Friday, December 17, 2010

Anthony Anderson: The WLS Interview, Part Three

In Parts One and Two of our interview with ANACOSTIA's Anthony Anderson, the talented auteur revealed how he survived bullying and taunting in school, why the suburb of Anacostia in D.C. inspired him, and how he learned to tell such fun sudsy stories.  In Part Three below, Anderson discusses the controversy around his primary gay character's suicide attempt, and highs and lows of directing himself in explicit sex scenes.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: ANACOSTIA is able to entertain and broaden viewer’s horizons while remaining true to its central core characters.  Where I think daytime has often goes wrong is in ignoring the relationships between the characters that viewers began watching in the first place.  ANACOSTIA has expanded, but remains true to the friendship between Sean, Mia, Selena, and Nicole.  It starts with that foursome and works outward from that.
Anthony Anderson: Thank you for recognizing that.  We try to make it that way.  There are a few guest stars that are coming in.  Viewers respond by asking, “Who is this person, who is that person?” Well there are other people who live in this neighborhood.  You’ve got to introduce them in the first season, then introduce new people and see how they relate to one another.  Season one was all about mystery of who shot Michael.  Season two is all about secrets and lies, and how they can be deadly if they are not taken care of.  Everyone now has some kind of secret, some kind of lie.  Each person is trying to deal with it in their own way.  Some are minor, some are major as you will see by the season finale.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: If there was from a traditional daytime actor about being in ANACOSTIA, what would your response be?
Anthony Anderson: My response would be “Absolutely!” Anybody would care enough to contact us and say they want to be part of it, they are more than welcome.  Many people have asked if there will ever be a Caucasian series regular.  The answer is, “Absolutely.”  We are casting for season three characters, and one of them is a Caucasian housewife who is coming into the neighborhood and is going to have a few problems.  I think it will give the show a completely different dynamic.  When people think of D.C. they find it hard to believe that Caucasian people live amongst Black people for some reason.  Clearly they haven't visited Anacostia lately. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What is the actual racial demographic of Anacostia?
Anthony Anderson: It is primarily African-American.  But as the revitalization is going on you have more ethnicities purchasing property there.  They see what is about to happen there.  They see that the property is about to be a gold mine.  We are going to be true on the show to what is going on in Anacostia. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: As a therapist, I am painfully aware the gay/lesbian suicide is nothing new.  What is new is the media attention to it, which came right after your character Sean made a very serious suicide attempt on ANACOSTIA.  You have told me that in your own life, when you were being bullied and taunted, that suicide was not considered an option.  What led you to put that in the script for Sean?
Anthony Anderson: If you watch Sean from episode one, it is clear he is still in mourning from the loss of Julian whom he perceived the love of his life.  As you would know, when someone doesn’t deal with that loss adequately, it sits there and festers.  Sometimes in turns into different things. Sometimes it turns into someone being a very promiscuous person.  Sometimes it turns into drugs and alcohol.  Sometimes it turns into someone acting out.  When we don’t deal with it, it festers like a pot of water on a stove, simmering.

Then in comes this potential new boyfriend.  Sean thinks, “He can’t be interested in me,” because that is where his self-esteem is.  Gradually, as he sees the guy is interested in him, he starts to think his life is getting better.  Then when it turns out that the guy’s interest was all big one elaborate setup and ploy, his response is, “I’ve been hurt, I’ve been humiliated, I’ve given someone all of my emotions and all my love only to find out that it was just a game.”

I think he was at a point where he was so hurt he said, “I would much rather not deal with this.” It was a very strong statement and we did get a lot of responses after that happened.  Ultimately what drove him there was a sense of utter loneliness.  Even though he has friends, there is no one else in his life to identify with.  And the person that he thought he could identify with turned out to be someone else.  That was too much for him to bear.  You’ll start to see him seek some outside help in season three and you will start to get more depth as to what it really going on in his head and why he holds his feeling back as much as he does.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I’m glad you said that! Because through season two I keep thinking, “The guy made a suicide attempt! Where is the therapy?”
Anthony Anderson: It’s coming. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Were you at all concerned that Sean’s suicide attempt would convey a negative message to gay viewers?
Anthony Anderson: No.  I thought that Sean’s portrayal was so honest that the gay viewers would connect with him in a sense.  When it got to that point, what I got from the responses, were people saying, “No, that’s not how he should approach this situation.”  I was glad that that was the initial response after the season finale.  They told me, “That is the not the way it should have gone.   Sean should have stuck up for himself.”  I’m glad that has been the overall response.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Another thing I really enjoy about ANACOSTIA is that your roots are in traditional soap story telling, but it is done through characters we have never seen on network television.  You have women of all different sizes and shapes in starring roles.  And you have really hot explicit sex scenes between people heterosexual couples and gay couples. 
Anthony Anderson: I was concerned that this would be the first time a lot of heterosexual men and women have seen this.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You mean the first time they have seen two Black men making love?
Anthony Anderson: Yes, making love. Kissing, making love, being very intimate.  We did get our share of detractors.  But we got more supporters from both sides than detractors. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: They may have detracted but I promise you they were watching!
Anthony Anderson: That is what it’s all about. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: On a technical level, how you direct yourself in a sex scene?
Anthony Anderson: A lot of patience.  It helps that you have someone else that is easy to direct.  They can read the scripts and understand it.  So we block everything around the kissing.  Now, Darnell Lamont Walker, who plays Julian, is so much taller than me, we really have to make sure he is not blocking my light.  So it is very technical.  This is the first time he has ever done a love scene, period, with anyone of any gender.  So he didn’t always understand me saying, “Now you have to shift your head to the left...”  It’s very technical, it involves a lot of looking at the monitor, watching the playback, learning to be happy with it.  But I hate doing it (laughs!). 

Anthony Anderson: It’s like performance anxiety.  You want it to be sexy, you want people to be pulled into that scene, you want them to feel the chemistry.  You worry, “Am I kissing him right? Is this comfortable for both people?” That is going through my head while we are shooting. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Is Sean ever going to take his shirt off when he has sex?
Anthony Anderson: [Laughs] Yes he actually is.  I think people are going to be surprised in season three exactly how freed he is going to be.  You are going to start to see Sean go through a metamorphosis in episode six of season two.  It’s going to play out by the time season three rolls around.  From episode six to season three it’s going to be a completely different look.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Come back for Part Four when we discusses the struggles, challenges, and triumphs of producing an Indie Soap.  What is the most important lesson Anderson has learned after two successful seasons? Find out in Part Four.  

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 [email protected].

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