Dwayne Wayne is the Michael Jordan of black male nerds, and because of his portrayal of this hero, actor Kadeem Hardison will forever be a pop culture icon. So any chance to interview him, especially for a self-proclaimed son of his visage, is sacred. My golden opportunity came as a result of Hardison’s role as Norman in the Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil created Love Is___ on Oprah’s OWN Network. The show follows the journey of a black power couple (Nuri and Yasir) in the entertainment industry as they reflect on falling in love and the dynamics of their relationship as they both followed Hollywood dreams. Norman is the showrunner for Marvin, a fictional comedy sitcom on which young Nuri, played by Michele Weaver, is a staff writer. Our email interview exchange is below.
As a legend in the business with a cemented, Holy Grail body of work, what makes you want to take a role? What factors into it being right? (The people involved? The character? etc.)
Easy. The only factors that play a part in taking/going after a role are the script, the character and the people involved. Usually in that order. If I can get two out of three, I’ll still consider it with the “character” factor being the anchor/non-negotiable. Oh, and whether or not I can get in the room. Sometimes I like a script, character and filmmakers and can’t get a meeting.
Where do you draw from to play your character, Norman? In the show, he rides the line between tough, no-nonsense boss and resident funnyman. No snitching, but are some of the elements from people you've met in Hollywood woven into your portrayal?
Hahahaha, no. Norman is all on the page. I pretty much read my lines and then go to work on making him a lil’ nastier, while keeping his sense of humor. It’s an absurd amount of fun for me.
In episode 2, Norman uses a catchphrase to motivate the team that can only be considered grossly misogynist and inappropriate more than once. The looks on women’s faces in the room confirms this tension in those scenes. Is highlighting those realities of the industry a focal point for Love Is___?
This story is told by and from Nuri/Mara’s perspective, so along with “love,” “realities of the industry” from a female perspective are sure to be prominent as we traverse through season 1 and beyond.
What was it like shooting those kinds of scenes?
I’ve played a bulk of ‘PC’ characters in my career; it’s a gas for me to get to play Norman who has little time for political correctness and tells it how it is (or at least how he sees it). Shooting those scenes are not unlike shooting any others for me, we all (cast/crew) usually laugh at the absurdity (or my delivery) and keep it movin’.
Norman, as a showrunner and mentor to Nuri’s character, sets the tone for what she should expect as she navigates success. Who was/is that person for you?
I don’t think I had one (officially), but I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with Eddie in the 90’s. He didn’t offer much in terms of “do’s and don’ts,” but whenever he did, it landed. No question was off limits; we’d talk about anything, which usually ended with him making me laugh til’ my face hurt. He was my first view of what life was like under the brightest of lights and how to take it all in stride.
Debbie Allen taught me to diversify: “the more you can do, the less they can tell you, you can’t, honey!” She encouraged us to write and direct, as well as act. Aside from those two, I tend to observe others and learn from what I see. I learned about being a producer from one audition I had with George Clooney, learned about compassion for your fellow actors and class from working with Steve Martin and Danny DeVito and learned about staying ready from Wesley Snipes. I’m reminded that there are levels to this any and every time I see Denzel or Fish [Washington and Laurence Fishburne]. Each experience/encounter is there to teach you something if you’re open to learning.
You don't get enough respect for the role you play as a Mount Rushmore-like father figure of sneaker culture. On A Different World and beyond, you had a hand in birthing an entire generation of sneakerheads. So, what are your favorite pair of kicks in 2018?
Thank you for acknowledging the truth! Hahahaha. Favorite kicks in 2018? I’ve always been a Nike guy, so I’ll give you my top three, in no particular order, just what I’m rocking now: Air Jordan 11’s Low Binary Blue aka Suede Jeter’s / RE2PECT; LeBron 15’s Air Max 95; and Travis Scott x Air Jordan 4 Houston Oilers (I don’t actually have these; sold out quick. Holla at me, Trav!!).
Since the Akils are already in the superhero television business, do you have any interest in comic book-related work in the future?
I grew up a comic geek. Marvel Comics fueled my imagination as a kid. Seeing all of these comics turning into movies and TV shows now makes me think I might’ve been born a lil’ too early to fully catch this wave, but I’d be thrilled to find my way into a piece of that action.
What was your experience like playing Cole Freeman in Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls? Do you have any interest in doing more video game voice-over work?
Working with David Cage and his team at Quantic Dream on Beyond: Two Souls was a dream come true. The actors that I got to play with (Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe) and the freedom/constraints of mo-cap/performance/cap is like an acting boot camp. Both liberating and challenging, it’s something I can’t wait to do again. Oh, and it was a month in Paris... hard to beat that.
For all the A Different World fans, myself included, what is Dwayne Wayne doing right now, 2018?
I think Dwayne Wayne is probably on a couch grading papers, listening to Whitley rant about equal pay and the lack of diversity in the fashion world, while quietly checking his Twitter timeline for NBA free agency signings. ;) I think they made a fortune in Japan, and he came back home to follow his heart and true passion: teaching.