Molding Raw Talent Into Professional Actors Brandy Norwood, Ice-T, Tatum O'Neal and Q-Tip have all been students of acting coach Carl Ford. He is the founder and chairman of Black Nexxus Inc., a production company and acting studio in New York. Farai Chideya speaks with Ford and his student, Marishka Phillips.
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Molding Raw Talent Into Professional Actors

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Molding Raw Talent Into Professional Actors

Molding Raw Talent Into Professional Actors

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(Soundbite of Music)

Even the biggest names in Hollywood need coaching some of the time. Brandy Norwood, Ice-T, Tatum O'Neal and Q-Tip have all been students of acting coach Carl Ford. Carl is the founder and chairman of Black Nexxus Incorporated, a production company and acting studio in New York and Los Angeles. We've also got Marishka Phillips, who's been a student at Black Nexxus since 2002. She recently debuted her one woman show, "The Goddess Speaks: A Night of Revelations." Marishka, Carl, welcome.

Ms. MARISHKA PHILLIPS (Actress): Thank you.

Mr. CARL FORD (Owner, Black Nexxus, Inc.): Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: So Carl, you founded Black Nexxus more than a decade ago and you teamed up with your mother, Susan Batson. Tell me about your working relationship.

Mr. FORD: I love you put a chuckle on that. That's very real. Well I mean I happened to be blessed with having just an amazing genius, powerful mother to work with. I think ultimately the lessons that we learn from each other are probably the most important things about the working relationship, about how we can communicate, how we can keep building this dream that we have and also sharing a black family business. We be the first in our families to do it. It was a powerful thing to create and it's a struggle and a beautiful struggle to undergo with her everyday.

CHIDEYA: Now what exactly do you do? Say that you know, I walked in and I had had a couple of small roles but I had some potential. What was the first thing that you would do when I walked in to meet with you?

Mr. FORD: Well I would probably sit you down and ask you what you love about acting. I think — what really inspires you about the craft. I think a lot of people forget that acting is a primary art form. You know, practice is critical to your success and your working, and your working consistently in this business. So I would first try to get at your passion. And then I would, after getting at your passion, start really trying to determine how you can begin to utilize your instrument, which we call your mind, your body and your spirit. And utilize your instrument in the creation of a character. So I would try to do different things to, you know, illuminate that instrument. And then, you know, we go through it. And one of the interesting things about going through it means that we have to take you through a process of reconnecting to yourself, and then I'd probably see how, you know, how you responded to that and, you know, evaluate you based on what I saw.

CHIDEYA: Marishka, when you walked into Black Nexxus, what were you looking for, and what did you get?

Ms. MARISHKA PHILLIPS (Student, Black Nexxus, Inc.): My artist was so hungry for something. I had been doing work. I did "The Cosby Show," I did "A Different World" for the last two seasons, but I knew that there was something missing, and when I walked in there, I was just - I just wanted to get - I wanted better work. I wanted to really send my emotional life, really. I had -I felt like I had so much to give. I just didn't know how to get to it.

CHIDEYA: So what did that mean on a practical level? I mean, did you drill on scripts? I mean, for most of us who aren't actors, I don't really know what you would have done concretely.

Ms. PHILLIPS: Well, this is the thing that I've learned. All of these events that have taken place in my life, Black Nexxus showed me how to access these events. So what I bring to the work is actually the emotional life that I have endured over my lifetime.

So it's these emotional sense memories that feed me the most as an artist, to really connect to the emotional life and the sensations that these past events gave me and lift it into a character so that, as Susan(ph) says, it's not acting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: You know, we spoke with Wendy Raquel Robinson earlier. She's got an acting workshop in Los Angeles for kids, and Carl, I understand you're going to branch out and coach kids. Isn't there some line about dogs and children, never starring with them? What about coaching them?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: Well, you know, it's interesting. Marion Cantone(ph), who's currently coaching a lot of the kids who work with us privately, she - it's really interesting. They are so available. They're so accessible. They have so few inhibitors to their emotional life, to their sensibility and their imagination. So they can really jump to places that adults, who really haven't consistently accessed that element of themselves have difficulty with.

So sometimes you get kids who are recalcitrant and undisciplined, but you know, it really is amazing to see how they take to Susan's process because they - it really feeds them, it really does, and they can jump very quickly to a character, to their bodies, to the feelings that they have, and they can send it without question, and that I love seeing, I love watching.

CHIDEYA: Marishka, your mom actually has done film, recording, Broadway. Did she ever tell you this is not a business that you have any business being in, or did she encourage you? How, as a child, did you process this whole dream?

Ms. PHILLIPS: Yeah, she told me that - I was interested in law for a while because I was actually really good at it, but I was a backstage baby. You know, I was raised on the road. She'd snatched me out of school in fifth grade and hired a tutor, and so this is all I know. It's really all I know, and the passion for it would not go away no matter what else I'd try to say. Well, you know, I need to have a practical career, you know, but it just would not go away, and it's just where I am. Yeah, but she did try to discourage me.

Mr. FORD: It's interesting. My mother tried to discourage me, too, you know, because ultimately, they're just so nervous about the competition.

Ms. PHILLIPS: And the rejection.

Mr. FORD: And the rejection and the pain, and you know, I tell a lot of mothers who ask me how can I get my kid out of this? I go you know what? Ultimately the bug, that passionate side, that fire, it never goes away, never, never, never.

Ms. PHILLIPS: Just this morning, I was telling Carl I had this audition, and the casting director was just an evil man, and I was like ew, you know? And you know, it's - he got me all lumpy in the throat, and then I had to do another take, but I was like you know what? I'm a professional. I can take a no. But I was just like this is brutal. I'd never encountered such a thing.

CHIDEYA: Now Marishka, when you think about doing roles for other people versus doing a one-woman show, do you find that you have enough enticement, that people are offering you roles that are good enough, or do you have to do your own thing?

Ms. PHILLIPS: I'm coming to that place now. The show that I'm doing now, a casting director just saw it, and he asked me to come in and be seen to play Ethel Waters. They're doing a new musical about Ethel Waters. So I'm getting the kind of work that I've been training for, you know, and my breakthrough role is right there, and I'm ready, you know?

CHIDEYA: Now when you look at things, Carl, your mom has been thanked on stage by Nicole Kidman when she won an Oscar, Tom Cruise when he won a Golden Globe. What's been the best moment for you, the kind of feedback that you've gotten from one of your clients?

Mr. FORD: I think, interestingly enough, it was Jill Scott this summer, working with hr on "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," and she said something very interesting. She said, you are my acting therapist, and thank God you came. And it was interesting. She was going through so much before rehearsal and before she got to Africa, and she handled it with such grace and such poise and such understanding, and then when we got there, it's just a miracle to see her transform and to witness her, and for her to say that thank God I came was one of the most beautiful things I think any client's ever told me.

CHIDEYA: Well Carl, Marishka, thank you so much for sharing with us.

Ms. PHILLIPS: God bless.

Mr. FORD: Thank you, God bless.

CHIDEYA: Carl Ford is a director, producer and acting coach. He owns and runs the Black Nexxus Acting Studios in New York and Los Angeles. And Marishka Phillips is an actress and student at Black Nexxus. They both joined me from our New York studios.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Next on NEWS & NOTES, we trace how rock super-group Led Zeppelin took whole chunks of their play list from the blues, and we say goodbye to the powerhouse drummer who backed up Jimi Hendrix and sang for the California Raisins.

(Soundbite of music)

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