Tomeka M. Winborne had the honor of speaking with the acclaimed actor Clifton Powell for JARO’s latest podcast episode. In it, he expresses his thoughts about the Hollywood industry, the fulfilling experience of starring in Black Lightning, and offers knowledgeable advice for young actors.
Growing up, Powell initially strived to be a professional football player. But after being placed in a play during high school and discovering a newfound, unexpected passion for the performing arts, he later attended Duke Ellington School for acting––and the rest is history.
Yet, it wasn’t an effortless journey. Powell spent two decades unemployed before he was able to get his foot in the door of Hollywood. Since then, he’s starred in over 100 films and television shows. His top credits consist of Menace II Society (1993), Dead Presidents (1995), Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998), Rush Hour (1998), Next Friday (2000), and its 2002 sequel, Friday After Next, Woman Thou Art Loosed (2004), and Ray (2004). He also starred as Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1999 television film Selma, Lord, Selma.
When you look through his extensive resume, you’ll discover that Powell has played a lot of gentle characters, although people generally tend to associate him with more of the “bad guy” roles. “I’ve played more pastors than gangsters!” he exclaimed. And certainly, these compassionate roles are more of a representation of who Powell truly is at heart. “We’re actors, we’re not really these people. I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never been in trouble.”
In The CW’s series Black Lightning, Powell is able to play a character (Reverend Holt) that he somewhat resembles. “I’m probably more like Reverend Holt in the sense that I love everybody and want everybody to be happy,” he said. It’s Powell’s first time starring in a superhero show, and he’s a huge fan of the experience. “I like it because I can die and keep coming back,” he joked. “It’s a cool role.”
Today, Powell is eager to help light the way for young actors, as he’s learned from his own mistakes throughout the years and wants to help others avoid certain pitfalls. “Nobody taught me about the history of Hollywood and the politics involved, all the stuff that comes along with making it in the business,” he said. “One of the things I’m trying to do now is give people all the stuff I didn’t understand.”
As for advice that he can provide for aspiring actors, Powell says that the most essential starting point is to invest in training. “Learn how to act, then have the determination and mindset. Do your research, get your training. All you need is faith the size of a mustard seed.” Furthermore, he wants actors to realize that small roles shouldn’t be looked down upon. “Some of the biggest roles I’ve done have been small roles,” he said.
Currently, Powell is putting together a seminar called “Behind the Lens” which tackles every aspect of the business and what they don’t teach you about surviving Hollywood. Click here to listen to the full podcast on WatchJARO.