Last week we had the first part of our two part interview with actor Kirk Taylor where he discussed his time in films such as The Last Dragon and Death Wish 3. We are back with Kirk this week were we find out about some of his musical past, his current work and a little bit about his family history.
So, I present: A Life of Faith and Determination, a conversation with Actor Kirk Taylor. Part two: ‘It’s Come Full Circle.’
LTTG: So, you’ve since done a number of television series and land Law and Order and more recently in NCIS, what were the challenges you faced transitioning between television and film?
Kirk: Film is really like a directors/editors medium. They really control the final product. Whereas television is more of a writer’s medium, and so, you know, when working in television there is more exposition that you deal with. In fact, I just came from an audition a few minutes ago for the Young and the Restless for a guest role. So, with Television, you have more turn around than with films, where you have time to really work on [your character]. With these episodic’s, you have to learn lines and then you have to learn more lines, you have little time to work on the substance and it is a quick turnaround. So that would be something to learn, is that you have to be able to work a little quicker. On some of those shows I have done guest star and co-star work. I did All My Children, which was fun. I was a principal [character] for a day, in fact it was supposed to be a reoccurring character. I played a French…A Jewish French Attorney.
Well both my parents are African American but we found out that we have a little of everything. We have so many nationalities in us that I was staggered as a kid. I remember asking my father as a kid, ‘Why don’t we look like anybody else? The other Black kids, we don’t look like anybody?!’ he said, ‘Well son, besides the African blood we have several tribes of American Indian, we have English, we have Irish..’ and then he said ‘ We have a Rabbi in the family.’ (laughs) But he wasn’t kidding, my grandfather, I found out pretty recently, was, in the 1700’s he came from Amsterdam to the States and was one of the pioneers of Judaism in the United States. It is still there, and is one of the oldest synagogue’s in the United States called the Touro Synagogue.
LTTG: That’s Incredible!
Kirk: Yeah, so I got to make some choices and made this guy a Jewish Attorney from France. A Very non-traditional casting but there are plenty of people who look like me in France. I got the nose, I was trying to figure out where that nose came from so it was either my French or my Jewish ancestors who deposited that. (laughs) So it made it an asset for me because I can play so many different nationalities. I’ve played Italian, I’ve played Arabic, Hispanic, and black, so working on television was a lot of fun.
Now, the real medium for actors, the ACTORS MEDIUM is Stage. Because, under normal circumstances, once the curtain goes up, the director might be pissed, he might want to yell cut, but normally they don’t do that. I had one director that did actually. He actually started throwing stuff at us from the balcony.
LTTG: No way.
Kirk: We doing a production of Mowgli about the Jungle Book. The great famed director Tom O’Horgan, who directed Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, was doing a version of [Mowgli] and it was, oh my gosh, the music was gorgeous, really difficult music, but beautiful. He had an Off Broadway run with that and Kirk Nurock, another Kirk, was the composer. Well Tom Horgan was in the audience watching and something didn’t go the way he wanted musically. So, he started literally throwing paper at us, balling up paper and throwing on stage during the show. He said ‘Cut! Stop! we’re going to start again’ and we went back to the beginning. So that’s the only exception I know about, at least for me personally, of someone stopping it. So, film is something where you have chances, you know, you can yell cut but they can’t yell cut with theater, normally. So, theater is where you can cut your teeth and hone your craft for a lot of different reasons.
LTTG: Speaking of music, I hear you’re quite the accomplished musician as well.
Kirk: Yeah, I started playing piano when I was a kid and added trumpet by my second year when I ended up joining the play. I started playing trumpet in the band and it was really interested because I had so many really great musicians in the family. So that was sort of my first, it really stirred me up but something about music eventually pulled me to the stage, you know, that would be the blackmail thing with my cousin, but I never lost my love for music. So, I’ve been, you know, Musical Director of shows, I’ve written a couple of musicals that were done in New York and in New Jersey. One was called The Mask of Saint George and the Dragon the other one was Cain, that we did at NYU. Then we did one called the Trial of Hansel and Gretel where, you know, where we put the witch on trial for killing them. (laughs) No, no. No, I’m sorry. We put Hansel and Gretel on trial for killing the Witch.
LTTG: (laughs) Okay, that sounds fun!
Kirk: (laughs) We wrote some really nice music for that. So, I’ve been kind of behind the scenes for that, because I really only wanted to focus on film and television more than stage but the music has been something that I am gifted with. I got my publishing company started Rising Oak Music and you know, I got a song placed in a film I did for BET. [It was] the first time I was number one in the film, which was in a film called One Special Moment with Tamara Taylor, who is on Bones right now. Tico Wells and Obba Babatunde, Shanice, some really good people. I got one of my songs, we actually wove it into the scene where I’m singing my melody but changing it to make it a song about a date, I’m getting ready to go on. So yeah, so I’m starting to concentrate more on the music now and working on getting an album finished before the end of the year of original material.
Kirk: Yeah, I have a song that my uncle wrote for Nat King Cole back in the 50’s that was never done, and Nat loved it. He never did it because of something that went haywire with the meeting, he didn’t get there in time and [my uncle] told me was a great tune, and [Nat] wanted to do it. Uncle John has never let anybody do it, but, when he wrote he was playing for one of the Capone Brothers, Al Capone’s brother, and I think it was in Vegas, he was playing it backstage. Somebody walked back and said ‘Oh, wow. That’s a nice tune.’ He’s like ‘thank you.’ [The guy] said ‘you know that sounds like something that Nat King Cole could do’. [Uncle John] said ‘that’s funny you said that, because that’s who I wrote it for’. The man said ‘Well, I’m his chauffeur. I’ll bring it to him if you write it out. Uncle John is a genius. He took a brown paper bag, tore it open, drew the clefts and, you know, the signatures and stuff and wrote the song out, dude, on the spot, on a brown paper bag.
The guy brought to Nat King Cole the next day and they called back home immediately and said Nat loves this, let’s do it, then something goes Haywire with the meeting. So that’s something I want to record. I’m going to either record myself tomorrow or send it over to Tony Bennett or somebody who would really, Bublé or Harry Connick, someone who could do it. It’s an untapped classic written back in that period of time and is a really cool tune. Very unusual.
LTTG: I look I look forward to finally hearing it! It sounds amazing. Wow!
Kirk: Yeah, I think you’d like it.
LTTG: So, I just I see that you recently wrapped up work on a film with Chaka Khan called Revival?
Kirk: Yeah! I love me some Chaka Khan! (laughs) She is so beautiful, and super talented. I, you know, I grew up just loving that singer, boy she could sing.
So, I went back to stage for a while, I kinda took breaks from film. I went away and worked on music, musical directing and, in I think in 2000, yeah in the early 2000’s I went to Vegas to do a Stevie Wonder tribute and Chaka Khan is the female lead. I auditioned for the male lead and I got it. I was, oh my gosh, I was over the moon. We got to work with each other for a few months and then later Peter Bryson came in and it goes to Manchester, then we were supposed to get Mariah Carey in with me, but…well, but it was a great production. So, I knew Chaka and then I looked up and there she is on set of Revival, which is the newest project I’ve done.
It’s Harry Lennix’s passion project, that is basically the reinvention of the Book of John, a retelling of that story in very, very outrageous and unique ways. Like just, I’ve never seen anything like it myself. Chaka plays Queen Herodias opposite my friend Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter who plays King Harrod. Some great actors, we had Michelle Williams from the Destiny’s Child crew, we have Sheryl Lee Ralph, we have what’s her name, she used to write with the with Michael Jackson, Siedah Garrett.
LTTG: Oh, wow!
Kirk: I think she wrote that Man in the Mirror with him, She’s in it. Niki J Crawford, Don Luis from A Different World, but I mean, we just have a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful cast and it’s a musical. So, I literally get to sing on screen for the first time. I was like, wow, it’s come full circle. So now I’m actually singing and I’m in a film at the same time!
I play Simon Peter, one of the disciples who becomes one of the pillars of the church. We use the name Cephas in it, instead of Simon Peter, as that is his Aramaic name that he would have literally been called. So, we use Cephas to prevent people from getting ahead of the story. You know, he’s the guy that walks on water, He’s the guy that makes the great confession about Jesus being the Christ. He was the one that got called Satan (laughs) or basically gets rebuked for allowing Satan to use him to try to change the trajectory of things.
What is really interesting is that this project starts on the stage, In fact, it was written for the stage and they were doing it as a live musical. Somebody said, you know what we’re getting such success with this year after year, why don’t we film it so more people can see it. Harry said, ‘okay, what’s the budget?’ They came up with like something like $250 thousand, right? Thinking they could do something quickly but this is a musical so somebody didn’t think it through and we ate up so many of, Harry’s on Blacklist now, and we ate up so many his checks. Dude, we consumed almost the entire season of his checks [on the production.]
So, it starts on stage just like it originally did but they show an actor coming, this guy Molli Music who is double Grammy nominee, Wonderful talented singer, poet, actor and he comes in. He’s playing the actor playing Jesus, and so he goes to his dressing room, everyone is warming up, they’re starting the show. While he’s putting his makeup on something happens and he falls into the first century and now he’s not just playing Jesus. He is Jesus.
He stays in that that role even as we flash back to the stage, when Michelle Williams has this beautiful song, and then it flashes back to the first century with us and then it flashes to LA in the future and then it goes even further like maybe 25 years later in LA on top of the Hollywood Sign. So, we’re dealing with a very interesting approach to say that this is a timeless message of Our God’s love. It works in every generation, with every color person, in every era. Even if it’s LA in 2050, same message doesn’t change. So very clever to do it that way because, You just keep [the audience] off guard, like there’s a there’s a famous ‘Three Temptations of Jesus’ before he really started his ministry. One of them was that we see that he is hungry and the devil tempted him with food. That one they put him out in the middle of the desert but they did special visual effect where there are flames coming out of the ground. [The Devil] is sitting at a table and, Jesus been walking for 40 days, his lips are cracked, he’s tired and, [the devil], he’s got pheasant under glass. He’s drinking wine. He’s got a salad. Basically, that’s the temptation of food, he tries to get Him to take something from there. Then there’s the one where, it’s this ‘Bow Down and Worship me. I’ll give you, I own the kingdom of the world now’ in that they have a woman seductress in a big Broadway number, I mean, so it’s really really interesting stuff, a really interesting approach to it.
LTTG: It sounds incredible.
Kirk: We did a soft opening and it’s going to be opening again on April 19th in like twenty-five theaters in six different areas, then we’re hoping to expand it. We had the initial, kind of a soft opening, in December, we did a Premiere at the Museum of the Bible in Washington. It got such a great reception, they opened it in 10 cities and most of the cities sold out. They got such great response from people in Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta and they’ll bring it back to most of those spots again. We are hoping that this film, you know, will you know start a conversation, start people doing spiritual things. At least get an understanding of what the story is and I think they will accomplish that and, I think, it will refresh people to see it, to really understand it.
LTTG: That really does sound like something special.
Kirk: At one point I called it ‘Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell meets 2001 Space Odyssey. Because going into future, you know, sometimes I think your head could explode if you think about that too much.
LTTG: Yeah, wow! Ok, So see how long you’ve been in film and the different types of media you’ve been involved in. What do you think about the new rise of digital distribution with Netflix and Hulu, do you see that as the future of entertainment?
Kirk: The mistake that Blockbuster made was not seeing that it was a future. You may not know but Netflix went to them and offer them a piece of the pie and were like ‘hey let’s work together’. They said ‘No, no, we got… 10,000 stores’ or whatever it was, some outlandish amount of stores. ‘We don’t need you’ (laughs). [The Future] is going to be streaming, just as the technology improves and our ability to get in different places. I mean it creates a lot of opportunity for us to do our thing. Netflix is doing really quality stuff. The Jack Ryan series that I watch recently from beginning to end, I couldn’t believe how good that was. It was solid! You know, Hulu’s doing things and Amazon, I watch stuff on Amazon. It is it’s really fascinating and it’s creating a lot of opportunities.
Well, you know about film and actors and how we work, it’s feast or famine. We work, when it rains it pours and then there’s nothing going on. So, I went through a period like that where I was like man, I’ve only done this show, Chicago Hope, I did such and such and such and such but I’m really not working much. I woke up that morning and I asked my wife I said, ‘I would really would appreciate if you pray for me.’ She said ‘pray for you? about what?’ I said’ Pray that I’m supposed to continue acting that, you know, it’ll be clear and He’ll make it really clear. If it’s not and if I’m supposed to switch and maybe concentrate more on my teaching, because I teach. Maybe I should concentrate on that. I don’t know but just pray that He’ll be super, super clear about whatever He wants me to do.’ So, she said ‘okay’. We did the prayer, she said amen and got out of bed. I was getting out of bed when the phone rang and it was my manager over at central office and they said ‘Kirk, we were just contacted by a major motion picture and they want to know your availability next week.’ I said (whispers) ‘whaaat?’
They said, ‘It’s called The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.’ I said, ‘Who is it? Is it, Spike Lee? Am I working with Spike again? He probably called for me.’ I looked it up was Phil Alden Robinson, Director of Field of Dreams, Sneakers, I mean just so many wonderful films that Phil has done. So, a week later, I’m scratching my head because I’m standing in front of Robin Williams in the scene, a major scene that was added to the film and I’m in a New York cop uniform, with a New York cop car, gun on my side and I’m getting ready to arrest Robin Williams character (laughs) and Mila Kunis’ character, I had to not a pinch myself. I said, well, if THAT doesn’t make it clear that I’m supposed to stay in the game then, I mean, I’m not really listening and so I’m going to listen.
Still, talking about the digital film medium and you know, just how things are proliferating now, [Alden] said that there a lot of really talented filmmakers now did that, you know, you can shoot a film on an iPhone now or using a laptop. He said ‘very often they’re proficient at that but sometimes they can miss the two most important things. These are the two most important things; making sure that you have a script that you have you hammered out good, it works and secondly that you know how to communicate what your intentions to your actors. Those are two most important things and he said that from there, where the put the camera is going to be natural because it will come out of that collaboration with you.’ Haven’t you seen films you thinking how in the world did that get made?
LTTG: Oh, Yeah.
Kirk: How did it even get made? It’s not even a good script! Somebody was, somebody said yes. Then there are other films that are so good you say that. Like I saw the film Devil by M Night Shyamalan and that film was so good that we actually asked how did he get that made? Well because it’s called Devil and that’s why people went to see it, but it’s got like a God themed message in a sense about, you know, Redemption, forgiveness. So that’s why we were shocked it got made. Harrison Ford did a film years ago called Witness. It took them years to make that. They kept going back, rewriting, rewriting writing and rewriting, writing again, writing it again until they finally synthesized it down to its purest form and it was a very well-done project. So, I love when people take time and so hopefully with the [digital movies] some people are taking time to really, really invest in a great script and then invest in really making it come alive through great acting as well as visual skills visual effects and special effects.
LTTG: Absolutely. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Before we wrap up, what do you have lined up for the future?
Kirk: Well, I have a new management team called GEM Entertainment Group. They sent me over [for the audition for Young and the Restless] and other things so we are looking at different possibilities. I’m not sure what the next thing is going to be. Which is interesting, exciting and just like a blank canvas, it can be a scary thing too. A blank Canvas for an artist is like an invitation but it can also be daunting. You are looking at it like, What Am I Going to Paint?! What AM I Going to Type?!’
Nothing is set right now. I have a friend who is the show-runner on a show in New Orleans called Queen of the South and talking about me joining that cast. So, I don’t know, I really don’t know. If people want to keep up, they can look at my website it’s called kirktaylorofficial.com. For the film Revival, I guess I should mention that, it is revivalthemovie.com, it will have updated theaters, where people can see it and even request it.
I started my social media. So, on Instagram and Twitter. I am @IamKirkTaylor on those and @KirkTaylorfanpage for my Facebook, so I got them all lined up. I don’t use them as well as I could at this point, but I’m learning!
LTTG: Well, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us, the things I’ve learned about some of my favorite movies are mind-blowing. So, thank you. I look forward to seeing what you do in the future.
Kirk: Me too! (laughs)
As mentioned above, you can keep up with Kirk and his activities via Facebook and Twitter and his official web site Kirktaylorofficial.com. I hope we get a chance to chat with Kirk again in the future. if you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out the first part of this interview here.
Thank you for reading, you can check out part one here and other interviews here. Be sure to also check out our weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday and our ongoing series Scifi TV Review. For more TV goodness you can also check out Retro TV Reviews here.
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Late To The Game 4/6/2019