Lou Gossett, Jr. Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from Catholics in Media

Louis Gossett, Jr.

Louis Gossett, Jr.

 It was an honor for me to interview Lou Gossett, Jr. about receiving the CIMA Lifetime Achievement Award:

Sr. Rose: What are your thoughts about receiving the CIMA lifetime achievement award?

Lou Gossett, Jr: This is a very gratifying moment for me and I am humbled by this award. You never know when what you do in the arts means something to people and you never really know if you’ve been received well. So it is humbling and I am grateful

SR: You are known for your philanthropic activities including the work of the Eracism Foundation (www.EracismFoundation.org). How does this project influence your work in Hollywood, in how various races, cultures and religions are represented on screen?

LG: Other races and cultures have been underrepresented in the past because of history, the way things were. But there is a strong spiritual shift happening in this industry because of technology and because everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Now everyone can see, can know. I think this spiritual shift is shown in the election of our president. People who never voted before, voted. There’s something happening.

SR: How does this spiritual shift make a difference in everyday life? 

LG: There are beautiful words in the Bible and in our pledges and the Declaration of Independence. But there is a gap between our prayers, pledges, and life; there are prayers in the Bible, and guidelines in all these things, stronger than our own ways of thinking and acting. All this “teaching” has been written for us, with all our flaws and gifts, for our improvement, to change the world. And each generation can grow from these teachings. But it is our duty to improve the condition of the planet and our lives, to act the way we believe. 

SR: So you are talking about parenting?

LG: Yes, but this is all our responsibility. Mentoring and loving of our children, not with negatives but with positives. We hand on our history knowing that we can be different now.

When children mature they can take responsibility. And that gap between teaching and acting on that belief in God and humanity, is bridged by reflection, prayer and by making a personal inventory of our lives on a daily basis, and growing in a relationship with God. To rely on someone stronger than ourselves, to know our roots. Like when Kunta Kinte (Roots) was born and lifted up they said: “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself: God.”

In whatever way you believe in God, this Higher Power, this is a path to God. I believe the gift of acting is a gift from God, my oath to God, and I want to make sure on a daily basis that it is honed and deeply spiritual…. I want to believe that the audience believes that my acting comes from this special place.

Race relations are only part of life. Creating a spiritual being at a younger age, to be responsible for our children, beginning with parents and including the whole community, we need to find ways to show children how to resolve conflicts. That it becomes automatic to do things well, to live well. 

I think God asks us to promise to replenish the planet and to pay 100% attention to our young, so that they will develop character and a good conscience. Our neighborhoods have deteriorated because of racism. But the people who have survived, who have been persecuted, have to come up with a spiritual and moral response to make neighborhoods safe and a good place to invest in. I believe the positive is stronger than the negative.

You know, on Inauguration night, I was watching the returns with Cicely Tyson (The autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman). When Obama was announced as the winner, I had to catch her. She collapsed. And we realized that all the atrocities, all the things that had happened to our people were over.

SR: You said before that you think there is a change in the entertainment industry.

LG: More than before, I believe there is good news in the movies, that we in this industry have received an invitation to move to the next level, telling stories that matter.

SR: You have eight projects, according to the IMDB, in various stages of production, out of a lifetime of 158 films. Of your body of work, what role or film was the most important for you?

LG: Enemy Mine (1985), directed by Wolfgang Petersen, is the most meaningful film for me. It’s a science fiction film where I play Jeriba, a “Drac” or reptilian humanoid, on another planet that is 80% aquatic. A human named Willis Davidge, played by Dennis Quaid, crashes on my planet. In the film my philosophy was so pure that it prevailed over Davidge’s values and beliefs. It is a very poignant story about enemies needing each other so they can both survive. And of course, Roots (1977), remains one of my favorite roles.

My latest film just premiered at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January: The Least among You. It is the true story about a young man who was unwittingly involved in the Watts riots, was jailed, and went on to become the first African-American to break the color barrier at an all-white seminary.  It also starts William Devane and Lauren Holly. This is a story that is very close to my heart.

SR: How do you keep your “core” your best self, in this business?

LG: It’s tough, but it is getting easier. You need a thick skin to withstand rejection, a lot of rejection, and a thin skin to stay sensitive. It’s spiritual and moral work being in this industry.

SR: When you get to the pearly gates, what do you think the Lord will say to you?

LG: (Laughing) I would hope that he will let me in, for the first thing. And that’s enough. I think I am trying to do what I was put on this planet to do, and so when I get to the pearly gates, that’s it! That’s enough! What a sigh of relief that is going to be.

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Mark Derwin (The Secret Life of the American Teenager) to host CIMA Awards

Mark Derwin is George Juergens in ABCFamily's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager"

Mark Derwin is George Juergens in ABCFamily's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager"

 Mark Derwin will host the Catholics in Media Awards (www.catholicsinmedia.org) this Sunday, March 29, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I had the privilege of interviewing him in February:

 Sr Rose: What was your response to being tapped to be the MC for the CIMA awards?

Mark Derwin:  This is quite an honor. I have never done anything like this and it is very nice to be thought of for an event like this. I think of myself as a working actor and this kind of thing seems to be for someone else.

SR: Tell us about your family.

MD: I am an actor from an Irish Catholic family. I grew up about an hour north of New York City. My parents are from Roscommon and Westmead, Ireland. I grew up with a brother and sister. We lost my brother in 1994; he was my best friend. It was devastating for all of us and is something I will never get over.

My family always went to church. To be honest, sometimes I went just to meet a girl and one time it took me two years to get up the courage to ask out one girl I had met at church!

SR: What about your faith? What does going to church mean to you?

MD: The spirituality I have from going to church, to Mass, gives my life balance. I feel like a better man when I leave. And I don’t always leave feeling “in a great place” spiritually. But I leave knowing I have given back a little to God; an hour a week is not a lot to ask for all that God has given me.

SR: How do you keep your “center” in this business?

MD: You have to take your ego out of it and get into the business of acting for the right reason. I just want to work. Celebrity has never been my way. And I have plenty of reasons to be grateful and humble.

My dad was ill for most of my life and mom did most of our raising. I was not a good student. I eked by in high school. I was not emotionally prepared for college and got kicked out

I worked hard as a carpenter for eight years. It was a difficult time. I knew there was more to life but didn’t know what it was or what I really wanted to do. I came to Los Angeles in 1987 and fell into this business by chance. I didn’t know anyone so I listened and paid attention.

I have never forgotten the ditches I dug or the houses I built. Every time I walk into a store I thank God that I am able to buy this food.

Any rewards from acting have been great but I take it with a grain of salt. I had plenty of years of not having money and I was always careful. The thing is, for me, to stay humble I remember my roots, and what’s important in life.

Actors often have trouble finding their center. But we are all blessed to be able to do any work in this business. Anyone can get a job, let’s see if you can get a second job; this is where acting is a challenge. Reputation is a lot in this business and being dependable and hardworking is important. But no business gives people more second changes than Hollywood, except the Catholic Church that is very forgiving….

SR: I remember you from Life with Bonnie

MD: Bonnie Hunt is a very centered woman. She and co-star Marianne Muellerleile are still friends and pretty well grounded friends, too.

SR: How are things with The Secret Life of the American Teenager?

MD: At first we wondered: is this an ABC Family show? And as the show progressed we realized that “Yes, it is.” Every episode ends with a poignant moment, sometimes the situation is difficult but the show leaves you wanting more. On the show we have discussed the unwed teen character’s Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley) her baby, adoption, what’s the impact on the audience, or the audience response to the dilemmas. Brenda Hampton (the creator of 7th Heaven, too), is so aware of the different opinions about the storylines and how the story will be perceived. My character of the dad, George Juergens, well, I am having the most fun as an actor because I am unfiltered; I get to play against type because this guy makes big mistakes. He lies and cheats on his wife. But they let me bring in some comedy and quirkiness to my role. I think the show is wonderful. It seems controversial because it deals with teens and sex, and the consequences, but this is the way life is, the way things are. Positive things can come out of a challenging storyline like this. People write and tell us how much they love it

Even though the subject matter is tough, it tries to convey the realistic message that being smart about sex, abstaining from sex is important. Characters very fleshed out. Yes, there are different views. I love this job and I am excited to be on this show even though it may be perceived as challenging or controversial. The Secret Life of the American Teenager stirs up important conversations between kids and their parents and this is a very good thing. If through the story we can convince even one teen from making a mistake then this makes it worth it. On the show, we think we do influence young men and women in a positive way.  Brenda Hampton has three adopted children, and adopted pets, and she cares about her family and her extended family, us. I am so impressed by her writing, especially her overall awareness of where the story and consequences are going; how the show is perceived by her audience and how the characters move forward. The show is entertaining and thoughtful and it is an honor to be part of it.

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Without a Trace to Receive CIMA Award

 without-a-trace

The  Catholics in Media Awards will be given out this Sunday, March 29, 2009 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The Catholics in Media Award

I had a wonderful opportunity to interview executive producers Greg Walker and Jan Nash who will be present to receive the award:

Sr. Rose: I have a friend who said that your show, from the very beginning reminded her of the Good Shepherd, looking for the lost ….

Greg Walker: Jan and I came on the show after the first episode and we have always operated from the premise of the characters looking to try to find a spiritual center (emotional/intellectual) on each episode…Our FBI guys deal with lost souls and need to bring them back into the fold….

We were always puzzled, or challenged, by who would do the job in terms of the FBI looking for the lost in each episode, and what would happen when they would lose, or get lost in their own lives.

And the premise for each episode is that Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia) is a “hope junkie.”

SR: We in CIMA have been talking about Without a Trace for years and in fact gave the show a commendation early on and it is always on our recommended list. But do you know which episode really decided us? “The Miracle Worker” on January 14, 2009.

GW: We thought it was that one! It was a special episode. The characters want good outcomes. This idea has guided how the agents exist within the show since the beginning. And even when the outcomes are not positive, that the story show that the loss will not have been in vain.

Jan [Nash], with her background in spirituality, well, she really is able to bring much depth to the stories. In the world of story-telling there are so many that can end in any way possible, but we strive to achieve a balance in our stories to let the audience go to sleep at 11:00pm!

SR: Jan, I am intrigued. Can you share with us something about your spiritual background?

Jan Nash:  I am a big fan of God… a big, big fan…. I grew up in a Baptist household in Wheaton, IL. God, spirituality, has always been a big part of my life. Without a Trace is a terrific vehicle to inject spiritual questions into people’s daily life and work. We are interested in what really matters to people.

SR: Without a Trace is in its 7th season. What does this mean to you?

GW: Without a Trace is of those shows where you have the freedom to chart a personal journey for the missing person, and if it can center on a human and spiritual relationship it provides a framework for people, characters to strive to do what is right.

SR: Greg, what is your spiritual background?

GW: My perspective comes more from education about social justice. I went to Bellarmine, a Jesuit High School in Santa Jose, CA. My wife and children are Catholic as well. And this is important to us.

SR: So, what was your first reaction to learning of the Catholics in Media Award?

GW: If we had nominated an Emmy I wouldn’t have been as proud as seeing the letter in my inbox. There are a few priest teachers in Bellarmine High School in San Jose who will be happy to learn of this award! More than anything I am overwhelmed at receiving this award, this acknowledgement. It felt to me like the honor I was always seeking that I didn’t know existed.

JN: My first reaction was: An award? What for? Here we are in our 7th season, operating under the radar, doing jobs we enjoy which is a source of great satisfaction. So to me, winning this award is unexpected, delightful and it caught us by surprise.

SR: Going back to “Without a Trace” and to another episode from Season 2 with Hector Elizondo playing a priest, an episode I have never, ever been able to forget, you treat the themes of spiritual darkness with such reverence and respect.

GW: Jan wrote that episode called “Revelations” in Season 2 and it’s great that you remember it so well. But going back to “The Miracle Worker”, when we, with the director Paul McCrane, and the team of writers, can access big emotions early on, and here it was about ten minutes in when the first emotional break happens in the montage of people praying, it can turn out really well.

And our FBI agents do make fun of the weeping statue at the beginning. But at the end, when Jack brings his prayer on a little piece of paper and tucks it under the statue, well, that was a strong emotional moment.

JN: TV is a lot of people rowing in the same direction, and when they do, you get some great stories.. The idea for “The Miracle Worker” came from one of our staff writers. We have nine other colleagues who write and figure out how this episode – and all of them – work.

GW: It takes a long, long time; you need to have a lot of people in the room. This episode went through at least ten different incarnations before it was finished. The director gets a lot of the credit.

JN: One of the other great things about being in TV is that there is a short time between writing and producing the show and it being on TV, and it is there week in and week out and is a show that people watch. Well, this gives us a lot of satisfaction as story-tellers. We hear stories about how people respond so positively to the show and we get a lot of validation when this happens.