Glynn Turman on How Chadwick Boseman 'Spills His Guts' on Screen - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Glynn Turman on How Chadwick Boseman 'Spills His Guts' on Screen

Glynn Turman on How Chadwick Boseman 'Spills His Guts' on Screen

By Daniel Malloy


Because he's performed with everyone from Poitier to Boseman.

By Daniel Malloy

Actor Glynn Turman stopped by The Carlos Watson Show to talk about his remarkable six-decade run on stage and screen, where he’s encountered legends of all stripes. He’s now starring in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix. Below you’ll find some of the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can hear on the show’s podcast feed.

On Underappreciated Black Actors

Carlos Watson: Tell me about Cooley High, because I think that was one of the first times that I remember you, and it’s so interesting when I get to see so many of your pieces of work lined up next to each other. It’s a little bit like some of your favorite musicians who you forgot all the hit songs they had, but did Cooley High mean as much to you as maybe it did to a viewer like me?

Glynn Turman: It has come to mean that much. Again, like with [Raisin in the Sun], we didn’t know we were making a landmark stride, a landmark production in the culture, but Cooley High has indeed become that signature piece in the culture of Black people in America, in filmmaking with Eric Monte, who wrote it. It’s a wonderful piece that there’s some insight as to what we as a Black people were doing and how our lives were shaped. And at the same time, then spearheaded by the great Michael Schultz, one of the finest directors in the business, Black directors in business.

And then, friendships came out of that, which have lasted all of these years — which is 45 years. I know that because we just celebrated not too long ago. Myself and my buddy Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Steven Williams and Garrett Morris.

CW: Was Garrett Morris in that?

GT: Yes, Garrett Morris was in that. Yeah, no, he was the teacher.

CW: Oh, my. Is that right?

GT: He was the one who saved us when we stole the car and the police, he was the one who stepped up and spoke for us and got us out. That was a young Garrett Morris. Yeah. We were all tight to this day, right here in California.

CW: I am struck by all. … It’s funny. I am struck by all of the talent that was there, and I’m not going to put this in the right words, but there were times when we felt like not enough of us got those opportunities on stage and screen, but at the same time, as I hear you say, Garrett Morris, I hear you say Ivan Dixon earlier, as I hear you say all of these interesting names, I say, you know what, Cicely Tyson. I used to try and hide to stay at home when they were playing her movies during the day on the independent TV station and all of these interesting actors were there.

And so, I’m trying to reconcile that in my mind. Do I say they were there, but maybe they didn’t get all of the acclaim and credit they should have, or how to think about that? But it’s interesting. You were making me realize that there are more of us who did really special distinctive work, maybe than I previously appreciated. Was there a richer set of Black actors in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, maybe than now, or is that an overstatement?

GT: Probably partially because I’m of that era and knew these people personally, and yes, there are some fine talents today. Some young people who are coming up with some wonderful work that they’re doing. Having worked with one who’s Chad Boseman. He’s that caliber, a fine actor who was dedicated to the craft and wasn’t there for the glamour. He wasn’t taking it haphazardly. He was putting his blood into it. And so, there are some young people who are doing that same thing. And David Armando, Jordan, the field with his insight on things, creating a whole other genre for us to work in.

So these are people in front of and behind the camera, you know what I’m saying? That are filling the shoes of some of the people who were some of the giants that I came up with. So I wouldn’t say that there was a better anything, but it was a different time. And in those times, the pickings were scarcer, so to get a piece of that, you had to really be sharp. You know what I mean? You had to really be sharp because there wasn’t that much going around. You didn’t have that many options.

Honing the Craft

GT: One of the things that was wonderful about back then was there was certain theater companies started by Blacks, run by Blacks, did Black material. The Negro Ensemble Theater Company with the plays that they did. National Black Theatre Touring Company with the New Federal Theatre Company, my friend Woodie King Jr.

Who’s going to this day, we’re getting ready to celebrate its 50th year. And anyone that I have mentioned to you from Denzel to Sam Jackson, to anybody that I’ve mentioned, came through one of these outlets. One of these theater companies. One of these programs that had to shape and provide a space for actors to hone their craft and for playwrights to get their works done.

And so, nobody was fly-by-night. Nobody came with expecting just because they showed up that they deserve. No, you show up, but you better bring a game. You better have something to back you up, because you get blown off the stage.

CW: Right.

GT: Oh, yeah. No, no, no, no. You better know your craft. You better know the difference between upstage left and stage right. And downstage, and all of that jargon. You better know it.

And we had places to hone that. Some of which are still going on, and that’s what I look for in the young actors and actresses today. Do they know their craft? Are the honing their craft, or are they just trying to become movie stars or famous or tweaked successes. Success stories. I don’t have much time for that. I really lose my patience with them.

There’s too much blood on the boards. Because the stories that need to be told, need to be told by people who are ready to spill their guts on the boards, so that it makes a difference when the audience sees. And that’s what you’re going to see in Ma Rainey. Everyone who’s involved in … Chadwick Boseman spills his guts. Oh, my God, wait till you see this boy.

CW: Going to miss him. But, we’re not going to miss him because he didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t go anywhere. Not going to miss him because he didn’t go anywhere. Not going to miss him because he’s still with us.

GT: [Chokes up with emotion] Right.

CW: He’s still with us.

GT: He’s still with us.

Life Lessons

CW: If you were to reach back to young Glynn and whisper two or three things in his ear, what would you be telling him? What would you point out to him as he embarks on this, on this journey?

GT: Don’t overthink. Don’t overthink matters, trust your instincts. I would whisper to him, don’t sweat the small stuff. Pick your battles. And I think, again, trust your instincts.

CW: That “trust your instinct” is so powerful and that “pick your battles” is too. I think especially in a world in which often your heart is broken. Or the pot is boiling underneath you and to still have your wits about you to know that you still have to pick your battles. That’s a hard thing to do, but it, but it’s a critical thing to do, and I think that there’s power in that. Talk to me about love. What would you tell young Glynn about love? What have you learned about love?

GT: Treasure it. Treasure it and make it bigger than yourself. Your love has to be bigger than yourself, because your love has to cover the love you expect others to have. We always think that people love in the same manner that we love. And people don’t — they love in their own manner. But if you want that kind of love, you’ve got to be the one that brings that kind of love because only to what degree that is. You can’t judge it on somebody else’s degree of what love means to them.

Finding Perspective

CW: When you sit back and think about it and talk about it with good friends, how do you think about this journey?

GT: You’re looking at an overnight success right here. It has been a hell of a night.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories