American actor Anthony Anderson has come a long way since his rise to fame as Jim Carrey’s son on Me, Myself, and Irene, also starring Renée Zellweger. He’s now one of the leads (Andre “Dre” Johnson) and executive producers of ABC’s Black-ish —a wealthy advertising executive, juggling a successful career with family life, while educating his suburban kids on black culture—with Tracee Ellis Ross as his onscreen wife, Rainbow “Bow” Johnson.
Unlike many shows that have come before it, the Emmy-nominated television series has managed to stay relevant and attract a global audience wanting more. The show, now in its seventh season, ticks a lot of boxes—comedy, socio political commentary, entertainment, relatability and most important, storytelling from the heart. And a significant reason for its success is undoubtedly the result of Anderson’s magic touch.
In a socially-distant Zoom video call, we spoke to the NAACP-award winning actor to find out his take on the appeal of Black-ish, what happens behind the scenes, and what to expect from the series in the future.
What has been the most challenging yet rewarding aspect of playing Dre?
The challenge is in not having this character be one dimensional. That means giving him layers to keep him interesting so that the audience are entertained and continue to watch the show. As the patriarch of the Johnson family and the show, part of the challenge is also in making sure that the series is not one note. Which can sometimes mean telling some of the same stories, but from a different point of view.
The most rewarding part of playing Dre is being able to share this stage with the cast that I have, and in having the audience still be entertained by what we do. In other words, the challenge and reward is in keeping a global audience interested in the stories that we tell and coming back for more after seven seasons.
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Are there any similarities between you and Dre?
There are a lot of similarities between Dre and I because I bring a lot of who I am as a person to the character that I portray. And Dre is also loosely based on the lives of Kenya Barris, and myself, so I do bring a lot of my sensibilities to the character.
That reminds me of a funny story between my 25-year-old daughter and I. We had a disagreement a few years ago, and she turned to me and said: ‘Why can’t you be more like your character on television?’ and I said, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. He’s make-believe’. As much as I bring who I am to this character, a lot of him is developed from our producers and writers. But the base of who Andre Johnson is started with who Anthony Anderson is.
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What was it like watching the actors who play your onscreen children grow up in front of you and how did you prepare them for show business?
I got to handpick the entire cast—the children, in particular. And to be able to watch them grow and grow with them has been a learning experience for all of us. Hopefully, I’ve imparted some wisdom to them over the years about the do’s and don’ts in this industry; and what to expect while working in it. Which I think they’ve listened to and took note of. They’ve all grown up so much, and I can’t think of better people to have worked with for the past seven to eight years.
I look forward to working with them more, and I see them as my own children. In fact, I spend more time with them than I do with my own children: 14 hours a day, five days a week, doing what we love. I always tell them that they’re going to take care of me in my old age—I’ll be knocking on their doors and calling their offices for jobs. Hopefully I’ve been nice to them and they can repay me later on in life.
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What’s the cast dynamic like on set?
I’ll start with Laurence Fishburne, who I’ve known for years. We’ve always had mutual respect for one another and have talked about working together one day—then came this show where he plays my father. Next we have Jenifer Lewis, who’s the mother of Black Hollywood. Growing up, I watched her work and it was great to have her come and be part of the cast.
Then we have the children. In the beginning, whenever they tried to improvise on set, I would say: ‘Hey guys, just stick to what words are on the page. You haven’t learned that yet. You haven’t mastered that yet’. But now, I just sit back and watch them do their thing. They are now young adults with life and industry experience, so they know what works and what doesn’t for them. It’s been a treat and an honour to watch and be part of their magic.
Which of the Black-ish episodes are you most proud of?
There are several episodes that I’m proud of, particularly our pilot episode, which laid the foundation for everything that we’ve been doing for the past seven years. It introduced the audience to all these characters and stories that we will be telling; who they are and what their struggles may be; or what it’ll be throughout the series. We’ve also had episodes that talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, President Obama, and postpartum depression. These are real scenarios that we deal with and that affects us within our communities. Being able to tell these stories and bring the message across in an entertaining and comical way means a lot to all of us.
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What other point of views can we expect from Black-ish?
We will continue to share a slice of life. There are three generations living under one roof on the show, so that’s three different perspectives: The children’s; Rainbow’s and Dre’s; and the grandparent’s. Then there’s Bow’s point of view as a biracial woman in the world we live in. So we will continue telling these stories about a family that’s growing and learning from one another; how they’re manoeuvring in the world; and how current affairs affect them, the community and more importantly, the household.
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Will we see the latest U.S. elections play out in the show?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of some really successful series like Law & Order, where they rip stories from headlines and tell those tales. Which is completely different from what we do here at Black-ish, where the storytelling is a lot more organic to who these characters are. That’s not to say that President Biden holding office and his ideologies won’t affect the Johnson family. But if there’s an organic and authentic way to tell a story about how that’s affecting the community or especially the Johnson family, we will tackle that and talk about it.
Black-ish is now available for streaming on Disney+ Singapore under its Star offerings.