SLOW but Steady Actor

Photos by Carlton Byrd

Fort Myers, Florida actor and personal trainer Carlton Byrd appears in the short film, “SLOW,” about a blind date encounter between two African American men that takes an unexpected twist. “SLOW” has been getting rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. In 2011 it was the winner in the HBO Short film competition at the Martha Vineyards African American Film Festival. “SLOW,” directed by Darius Monroe, will be shown at the Fusion Los Angeles LGBT People of Color Film Festival on Saturday March 24 at The Egyptian located at 6712 Hollywood Blvd at 7:30 PM.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): Tell me a little bit about yourself, how long have you been acting professionally?

CARLTON BYRD (CB): I have been acting since the fifth grade.  I had two lines in the play, “The Miracle Worker.” it was the most amazing experience I’d ever had at that time because I got to do rehearsals on the weekend and I got to stay up late on a school night. I thought, “Hurray, acting meant that you get to stay up late on a school night!” (Laughs) When it comes to working professionally on films I did not get to do my first film until I came to NYU Tisch School of the Arts.  I met Darius Monroe, the director and producer on “SLOW.” I also met Mike Brown and some other folks who’d completed their undergrad at Howard University and were also working on the masters at Tisch.

PI: I cannot quite put my finger on it but you look very familiar for some reason. Where do I know you from?

CB: You’ve probably seen me on television in the Chase Bank commercial where a pregnant woman is sitting in the middle of the floor with a bunch of baby stuff she’d just purchased. I play the husband who cannot understand why his wife bought so much stuff. The wife later reveals that she’s having triplets and I (the husband) faint.

PI:  Can we expect to see you in any commercials?

CB: I do not have any others planned.  Apparently the young lady that co-starred in the Chase Bank commercial with me is starring on Broadway in The Lion King. We have some mutual friends that are in the show.  It’s funny to see how it’s a small world.  It was a lot of fun doing commercials because it’s very laid back atmosphere.

PI: That was your third commercial, talk about the others you’ve starred in.

CB: My first commercial was for Tide.  It was a rainy day; all I did was run around in a brightly colored sweat suit. The second one was for Windows 7.0, which was exciting because it was my first trip to Los Angeles.

PI:  Share your experience making “SLOW?”

CB: Darius and I systematically call each other whenever we feel like doing something creative.  We worked on two other films together before we worked on “SLOW.” He called me up one day because he wanted to collaborate on something that we had not done before. We both agreed that we wanted to challenge each. He put together the premise of “SLOW,” about a man going on a blind date with another man. The kicker was that one of the men is actually blind! Darius was interested in telling the story about how these two men went on the date for two very different reasons. It’s very interesting the way Darius works because he isn’t afraid to allow the actors to tweak his script, or collaborate on set so the scenes evolve into something different from what was planned in the rehearsals or preproduction. This happened when we filmed “SLOW.” In the scene where I am in the kitchen preparing food Harvey’s character comes in after stripped completely naked in a bold attempt to seduce my character. Darius did not tell me about it before it happened during filming.

PI:  WOW. You had no idea?

CB: (LAUGHS) I had no idea!  I wore special white contact lenses that we got from a movie special effects store.  I could not see anything on set. Everything appear so white that even when I turn around I could not tell that my co-star was naked until I felt his bare chest pushing up on me. I stayed in character and thought to myself “this brother is really naked!” The reaction on film was from my character’s perspective of being blind, home alone, and essentially being forced upon by someone else. We did that scene in one take but it lasted for about 7 minutes.  It was different than what we’d rehearsed.  Harvey’s character was supposed to come in the kitchen and make a pass at my character and be pushed away.  It turned out that by doing it the unexpected way was made for the most amazing and more powerful scenes. It took the movie in another direction.  For creative and safety reasons we did it in just one take.  It was a great experience.

PI:  Did you think about breaking out of character when you figured out the other guy was really nude?

CB: For me it was all about my character. It was very scary. When I’d watch the movie at different screenings each time just before that scene I would become anxious all over again. I remember while filming the scene, “I really don’t know what he is going to do. What if he fights back and over powers me? What will happen next?”

Darius did a good job of shooting the film, it’s clear that what my character really wanted was companionship. He only wanted to have a dinner and conversation with another human being, that’s all. It reminded me of what a friend once said about a dating, “something people don’t want all of that extra stuff. “  A small kiss, hug or a handshake can mean everything.

My character was fighting for his life because he was scared and that’s what I brought to my performance in the film.

PI: Where has “SLOW” been shown thus far? How has movie goers reacted to it?

CB: From my understand audiences have loved it. From what I have witnessed audiences thought it was an amazing film.  It has been well received by women and men, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike; they just love the story. I was excited that when we went to the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival “SLOW” won the HBO Short Films competition.

Darius is still receiving  emails to this very day from people who either saw it at a film festival or on Vimeo. It’s an effective story.  When people email they aren’t just sending two word responses like “GOOD JOB,” they’re sending extensive emails sharing their similar stories, or sharing how the film made them feel.  It’s a true blessing whenever you can touch someone with your art or work. It’s a true blessing.

PI:   How did you prepare for the role of a blind man?

CB: I watched YouTube videos of blind people interacting with their loved ones or their everyday interactions around the house. Blind people have a system worked out so they know exactly where everything is placed.  They know how many steps they have to take to turn a corner to their kitchens or the shapes and sounds of a salt shaker or spoons and knives.  They know how they expect things to go so when someone comes in and make changes it could be a little bit scary.

PI:  Have you ever been faced in a similar situation like the one your character faced on his date? If so, how did you handle it when things went differently?

CB: I did.  I was in a situation like that where I had gone out on a couple of dates with a young lady. She finally invited me to a date at her home; we cooked dinner, laughed, and played music. Everything was cool. When it came time for me to either go home or go to bed, she invited me to stay. I stayed and on over the course of the night she’d made the first move. I put the brakes on. I told her, “I don’t want to offend you but I was not looking to for this happen. I do not want you to feel like you’re obligated to do anything.” She took it very well.  She respected me even more because I took the pressure off of both us and there were no expectations that we would get physical right away because I was going to take it slow with her.

PI:   Tell me about some of the other projects you’ve collaborated with Darius Monroe on?

CB: We did a short called “Midway” which takes place in a barber shop.  Darius likes to have his movies take place in one location. It makes things more powerful.  You learn over the course of the film the barbershop is actually purgatory.  We also worked on a short called “Train.” My good friend DaWanda Wise-Miller worked in it with me. In “Train” I’m on a train checking out this young lady who I think is hot. I follow her off the train and watch her get robbed and mugged but I won’t come to her rescue. It plays to my morality.

Darius is working on a feature film for DaWanda and I right now called “Year of Our Lord.”

It will be shown in film festivals when it is completed.

PI: What are you working on right now?

CB: I am taking classes and finishing up more classes here in New York. I met Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the actor and co-Artistic Director of The Labyrinth Theater.  Hoffman and playwright Allen Ferguson highly recommended Maggie Flanagan as a great teacher so I have been taking her program for the last year. I have been auditioning for every pilot under the sun right now too.

PI:  Is there anything else we should know about you?

CB: I like to tell stories. I don’t feel like there are enough stories being told about African American males or any other minorities right now in this country. Every once in a blue moon you’ll get a good story like “Pariah” or “Precious,” and when it happens you have to jump on it.

It does not matter whether you’re gay, lesbian, transsexual, or this, that or the third when it good stories comes along you have to jump on it; that’s why I jumped at the opportunity work on “SLOW.” One day I hope to see more feature films like it because we’re more than just people who sit in barbershops or more those that trick out airplanes. We’re more than just people who tote pistols and promote violence.  You have to tell the whole story; if you don’t tell the entire story then people will be stuck on the narrow view of who you are as a race of people.  We’re an intricate people; I encourage every minority who wants to tell their stories to just tell them.  Don’t worry about whose going to go and see them or what “they” are going to say about it; just tell your story and get it out there.

PI:  Does that mean that you will take your own advice, and not just act in stories but write, direct and produce stories too?

CB: Absolutely.  I am working on the screenplay of a movie right now. Darius will produce it and DaWanda will star in it too. As an actor I’m often asked “what’s your dream role?”  I hesitate to answer because I’m not really able to answer the question. I am not sure that my dream role has been written already because I am not done writing it.

“SLOW” directed by Darius Monroe, shows on Saturday March 24 at FUSION: Los Angeles People of Color Film Fest at The Egyptian 6712 Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles starts at 7:30PM tickets cost $10