's Chi McBride
takes great pride in his role as formidable principal Steven Harper on David E. Kelley
's high school drama. "This is the strongest African-American character I've ever seen on TV," he boasts to TV Guide Online. "People aren't writing [roles like this]. That's what [places] me in a unique situation, and that's also what I think is a feather in David's cap the fact that he wrote this character."
Appropriately enough, McBride gets the chance to thank Kelley at the third annual TV Guide Awards airing March 7 on Fox (8 pm/ET) when he presents his boss with the Brandon Tartikoff award. Named for the legendary NBC exec, the trophy honors creative movers-and-shakers behind the scenes.
None of that's to say McBride has any illusions about the social significance of a series like Boston Public. Laughs the actor: "I think it's ridiculous for TV to consciously use itself as a tool to change society show business is filled with some of the most dysfunctional people you would ever want to meet!"
Still, might the show do some good despite its sensationalistic bent? "I've talked to teachers about some of their experiences [with] issues like sex with students, drug use, fights, gangs and everything we've touched on at some point," McBride says. "It's good that we're portraying some sort of realism in terms of what teachers actually go through. They're glad we're letting people know that it's not an easy job."
Aside from playing TV's huskiest headmaster, the 6'5" McBride also portrays well-meaning authoritarians in two upcoming films. In Narc, starring Jason Patric and Ray Liotta, he's "a police captain who's trying to get a murder investigated that nobody wants investigated." And in Paid in Full, with Wood Harris and Mekhi Phifer, he's a dry cleaner mentoring a would-be crack dealer in 1980s New York.