I SEE U, Episode 87: The Souls of Russell Hornsby [Encore]

Critically acclaimed actor Russell Hornsby shares his vulnerability in a compelling, yet intriguing conversation about the challenges of living in truth and finding one’s authentic self, while portraying powerful roles and characters on-stage and on-screen. This episode is an encore of the May 20, 2023 original broadcast. The interview was taped prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.


Top Left: Actors Clare-Hope Ashitey, Russell Hornsby and Regina King, all other images: Russell Hornsby


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Whether he's acting in a film, on-stage or involved in a television series, Russell Hornsby ends up delivering a powerful performance full of emotion with a genuine passion for the craft. In a career spanning over two decades, his extensive portfolio includes the infamous boxing promoter, Don King, in Hulu's "Mike," the Oscar-nominated Paramount film, FENCES, opposite Denzel Washington and Viola Davis; the Netflix drama series, "Seven Seconds," with Regina King; and the devoted patriarch in the mega-hit STARZ series, "BMF (Black Mafia Family)." But in many of his roles, he plays the ‘angry Black father' – a moniker he says is "misplaced." Join us as host Eddie Robinson speaks unguarded with award-winning actor, Russell Hornsby, in one of I SEE U's most provocative episodes ever produced. The NAACP Image Award nominee offers up fresh insight into how he's managed to channel certain energies within himself to bring such an astounding presence and strength to his style of acting. Hornsby candidly admits that it's these portrayals of fatherhood that speak to a larger sense of dignity, cultural worth and personal responsibility, especially in fatherless homes of today. Plus, the star describes what he believes to be the real reason behind the success of shows like BMF and the popular POWER franchise.

Full Transcript

Eddie Robinson: Actor, Russell Hornsby has worked nonstop in Hollywood for over two decades. His Powerhouse performances include the starring role in the film, The Hate You Give the Netflix drama series Seven Seconds, as well as his role as the family patriarch and the mega hit STARZ series BMF. But he started to notice something.

Eddie Robinson: Why was he always playing the Black father character?

Russell Hornsby: Once the work got to a place where it needed, it demanded more of me. There were blocks and I had to go back and deal with sh*t that I hadn’t dealt with.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson. Stay tuned. As we bring to you one of the most provocative episodes we’ve ever produced, I SEE U welcomes award-winning actor Russell Hornsby.

Eddie Robinson: We learn more about his career and why he’s become an essential part of the success for many of the projects he’s been involved with. Oh yeah. I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U. This episode contains language that can be offensive to some listeners.

Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m your host Eddie Robinson, and we’re extremely fortunate and grateful to have a special guest on the show with us connecting virtually from Atlanta Award-winning actor Russell Hornsby. Russell, thank you enormously for being a guest on I SEE U,

Russell Hornsby: uh, Eddie. It is indeed my pleasure.

Russell Hornsby: And thank you for having me, brother. I appreciate it.

Eddie Robinson: You know, allow me to fan out a bit because I do love your work. I like to call you a powerhouse performer.

Russell Hornsby: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: Because there’s intensity there. There’s strength in the roles that I see you play in. And so allow me to provide you with a plethora of congratulations to my favorite performance that I’ve seen you in.

Eddie Robinson: And I know it’s been a while since you’ve worked on this project. I, I would imagine you played the character Isaiah Butler

Russell Hornsby: Uhhuh

Eddie Robinson: , whose uh, son was fatally killed by an off-duty police officer and hit and run with Seven Seconds, the Netflix series.

Russell Hornsby: Yes. Uhhuh

Eddie Robinson: All the tension that an incident like this could bring on a family, a Black family.

Russell Hornsby: Yes.

Eddie Robinson: And you. Internalize that so brilliantly. You collaborate in scenes with Regina King, who plays your wife Latrice.

Eddie Robinson: The tension between you and your brother Seth, played by the British actor, Zachary Momoh, the intensity, you know, if you can recall when you played that particular role in seven seconds

Russell Hornsby: mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: Where did this energy come from?

Russell Hornsby: Eddie, first of all, thank you so much for, for saying that I’m very, very proud of that role and the work I did. I think that, you know, that that role, that opportunity came soon after Fences. And actually it was because of fences that the producers and directors saw that they gave me the opportunity to, uh, play Isaiah.

Eddie Robinson: The Denzel washington directed film Fences.

Russell Hornsby: Yes. Yes.

Russell Hornsby: And. The reality of it is, is that they say there was a time when boats were made of wood and men were made of steel. And so I think that Isaiah represents and represented that type of man. I believe that he is and was a, a throwback, uh, a man of another era.

Russell Hornsby: Very, very strong-willed, deeply, uh, deep in his faith. But see, what oftentimes we don’t really assess and look at is that in, in this culture in our society, that the black man is muted. And so he has to suppress, uh, a lot of that strength and a lot of that energy. That’s why when the show opens, you see him, his freedom ringing comes out when he’s in the church, right?

Russell Hornsby: He’s singing Hallelujah. He’s playing the piano and he’s allowing himself to feel the spirit within him, right? And that’s allowing him to sort of lift every voice and sing out and praise, right? And then so, but didn’t we see that once he’s outside of that, there is a quiet that comes about him. There is, you know what I mean?

Russell Hornsby: And that quiet. I think represents that’s Langston Hughes you said that that dream deferred and that represents that dream deferred in a lot of men. Right? And so a lot of black men did not get the opportunities, didn’t reach the, the heights that they had set for themselves, right? And so what Isaiah does is he walks around subdued because he’s not where he is.

Russell Hornsby: I believe he’s not doing what he loves, I believe. And so when you reach a certain age in life, that reality sets in and it suppresses your energy. It suppresses your liveliness, it suppresses a lot of things, and you just get quiet. Why? Because there’s nothing more to say. You know, when we were young and we were kids coming up, people always ask, Hey man, what are you doing?

Russell Hornsby: What are you trying to do? What do you want to be? And you’re able to say those things because it’s all about the possibility. It’s all about what you’re looking forward to doing. When you’re in your youth and you’re pre 35, even pre 40, you have all this venom, this vigor of like the potential and that potential puts a smile on your face.

Russell Hornsby: That potential gives you energy. It livens you, right? With your friends, with your family members, cuz you’re able to explain with so much love and joy what I want to be. And so you say to yourself, you know what? I’m gonna take this job working for the city. Little hustle job, little side job. I’m gonna take this job working in, in, in public works because you know what?

Russell Hornsby: It’s just, Hey, I’m gonna get these little benefits, but you know, I’m, I’m gonna start this business, I’m gonna do thus, and so I’m gonna take this job as a sanitation worker, as a mail man, right? Because it’s only, it’s, it’s, it’s temporary because I’m about to make some things happen. But then life sets in, you know, the, the house gets purchased, the kids are born, there is a, uh, an illness in the family.

Russell Hornsby: You know, something happens, you need the roof leaks. And so you have to find a way. Now you got, I gotta pay for this stuff. So what happens now? I get further and further behind. So now that job that was supposed to be temporary and it was for Isaiah working in a Chicken Cooper in a, you know, where, where they slaughtered, uh, goats and animals and whatnot, that becomes your mainstay.

Russell Hornsby: And you wake up one morning at 40, 45 years old and you realize, this is my reality now, and that hurts. And so you realize all of the dreams of yesterday have evaporated. And so now you’re living in the reality of today and it ain’t pretty. And I think that that is what a lot of people, of course, and, and our culture, Black women, men and women, but I’m a Black man, so I’m gonna speak for me in my opinion.

Eddie Robinson: There you go. There you go.

Russell Hornsby: And my kind. That that dream was deferred and that opportunity lost. And so therefore, I got nothing to say. All I can do is go to work and come home. And that’s when you see, when you see black men in these cities and in these streets, there is just a calm about them. There’s nothing to do.

Russell Hornsby: There’s nothing to say, Hey man, how you doing brother? And what do we do? The rhetoric, man, you know, just survive and making it happen, baby. Just try to, you know, just going to work. You know how it is, brother. It’s all good, baby. The rhetoric, it’s, it’s, it’s a record on repeat because there’s nothing else to say.

Russell Hornsby: And so when I take Isaiah, I’m saying it, I had to take that energy of the men that I knew, of the men that helped raise me, and the sacrifices that these men made for their families. Sometimes unfairly. And then you see the pain in their eyes because it didn’t happen. Or you, I hear their stories now tell me about what didn’t happen.

Russell Hornsby: This is when I was in my twenties and thirties when they would say, yo, young blood, you need to go out there and man, just follow your dreams. Young blood. Do what you gotta do, man. Make it happen. Don’t settle young blood. You go, alright man, what’s it for? No, no, don’t let nobody tell you this. You know what I mean?

Russell Hornsby: So that’s Isaiah. I’m sorry. And I’m, you know what I mean?

Eddie Robinson: Geez.

Russell Hornsby: Who, who, who he is. That’s the character. That’s the man. And, and, and, and so, and, and then you know when, when all these things are happening to his son and happening to his family, and he says it in episode six, I’m just tired of it all.

Russell Hornsby: And I’ll, and I’ll, I’ll let you in on something that line touched me. So, because I was raised by a single mother and that was the line, she would say sitting on the couch having to pay bills with no money.

Russell Hornsby: And she would, with tears and emotion as I have now, she would just say, I’m just tired. I remember that. So when that line saw, that line, that took me back to when I was in my early teens, late, you know, 10 to 13 or whatever, and my mom’s trying to rob Peter to pay the poor, and I now understand what tired is.

Russell Hornsby: I, ooh. Mom, I’m tired. You don’t have the energy to fight. People don’t have the energy to get up. So that’s what, that’s what that, that’s, that’s part of the colorization and the characterizations that I brought to Isaiah and that I was able to build on throughout the, the, the whole, the ten episodes of the series.

Russell Hornsby: And I think what makes it palpable, and that’s what I bring, that’s the energy that I bring. The energy is the truth. The energy stems from truth. There is no right nor wrong. There is only truth. And so me as an actor, my energy comes from the truth. Within the people that I meet, that I see the men, the women, all kinds of people, I am representing them.

Russell Hornsby: My story is, is a representation, is a reflection of the people in the street, the people in the neighborhood, the people that help. As, as, as, as, uh, Cornel West often says, at times the least of these, that’s who my work represents. Our everyday people in Sly and the Family Stone speak suit our everyday people.

Russell Hornsby: Coming up, we continue our chat with actor Russell Hornsby. We dive deeper into his experiences of being an actor in Hollywood and what it means for him to be a black actor in Hollywood. We learn the difference. Plus, has he ever felt locked into playing certain roles and characters on screen? I’m Eddie Robinson. A fascinating conversation about black representation in film and television when I SEE U returns in just a moment.

Russell Hornsby: If you’re enjoying this episode, the Souls of Russell Hornsby, be sure to subscribe to our podcast. I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

Russell Hornsby: This is I SEE U. I’m your host Eddie Robinson, and we’re so grateful to have with us theatrical TV and film actor Russell Hornsby. He’s earned a nomination for 2023 NAACP Image Award for his portrayal of the infamous boxing promoter, Don King in the Hulu Limited Series, Mike, he’s also known as the patriarch father in the STARZ.

Russell Hornsby: Hit series BMF, which stands for Black Mafia Family, A Crime Drama series created by Rapper 50 Cent and TV writer Randy Huggins. Despite Russell being a fan favored, he’ll share with us later in this episode a shocking revelation related to his involvement with BMF. We’re chatting with him virtually on his computer from Atlanta, Georgia.

Russell Hornsby: Your roles really get intense and you speak for so many of us through your powerful performances. It’s your emotion, the family fights that you find yourself in at times. The arguments, the love, the passion for trying to make ends meet for the family.

Russell Hornsby: These performances shine. For many of us. And so with that being said, thank you. Thank you for your craft. Thank you for what you do. And the reason why I get teary-eyed about all of this is because we don’t have these kinds of conversations about Black men.

Russell Hornsby: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: And what Black men are going through in this day and age, how did you get into acting? What was it about acting that pushed you to study it and wanted to be immersed into it?

Russell Hornsby: I come from a long line of, uh, personalities. You know, not necessarily actors in the professional standpoint or even the craft standpoint, but just personalities in my family. My mother is a personality. My uncles are personalities, you know, telling jokes, life of the party. Animated conversations and arguments and things of that nature.

Russell Hornsby: And so, um, that energy was always in me. You know, you, you know, you’re doing little plays in elementary school and then you’re in the school plays in high school and whatnot. And I’ll be honest with you, I was doing the school plays. I, I did The Wiz, I did Guys and Dolls, you know, uh, Godspell, Grease, you know, whatever.

Russell Hornsby: And, and they were pretty much all musicals, even though I can’t really sing. So we’re in homeroom class and we’re all trying to decide, you know, Hey, what do we want to go major in? What do we wanna do? And my friend, I’ll never forget this, a friend Jason Dillard said, Hey man, why don’t you do that acting sh*t. They don’t do nothing.

Russell Hornsby: And like me, in my infinite wisdom, I was like, they don’t, yeah, they don’t do sh*t. Like, acting is easy. And so I literally, at that moment, I applied to go to theater school and I, and I applied to nyu. And in Boston University, when you go to audition for the school, NYU and North Carolina, uh, school for the Arts were there.

Russell Hornsby: And so that, so before BU said, Hey, why don’t you just come over and audition for us? So I went over, auditioned for them, got into on the spot, both NYU and North Carolina’s University offered me entry right on the spot. You knows one of those. I was, you know, they were being affirmative.

Eddie Robinson: Exactly. Got it. Got it.

Russell Hornsby: But I ended up getting into Boston University and my family’s from Boston.

Eddie Robinson: Boston,

Russell Hornsby: and so I figured it as like a home away from home. And I, and I wasn’t, I didn’t know North Carolina and I knew New York, so I was like the middle thing of the city and the country kind of thing.

Eddie Robinson: Sure.

Russell Hornsby: And then I went to, I went to Boston University, studied, and like I, my mother said, you can do this, but you can’t quit.

Russell Hornsby: And, and so I went after my freshman year, I wanted to leave, but in the back of my mind, my, my mom said like, you can’t quit. And you know, that mother wit, that mother love, like it scares you at 18, 19 years old, you’re still scared.

Eddie Robinson: Sure.

Russell Hornsby: So I, I, I finished and I caught that like I found myself when I was doing theater, like, you know, I had some place for my emotions to go.

Russell Hornsby: I had some place for my pain to go, for my fears to go. Quite honestly, unbeknownst to myself, it became cathartic, it became therapeutic and not really knowing. And then, so, you know, you go to New York and you’re just hunting, just trying to get jobs and everything like that. And I believe I found myself when I started doing August Wilson, because see, the thing was is that as a black actor, it’s, it’s funny how theater school, especially as a Black actor, they strip you of, they stripped me. A lot of my essence at the time, un, you know, I didn’t realize it, but they didn’t build me back up.

Eddie Robinson: Hmm.

Russell Hornsby: You know, I came in all soulful and talking the side of my neck and reciting Tupac and, you know, talking like, you know, I was just colored black, like, what’s up?

Russell Hornsby: You know what I mean? Saying all the time, you know what I mean? And then they slowly strip you of that. So now you’re standard American English and learning all these dialects and things of that nature, and finding that theatrical resonance and, and all of that. So I’m walking around resonate, constantly sounding like Keith David, like, you know, Hey, hey.

Russell Hornsby: And I remember I auditioned for, uh, New York Undercover. And it was, you know, one of them drug dealers, you know, all that kind of stuff like that. So I go in there and I’m drug dealer from the left. I go in there, it sounded like, Hey brother, what’s up? What you want? You, you know, nickel, bag of funk, what you need?

Russell Hornsby: You know what I mean? And uh, they said, you know, this is a drug dealer, right? I was like, yes. They said, well, you know, this is, uh, a drug dealer in Harlem. Uh, yes, I’m aware of that. Uh, they, then they go, um, thank you very much.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting. And I’m wondering, did that concern you, them stripping away the essence, right?

Eddie Robinson: Of, of who you are? I mean, did that concern you at any, in terms of this profession of what you’re getting ready to get into?

Russell Hornsby: No. You know what, Eddie, I was too dumb to know. And again, ignorance. It could be bliss, but it could also be painful. And I just didn’t know. And so once I found August Wilson, I found.

Russell Hornsby: The, the, the theatrical colored section. There you go. I found the theatrical rhythm section. You know what I mean? And so I star I found myself again, and then I found, and I was, then I was around other brothers. I was around black men who were 20 years my senior, and just their moves and their vibes. And then you saw the way they were able to basically, in a sense code switch, if you will.

Russell Hornsby: And so I learned that, and then it took me all that time to get me back into my black d n a to get my rhythms back, to get my soulfulness back. And then in, in terms of how do I put it into a performance? And, you know, like I could, I could be black like with my people, but then I didn’t understand how do I, how do I craft it into the work?

Russell Hornsby: How do I put this blackness? Into this work where instead of being this being presentational, where’s Russell at? Oh, it took a little minute. Oh, oh, oh, oh, I got it. So now I’m able to go on all these auditions and it’s like, wow, you are interesting. Like you got a way about you. That’s it ain’t, it ain’t whitewashed and it ain’t

Russell Hornsby: It’s like it’s perfectly placed soul within the context of intellectual, within the context of standard speech, within the context of being able to project black, educated authenticity, I go, okay, this’ll work. And then, and then I was able to slide some oil to it at the same time where it was just like, oh, wow.

Russell Hornsby: And then you get that authenticity.

Eddie Robinson: There it is, as an actor.

Russell Hornsby: But again, that takes, that takes a little time. And you have to be, as we say, a student of the world, right? You have to allow your culture, you have to allow the world, your people to envelop you and get inside. And that’s what I did. And so that was, that was kind of the, the, the cliff noted journey to the sort of the present, if you will.

Eddie Robinson: Right. Of how you got here today. Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson and we’re here with BMF actor Russell Hornsby on I SEE U. He’s in Atlanta joining us virtually from his computer. Over the course of black actors being a part of Hollywood, there have been instances where, You know, typecasting occurs.

Russell Hornsby: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: Some actors have been found, you know, they’ve, they’ve found it challenging to break into roles or even actors like Idris Elba recently,

Russell Hornsby: right.

Eddie Robinson: Who have decided that they no longer wanna be considered a Black actor, so as to not limit the roles that they receive. Have you ever had an instance where you felt typecast?

Russell Hornsby: Honestly, no. Um, and I’ll tell you because, and see, here’s the thing. I think that we’re getting more opportunities now than we did 20 and 30 years ago. You know what I mean? Or more, more of us are getting opportunities right. Collectively than we were 23 years. That, and that’s just progress. I think that my first major role was playing a doctor on television.

Russell Hornsby: Like, you know what I mean? Like, I, I, I’m a series regular on, on a a b ABC show. I’m playing a Black doctor pers spectacled. With hair like this that was even longer. And it was nappy. They let me roll. They didn’t say cut it. They didn’t say, get your, you know, cut it down, shave it off. They just said, they let me roll with it.

Russell Hornsby: I was like, okay. And, and honestly, up until probably Fences

Eddie Robinson: mm-hmm.

Russell Hornsby: I’m playing primarily what you might call mainstream roles. I’m a black man playing mainstream roles. I’m playing a doctor, playing a lawyer. I’m playing, uh, police officer. You know what I mean? And then Fences was like the first time I was like, soulful.

Russell Hornsby: And I think that that’s what changed people’s idea of me.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting.

Russell Hornsby: Because I think that they saw me as a good actor. Like, oh man, he’s got presence on screen. He’s a good actor. He’s, he’s come straight laced. Just the facts, ma’am. You know, deep vein thrombosis, you know, triple CCCs of this, all that kind of stuff.

Russell Hornsby: He can elocute what we need. Right? Because, and again, that’s represented, that’s representative of me going to theater school, right? So I can play down the line, right? I got all that. Then when I come in Fences, and I think this is whites and Blacks, I think then they saw, oh, this is cultural specificity.

Russell Hornsby: And he’s rocking with D and Vi Oh, oh, oh no, Russell Hornsby’s Oh, Wait. Oh man. And I had all that soulful in me because I was doing August Wilson on stage. I’m Black, I’m, you know what I mean? Hey, what’s up? I gotta dance at the parties and do all that. Hey, what’s up baby? But for, I think for the first time, Hollywood and Black culture saw me in that for real, for the first time.

Russell Hornsby: Then you look at me working opposite soul sister number one, Regina King. In Seven Seconds, they go, Ooh, this dude, he backing up with Regina King now. Ow Then, then you come, and then you go. So then you go to The Hate You Give, oh, he can play a gangster. Ow, what can’t you do brother?

Eddie Robinson: There you go.

Russell Hornsby: So I didn’t, I didn’t come into the black side of the, you know, the rhythm section until post 40.

Russell Hornsby: They didn’t think I was Black. If you, if you understand what I’m saying, you know what I mean? Like soulfully Black.

Eddie Robinson: Correct.

Russell Hornsby: They didn’t think pardon my French. I’m saying it, I’m come up from it. They didn’t think I was a . So when you’re doing all this, they go and they go, man, we got some parts for you now, brother.

Eddie Robinson: That’s interesting. I’m, I’m curious if you can share with us a moment, an incident. And perhaps it’s even triggering that dances around in your head as the most racist situation or incident that you could have ever experienced. And it still resonates with you. Even now.

Russell Hornsby: I, I, I’ll, uh, what do they say? I’ll remove the names to protect the guilty.

Eddie Robinson: You can, but, um,

Russell Hornsby: but I was doing a show and, uh, I was number two on the call sheet.

Eddie Robinson: Okay.

Russell Hornsby: And so I had had this passion to direct, and so I had begun to shadow directors just on my own. I had begun to create shot lists and talk to the directors about thus and so, thus and so and so, I went to one of the producers and I said, I said, Hey, I would, I would like to direct. And the producer said, Hey man, you know, we got you.

Russell Hornsby: No problem. So he went up the ladder and he went to the studio and he, they said, Hey, Russell would like to direct. And the studio was basically like, Hey, we’re all for it. As long as the showrunners agree. These gentlemen were older and pale. And so, um, they asked me to dinner and, uh, I, they, I go to, Hey, Russ, we wanna go to dinner, we’re gonna take you to dinner.

Russell Hornsby: I said, okay, great. So we sit down, exchange pleasantries, and they said, Hey, Russell, I mean, before I, I think the, the, the, the water had just landed and they said, Russell, are you happy? I said, yes, very happy it’d be here. This is great. It’s good because if anybody’s not happy, we can give a beautiful death.

Russell Hornsby: And then the following season, Number one was directing. And, and that was the longest dinner I’d ever been on, ever. And it was never brought up, never acknowledged. It was just stated, if you’re not happy, you could leave. And I, and I and that, that, and I, I couldn’t get out of that mother jumper fast enough.

Russell Hornsby: And now that I’m gone and I’m successful, they have since kind of come back around and said, Hey, let’s try to do a project together. And I go, Hey guys, if your phone don’t ring, you know it’s me and you got, and the thing is, you know, you gotta take the crooked with the straight, so I can’t, I understand now why people say why brothers and sisters have said over the years, You can’t play the victim card.

Eddie Robinson: Mm.

Russell Hornsby: I’m mad. It upsets me. It pains me. Um, but my mother, I used to always said is nothing, you know, the, the, the best revenge is doing well. So you see me, you know what you did, you know what happened. And, and it’s still I rise. Right? So I, I have to roll with that and keep going, you know what I mean? And you know, there have been other little things that have happened to me over the years that you just kind of, it’s interesting.

Russell Hornsby: And here’s the other thing, do too. And I said to, I said to somebody when I started that job, I, I didn’t realize how cliquish things were in Hollywood. You know what I mean? And I had also done, you know, a lot of jobs where I was Seattle. Understand, I can’t, I got into the game in 24. So relatively young, right?

Russell Hornsby: So you’re still considered a boy. And then when you pass that 35 year old threshold or whatever, or 30 to 35 year old threshold, I didn’t realize that the shift comes where people don’t embrace you the same way when you’re a man. People pick sides. They have camps. And so early on, I said, I’ll never forget, I called my friend and I said, man, I had been on the job about a month.

Russell Hornsby: And you know, I wasn’t getting invited initially to the dinners on the weekends. You know, they would come down, they would coming back from the weekend and say, Hey man, that was a great dinner, man. We should do that again. Oh man, drinks were great, man. We should do that again. I’m like, wow, I didn’t get invited.

Russell Hornsby: Nobody gave me a call. You know what I’m saying? And I called a buddy and I said, man, I said, I feel like a the first time in my life. And I and I, and that was what it was. It was like, oh, this is growing older in the business and being a man in it, and oh, now, no, I’m a Black man. Now they, I, I’m a Black man.

Russell Hornsby: Now. I’m not a Black boy where it’s like, Hey, everybody, we can all play together. Let’s, you know what I mean? Just like they talk about in slavery time, you know what I mean? Like you played the boys, white boys and Black boys played together till about 12.

Eddie Robinson: Sure.

Russell Hornsby: Then they said, all right, You go out, take your ass out in the fields, and you Billy you, you make sure that doing that too.

Russell Hornsby: It’s kind of, it was kind of that.

Eddie Robinson: Coming up, we wrap up our chat with the award-winning actor Russell Hornsby. We’ll turn our attention to one of the hottest shows on TV right now. The mega hit STARZ series BMF, the Crime Drama. Inspired by the true story of two brothers who rose from the tumultuous streets of Detroit in the late eighties to usher in the birth of a Black Mafia family unit.

Eddie Robinson: Does this series glamorize a drug culture of making money at a so-called gangsta lifestyle, or are there bigger interpretations at play? And how does Russell feel about young actors of today? What’s missing in their talent? I’m Eddie Robinson. You do not wanna miss our final segment of I SEE U. We’ll be right back in just a moment.

Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this episode, the Souls of Russell Hornsby, be sure to subscribe to our podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m your host Eddie Robinson, and we’re so grateful to have with us multi-talented actor Russell Hornsby. He’s a man that’s worked non-stop in Hollywood for over two decades. The roles that he’s played, the characters he’s portrayed, the energy that he brings to the screen and on stage. Speak volumes to his undeniable strength and powerful presence as an actor.

Eddie Robinson: You know, you’ve had a banner year with critics saying you’ve delivered the Performance of a lifetime as this crazy infamous boxing promoter, Don King in the Hulu Limited Series. Mike, also garnered a nominated 2023 NAACP Image Award.

Eddie Robinson: Congratulations on that.

Russell Hornsby: Thank you.

Eddie Robinson: And people know you as Eddie Sutton. Yes. ABC’s Lincoln Heights. The detective in the NBC series Grim.

Russell Hornsby: Yes.

Eddie Robinson: The Hate You give, of course, was a remarkable series that you were part of.

Russell Hornsby: Thank you.

Eddie Robinson: But it’s your role as the patriarch.

Russell Hornsby: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: Charles Flenory.

Russell Hornsby: Yes.

Eddie Robinson: And the mega hit STARZ series BMF.

Eddie Robinson: BMF is one of the top shows on STARZ and ranked as the most socially engaged drama across all networks. Did you have any second thoughts of picking up this role? How, how were you approached to to, to,

Russell Hornsby: oh, I didn’t wanna do it.

Eddie Robinson: Really?

Russell Hornsby: I’ll tell you, I, I was tired of playing fathers.

Eddie Robinson: In my mind, I’m thinking to myself, I bet Russell Hornsby didn’t wanna play this role.

Russell Hornsby: No, I, I, I didn’t. And, and my dear friend, dear friend Tasha Smith had to convince me. She said, Russell, I need you. We need you. She said, you’re gonna be, you’re the first role. I’m person. I’m coming to with this. I need you for this. This is gonna be an important show. And I said, I want to, I want to, I want to work it from the family.

Russell Hornsby: And, and I was sitting there going, well, you know, man, I’m tired of playing fathers and there’s not a lot to do and this and that and the third. And then I spoke with the, uh, showrunner the creator and Randy Huggins.

Eddie Robinson: Hmm.

Russell Hornsby: And he’s trying to convince me, he said, nah man, we need, he said, listen to man, I never even thought I could get a Russell Hornsby.

Russell Hornsby: You know what I’m saying? Like, this is what he said. And he’s like, bro, if you come aboard, he said, if you come on board, we going to enhance this. And, and to his credit, and he did. But what I realized, Eddie, is that and what became the sort of the moment of truth, I realized at my age, at that time, it’s my turn to now take the focus off of myself.

Russell Hornsby: And I, I mean, I’m going to work more and more. I got years to go before it’s all said and done, but it’s time for me to lift as I climb. It’s time for me to give back. And I said to myself, we’re gonna be working with these younger actors that may not have the experience or the talent level. And I’ve realized I could be a leader both onscreen and offscreen quite honestly.

Russell Hornsby: And me and Natasha talked about that at nauseum over lunches and dinners. That, and I, and I said to them, and again, to their credit, I said, I’m saying this respectfully, and I’m saying this with coming to you in, in huge humility. I said, I think that I should be number one on the call sheet, at least for the first season.

Russell Hornsby: I said, because I believe that it’ll set a precedent, but this is the guy we got and he’s our leader. And I said, it’ll, it’ll give me the power to lead. And they said, you know what? And they had to go to STARZ with it. They said, you know what? You’re right. And they did that. And it, I have, I had the sort of the power of being the number one to come in there and lead with love and lead with respect.

Russell Hornsby: And pull guys his coats and check every check, young brothers every once in a while. And then it, everything, we all grew together. The rising tide lifted all boats. And I think that we have a wonderful family because of that. And I want to say, you know, I, I, I kind of, you know, the whole thing about the angry father of the patriarch moniker, I think that it’s, it’s misplaced and I think what people, and especially audiences of today, I think a lot of families, a lot of people, a lot of young people aren’t used to seeing men in the house.

Eddie Robinson: Mm-hmm.

Russell Hornsby: They’re not used to seeing fathers at home. And so what this man, what this father, what this patriarch is saying that this is my house and I’m not standing for no bullsh*t boy. And so, you know, in that time when boats were made of wood and men were made of steel, when at my house, I’m the king. So no, I’m a, I’m a talk to you some kind of way because obviously you don’t get it.

Russell Hornsby: And so as, as the old folks used to say, I’ll give you sugar for sugar and salt for salt, if you can’t get along with me, it’s your own damn fault. And see, these young folks don’t get it. They don’t understand. And see that’s what I’m saying. When I mean the black man has been subdued, he’s been muted. So, oh.

Russell Hornsby: So I can’t tell my, my knucklehead boys who think that they grown. Sit your down. That’s parenting, that’s loving. I don’t, I’m not supposed to sit up here when you 14, 15, 16, 17. Be years old and say, please, honey, please boy bit these big old muscles and like, Hey, will you stop that if you don’t mind, will you stop selling drugs if you don’t mind, will you not bring these firearms in my house?

Russell Hornsby: It’s okay. See, that’s what mothers do, fathers parent, and they say to men, If you, if you come at me with this I’m you up now if everything’s cool, Hey son, you wanna go out? Shoot some hoops. Yeah. Dad, Hey son, you wanna go to the ballgame? Yeah, dad. Hey man, you wanna go take a ride? Yeah, dad. All right now. Hey man, let’s go take a ride, boy.

Russell Hornsby: Come on, man. All right. When you doing the right thing, I’ll give you sugar for sugar and salt for salt.

Eddie Robinson: The power of your performance speaks volumes. When we hear of news about fans of the STARZ show threatening to switch off and boycott the show because apparently you’ve committed adultery.

Russell Hornsby: Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: We won’t spill anything.

Russell Hornsby: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: In case someone wants to check out the series.

Russell Hornsby: Right.

Eddie Robinson: But we’re, we’re not gonna spill the tea. But you’ve worked with this actress before.

Russell Hornsby: Yes.

Eddie Robinson: Michole Briana White before, and that lightly explains the chemistry, the two you have in BMF. But it’s just, it speaks volumes to me. And if you can speak on this

Russell Hornsby: mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: As relates to the power that you bring to this character.

Russell Hornsby: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: And how incredible your acting is because the fans are all over the place. Mad and upset with you that you’ve, you’ve cheated on.

Russell Hornsby: But see, the thing is see, see, this is, see this is the problem with where we are in our culture and our society now.

Russell Hornsby: Everybody is so what do they, what, what do we call it? Everybody’s so sensitive. This is life. You think this didn’t happen back in the seventies and the eighties and the nineties. You think this don’t happen today. It’s called life. People fight. They fall out like teeth in gums. This happens. So why don’t, instead of getting all in your feelings and getting all triggered and look at what’s happening in the world.

Russell Hornsby: Look at what happens in our culture. Look at what happens in our society. Why are you, why are mother jumpers worried about me being mad about taking my son’s money and worried about the and shouldn’t be dealing drugs in the first place? Feel that pressure. But we wanna get it mixed up because our values are f*cked.

Russell Hornsby: Pardon me? We’re getting it mixed up so that you’re gonna get mad at this dead because he has integrity. Because he’s saying, stop dealing drugs. No, I’m not taking your money. I’d rather die. I’d rather that roof fall in before I take your money that you got in illicit dealings. Oh, but so now, so now, oh, because we don’t have any integrity because fathers been gone and so fathers have been out of the home and haven’t been there to hold a standard to hold you young mother jumpers in check to say, no, you get it.

Russell Hornsby: You get it mixed up that the father’s wrong. Oh, no, no, no, no. Y’all kids are tripping.

Eddie Robinson: And before we get off of BMF, I do want to ask you this, you know, the success of this show, does it concern you? I mean, look, I recall the early nineties.

Russell Hornsby: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: When the film New Jack City entered the arena. My friends and I went crazy. Yeah. And we wanted Nino Brown dead.

Russell Hornsby: That’s right.

Eddie Robinson: You know, spoiler alert. But the audience was in an uproar at the end of the film. But it did on some, you know, in some manner, glamorize.

Russell Hornsby: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: This crime infested lifestyle. Al Pacino Scarface, with the influence of that film in and of itself and why it’s so popular in the hip hop community.

Eddie Robinson: What does the success and popularity of BMF say about Black Americans? Perhaps the lack of generational wealth, or am I thinking about this too hard and I need to go somewhere and drink a glass of water?

Russell Hornsby: No, no, no, no, no. It’s not that. I think that what it, what it is is it’s, I, again, I feel that it’s the response that it’s how people are viewing it.

Russell Hornsby: I think that it’s skewed. See, everybody’s looking at the glamorization of the drugs and everything like that. We’re not looking at the system that propagated it. We’re not looking at Detroit being a broken city. We’re not looking at the broken state of Michigan. We’re not looking at the broken country in the eighties.

Russell Hornsby: That came up by Reaganomics, where people see that came out from the seventies when all these factory jobs were lost. When they came out in the seventies, when they stopped putting home ec, when they stopped putting wood shop, when they stopped putting manufacturing. In the, in the public schools where black men could get jobs.

Russell Hornsby: So you take all that opportunity away right out of the school. So then you take, and so now these men who used to work with their hands, right? When boats were made of wood and men were made of steel, they can no longer have a viable place to learn a craft. To learn a trade. So then you, then you take all the, all the industry out of the inner city.

Russell Hornsby: Now they got no place to work. This is all in the seventies. So then when the eighties come, the jobs are getting fewer and fewer. There have no factory jobs, right? So now what do you do? You push the crack in, baby got em. So you leave the man, the father defenseless. You didn’t even with no way to support his family.

Russell Hornsby: And then in the nineties we got the prison industrial complex. Oh, see, that’s why that, and see, that’s the problem with our audiences, with our culture. You look, you paying attention to the wrong thing. And again, I, I use, I use the, the, the profanity to emphasize,

Eddie Robinson: I think if you put 10 people in a room and they’re all familiar with your work, each person in that room would likely mention a different production, a different film, a different series that you were a part of that they’d love.

Eddie Robinson: What’s been the most profound character you’ve ever portrayed? Of all the roles, either on stage or on tv, on film, what’s been the role you’ve been the most proud of and why?

Russell Hornsby: So I would give you one from stage one from screen. So from stage it was August Wilson’s King, Hedley ii, where I played the lead King Hedley.

Russell Hornsby: ii. In New York, uh, at the Signature Theater in 2007. Uh, it was the first time that I was the definitive lead. It was the first time I think that the theater audiences in New York got a chance to see it was my coming out party.

Eddie Robinson: Mm.

Russell Hornsby: Actorally. And, and so people got a chance to see that I was able to make a grand statement.

Russell Hornsby: Also, I had gone to TV and, and so I had been gone for a moment and it also let audiences know that I still got it. So then I think for television film, I think it was The Hate You Give, it was playing Maverick Carter. And why that was is because it was the first time I believe that I had a character arc on camera, on like in, in a film, like a real character arc, beginning, middle, and end.

Russell Hornsby: And so I had to, I, I had to sit home. I had the time to really sit home and craft my performance. See, when you’re dealing with television, you know, you, you, you get okay, you get, you’re just working from script to script to script, and you don’t have it all together to craft the work.

Eddie Robinson: Hmm.

Russell Hornsby: You just have to, you just gotta take what you got in front of you, work this, and then, okay, in three weeks I’m gonna know what’s coming next.

Russell Hornsby: Oh, oh, we’re doing this now. Do you know what I mean? There’s no arc in the storytelling that as an actor, I know how I’m want to build this character. Right? So I was able to do that in The Hate You Give and able to the first time I was able to transform and be and play a character, not just behave on film.

Russell Hornsby: Do you know what I mean? Like, there was like, I had to, I had to transform my body, I had to transform the way I walked. I had to change my, my posture, all this kind of stuff like that. And I, and that was me showing the, the, the, the, the world and showing Hollywood that I’m a bad mother. That, you know, like I can get down, you know what I mean? So those are the two. Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson and we’re here with BMF actor Russell Hornsby on I SEE U. Be sure to follow us on Instagram for clips of our chat with the award-winning actor as we’re chatting with him virtually on his computer. From Atlanta, Georgia, of all the accomplishments, an award-winning actor, the remarkable television and film projects you’ve been affiliated with Russell Hornsby.

Eddie Robinson: What lessons have you learned about yourself thus far?

Russell Hornsby: I’ve learned, I learned this a long, I heard this a long time ago, but it’s only in the last three years that I’ve been able to understand it and honestly, or I think four years and truthfully put it in practice. And that is dear friend, a mentor Wren Brown.

Russell Hornsby: He told me that, uh, an old actor told him that you can’t lie in life and tell the truth on stage. And what I understood about that and what I’ve under, uh, now understand is that you have to be right with yourself. And as I got older and as the roles got more complicated, I realized I wasn’t right. I wasn’t right with, uh, my, my, my past.

Russell Hornsby: I wasn’t right with my childhood. I wasn’t right with who. I was up to that point and I was able to mask it through the work. But once the work got to a place where it needed, it demanded more of me. There were blocks and I had to go back and deal with that I hadn’t dealt with to be able to come out on the other side, to be able to blossom in bloom for real.

Russell Hornsby: And I, you know, as we all say, I’m still a work in progress, but I’m trying to be more honest and truthful with who I am and what I’ve done. Both good and bad, both positive and negative, some of my, uh, uh, missteps, you know what I mean? And so that I can portray and put forth an honest depiction of this character that stems from me, right?

Russell Hornsby: It’s a part of me. Every character I play, there’s something in me that resides in me that allows me to play that character. And if I, if I have those blocks or I have that, I haven’t done that work. I’m lying cause I’ve been lying to myself. And so that truth comes out of the truth that I put it on stage is the truth that I’m dealing with and being honest about myself and my life.

Russell Hornsby: And that’s been the biggest sort of revelation for me. You know, and we talk about, you know, I, I go to therapy, you know, me and my wife have a greater communication. Cause I was, I had to be honest with her about what I had, what I had been dealing with and what’s going on. And so there’s a greater sense of empathy I feel from her.

Russell Hornsby: And that’s, it’s just, it’s, it’s been that and, you know, I’m just, I’m trying to, I’m trying to walk with a greater sense of self that wasn’t, I don’t think was really there, you know? Uh, leave with this.

Eddie Robinson: Yes.

Russell Hornsby: Michole Briana White, who we worked on Jitney together back in the day on August Wilson’s Jitney.

Russell Hornsby: That’s where we met. That’s where we worked. And I was this loud and boisterous peacock. And we had been working together almost two years, and we were at the, we were at the, uh, second stage theater in New York doing Jitney. It’s just something I said or something I did. And she came up and she looked at me.

Russell Hornsby: She said, boy, you are so transparent. And I didn’t understand what that meant at the time. But then as I got older, started getting older, I realized, again, I’m not truthful. I’m not honest. She could see right through my bullsh*t. And I told her that years ago when we got, I said, remember you said that? She’s like, I don’t even remember that.

Russell Hornsby: You know, you was a, you was crazy though. You was crazy. You was crazy. You was crazy. And she’s even said now how she appreciates my maturity and, and things of that nature. But she’s like, yeah, no, you, but you was crazy. So, you know, and I think that’s, you know what it is. I think that a lot of us, the young actors, I think a lot of ’em will get better when they find themselves.

Russell Hornsby: And see, the problem is, is that, I believe, is that I think that a lot of these actors, they don’t farewell because they’re not given you an opportunity to grow. And I think that they’re giving the keys to the kingdom too young. There is no mentorship anymore. We don’t support actors coming from the theater anymore.

Russell Hornsby: Where you got that work, that mentorship where if you just do, if you do four years on the stage from 22 to even 26, how much experience you get so that when you transition over to television at 26, 27, 28 with the movies. Ooh. And I’ll be honest with you, in my opinion, I think that’s why a lot of the Brits are coming over here and kicking a** because they get the training.

Russell Hornsby: And I believe that they’ve embraced this new generation, these younger, a British actors, brothers and sisters. They’ve embraced their blackness in a way I don’t think they did in the past. They embraced, they, because I think through hip hop, through the movies that were come over there, they’ve taken it on and, and I think they’ve realized they don’t, they don’t say, they say they’re Black.

Russell Hornsby: They don’t say I’m British.

Eddie Robinson: Hmm.

Russell Hornsby: Those actors, see, I think before the, the, I’m a British actor. I’m a British actor. I mean, you know, I come from the stage and things of that nature, so, you know, no, I feel a little bit better than you. And they were posh and things of that. Right. So it didn’t translate on the screen the same way, it wasn’t as authentic. Right. But once they, once they, now you look at Idris, once they saw, they take it on and they go, I’m Black. I’m Black man. See? And so, and the training allows them to work the dialect and things of that nature because they got the training, but they embrace the cultural specificity of what it is to be Black in this

Russell Hornsby: So there’s no disconnect. And I think a lot of the, and so for a time a lot of the American Black actors turn into, and this this thing, I don’t wanna be Black, I’m an actor. So no. Where’s your cultural specificity? Where’s the rhythm? Where’s the soulfulness? What do they say up in the rhythm section? Where a nickel across a dime.

Russell Hornsby: Where is that knowledge of collared greens and cornbread? You know what I’m saying? Like all that, that funk, that’s Black people. When you try to remove that, you remove the essence of who we are, where we come from. We come from struggle, we come from soul food, we come from pigs, feet and and that g and then, and then that gives us, so where is your blues?

Russell Hornsby: We all got the blues. We Don’t try to act like you can remove it. Because you went to some ivory tower university because you got a couple dollars and see, that’s why Black folks love Power. BMF. Ghost..

Eddie Robinson: Yeah,

Russell Hornsby: all these shows because the rhythm Black people want to see themselves in all of that. thang, we do that specialness we got, when you try to remove that, they go, ah, nah man, now you acting white bro.

Russell Hornsby: I ain’t feeling that. That’s why Denzel was so good. He’s one of the greatest actor because again, he could be straight lace, everything, but he’s, you still do that. That was a brother. He didn’t deny himself. He didn’t deny his people. He didn’t deny his culture, his walk, his mannerism, that de walk. That’s soulfulness.

Russell Hornsby: And see, that’s why white folks came up to Harlem to Belly rub with because they wanted that. When you take that, when you extract that out of the work, you ain’t special. No more audiences say if you’re gonna do that, I gotta dime a dozen people over here that can do that. I don’t need that. Where’s the specialness?

Russell Hornsby: We like, oh, I got some of that. Why? That’s why they listen to our music. That’s why they love our food. That’s why they love us. That’s why they want to kick it. And this I’m, you know what I mean? So that’s it. And so when you embrace that, that’s the cultural specificity. That’s what sells that thing that y’all do, that specialness, that’s in Black people, that’s what sells worldwide from America.

Russell Hornsby: The American Black Special America Black is special all over the world. Cuz we got that thing that they like.

Eddie Robinson: Will we get our do?

Russell Hornsby: We’re getting it. It’s no, the do is here. What do you do with it? I mean, listen, what Tyler Perry was able to do, what Ava DuVernay is able to do what Lena Waithe is able to do, what 50 cent is able to do.

Russell Hornsby: You know, Kenya Barris, I mean, the list goes on. What do you We’re we’re, we’re, we’re doing it.

Eddie Robinson: There you go.

Russell Hornsby: But again, everything is steps and I think we have to be, here’s the thing, this is, see, when we talk about getting our do, we’re getting it. But I think that what creatives don’t understand sometimes is that, and Steven, I’m quoting Steven McKinley Henderson, when I say this, you have to do it for the people.

Russell Hornsby: But on the arts terms, if I’m saying to you, if, if the, if, if, if the community loves McDonald’s, I say, okay, I’m gonna give you some burgers and some French fries, but it’s gonna be pure Angus beef. It’s gonna be Wagyu. The fries are gonna be fried in pure vegetable oil, not Crisco. So I’m gonna feed you. I’m gonna give, but it’s, Hey, no, no, no, no, but I’m gonna feed you.

Russell Hornsby: I’m gonna give you something that you, that can nourish you. And that’s the arts terms, because the art was there to uplift, was there to engage, was there to educate while we entertain. So I’m doing it for the people, but on the arts terms. And when we lose that, then we’re done. But, but jack leg coons, when you lose that, not that need to give you something you can feel, give you something that you need, give you something that will nourish your soul, your spirit that will uplift.

Russell Hornsby: You know what I’m saying? That’s what, that’s what that’s supposed to be about. And so the thing is, is that we are doing it. It is happening. But I think that again, we’re in this transitional period where it’s like we’re trying to separate the real from the fake, the good for, you know what I mean? It’s like, let’s bring what, what is qualitative and what, and how can we be, do bring qualitative work while we still entertain instead of regressing back to what once was because we had to, Hey, do we just happen to have a job?

Russell Hornsby: You know what I mean? So now we’re here. So I hope that answers the question.

Eddie Robinson: Yes, yes.

Russell Hornsby: And I, and I just wanna say I, this, this has been great, Eddie. I really,

Eddie Robinson: this you

Russell Hornsby: appreciate, you, you know, inviting me on. Thank you.

Eddie Robinson: Award-winning, multi-talented, critically acclaimed actor. Russell Hornsby, thank you for being open.

Eddie Robinson: Thank you for being vulnerable. Thank you for being honest, and thank you for being a guest on I SEE U.

Russell Hornsby: Thank you, brother. My pleasure.

Eddie Robinson: Our team includes technical director, Todd Hulslander, producer Laura Walker, editors Mark DiClaudio, and Jonmitchell Goode. I SEE U is a production of Houston Public Media. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen and download your favorite shows. I’m your host and executive producer, Eddie Robinson, and I feel you.

Eddie Robinson: We hear you. I SEE U. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time.


This article is part of the podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson

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Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson

Executive Producer & Host, I SEE U

A native of Mississippi, Eddie started his radio career as a 10th grader, working as a music jock for a 100,000-Watt (Pop) FM station and a Country AM station simultaneously. While Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus had nominated him for the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991, Eddie had an extreme passion...

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