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Michael Clarke Duncan: From ‘The Green Mile’ to ‘Green Lantern’

  • Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom

Michael Clarke Duncan  talks about his latest outing as the voice of Kilowog in the “Green Lantern. Michael Clarke Duncan is a survivor who went from homeless to bodyguard to aspiring actor to a Hollywood star with an Oscar-nomination on his resume. And his career has continued to flourish since that critically-acclaimed performance in the pivotal role of gentle giant John Coffey in “The Green Mile.”

Born on Dec. 10, 1957 in Chicago where he and his sister were raised by a single-mom, the towering, 6’5” thespian is set to star in his first full-time TV role in the new drama series “The Finder,” on FOX. He also has several movies upcoming, including the independent horror thriller “The Sibling,” with Mischa Barton, and the sports drama “From the Rough,” starring Taraji P. Henson.

Here, he talks about his latest outing as the voice of Kilowog in the “Green Lantern.

Kam Williams: Hi Michael, thanks so much for the time.

Michael Clarke Duncan
Michael Clarke Duncan (top) is the voice for Kilowog (above) in the movie adaptation of the comic book “Green Lantern.” (Photo by Alex Berliner, Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Comics)

Michael Clarke Duncan:
Hey, how’re you doing, Kam?

KW: I’m fine, thanks…. I have a lot of questions for you from fans, so why don’t I jump right into them. Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: “Is there a movie genre or type of role that you haven’t had the opportunity to do that you would like to?”

MCD: Yes, what I have not done is play the lead in a romantic comedy. I have a comedic side and I bet people would enjoy seeing me get the beautiful woman in the end. Something like that would definitely work.

KW: Patricia also asks: “What advice can you give to young people who (would want) to follow in your footsteps?

MCD: First off, have a plan. Know what you want to do, because if you don’t know what you want to do, you’ll get stuck….A lot of kids think they can just go to Hollywood and become an actor or actress. It’s not that easy. There are millions of kids who come out here wanting to act. So, you have to have a plan, and you have to stick with that plan, because….

And aspiring actors need to take acting classes… know your craft inside and out… and get a job when you arrive in L.A. Don’t depend on acting as your sole source of income. Work nights, so you can have your days off to attend auditions. Have something to fall back on. That’s what my mother taught me, and it’s critical in Hollywood.

KW: Teresa Emerson wants to know whether you enjoy doing voiceover work.

MCD: Oh, of course you have to love it any time you can go to the studio in pajamas, and the only preparation you have to do is take a shower and brush your teeth. You don’t even have to memorize your lines. The script is right there in front of you. So, yeah, I love voiceover work. It’s right up there with acting.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: “Because of your size, you are often cast in a role of ‘The Heavy.’ Since that is not the real you, how difficult is it to assume that role?”

MCD: It’s kind of difficult, because once people enjoy you as “The Heavy,” they want to see you as that all the time. And if you become pigeonholed, then there are only certain limited roles you can play. To help, I’ve trimmed my weight down to a solid 275 instead of being over 300 pounds.

KW: Judyth Piazza asks: “What is the most important lesson that you have learned working in Hollywood?”

MCD: Save your money. Save your money, because you could be very busy for a year, but then have the next one off. That’s happened to me, but I put my money in the bank, Kam. I don’t splurge. So, my best advice about working in Hollywood is: Save your money!

KW: Judyth also asks: “If you could change one thing about Hollywood, what would it be?

MCD: How they do business. Kam, if you shake my hand and tell me we’re going to do this or that project together, I’d believe you. But when I first got to Hollywood, I’d believe all the people who’d tell me they were going to put me in a movie. And I still haven’t heard back from a lot of them to this day. I don’t like it when someone can look you in the eye and lie to you, or pretend that they’re more than you….

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

MCD: An accomplished actor who was homeless twice. A person who was down on his luck in Chicago in 1996, crying his eyes out on the lakefront. I see a guy who told himself: “There ain’t no use in crying because nobody cares. You can either be a bum or follow your dream and try to make it.” Today, I see a successful person when I look in the mirror….

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

MCD: That’s a no-brainer. Just to have my mother’s health restored. Arthritis and other ailments have taken their toll, and she’s not as vibrant as she used to be. My wish would be to have her health back the way it was in the Sixties when she would play catch with me, throw a football with me, and teach me how to hold a bat ….

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

MCD: Yes, extremely happy. You gotta remember I was homeless…. Kam, I have nothing to complain about. A friend of mine was just murdered, shot five times last Thursday as he was driving on a freeway entrance ramp. The last thing he did was dial 9-1-1. Another thing my mother told me as a child was, “Always wake up with a smile on your face, because a lot of people who went to sleep last night are not with us this morning.”

KW: Looks like your mother has given you a lot of sound advice over the years.

MCD: Yeah, she’s never steered me wrong. I remember when Martin Luther King was shot and people started rioting in Chicago. My mother whacked me on my butt just because I balled up a piece of paper and threw it out the window. She asked me, “Why did you do that?” I said, “Because they killed Martin Luther King.” She said, “just think, where are we gonna buy our groceries, if they burn all the stores down?” I hadn’t thought of that.

KW: I had the impulse to riot when King was killed, too, but I was lucky to have a teacher who suggested that maybe I should channel my energy constructively and become a revolutionary student instead of a rioter.

MCD: And look what happened, from those words to you now. That teacher had a profound impact on the way you think by saying that one phrase. And then you went on to Ivy League schools. Growing up back then, people cared about you. If you misbehaved, the elders in the neighborhood would pull your coat. You got all your degrees because of the way that your parents, your teachers and your community raised you and helped you get there. You probably had some excellent teachers who inspired you whose names you can still recall to this day, just like I did.

KW: Yep.

MCD: Did you know that Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan is from Chicago? His mother ran a center for underprivileged black kids in the hood. I told him to let me know whenever he wants me to speak on behalf of education. I believe that teachers committed to the community are the ones who deserve to earn the top dollar, a starting salary of a quarter million dollars a year, because they’re the ones that get the Michael Clarke Duncans and the Kam Williamses ready for our careers. I’m sorry for going a little off topic, Kam.

KW: No need to apologize.

MCD: Believe me, Kam, I’m the biggest sports fan there is, I love sports, but I’m still convinced that it’s teachers who deserve the big salaries, not athletes. When I reflect on my childhood, I could always count on my mothers and my teachers the most….

KW: Well, thanks for another great interview, Mike, and best of luck with both “Green Lantern” and the new TV show.

MCD: Hey, much love, Kam, and give your wife and son my regards.

KW: Will do, brother.

MCD: Take care, man.

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