Showing up

by Ricco Ross Screen Actors Guild Foundation 30th Anniversary Celebration

Last week I pulled myself away from home to show up at one of those chi-chi Hollywood events I find myself so loathed to attend. The way I see it is, it could be fun to go to such an event a few times, but after that I’ve done it. Besides, being an actor, going to see someone in my business being celebrated is just another painful reminder that one can be so close to success as to see it, smell it, even feel it, but still be a million miles away. In any event, I justified it by reminding myself I started a production company two years ago that hadn’t gotten off the ground, so listening to another Black man that managed to get his off the ground was enough to get me off my couch.


Maybe it’s just me, I turned down a European contract to play professional basketball and couldn’t watch the NBA for ten years. Still, I couldn’t get the words out of my head “80% of success is showing up.” The last time I heard that voice was when I showed up at an audition for a new musical “North of Sunset, West of Vine”. The long and short is, I showed up unprepared and ended up booking the lead role. I later found out the composer was multi Emmy winner, Bear McCreary, and we sold out before we even opened!


So I go to this chi-chi Hollywood event where they celebrated Producer, Writer and Director Lee Daniels for his amazing work over the past 20+ years and the changes it has brought to Hollywood, especially in respect to African American projects. His credits include “Monsters Ball” in which Halle Berry won the first Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role for a woman of color, “Precious” where Mo’Nique won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role and the TV series “Empire” that made diversity the commodity of choice, where actress Taraji P. Henson won a Golden Globe award.


Now on to the event, first of all, it was at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and packed. My wife Julie and I arrived just as the opening speaker began. There were a few speakers from the African-American Steering Committee, a committee born out of a desire to address the specific needs of the African-American members of the DGA. The speakers set the tone that this was not going to be a bougie event. Their candid dispositions made it clear this event was going to be “keepin’ it real”. The last speaker introduced the host, director Anthony Hemingway (The People v O. J. Simpson) who then introduced the man of the hour, Lee Daniels.


Did I mention Lee was once my manager before making it big? Did I also mention I had a small personal gripe that he had not offered me a role in any of the projects he had made since becoming a producer/director/writer, though he did call me in to “audition” for one, years ago?  What I’m doing now is what veteran actors often do; complain about friends that have made it, but forgot about us, as if we are owed something, which we aren’t, but I digress. Director Anthony questioned Lee who spoke candidly about his experience in Hollywood and his rise to the top. There were a number of short videos clips of Lee’s accomplished work shown, reminding the audience just how much of an effect Lee has had on the industry. Lee spoke candidly of his life as a gay child growing up at a time and place where homosexuality was rarely “tolerated” much less accepted. He spoke as if he were talking to a small group of friends even though there were over a thousand people in the audience. He was funny, outlandish, sincere and at times quiet and emotional. At one point he told of a particular challenge he found as a Black producer in Hollywood. He spoke of making the pilot “Empire” and thinking about what he would work on next when he received a call informing him “Empire” had been picked up for a whole series. He reflected on the control he had the first year, the interference he experienced the second year and how by the third year he had White executives trying to tell him how to produce a Black show. This was information one wouldn’t normally expect to hear in such a mixed race audience and especially at the DGA. As tough as it was sitting there listening to all of his success, when my career wasn’t where I thought it should be, I marveled at how refreshing it was to hear someone that had made it, speak with such courage and frankness. I found myself thinking it was good that I “showed up”.


There were cocktails and hors d’oeuvres afterwards and my wife and I mingled/networked the crowd in hopes of getting to Lee. I have a hard time networking at these events as I always feel I’m kissing up to people and that at my level I shouldn’t have to. In other words my ego gets the best of me. Still, I did what you do and ended up getting a few good contact numbers of producers that came in handy within days. Just as I was thinking my patience there had expired, my wife comes up to me saying she had just spoken to Lee and that he asked about me. She knew him before he had blown up, too. I made my way over to Lee and the crowd of adorers surrounding him. I soon found myself jockeying for the best spot when he spotted me and shouted, “Riiiiccccoo!” We hugged and after a few words he says, “We have to get you on the show”. I assumed he was talking about his hit show “Empire” and I replied, “Hell yeah, let us do it!”. He then shouts across the room to showrunner, Charles Murray, “We got to get Ricco on the show!” That’s kind of where it was left before the handlers ushered Lee away and out of the building. Julie and I left minutes later.
Within a few days I would follow up on Lee’s offer by emailing Charles, and Lee’s casting director/sister, Leah Daniels, to remind them of Lee’s suggestion. I’m still waiting to see if anything becomes of my efforts that night. However, even if nothing does become of it, one thing was made clear, a conversation had begun. On the way home, I remember thinking, yeah, 80% of success “is” showing up.

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