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journeyman john beasley has made a nice living for himself as a supporting character actor in film-television-theater, and he’s done it all with ever having to move from his hometown of omaha.
John Beasley admits being an in-demand filmtelevision- theater actor without ever having to relocate from Omaha is nothing short of "amazing," adding, "I’ve just been blessed."
~ JOHN BEASLEY
making his mark
After making his mark in regional theater, he became part of an acting brotherhood so identified with the canon of playwright AUGUST WILSON its members are dubbed WILSONIAN WARRIORS. "Oh, yeah, I’m definitely that," he says.
Beasley, who got to know the late Wilson, has made his JOHN BEASLEY THEATER & WORKSHOP a showcase for Wilson’s exploration of the American black experience. A production of Radio Golf last fall completed the theater’s staging of the entire 10-play cycle Wilson set in his native Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
"I owe so much to August Wilson. He’s been a big part of my career," says Beasley. "I credit August with getting me into Chicago theater and into that circle, because it is a nice fraternity."
Theater led Beasley to his first screen roles: opposite OPRAH WINFREY in TV’s, Brewster’s Place; co-starring with OLYMPIA DUKAKIS and AMY MADIGAN in the TV movie Lucky Day; supporting characters in a string of sports movies, most notably Rudy.
A big break came when ROBERT DUVALL cast him in the prestigious art film, The Apostle. That "life changer" project led to more film parts such as The General’s Daughter, The Sum of All Fears and TV guest roles (CSI, Judging Amy). Then came his recurring role in Everwood.
He’s gone on to appear in dramas, comedies, horror films, even a western. He’s played ministers, detectives, coaches, fathers, grandfathers and heavies. He’s often played older than his years, and now that his age has caught up with those senior parts he figures he should be busy all the time.
foundations & directions
His journey of late has ranged from acclaimed performances in August Wilson’s 20th Century cycle at the KENNEDY CENTER in 2008 to raising the roof at Boston’s HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY in 2009 to TV guest starring gigs, in 2011 alone, as in the highly praised Treme and in Harry’s Law, CSI: Miami and Detroit 1-8-7.
Now comes the pilot for a new TVLAND series starring CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER that Beasley terms "a great opportunity." Beasley plays a retired preacher whose once wayward son, played by Cedric, has left a secular music career behind to minister at his father’s church. The son can never quite please his old man.
The untitled new show marks Beasley’s first foray into sit-coms. "It was a pretty interesting process. We rehearsed for about five days and then shot before a live audience. About 300 people," he says. "The writers and producers were there and the network was there. We did several passes over some scenes and intermixed those together with prerecorded scenes. If we shot a take and they didn’t get the response or the laughs they wanted the writers would go back, huddle up and bring new lines, and we’d do it again."
There was also location shooting at a church. During a break TVLand president LARRY W. JONES sought him out to compliment his comedic work. Beasley feels everything’s in place for a hit. "It’s a very funny show. The writing’s good. The cast is pretty solid. The acting is believable, not over the top. It turned out to be a really great experience. The audience loved the show. The producers are really excited about it."
If anything’s made Beasley a go-to working actor it’s his rigor.
"I had some really good teachers who taught me to always go inside for my characters. I always try to be in the moment. Being in the moment — that’s when you find things. I’m always trying to get my actors to be believable and play in the moment, and when I catch them acting, I’ll tell them, ‘Get rid of the acting,’ and they know what that means."
Along the way Beasley’s "worked with some of the best people in the business" and found he can not only hang with them but bring something uniquely his.
He lived a full life before ever pursuing acting full-time — as athlete, gypsy cabbie, longshoreman, family man. "I’ve seen the rough side of life, too, where I thought maybe I might not make it out alive, but I always did, it always turned out, but you’ve got to stay the course..." He says his life experience works to his advantage as an actor: "All of it, every last bit of it."
"Believability is what I’ve always searched for. People say, ‘You gotta be bigger on stage.’ I don’t buy that, and so far I’ve proven myself right because when I did Fences at the HUNTINGTON director KENNY LYON saw what I was doing as something really brilliant and had the rest of the cast follow me — pick up the part of the song I knew. I just have a feeling for the rhythm. I know where the notes should be, I know where this song should be sung, I know where the pitch is.
"I worked with the great LLOYD RICHARDS, in Two Trains Running at the GOODMAN THEATRE in Chicago. The company had just come off Broadway. Even for guys like ROSCOE LEE BROWN, Lloyd still had to give direction. One day Roscoe asked me, ‘How does it feel to be the only one Lloyd doesn’t give directions to?’ Because I do my homework."
ripened with age
Beasley feels that, if anything, he’s improved with age.
"My concentration’s gotten even better. I’m even more aware of my presence on stage and I look more and more for the subtle, little things that make my characters more human, more interesting. It’s the same thing on camera. For me the excitement of doing a piece is finding things that maybe the writer wrote in-between the lines."
Ultimately, he says, the theater is his foundation. "It’s still where I sharpen my craft."
His own theater recently weathered hard times to launch its 12th season. He’s planning a new North Omaha theater. In March he joins Everwood star TREAT WILLIAMS for a staged reading of a new ATHOL FUGARD play at the UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA. And he still has faith his long-indevelopment Marlin Briscoe feature film project will happen.
Completely comfortable in his own skin, Beasley doesn’t wear success like a trophy. He prefers jeans and older model cars. "My work speaks for itself and I don’t have to impress anybody," he says. His bucket list includes acting on Broadway. Whether he does or not, he says, "it’s been a really interesting journey."
Follow the JBT at www.johnbeasleytheater.org.