Photo courtesy of Boom Media and Image Consulting
Interview by La Trisha and La Tasha “Twins of Media”
Jason Dirden says he hasn’t always thought of becoming an actor. The reason it came about was a decision between childhood sports and his favorite television show; something he’s never regretted going forward as he plays the role of Pastor Basie Skanks in the scripted drama series Greenleaf. The show returns for a 2-night mid-season premiere. In this exclusive interview, Jason explains why fans should tune in to see what his character is up to now. Read more↓
Discuss your character on Greenleaf and what attracted you to the role of Pastor Basie Skanks?
“Ah, Man!” What’s not to love or hate about Basie Skanks [Laugh]. That’s what attracted me to the character. Nothing is out of bounds for him and he moves with a lot of integrity. He tells you what he is going to do before he does it. He justifies every road that he takes. Every road less traveled. Even when he gambles the churches money he’s like, If I win it’s going all back to the church so I don’t see a problem with it.
As an actor, you hope for these kinds of roles. It’s very freeing and liberating. There are no boundaries to play your full range of emotions. I was talking to someone not too long ago that in film, TV or a play you may have 10 characters and nine of them everybody loves and wants to them to win, but it’s always that one character that is the villain or the antagonist and even though you don’t want that person to win, you can’t take your eyes off of them. So you want to be able to play that role at least one time in your life. You know, to be able to say, I’m the bad guy and do things you don’t normally get to do [Laugh].
We know that you are a great guy so how did you prepare for this role?
You know that I am a great guy? [Laugh]. I guess I consider myself an okay dude. And I appreciate you guys saying so [Laugh]. Actors constantly observe human behavior so that is what I do on a day to day basis, and how I prepared for the role had a lot to do with the different cultural environments I was a part of since my childhood. The other part of it was growing up in the church. I grew up predominantly in a Catholic church which is very different from a Baptist, Pentecostal or Methodist church, but I did visit those types of churches with relatives and so you get that culture. In college, in Atlanta, I’m in the bible belt so you got to experience so many different church cultures, different personalities, different pastors. But there’s also growing up in a black barbershop where you have so many people coming in with what Basie has which is the gift of gab. You know that tongue that can sell anything where you look at this person and say, I shouldn’t like him but man! I can’t stop listening to him [Laugh]. I kind of just pull from all of it, add my own and magnify it times five. With a name like Basie Skanks, you can’t be quiet. You can’t be invisible. You have to know that’s he’s in the room before he even gets there. You gotta know he’s coming down the hall. Put that all together and this is who Basie Skanks is and the character is still developing.
What can fans expect when Greenleaf returns for a 2-night midseason premiere?
Of course, they can expect more of the twist and turns and the Oh! My God, I can’t believe that happened! But taking it to another level. I think with the second half of the season because of where we left off with Grace, Max, Basie and Jacob there’s like this snowball at the top of the mountain that has developed and the second part of season two is that avalanche coming down where people are going to be fighting for their survival, fighting for their freedom literally and figuratively. You are going to see people possibly turn in ways you didn’t expect especially Basie’s character. You won’t expect the turn that happens with him—the way his world shifts.
You’re a native Houstonian but you have an East Coast sound. Is it because of acting or do other’s hear it as well?
You know I get it from people everywhere except the East Coast [Laugh]. I did grow up in Houston but once I left I went to Morehouse in Atlanta, Grad school in Illinois and then I moved to L.A. and New York. I work all over the country so I think it’s me not consistently being in Houston where the accent leaves me and I don’t realize it, but sometimes I do it on purpose. As an actor, you learn how to go in and out of your native tongue or what not. However, I do realize if the drawl if too strong then people start complaining they can’t understand what I’m saying [Laugh]. For the most part, it’s because I’ve lived all over the place and I’ve had to take on different characters who speak different ways. Although, Texas is still in me and once I get to Houston and I’m five steps out of either Intercontinental or Hobby airport…It’s going down! Already [Laugh].
Have you always wanted to become an actor and tell us your experience being a part of the OWN Network?
As a child, I did not envision myself as an actor. I was actually heavily into sports; basketball, football and baseball since I was fourteen years-old. This is a true story…I’m not lying. Playing football and we had practices on Mondays. Well, one year I think it was 1993 and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air started coming on television the same time we had football practice. I loved that show! If I went to practice I had to miss it and so I had this decision to make [Laugh]. I actually stopped playing football so I can stay home and watch the show because I loved it that much. My mom was a teacher and my dad didn’t get home until around 6 or 7 o’clock at night. But it was my mother who told me I couldn’t just sit at home and that I had to have an extracurricular activity after school. My brother who is two years older than me was already acting (he’s currently an actor living in New York) and my father was an actor when we were growing up so I thought I would give it a try. I started in 10th grade and I’ve been doing it every since. This dream never really materialized when I was a kid and I’m still playing it by ear as far as what I want to accomplish. I have certain things I now want to accomplish as I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into it, but as a kid, coming out of the womb I didn’t want to be an actor. I actually think of myself as more of a storyteller than an actor. Acting is just a platform I have now to tell stories.
Working with the OWN Network is really incredible! It’s such a good group of people speaking of the cast and crew specifically. Lynn Whitfield and Keith David—the two veterans that spearhead the cast and set the tone. Merle Dandridge who is a phenomenal actress and great people like Lamman Rucker– they all welcomed me with open arms the first day on set. I had actually worked with Keith David before but this cast is such a giving group of people. It really is a family. OWN is definitely first rate. They take really good care of you. I mean, she doesn’t need to hear it from me, but I’m so proud of Oprah for building this network to what it is. It started out airing documentaries to now having scripted shows. Successful #1 shows on cable in a relatively short period of time which was also helped by Tyler Perry. What Oprah is doing with Greenleaf and Queen Sugar I think is just phenomenal! It’s taken entertainment and cable by storm, especially for our community. To be able to see us and our culture in this light. In all of our colors. A lot of TV shows show us in one light but with these two dramas, you see us in the full spectrum of who we are; the good, bad, ugly, the positive and the scandals…it’s all there because that’s humanity. Oprah has really taken this opportunity to say, I am going to show us as humans. I’m thankful to be a part of this movement.
What advice do you have for those wanting to become an actor?
First and foremost you have to understand it’s not something you can just get into. I think with reality television and people becoming stars off of it, you hear, I’m going to do my acting thing. Which I don’t particularly like to hear. We don’t say that about any other occupations. There’s no— I’m going to do this doctor thing or this lawyer thing. The way we evaluate acting is that anybody can do it. And I’m not saying to a certain degree that anybody cannot do it but more so it’s not a “thing.” It’s an actual craft and it takes training to build that craft and to hone your skills. So if you decide you want to enter the world of storytelling through acting then it becomes how do I train? Whether it’s college, graduate school or taking workshops figure out a plan to understand the craft and the foundation of what is acting. That’s number one. The second is to discover if you really love it or if you’re just looking for fame. If you are looking for fame you’re going to fail. You gotta, gotta love it! And you have to love it enough to be willing to say if I never become a celebrity and if I never make a million dollars I still want to do this. If at some point I can’t pay my rent or mortgage I still want to do it some kind of way. That’s how you know you love it and your soul needs it.
The truth is the statistics may have changed or actually have gotten worse by now but out of all the people that are actors, 80-85 percent of them are unemployed at any given moment. The odds of you being successful in this business (meaning economically) are very low. You have to train. You have to love it. Those are the most important things as to whether or not you should get into this industry. From there you just have to figure out your own journey. There are no keys to success other than making it about the work and training. You can get discovered tomorrow or in twenty-five years. There is no blueprint to being successful in this business. I’m on Greenleaf right now but in two years I may not have a job or work for another three years. That’s just the way it is. But I love it enough to stick with it.
— Greenleaf OWN (@GreenleafOWN) August 15, 2017
Video courtesy of OWN
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