathan.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: Ha, ha. Right.
GORDON: The book is "Before I Got Here," edited by Blair Underwood. And it is, as I said, the wisdoms of children, and something sorely needed. And fans can look for you on the big screen real soon. Blair, good to talk to you, man. Thanks for coming in.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: Always a pleasure, brother.
GORDON: You can hear Blair Underwood reading an excerpt from "Before I Got Here." To do so, go to our Web site at npr.org.
Thanks for joining us. That's our program today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.
I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.
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