Whether you recognize his face from beloved sitcom (The Cosby Show, Even Stevens) or his voice from your favorite childhood cartoons (The Fairly Oddparents, Rocket Power), there is no doubt that Gary LeRoi Gray has made his mark in show biz. The twenty seven year old former child star has been keeping busy lately; flexing off more of his serious acting chops in the upcoming film Blackbird, alongside Mo’Nique, Isaiah Washington, and newcomer Julian Walker.
The film, which explores the subject of homosexuality within the African American community and the church, has received rave reviews during its premiere screening at film festivals last month. We caught up with Gary to discuss his brave new role.
— Terry Carter Jr.
All Photo Credits: Kate sZatmari
VIBEVixen: Let’s talk about your new film Blackbird. What drew you to this project?
Gary Gary: I previously worked with the director Patrik Ian Polk and that played a huge part of why I chose to be apart of it because I know he’s such a fearless director and he doesn’t do anything not worth doing. When he called and told me about the project, I was immediately interested.The character was one that I really wanted to play because I never really done anything with that many layers. Especially growing up doing Disney and a lot of Nickelodeon shows, it never really allowed me to go that far into my craft. So I definitely jumped at the chance to do that. And loved doing it.
You play a gay character in the movie. Tell us about him.
Efrem is the name of the character. He’s multi-layered. Very troubled. He’s the kind of character that, even though they have a certain bravado on the surface, there’s just so much going on and possibly wrong beneath the surface. He is the best friend to the main character, Randy and he really is the encourager [sic] of all things bad. He wants complete and utter anarchy and he just wants everybody to be free. That’s good and bad for the story. Just a very troubled character, but at his core his intentions are good.
What was it like working alongside the Academy Award winning actress Mo’Nique and thespian veteran Isaiah Washington?
It was fantastic. Mo’Nique is such a sweetheart. Just amazing to work with and a fantastic actress. The same goes for Mr. Washington as well. I have studied his work before working on the project and he’s just such a phenomenal human being, the things that he does in regards to charity is astounding. On set, he’s the complete opposite of what I thought he would be. I’m thinking he’s just this grand actor who would be so serious on set, but he’s actually a joker and he’s a character. It was just a lot fun being on set and working with him and Mo’Nique. Not many people get to work with those kinda names in one project.
What advice would you give to any young African American males out there struggling with their sexuality and acceptance from their family and friends?
My advice would be if you are upset or worried about coming out and actually letting people know what you consider to be the real you, just know that anyone who is not accepting of that doesn’t deserve you and doesn’t deserve their presence in your life. It’s tough and it’s hard to see who’s there for you, but in the end you’re just going to be a better person for it. To live in a shadow or in fear of letting the world know who the real you is, is a lot worse than the alternative. Just face fear and be fearless. That’s really what the movie Blackbird is about.
What type of feedback have you gotten from the LGBT community?
I get tons of positive feedback. I don’t think I’ve gotten one negative thing said about Efrem or Brandon. I was scared to death the first time I played a gay character. It’s different because these roles have a community behind it and it’s so much more responsibility behind it. Patrik was definitely an integral part in making sure I did the role very true to form and I thank him for that.
The film definitely deals with serious topics, but of course if you’re working on a set with Mo’Nique there had to be some funny moments.
I remember one of the last moments in the movie, there’s a scene where most of the main characters are all eating at the table. We were on set sitting there and the food is getting cold and stale and Ms. Mo’Nique kept saying “Can you give these babies some warm food please? Can you please refill this orange juice? Go ‘head, put these pancakes in the microwave sugar” [Laughs] She was still taking care of everyone like a mom. It was great to have someone there who is not quote unquote Hollywood on set. She was very much still a mom to all of us.
You’ve also played another gay character in the film version of the LOGO show Noah’s Arc. Do you ever fear being type cast in films?
I pick roles that are interesting characters. I pick roles that I want to be able to tell that characters’ story. If it happens to be seven gay characters in a row, then so be it. I’m not worried about that at all.
How do you think you’ve managed to stay out of trouble and not go down the wrong path, as many child stars do?
All credit goes to my mom. I grew up in the south side of Chicago. I never really touched the Hollywood scene until very late in my life. With her, it never was about money. That trickled down to me. Where you have most child stars who are so in tune with how much money they are making and where that money is going, that’s how you get a sixteen year old driving a Bentley and wrecking them and living on their own with their managers. Not to say my mom hid my money, but I didn’t need that money at the time. Thus my upbringing was very normal.
What would you say is the most rewarding experience about being an actor?
My goal is to just give that feeling to as many people as I can. Those goosebumps. That moment in the movie where you just tense up, and that release you get when your favorite actor has a crazy, long drawn out monologue and it just hits home. Or a crying scene between two lovers on scene. Those moments, I know how they make me feel and I know that if I can feel those feelings, then so can other people.
I’m sure people still recognize you from Beyoncé’s 2003 Pepsi commercial.
That is still to date my most memorable commercial. It is also my longest shoot on set. [Laughs] That was a twenty one hour shoot, but I loved every minute of it. She’s fantastic. She’s amazing. She was just a joy to work with. We had a lot of downtime on set since the set was really elaborate. She waited very patiently and was ready to go, ready to work. And I was obsessed with Destiny’s Child at the time and I was of course really anxious to meet her. She fulfilled every aspect of just being a joy to work with on set.
VV: For all of our vixens wondering, are you single?
GG: I am not single, actually. Just entered a new relationship. Sorry ladies.
What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for a special lady in your life?
I’m very much a romantic type. I’m that guy that’s like, I’ll buy stuff and have flowers at home just because it’s Tuesday. I went above and beyond for an ex of mine to get reservations to Ariel’s Grotto which is in Disney Land. She loved The Little Mermaid and I think that was very romantic just because of her reaction. Just knowing that was her favorite thing in the entire universe really made it a romantic time because she saw how much dedication I put into making that day special for her.
Similar to Drake, you’re now looking to make a transition from actor to musician. Do you think your experience as an actor helps or hinders people’s ability to take you seriously as a rapper?
In the beginning when I started taking rap seriously, it hurt. At the time I was on Even Stevens and I was doing Fairly Oddparents so people saw the roles I was doing at the time and related that to anything that I did. Now, it is helping because the more serious I take my acting career, and implement cinematic elements of my acting career into my lyrics, the more serious I’m being taken. Because now I’m talking about the realness of not knowing when a check is going to come and what it’s like having to wait for that next role.
What’s next for you?
Besides Blackbird, the most immediate thing is music. I’ve really tried to dedicate myself to music and take a little break from acting. My next mixtape is very close to heart and it’s a lot of stuff that people wouldn’t know about me. Anybody that’s willing to listen, and get to know me on that level, will love it.
Listen to his flow below and don’t forget to check out Blackbird when it hits theaters in a city near you.