MME EVENTS: Bill Duke Talks Early Career & Avoiding Typecasting
Bill Duke’s “Car Wash”, “American Gigolo” and Standing the Test of Time By Avoiding The Typecasting Trap
Bill Duke was only one of several notable panelists during our 2015 X-Perience Morementum Seminar Series, which was held in October 2015 at The Los Angeles Film School. You can HEAR more of Duke’s filmmaking insights, career advice and how he overcame his own personal struggles by watching our exclusive video highlights.
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
Nick Ramos (CEO / Co-Founder, MoreMentum Entertainment) How did you get your start and how did you go about choosing roles that helped you avoid being typecast?
Bill Duke: Being a large, black man… (laughter) in Hollywood, uhh, you are put in a certain box, and it’s difficult with agents because the agents get 10% of what you make, and if you start talking about boxes, you’re not very popular with the agency because you’re not a business man. You gotta live with yourself also. It’s really balancing the income that you get from jobs with the self-regard you have for yourself in terms of–because whatever you put on screen, as he can tell you [motions to Raz Adoti in audience] is there forever, it’s past your life. Whenever I die, that film is still out there representing me. And so I have a daughter, so I want to be able to have some sense of pride in letting her see that movie.
Kukhautusha Croom (Co-Founder, MoreMentum Entertainment) Now, some of you may know Carwash was built as a comedy and starred Richard Pryor, Franklin Ajaye, George Carlin and other comedic talents of that caliber, but your character Abdullah added an entire dramatic element that I personally believe elevated the film to the iconic status that it is now. We’re you directed to play Abdullah in that way or was that your interpretation of that role?
Bill Duke: It was directed by the great Michael Schultz, and he and I were best friends at that time. We knew each other through theater in New York and this is who he believed the character to be and allowed me to create my experience from the character. In those days, as you know, as a young black man who’s not only angry, but totally frustrated with a lack of change and opportunities, and I face that.
Kukhautusha: I see a parallel in that character and what’s happening now in the Black Lives Matter movement. Your character is literally like its own, has its own life in the movie.
Bill Duke: I had an assistant of mine, this is recently, he got pulled over for walking “hostily” from the parking lot to Target.
Kukhautusha: But see, Abdullah would’ve gotten pulled over, too. But in that same scene, when you broke down, and we saw that, the tender side of you, it showed that it was, like you say, it was all the frustrations of life that basically we’re pushing you to do something maybe outside of your actual character.
Bill Duke: It’s an interesting question that you ask because, many black men today are in pain because he was in pain. But as a man, you’re not allowed to express your pain. You’re supposed to be the strong protector, so because we have this face, it does not mean that we do not need to be understood in terms of the level of pain that we’re going through. And that’s not happening very much.
Nick Ramos (CEO / Co-Founder, MoreMentum Entertainment) Now American Gigolo is a true classic and that scene with Richard Gere remains provocative and groundbreaking even still today, especially in light of your character Leon playing a gay pimp. That was very daring then and now. Did you have any hesitations in taking that role?
Bill Duke: Um, not really. It was being in a film with Richard Gere, who I love as an actor. The role had depth to it. It wasn’t like being a gay pimp, he was a business man. And he was a business man that knew how to handle his business, so to speak. And um, I was fascinated by the textures and complexities of the character. I just like good guys who do bad things and bad guys that do good things. Those are layered characters. [Raz Adoti: Yeah, the anti-hero.] They remind me of myself, because no one is totally good and no one is totally bad.