‘House of Lies’ Star Glynn Turman Talks Working with T.I., Gender Fluidity and Black Hollywood

by | April 10, 2014 at 10:17 AM | Black Entertainment, LGBT

"House of Lies" star Glynn Turman. (Photo: Michael Desmond/Showtime)

Most people who meet Glynn Turman rarely call him by his name.

“I’m either Col. Taylor or I’m the mayor from ‘The Wire’ or Preach from ‘Cooley High’ and now I’m Jeremiah. I’m seldom Glynn Turman but I’m all those other people,” jokes Turman referring to his popular roles as retired Army colonel Bradford Taylor on “The Cosby Show” spinoff “A Different World,” as fictional Baltimore mayor Clarence Royce on HBO’s “The Wire” and as Leroy “Preach” Jackson in the 1975 film “Cooley High.”  The 67-year-old currently stars as Jeremiah Kaan on Showtime’s “House Lies” with Don Cheadle as his son Marty Kaan.

His career has spanned seven decades with Turman getting his start at age 13 on the Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” alongside Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. Turman, who won an Emmy in 2008 for his guest appearance on HBO’s “In Treatment,” stars in “Dakota’s Summer” with Keith Carradine, which opens today, and was seen recently in “Act Like You Love Me” with Lynn Whitfield.

Turman talks with XFINITY about the last renaissance Black Hollywood experienced, what intrigues him about working on “House of Lies” and his favorite TV shows and films.

“House of Lies” third season finale aired Sunday but you can watch it and previous episodes online or with XFINITY On Demand™ here.

“House of Lies’” third season finale aired Sunday and the season seemed a bit darker than previous ones.

I think you may be right. What it seems to do is go deeper into the character study of each of the individuals who make of the main force. Now that we’ve gotten to know them better, I think that the idea is that our audience is ready to see how they evolved from where they began: sort of naive and sort of gung ho. The point lead was of course Marty and his business approach style of anything goes. And now we’ve seen that his little fledglings have grown up, taken on that mantra and instead of it just being Marty being the shark in the tank. Now we’ve got a bunch of sharks swimming around.

The series shows three generations of black men—grandfather, father and son—with two strong black male father figures on TV. Why is that important?

I think it’s the unique point that it’s being displayed here. The Kaan men are all very educated, intelligent black men living well, lacking for nothing yet are all rather different in their own approaches to life and at the same time are supporting each other. And I think that’s the important thing: to see the support that they’re giving each other despite all of the differences and their different points of view represented by their freedom. And actually, the four of them, with Larenz Tate playing my other son. I think it’s a very bold approach for television in presenting four black men without a woman in the household and seeing these men navigate in a world where they seem hostage in.

Your character Jeremiah’s grandson, Roscoe, engages in gender fluidity from wearing some girl’s apparel and makeup to crushing on girls and boys. How’s the response been to that?

Well, the guys are like, you know, “what’s up with your grandson,” ”is he really about that,” or “what’s that all about?” And what I love about it is the opportunity to engage those questions coming especially from black men who we as a black male society have always been rather homophobic sort of in our survival packet that we get. We’re always presenting a macho image as a sort of counterbalance to our manhood being so questioned all of the time from every aspect through history. These are subjects that usually make use uncomfortable and I’m glad we’re on this show dealing with it and getting to meet such a brilliant young actor Donis Leonard Jr., who understands and when asked what Roscoe is, he responds, “he’s not gay, he’s not straight, he’s Roscoe.” Which is really the one and only type of answer to these pigeon-holed question. People are who they are.

What’s the most intriguing thing about the show for you?

Now that’s a good question. I think from the very opening of the show, the way it just dealt with everybody as human beings. It just charged right through all of the barriers and all of the stereotypes and forced us to either like or dislike all of the characters in the show or the storylines in the show regardless of the color, gender, class, political correctness of the people who were are engaged with. They are so outlandish and so daring that I’m intrigued by this because it’s never been presented to us in this fashion.

In the third season, what stood out for you? You had Tip “T.I.” Harris and Mekhi Phifer guest-starring throughout the season.

I love T.I. Don’t you love TI? I love him in this better than he was in “Boss.” I think he’s had so much fun in this and the show enjoyed him so much as well as wonderful Mekhi Phifer, you know. I think I like that storyline of these black men (Phifer and T.I.) got into this business (the fictional DollaHyde clothing line) as street drug entrepreneurs.  But some of our finest entrepreneurs are brothers on the corners in sundry places who have been able to turn a hustle into great business savvy. I think to be able to explore that has been wonderful. And still, you look at it as being no different than anyone else in the American experience from Al Capone to Joe Kennedy. It’s the exact same thing.

That’s one of the things I like about Marty Kaan. He thinks big. He doesn’t think small, he doesn’t think petty, he doesn’t think black, he doesn’t think white. He thinks big. And that’s what I dig about. He’s my idea of a true American. He thinks big.

What do you like about your character on the show?

I think he’s resolved, you know. I think I enjoy playing his resolve, his understanding of human nature is rather intriguing to me. He’s dated this young beautiful woman, Chantelle, this season played by the lovely Alice Hunter. It’s just hard to pigeonhole any of these men in this family. Remember he had begun showing signs of illness and all of a sudden he’s found the cure in this beautiful woman. He thought, “I’m getting old, why not live?” It put pep back in his step, the affections of this young, beautiful woman. At the same time, he’s able to share trust and knowledge that his boys are each individuals with their own sense of morality will show itself when it’s needed and define them as the people he trust them to be.

It seems that most of the TV shows you’ve starred in and even some of the films had impactful messages. Are those reasons why you chose those projects?

Absolutely. It’s kind of chosen and they chose me. A lot of times it just sync the way it works out.  You don’t go into it knowing this is some great piece of work but it turns out to be that. And I’m just so happy that I’ve always been chosen to be a part of pieces that have that much content in an era that content is usually put on the back burner. I’m grateful that there are still roles for me to do and that need actors to do them and I sometimes get the call.

You’ve been in the entertainment industry for more than 50 years. What are your thoughts on what’s happening in Hollywood with black actors and actresses? Is it really signaling something new?

It’ll be a typical craze if we don’t seize the opportunity. In other words, what I’ve noticed what we’ve done when these kinds of times come around, when our images are the new flavor of the month, is we don’t seize the opportunity to make it a mainstay. We become content with the appetizer before the meal therefore we disappear quickly until the next round of comes around again. Hopefully, because we have Shonda Rhimes and some of the power players behind the scenes and in the studios of color and conscious of color and not content to be window-dressing, maybe we’ll have a foothold enough to stay in. But that all depends on many things. We do have a black president and that means a lot. People ask what has he done? What he’s done is change the color up, which you see on the screen. When the head of the free world is black there’s got to be some sort of spin-off from it.  And I think that’s what we’re seeing. Whether that’ll continue once he’s out of there. It’ll be interesting; it all depends on how much we entrench ourselves now that he’s in.

When was the last time something like or close to this happened?

If you take the ‘70s with Blaxploitation pictures there was a proliferation of black-content films and motion pictures, television, stage plays and so forth at a time when Hollywood was in trouble financially and it was cheaper to do black films to keep the lights on until they could reestablish themselves. And what you see now is coming out of period of repression where the economy tanked and it wasn’t as easy to make a $100-million blockbuster as it was to make a $3-million picture with people of color. And those pictures were grossing an average$40 million if they’re big hits. And that keeps the lights on until we climb out of the depression that we’ve been in. We’re coming out of it and we’ll see if there’s any reasons to keep us around.

Some people interpret this concern with complaining and say black people should do something about it.

It is easier said than done and for a number of reasons and some we’ve spoke about before. One is that we as a people don’t think big enough. There aren’t enough of us having a Marty Kaan mentality, which is think big enough and go out and do it and your done. That’s part of it. The other part is the natural obstacles that are entrenched in the fabric of the country when it comes to us. That’s as real as the other. They’re both very real, believe that. Do you boo yourself out of doing the best that you can or do you let someone else boo you from jumping over hurdles? But either way you look at it, there is a boogeyman out there.

What TV shows do you enjoy watching?

My wife and I have our date nights. We love the Showtime shows like “Shameless,” “Homeland” and “House of Lies.” And of course, “Scandal” is high on the list, you’ve got to do “Scandal.” Television’s actually doing some wonderful stuff now. Showtime has come up so strong and has a powerful lineup.

Are there any movies that you’ve seen in the last 12 months that you’re a fan of?

I thought this was one of best seasons for motion pictures in a long, long time. “12 Years a Slave” was very powerful, very moving and deserved all of the acclaim it did get. I was absolutely charmed by Lupita. I thought she was as beautiful as they were making her to be. I thought “The Butler” was wonderful and I also thought “American Hustle” and “Nebraska” were wonderful films.