LeLand Gantt

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Acting credits: "Malcolm X," "Presumed Innocent," "New York Undercover," "Law & Order," and "Prince Street"

Role in "Seven Guitars": Floyd Barton, a blues singer who's good-looking, smart and determined to make it big off his music

There's always the danger that whatever day job you come up with, the money might get so good to you, the security gets so good to you, that before you know it you're no longer a practicing actor.

Money is like grease. I don't consider money to be a god, though I talk about it a lot. But you need money to pay the bills, you need money to plan. You need money if you have a relationship so you can get your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife to the place where you're working. You just need money. You can't think about having a family and all the things that entails without money.

Me and Floyd, the character I play in "Seven Guitars," have a lot in common. I'll tell you a little story. I shot a film, an HBO film called "The Affair," in 1995. Made the most money I've ever made in my career.

It was shot in London, so I finally got to see London, got to see Europe. I say this to illustrate how high I was riding at the time. I was realizing some dreams.

I came back home and was confronted with an opportunity to do a small part in a Broadway show. I'd been in New York 13 years and never been on Broadway. But I decided it would be more fortuitous to take a trip to the West Coast to capitalize on %J whatever juice the movie I had just done might give me. So I went out there and turned down the Broadway gig.

And the movie did give me a little jump out there, actually. I got one gig almost immediately in an episodic called "JAG." I did lots of auditions, got lots of callbacks -- and then things just dried up.

So I was having to make a decision to stay there or go back to New York. I got a call to play in August Wilson's "Jitney," and I decided to take it, because all his plays have made it to Broadway.

As it turned out, though, after a wonderful run in Pittsburgh, I was not with the play when it went on to New Jersey. Now it's slated for the Manhattan Theater Club in New York City for the fall. So I had made a gamble to go to Los Angeles instead of taking the Broadway play; I made a gamble when that one didn't pay off to hook up with "Jitney," which also didn't pan out.

So I'm broke, don't have a job, and I'm running around trying to find a couple of half-baked jobs in a restaurant, where I'm not making enough money, and in a catering job, where I'm also not making enough money.

Meanwhile, I'm auditioning and not getting gigs. I started thinking, "Is somebody out to get me?" You know, very dark thoughts.

Next I got a call from a friend and ended up doing a play in Cincinnati. I didn't want to leave town, but I had to. I wasn't making enough money, and I was getting deeper into the hole. It was a really fun, fun gig. But then I was thinking about doing "Seven Guitars."

Now factor in the girlfriend aspect. She's in New York, and I've been out of town a few months and I'm looking at the possibility of being out of town again for an additional four months after coming home for only two, three weeks after being in Cincinnati.

But I got a car, see? So I figure it's going to be easier for me to get back and forth to New York from Baltimore. But then I 'D wrecked my car in Cincinnati.

So it's like, OK, you take the good with the bad. I didn't make the choices that Floyd made when he got pushed to the wall, and, frankly, in my personal life I've had a few bonbons to take the bitter taste out of my mouth -- unlike Floyd, who wasn't able to catch a break at all.

But I can definitely understand his mind-set. The speech he gives about seven ways to go and them cutting it down to two, where he can either give up and quit or do something totally out the box. Being ambitious, he chose to do something out the box, because it wasn't in his makeup to quit.

And that's where we differ. Right now, at this point in my life, I'm still looking for the gravy, and I don't want to do anything to put a hole in my ladle so if I do get some gravy something's gonna drain it away.

My girlfriend is a documentary filmmaker, writer and producer. I thank God I'm with this woman, she is very special if for no other reason than that she is willing to put up with the vagaries of this profession and stay with a man who is looking at traveling, always going away just to make a living wage and with very little ability to save any money or get ahead.

So that comes back to money. Money would enable her to come more often and stay longer where I'm working. When it gets to the point where you have to choose between the woman you love and the career you love, how can you make a decision like that?

Pub Date: 6/29/97

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