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Eamonn Walker: From Oz to Duma, "Prisoner" Makes Good
The Brit, Eamonn Walker, moseys into the suite at the Parker Meridian and sits himself down with a gracious smile and handshake. The man who played the steely Kareem Said on HBOís cult convict drama Oz and the maniacal African leader, Andre Baptiste Sr., in Lord of War ó an extremely gutsy yet underrated antiwar film ó is anything but the characters he is noted for. In fact, the gentís sort of a hunk, an impression you donít actually get when his image is flattened out on TV or on the movie screen.
Broadway-goers, though, got the full effect when Mr. Walker portrayed Marc Antony in Julius Caesar opposite Denzel Washington recently.
BJ: What did it feel like to be such a sensation on Broadway in Julius Caesar? I believe it was the Washington Post critic who said a few pleasantries about Denzel Washington, but then raved that you were the "revelation" of the show.
EW: (Laughs) I donít read reviews, but I'm glad they said that. I try not to get involved with reviews, but itís nice.
BJ: Why donít you read reviews?
EW: Because I donít wanted to get co-opted, having a battle with either my ego or my demons. (Laughs) So itís best if I donít have that battle. I used to read them, and always I'd be like: "Oh, my God! They hate me!" or "I'm the best thing."
BJ: So I wonít say anything nice to you.
EW: You can say what you wish.
BJ: For your role in Oz, you studied Islam; you also learned to speak Arabic, and more. You tend to be thorough when preparing parts. Did you do the same for Lord of War?
EW: I did do it for Andre Baptiste as well. I mean I was on the Internet a lot, and as I've said to other people, "My real research started with my own background." I went to things out of myself. Which type of man do I know whom I could relate to? So the person was Idi Amin. That was the first place I went because British society educated him and put him forward in to the world before he became Mr. Uganda.
And so I started there, and I looked to all those leaders in that way. Then I began to research as much as I could, via the Internet and via books. I looked into the politics that were surrounding them at the time when the news was reporting them as being these terrible people. And I remembered about Idi Amin. The press used to go on about how he was eating human hearts and all that. This is something that needed to be said by the people who need you to denounce the leader of the time. Thatís propaganda. I'm not saying these leaders didnít necessarily do these horrendous deeds, but whether they did or not, it was definitely propaganda used to get the populace, who didnít know anything, to make a decision about that man so that they could go and do what they needed to do.
Thatís what I loved about Andrew Niccolís script. He, in a subtle way, was pointing that out. And Andre Baptiste says, "You donít have to understand why I make the decisions that I do. Just know this: I donít lie to myself about who I am or what I do. That doesnít make me an evil person. That makes me a person whoís quite honest."
BJ: I have seen you in many roles. Iíve seen you in Oz. I've seen you in Duma and . . .
EW: Youíve seen Duma!
EW: Ahhh!!! Bless you. (Laughs)
BJ: I saw it I believe at the Seattle Film Festival. By the way, Roger Ebert and his crony Richard gave it two thumbs up.
EW: Did they?
BJ: Yes. They reviewed it because it was opening in Chicago. They said it has to be released because itís one of the best family pictures theyíve recently viewed in quite awhile. Why do you think Duma isnít receiving a mass release? (Warner Brothers is finally releasing Duma September 30th in both New York and Los Angeles.)
EW: I donít what the problem is. I'm just a lonely actor. Nobody talks to me. I just do my job. But give me a chance to sell that movie and I will. Duma is a wonderful movie. It changed my life. Changed my life. I learned more things as a human being four-and-a-half months in the middle of the Kalahari Desert with a twelve-year-old boy and five cheetahs than I could learn in a lifetime.
A little twelve-year-old boy taught me how to be with a wild animal. How to be that close with no rope. No guns. No nothing. I had to be that close with a wild animal and let my animal within reign. A twelve-year-old boy taught me that. How that would feel, I would not believe.
I loved making that film. I loved [director] Carroll Ballard.
BJ: Well, let me finish my original question.
BJ: No, what you said was important. But moving on, seeing you in person gets oneís heart racing. You come off as sort of a sex symbol. You have astonishing good looks.
EW: Thatís very nice of you to say.
BJ: But on TV and on screen, that element of yourself is played way down. In Oz, you were extremely intelligent and a bit severe. In Duma, youíre dusty in the desert, so glamour would be inappropriate. Is your agent not playing up your sexiness?
EW: (Laughs) I think what it really comes down to are the scripts I'm reading, and what touches me. In whatever shape or form, when Duma came around, that was the first light movie that I had done in years. I hadnít really done a movie like that, and I had promised my 12-year-old kid at the time, who is now 14, that I would. Why? Because he would complain, "How come I canít watch you on TV?" because I wouldnít let him watch Oz or any of the other stuff. I said, "The next film I'm going to pick is one with you in mind." And Duma was it.
Copyright © Brandon Judell 2005
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