In Part One of our interview below, Anderson discusses how he began creating stories as a child, surviving extreme bullying in school, and the devastation of losing a sibling.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Anthony, it is always so wonderful to speak with you. You are the actor, writer, director, and creator of the wonderful indie soap ANACOSTIA. How did you come to be this creative force?
Anthony Anderson: My mother always told me, “A person who wears many hats is always employed.” Someone who can do multiple jobs at their job will always be valued. To be honest, I wasn’t supposed to be acting in ANACOSTIA, someone else was supposed to be playing the role [of Sean]. At the last minute they couldn’t do it so I had to fall into it. I have always enjoyed writing short stories and pretty much getting what’s in my head on paper. This show has been a great vehicle for that. A lot of people initially did not know what a web series was, so when I asked people to come and direct and do all that stuff they generally said no. So I fell into those niches by circumstance.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What kinds of stories were you writing growing up?
Anthony Anderson: When I younger in elementary school I had a really bad stutter. Because of that stutter I was picked on a lot. Kids make fun of anything that is different, or something that they are not too familiar with. The hard words for me to pronounce were words that began with the letters, "l," "p," "s," and "c." I was always reluctant to do open reading in the class. That was the worst part of the day for me in class, when the teacher would say, “We’re going around the room and read.” I said, “Jesus, please let me get a paragraph that starts with a letter I can actually read.” Because the kids would tease so much, I never would talk. And because I would never talk I retreated inside myself. I would be at the lunch table by myself and start writing these little stories to keep myself entertained. I still have some of them. Looking back at them now I see there was really something wrong with me then [laughs]. I started writing then and have been writing them ever since.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What were they about?
Anthony Anderson: One of the stories was about a boy who could sprout wings and fly and was going around town saving people. Another was about a woman and many cats. Another was a play I was writing about people in my neighborhood. I would give the people who made fun of me really bad characteristics, like hunchbacks. That was the type of imagination I had as a kid growing up in Washington, DC.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you get bullied for other things besides stuttering?
Anthony Anderson: Back in elementary school I was very small, and I had two over-sized front teeth. I was just awkward. We never had that much money, my mom couldn’t afford the name brand shoes and clothing. So these were all sources of ridicule. I had to retreat within myself. Somehow through that I found my self-worth and did what I needed to do. I was always a smart kind, an honor role student. The bullying never deterred me from my school work. But I didn’t really get friends until around the fourth grade.
One person started talking to me then. Through Facebook we have reconnected, and she is now the make-up artist on ANACOSTIA. Then in sixth grade my mom moved us from D.C. to Maryland so I had to leave her, and go to a new school. When I started at the new school I felt I was going to be ridiculed and judged there too because of my stutter. Fortunately some teachers recognized the problem, took me under their wings, gave me some exercises to learn how to take my time and not to stutter, and gradually it became better. As it became better I grew more confident in myself.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You were bullied that whole time?
Anthony Anderson: Oh yeah. Bullying didn’t stop until I left D.C. schools and went to Maryland. D.C. public schools are a whole different beast. It’s fight or be fought. You would never know what you were going to get. Somebody was always going to make fun of you for something. Kids can be creative. Like I said, we couldn’t afford brand shoes. I wore “Pro Wings” which looked like Reeboks. They called them, “Jeepers.” They had this horrible song, “Jeepers Creepers.” They would sing that song to me whenever I walked down the hall because I didn’t have the best clothes and shoes.
Fortunately, I had confidence in me, and I knew eventually it would end. Getting to that point, however, was difficult. Again with me being not big, the words “sissy” and “fag” and “gump” were used. I had to hear all of that growing up. I got into a few fights. It got to the point where you could say “good morning” to me and I would start swinging. At a certain point you get tired of bullying and you act out.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Much has been discussed this year about gay suicide. Many of these young people were in the same situation when they chose to end their lives. Did you ever consider that as an option?
Anthony Anderson: It never crossed my mind to hurt myself. It did cross my mind to beat the hell out of others. My mom had a whole different theory on the whole bullying thing which was, “Beat his ass. You beat his ass, it will stop.” I said, “No, no, no, he’s crazy.” She would say, “He’s not crazy. He may act crazy but after you give him one good ass whooping it will stop.”
We used to play a game during recess called “Hot Bread And Butter.” They would hide a belt, and tell someone if they were getting “hotter,” or closer to finding it. The person would find the belt and then beat people with it. It just so happened that one day I was sitting at recess, minding my own business, and they were playing this game. As the kid was getting “hot” to finding the belt, something in me said, “Get up and leave because when he finds the belt he’s going to hit you with it.” Sure enough, as I got up and left, he found the belt. The first person he made a beeline to was me. Something inside me said, “Enough is enough.” Before I knew it, we were scrapping. I think the teachers were scared to see me fight because I had always stayed so quiet. Sure enough, I never had a problem with him again.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What advice would you give to someone now who is being tormented and bullied at school?
Anthony Anderson: I would not advocate violence. I would not advocate them hurting themselves. I would tell them to talk to their parent, or older sibling, or aunt or uncle, or cousin or counselor, instead of doing something to yourself and putting your family through such agony. That is something a parent should never have to go through. Unfortunately my mom had to go through it. I saw what she went through it. A parent should never have to stand over their kid’s casket.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You lost a sibling?
Anthony Anderson: My older brother died from complications from AIDS. I saw what that did to her as a mother. You never think you’re going to wake up someday and one of your brothers or sisters aren’t there anymore. Seeing her today is hard, especially during the holidays. His birthday is very hard for her still. I sympathize with the parents of all these kids who have to go through that over something so trivial as to who people assume they may be.
Who has the right to make fun of anyone? Especially to when it gets to the point that someone is contemplating taking their own life? It’s gotten so out of hand, to the point where I’m afraid to turn on the news because every day there is someone dying. It recently hit home here in Washington, DC with a student at Howard University. She was bullied because she was a lesbian and she took her life. If there’s any place where there should not be bullying about who is gay and who is straight, it is Washington, DC.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you considered doing one of the “It Gets Better” videos?
Anthony Anderson: The cast of ANACOSTIA is actually putting that together now.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I think the message is more powerful when it comes from someone who has been in that position.
Anthony Anderson: I’m one of the lucky ones. But at any point it could have gone in a completely different direction. It certainly had the momentum to.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back for Part Two during which Anderson discusses the actual town of Anacostia, where the characters came from, and how he puts together the story outlines for each season. Until then, catch up on the going-ons in Washington, DC's hottest suburb by watching ANACOSTIA.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist now accepting new clients in New York City. He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." For more information about scheduling an appointment, please email him at Shouldless@gmail.com.