ABC Family Takes Drama to Daring, New Heights
Russell Hornsby, Lincoln Heights
is all over the map. He's making movies, shooting a TV drama — ABC Family's Lincoln Heights
, which airs a new episode tonight at 7 pm/ET — and he's currently gracing the New York stage in an August Wilson play that he's very passionate about. Luckily, Hornsby found some downtime to talk to TVGuide.com about the characters he's been channeling and who he draws inspiration from.
TVGuide.com: I watched the new episode of Lincoln Heights, "House Arrest," and I have to say it's not what I expected. The show really balances your character's cop life and home life, and that separates it from a lot of other crime dramas.
Russell Hornsby: I really have to tip my hat to the executive producers and of course the creators, Seth Freeman, Kathleen McGhee-Anderson and Kevin Hooks, who really worked hard at creating that balance. It is very important for the show and also for the character, because it helps give it a sense of context for who this man, Eddie Sutton, really is. It's a very diverse look at his life and shows what a three-dimensional man he is.
TVGuide.com: Comedy is another element that's unexpected here. There are some funny moments in the episode when both grandfathers are under the same roof.
Hornsby: [Laughs] That's the thing about life — you have to laugh and you have to cry. We all have grandparents or aunts or uncles, and they get old and irrational and crazy, and you have to laugh at them. They're just different in their ways.
TVGuide.com: What do you like most about playing Eddie?
Hornsby: I like the fact that he is three-dimensional, that I get to show both sides, because there aren't many African-American dramas on television that are dealing specifically with the black man. To look at this black man as a well-rounded character and see that this is a man who has integrity, heart, humanity and a sense of soul and spirit about him, that's the most fun for me. I modeled Eddie Sutton after my two uncles who live in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. They both work in law and government — one is a judge and the other is a constable — and they grew up in the ghetto. They went away to college, but they came back. The judge is now sending friends of his, or their sons and daughters, to jail. I sat in his courtroom and what I saw was that people had respect for him, because not only did he stay, but he was fair. My uncle who's a constable has to evict old friends and their kids from their apartments, because they haven't paid in three, four, five or six months. When you have examples to draw from, it's a much richer experience.
TVGuide.com: So how do your uncles feel about the show?
Hornsby: They really love it, it warms their hearts, because they're able to see a reflection of who they are and they have a sense of pride now — that the community of Roxbury is represented with a sense of dignity and honor, which is so important. These are the small gems out of life that make our day a little bit brighter.
TVGuide.com: Lincoln Heights might surprise the typical ABC Family viewer, being as serious as it is. Do you think it's capturing that audience that would otherwise go for lighter viewing?
Hornsby: I think it is, and I think it should. That's why I have to commend ABC Family for going in this direction, because the reality of it is that this is the direction we should be going in. There's room for everything and all kinds of entertainment, so you have to have the light there, but you also need to skew the programming, just to give people something to think about. I hear the ratings are doing well, so I'm hoping for a pickup.
TVGuide.com: Tell me about the indie you did, Stuck.
Hornsby: In 2001, there was a story about a woman who was driving home from a party inebriated and high on ecstasy, and she hit a bum and he got stuck on the windshield of her car. She drove home, went into the garage, parked the car, and for three nights this bum was stuck on the windshield, dying. Every six or so hours, she would come into the garage and apologize profusely, but she never called the police or the paramedics. She would just come in and say, "I'm so sorry," because she was terrified. I play the boyfriend of the driver, [played by] Mena Suvari, and the bum is played by Stephen Rea. It's tragic, it's dark, but it's funny. I hear the audiences are having a good time, so we'll see what happens. I'm in New York right now doing a show.
TVGuide.com: Yes, I wanted to ask you about King Hedley II. Did your Lincoln Heights schedule conflict at all?
Hornsby: Again, I have to tip my hat to ABC Family, because they really respect my love of the craft and this is the second time I've been able to do a play while under contract with them. They opened the schedule and allowed me to take two or three months off to do a play before we come back and start shooting Heights in L.A. Theater is, of course, my first love, and I think it really helps the work when I come back, because I've been invigorated by the stage life.
TVGuide.com: Was there a certain anticipation you had doing the play, since it's the first time August Wilson's work is being shown in New York since his passing in 2005?
Hornsby: Yes. An anticipation and a responsibility to bring it to life and allow people to see August as if for the first time — as some people are — and to really honor him and his legacy. [King Hedley II] was a play August felt didn't get the proper respect and wasn't shown in the proper light, and I think we're doing that. We're doing the play justice and honoring him at the same time.
TVGuide.com: And you'll be doing that through April?
Hornsby: Through April 22. We just had a wonderful, glowing review in the New York Times, which is really great.
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