The actor, 60, talks to The Mid contributor Jeanne Wolf about his mid-life report card, what his parents did for him, and what he’ll do for his kids.
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How do you manage the ups and downs of your career?
There’s a scorecard you give yourself. We quit getting report cards out of college or out of high school. Everybody goes, “I hate report cards.” But there’s a moment in time when we look at what we do. So when you leave school, as an adult, do you ever give yourself a report card anymore? Do you ever go, “How did I do this year? How did I do with my friends? How did I do at my work? Did I grow as a person?” And so when I look back on a movie, I’ll give myself a report card on it. But one thing I never have to worry about is did I work as hard as I could at that moment, when I was making that movie, with all the skill I had, all the luck that I needed to have going for me? And I know that every day I felt like I was just going as hard as I could to make a movie as well as I could make it.
Both films reflect the tone in the country right now. The subject of racial divide is everywhere we look.
I hear people say they’re colorblind. I don’t believe that. Racism hasn’t gone away, and it didn’t start in Ferguson. It is something that we have to confront. I think we are getting better, but we’re not there.
In Black or White and McFarland, USA you play two men who become reluctant heroes. Do you identify with that?
I’m not a real eager beaver. But once in a while it’s not a matter of volunteering. It’s a matter of you’re the one that has to go do something. And you look around and you go, “I guess it’s me that has to stand up for an idea.” So you stand up, hold your head up, and speak up.
Where does that attitude come from?
My mother and father talked to me about what it was to be a man and what it was to live a life. My dad really sacrificed a lot putting my brother and I through school. He was a child of the Depression, and he instilled in me the idea that I could do anything. Both my parents were very clear about not wanting to be something because you thought other people would admire it. They wanted you to be something that you admired.
What bad advice did you get when you were 25?
Because I hadn’t made it at that age, people would have told me to quit. “Look who’s ahead of you. Look who’s already working. Every part that comes up that’s your age, they’re gonna get those parts. Their resume is getting bigger, and yours isn’t growing at all.” That’s probably the way that a lot of people would have talked to me.
What advice do you give your kids?
A lot of the time, what we have to do with our children is just get out of the way. Let their dreams be their dreams. Remind them that work comes with their dreams. They can’t just stare up at the ceiling. The reality is I’d kill for my kids. And that’s a bold statement. It makes everybody sit up, but that’s inside us.