Interview: Chad Coleman on Acting, Creating a Character and His New Podcast, ‘Humble Hollywood w/Chad’

Actor Chad Coleman talks about his podcast, how he got started in acting, his career, creating a role and bad auditions.

Chad Coleman Podcast Interview

“The script is the thing. And the script will tell you what else you need to do… You’re supposed to read it. And if you are alive in it, great, you don’t need to do anything else, just live.” – Chad Coleman

Chad Coleman has brought to life fully three-dimensional characters that always leave you wanting more. Two examples are ‘Tyreese’ in The Walking Dead and ‘Cutty’ in The Wire, men who’ve lived a life well before we’ve even seen them on-screen. And now, the TV, film and theatre star is adding to his already busy schedule by starting his own podcast, Humble Hollywood Podcast w/ Chad.

To kick things off, he and a handful of well-known friends are getting ready to do a live show from Vegas on April 16th. Viewers can zoom, ask questions or even better, tickets are available to attend the event.

In this interview, Coleman talks about the podcast and why he wanted to take on another venture, how he got started in acting, his career, creating a role and bad auditions. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or on YouTube.

How did you decide to take this project on? I mean, you’ve got to be incredibly busy.

Chad Coleman: Well because it’s near and dear to my heart. I feel like it’s the lost art of conversation, man. Somehow, we’ve gotten so polarized and divisive these days, we forgot to talk to each other. So, this is a reminder that we can show up kind and compelled and curious about another human being. And I actually end up with some connectivity and we can nurture each other through conversation. I remember growing up and just watching my foster father and family friends sit around and talk. And it was just very compelling to watch and see.

I’ve always been a fan of Johnny Carson and Larry King, Arsenio Hall and Whoopi Goldberg and a whole host of others. Tavis Smiley. So, it’s always been something I’ve been compelled and circling around. Not unlike my acting career. I spent a lot of time watching plays and watching people act, just feeling like, “Hmm, no I can do that better.” [laughs] I’m not saying that I’m on par with them, but there’s something innate inside me and everybody that knows me knows I love to talk. And I love to listen.

Being an actor, listening is the most important thing. And even conversations nowadays, you can tell people are talking, but they’re not really listening.

Chad Coleman: Or they’re waiting to say the next question instead. The key to it really is listening. You listen well and you’ll know what to say.

And people were excited by the idea and thought of me stepping into this medium and very supportive. And we are still in the process for sure.

The site is Humble Hollywood Podcast W Chad. That’ll give you all the information you need to know. We’re doing something I call the launch potty instead of party. Potty playing off words. So, we’re gonna do like a late night thing in Vegas on April 16th. And people like Anthony Mackie will be in the audience. It’s a 350-seater, so If you want to come and see Captain America come on through. And if you want to zoom in and join the party, great. If you want to zoom in and ask your favorite actor a question, you could do that as well.

We just wanted to make it an event to launch this thing. If you’re going launch, then it should be captivating and big and colorful and fun. So that’s what we’re doing.

Are you going to ask a bunch of your acting friends to come on and chat with you?

Chad Coleman:  Oh yeah, absolutely. And I’ve done some of the interviews. These would just be short quips with them, you know. Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton from It’s Always Sunny  and Da’Vinchi from All American, who’s now the lead of BMF. And you got Daniel Ezra, who’s the lead in All American and Jalyn [Hall] who played his brother, they’re coming in. And then you got Calvin Ford who’s the trainer for the champ Gervonta Davis and also the model for the character I played on The Wire, Cutty. And I got comedian friends, singers, everybody just gonna come through.

We’ll have a blast with my co-hosts. They’re actors, thespians, and producers as well. Dawn Noel and Eden Sharon and they’re bringing that female per perspective, which, you gotta have. I want it to be all inclusive and have other perspectives be heard and bounce off those perspectives. And we all have a rich history together. So, that’s pretty fantastic.

I want to talk about your acting career a bit. When you were in the army, you were a cameraman? I didn’t even know that it was a thing.

Chad Coleman: Yeah, man. People didn’t believe me. I’m like, ‘look I’m telling you. I wouldn’t make that up.’ So I showed them me with a Panasonic camera. They were like, ‘Oh, you are real.’

I got accepted into Tisch School of the Arts, NYU for acting. And I was ward of the court of the State of Virginia. I didn’t have legal parents, even though I was living with my grandmother. I had already been in the foster care system since 11 months old. A person in that situation, the State of Virginia was rewarding them with a full scholarship.

Well, Ronald Reagan changed everything. And that was no longer. I got accepted and the case worker came and said, “I’m so sorry.” And I’m like, “So sorry about what?” “Ronald Reagan took that money and put it into defense.” So, what was I gonna do?

I ended up going to Richmond. I’m from Richmond, Virginia. I went to my hometown school, Virginia Commonwealth University. Great university, great acting program, but I was already advanced. My teacher had gone to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and came back and gave all of that to some high school kids. So, I understood technique from the time I was a sophomore in high school and applied it in productions.

So, I ended up saying, “What am I gonna do?” And I said, “Listen, I’m gonna go in the military, get a vocation that I can use in New York so that I don’t have to wait tables.” That was the impetus.

I’ve always loved communication. I’d be acting like I’m a sportscaster or newscaster, all of that. And I asked them what they had in communications, and they said, ‘84 Foxtrot. That’s an audiovisual specialist. You’ll be doing radio, you’ll be doing television, you’ll be doing PSAs. You’re gonna shoot music videos.’ And it was an amazing job. Four years and traveling around the world, seeing things I probably would never have seen. And so that was it. And while there, I was still able to study. First of all, I did my monologues for the sergeants. They’re like “Coleman you good, do that monologue.” I kid you not, this is true.

And so, I was stationed at the Pentagon, and I called Howard University and I said, ‘I’m an actor and I want to study privately, who should I study with?’ And they said, ‘either Bill Grimmett or Vera Katz and I don’t know why, I chose Vera Katz. I said, that’s interesting, a little Jewish lady at an all black university. And she’s the best teacher there. She taught everybody like Phylicia Rashad and she believed in me. And she said, ‘yeah, you can do this. You got it.’

And she also said, ‘Did you think about television?’ That was in 1985, 86? And cut to 2009 and she’s walking past a Broadway theater and there I am doing Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. She called me and I said, ‘you said I could do it. So, I did it.’ She’s amazing human being.

Along with the technique I had, she brought on just some other techniques and approaches to it that were more physical. Like she made me put all these desks together and say, ‘now do the monologue and push all these desks out of your way,’ and a whole different thing happen.

I was fortunate, man. Very, very fortunate and very driven and always landed in the right place. Most of the time.

I’m from Maryland originally and The Wire is one of my all-time favorite shows and if not one of the, the best shows ever. That’s where I first became aware of you and man, you were just wonderful on that show.

Chad Coleman:  Thank you, brother. I appreciate that.

Did you know where your arc was finally going to end up?  

Chad Coleman: No, no. The television producers don’t understand that we do plays where we know the beginning, the middle an end, and we do them every night and we never give anything away because that’s the art of really good acting. But they can’t trust it because everybody hasn’t studied theater. Everybody doesn’t know how to not… allow information to bleed into your performance when it shouldn’t, to give something away or make a choice that’s telegraphing.

And then we always saying, ‘man, if you had told me that I would’ve played this differently.’ [laughs]  But, you know, the show certainly didn’t suffer because we didn’t know.

With The Wire, The Walking Dead and All American, and honestly pretty much everything you’re in, you bring so much heart and soul to your characters. Is that in the script or character description or is that just something you inherently you bring to each role?

Chad Coleman: A combination of two. We are our instrument, you know? All of the emotional nuances are available are inside me, but there are some notes that come out that are more finely tuned or just maybe more apt to come out than others. So, I think it’s a combination of two. I’ve always been able to take on complex characters who have more than one thing going on, who are deeply wounded and things of that nature.

The one thing I could say to you is, growing up there was a lot going on. So there has to be a lot in there and theater was certainly a place to dump it. And so, I understood substitution and if the scene is not alive, you think of something. And I had plenty to think about. And when I thought about it, it triggered things that make made scenes come alive even more than it was for others.

How do you prepare for a role? What are the first couple things you do when you get part?

Chad Coleman: The script is the thing. Now, if there’s specificity, if I need to know how to play the flute, I gotta do that. I gotta work that out or I have to work out how to master the illusion of doing it. So, research.

But first of all, second of all, third of all, fourth of all, fifth of all, six of all… the script is the thing. And the script will tell you what else you need to do. A lot of people with The Method, The Method was never designed for that. That’s not what Stanislavsky, nor any of the other folks were saying. It wasn’t supposed to be this self-involved, self-conscious thing. You’re supposed to read it. And if you are alive in it, great, you don’t need to do anything else, just live.

But if you’re not alive, which was happening to those folks that got on the stage, and he’s like, ‘Why can’t you be like you are when you’re not on the stage? Why does be on the stage cause you to be so wooden or self-conscious?’ That’s what technique is for. To bring out those human qualities that allow you to be natural and honor what the playwright is putting on that page.

So, I’m never overthinking that. I’m just trying to be honestly alive in the moment and listening and relating to the person in front of me, not trying to have this masterful self-absorb performance so everybody could tell me how great I am as an actor. Like my friend in college, she said, “I’m trapped in the character.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that, bro. Let me know when you get out, I’ll be over here cause the play ended two hours ago. I’m at the park.’ [laughs] That’s the truth, man.

Now, to decompress… your body really doesn’t know you’re acting. So, any decompression you need to do, whether it be meditation, listening to music, watching a comedy, whatever you need to do… hiking, fine. But please don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s an art form and it’s an art form about authenticity and truthfulness in the moment.

Finally, what’s been your worst audition ever.

Chad Coleman:  Let me see. That’s a good one. [laughs]  It’s like the point guard who’s having an off day, you better forget that. The wide receiver has dropped the football. The quarterback who threw the interception You better forget that. Forget it quickly.

I hate to say it, but it was for Bel Air,  just recently. Cause it was zoom. I never did a zoom test before, you know? I thought I was having a great time, but he was saying, “Hey, relax man. Relax.” “I am relaxed.” Somehow it just was not reading through, you know what I mean? That’s the closest one.

Prior to that, maybe it’s where the person wasn’t even listening to me at all. They weren’t paying attention at all. That was probably a while back. It was like, “Really? Wow.”

Vulnerability is a part of this game and you gotta be comfortable with being uncomfortable. So, I don’t internalize it. I’ve learned not to carry it. You gotta understand It’s all subjective anyway. One person thinks you’re brilliant, the next person thinks you’re ish, you know? We’re subject to all of that. So, you have to know that and just have a profound belief in yourself and onto the next one.

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