LisaGay Hamilton: Life after Beloved
 

LisaGay Hamilton’s Life after Beloved

Ms. LisaGay Hamilton

This interview was conducted by e-mail whenever Ms. Hamilton had the time to correspond within her busy schedule. This interview began while she was in Canada filming a Showtime original movie with Sam Waterston, Tim Daly and Jennifer Beals. This interview ended around the time she had to attend the 1999 Emmy Awards for her television drama The Practice.

Bryan Wilhite: The name “LisaGay Hamilton” shows up hundreds of times all over the wired world. I see your name mentioned most often in online movie databases—obviously because of your long list of film credits earned over the 90’s (plus 1985’s Krush Groove). Warner Bros. (www.truecrimethemovie.com) and MSBET.com have quite lovely pictures of you at their respective sites. And I even saw a few postings on deja.com regarding a single guest appearance on TV’s Ally Mcbeal. Are you surprised to find your name mentioned so many times on the Internet?

LisaGay Hamilton: I have to say I am tickled that my name appears anywhere! I think its just a sign of the times, with cyberspace and all. I am however proud of my accomplishments and am humbled that these few credits have been put “out there” for folks to view.

rasx: Now, one of your roles for the Lisa-Gay 90’s was Sethe in the film

Beloved, an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning book of the same name. I saw the movie twice and was moved by it. However, the public did not make it into a blockbuster. I saw Quincy Jones argue on the Charlie Rose Show that this work will do better in the “privacy” of the home like the Roots television series. So there is the possibility that it will do well on pay-per-view or home video. Have you heard statements like these?

LGH: This is a typical statement by anyone in the business who’s film doesn’t do well at the box office. In fact, a lot of films, whether they make it to the theaters or not, can gross a sizeable amount on home video sales. Naturally I would hope that viewers will take the time to rent the video Beloved. Whether Beloved is the type of film that should do better in the privacy of ones home, I don’t know the answer to that. I was very disappointed that our folks didn’t go. Don’t know the answer as to why they didn’t go either.

It was the first time I had been on such an integrated set. I loved it! As a result all folks respected the importance and sanctity of making Beloved.

rasx: I know it may sound a little strange to associate Beloved with David Lynch’s Dune but bear with me: I feel that both films should have been many, many hours long—which in the real world means a small “mini-series” that would appear on a cable channel or public television (in American Playhouse or Masterpiece Theater). Are you aware of any attempt at this style of production for Beloved?

LGH: I vaguely remember Dune, that’s with Mel Gibson (smile)? Anyway, I never heard folks talk of making this into a mini-series. That’s a great idea though, due to the density and complexity of Beloved the novel.

rasx: In full view of possible time and budget constraints, do you think certain passages of Toni Morrison’s book did not make it to film because of “creative limitations” on the set? Do you think that Beloved was made into a female-centered film for a purpose other than what Toni Morrison was trying to get across?

LGH: I think that the movie made was based on the desire to tell Sethe’s story solely. (99% of Sweet Home and Paul D’s story was obviously omitted.) This is simply politics and business and choice. Without Oprah this film would not have been made now, perhaps sometime down the road... Presumably Oprah was the draw to this film version and thus it was her/Sethe’s story that was predominant. This is only my theory! I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this choice either and who’s to say why the story was partially told. In all fairness I’m not sure how a movie of Beloved, the entire novel, could be made without it being an epic. It is a story bigger than life! Producers and studio heads don’t think audiences can stay in their seats for more than two hours or so. I’m guessing that in twenty years or so someone else will try their hand at this story and naturally they will have their own interpretation. That is art yes?

rasx: I was disappointed to find the movie Beloved not explaining details about the characters that seemed very important to me. For example Danny Glover’s Paul D. seemed to “naturally” want to have sexual relations with Thandie Newton’s Beloved. In her book, Toni Morrison makes a considerable effort to explain the super-natural influence on Paul D. driving him towards the id-orientation of Beloved. Now I am sure they could have tried to prevent yet another Black man from taking on the role of lust animal. Was this issue addressed but ended up on “the cutting room floor?” Did I miss something?

LGH: Your disappointment is valid; however, perhaps the director and the screen writer felt differently. I felt the issue of why Paul D was drawn to Beloved sexually was adequately explained. It was the totality of Paul D’s character and back story that was obviously missing from this film version of Beloved.

LisaGay Hamilton, et al. on ShowTime

rasx: Were there any scenes in the film Beloved that did not make it to the theatrical release? Were there any aspects of the book Beloved that you wanted to see on the big screen?

LGH: Of course with any film not all scenes make it to the finally version. I would have loved to have seen the entire book. It seems to me it is impossible to tell only one part of the novel Beloved. It is so rich and full and all parts add to the whole.

rasx: Since Beloved was not a Spike Lee Joint, it ran the risk of being “overrun by whites.” Deep down inside, I am sure that the Beloved crew and cast of European descent understand that slavery was “bad” but—especially with cynical young people who are not properly educated—there is the tendency to try to “make light” of what peoples of Africa take quite seriously. On the set of Beloved, were you ever exposed to any inappropriate behavior by any punk-ass white kids playing smart but not being clever? Hey, what about the Black kids?

LGH: I believe it was made a point to integrate the crew on this film. It was quite a sight for me! It was the first time I had been on such an integrated set. I loved it! As a result all folks respected the importance and sanctity of making Beloved.

rasx: In full understanding that actors can play characters quite unlike themselves, I still must as ask is there something in Sethe that is also in you—in your personal life? Was that time so long ago that there is nothing relating to you from her world?

LGH: There is always some aspect to a given character that is somewhat related to me. There are other times I feel very connected to a character. It’s like a song: some songs make ya cry and others don’t move ya at all. In the case of Sethe, I think we shared, in common, pride, anger and bitterness toward those that oppress. We shared love of family—so much so that we would die for our family—going to extreme measures to protect our family. We shared the love of freedom. I would like to think as well that I have some of her strength and that will to live.

rasx: Is there life after Beloved? What I mean to say is: how can you follow up such a great performance in your new work?

LGH: I thank you for such a wonderful complement. My hope is that with each new project I grow as an artist and find new colors and greater depth to my work. Practice makes better ya know?!