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Anthony Anderson (‘Black-ish’) on why ‘it’s never a dull moment’ on the set [Complete Interview Transcript]

Gold Derby logo Gold Derby 8/31/2020 Kevin Jacobsen
Anthony Anderson wearing a suit and tie © Stewart Cook/WWD Anthony Anderson
Anthony Anderson now has six Emmy nominations in a row for his performance on “Black-ish.” He also has an additional three bids from producing when the series itself was nominated.

Anderson recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Kevin Jacobsen about all the work that goes into producing an episode of “Black-ish,” how his character, Dre, has matured over six seasons and what’s happening with Season 7 of the ABC sitcom. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.

GD: Let’s talk about it. Very few actors could manage that kind of longevity at the Emmys, getting six in a row there. What has that continued love from the academy meant for you? 

Anthony Anderson: I wish they’d loved me a little more, Kevin, to give me a win and not just the nomination…

GD: Yeah, let’s have that conversation!

AA: No, but it’s fun to be acknowledged by your peers and the academy for the work that not only I do, but my entire cast. I’m only as good as my cast allows me to be. So a nomination for me is a nomination for us. 

GD: And we saw Tracee Ellis Ross get in again, another costumes nomination, and then for the first time we saw a nomination for hairstyling for the “Hair Day” episode. Can you talk about what makes their work special and just how much work goes into the production of “Black-ish” that people might not know, six seasons in?

AA: It’s never a dull moment and it’s not easy work. We have 13 or 14 cast members that are on our show, from the family to the actors at Stevens and Lido to teachers. I’m speaking of it from a wardrobe and costume design standpoint, and sometimes, I have 20 changes per episode on average. So you have 20 changes by me, you have maybe 15 changes for Tracee, and all of that. So just to keep all of that together and cohesive and not have us looking like United Colors of Benetton, but still have our own identity, I have to applaud Michelle Cole and her staff and the wardrobe department for making us look as great as we do on a daily basis. But to do that with 13 main cast members is truly a task. Hair in itself, in particular this hair episode, but they’ve been doing a great job in our hair and makeup department since day one. So for them to finally be recognized, it makes you want to say, “It’s about time.” But yeah, it’s never a dull moment and it’s never easy work to do what it is that we all do, even though everyone makes it look easy. 

GD: Well, let’s get right down to it. You’re submitting the episode “Love, Boat” to Emmy voters, which is the finale of Season 6. It’s where Dre catches Ruby and Pops getting together again and they decide to try to make it work. So why did you and your team or whoever was making that decision process choose that episode as your big showcase? 

AA: Our finale shows are always great big shows, funny ones. You always want to leave off on a funny note and not necessarily a cliffhanger, but something that’s big and broad and that keeps your audience at home on the edge of their seat with anticipation for when the new season comes back. So that was my thinking about that and it was just a pretty fun episode. It had humor and a lot of heart, me walking in on my parents doing the do, yeah, it was pretty interesting, which is even funnier, is that the vast majority of us growing up has probably walked in on our parents doing the do. I did. Never told any of the producers of that. So I found it interesting when that story came about, I was like, “Oh, damn! I guess I wasn’t the only one!” So to read that and to see that on the page was funny.

And then just the roller coaster of emotions that the character Andre was going through, dealing with his parents getting back together, dealing with him finally having the relationship that he’s always wanted with his father and knowing that his mom and his dad are toxic together and that if they were ever able to get back together, that it would be toxic and the toxicity of that relationship, Dre would always take the side of his mom. So now he’s forced to take the side of his mom in the event that something happens at the detriment of this relationship that he’s always wanted with his father. So now he’s caught in between that. It’s like, “Yo, Dad. Look here, man. I can’t let you date my mama.” “Boy, what you talkin’ about?” He’s like, “Look here, man, I’ll fight you. What’s your angle on this, man?” And Dre really couldn’t accept at that moment that it was actually real love between them until he sees it later on in the episode. So just the journey that Dre goes on in terms of dealing with this new love affair between his parents I thought was an interesting angle and a great episode to submit. 

GD: Yeah, I mean, that episode, we really do see Dre coming to grips with having to maybe let go of his mother, even though he has this kind of childhood trauma of the separation from his childhood. But ultimately he does and he sees them off on a boat that Ruby just bought for the two of them. Do you imagine that his relationship with the two of them might change now moving forward, assuming that they actually do stay together? 

AA: I think so. I think if they stay together like we want them to, like we hope them to, Dre will finally be in a loving, committed relationship with both of his parents, which is something that he never really had growing up. His dad was always off doing what he was doing at the racetrack or trying to make ends meet or womanizing and whatnot and Dre was always left there to pick up the pieces to keep his mother together. If this plays out the way that we all want it to, Dre will finally get that family unit that he’s been longing for from his mom and his dad. So yeah, I hope to see that. 

GD: Yeah, I’m intrigued if that were to come to pass. And what the cast, working with Tracee and Marsai Martin and Miles Brown, Marcus Scribner, Jenifer Lewis, Laurence Fishburne, what is that environment on-set when you’re all together? I mean, has any of that changed since the beginning? 

AA: None of that, it’s only gotten crazier and wackier and better. Anytime you add Jenifer Lewis to the cast of characters, whoa, you are in for something. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. How we’ve grown together, the way that we know each other now, intimately, professionally and personally, how we know what the other person is thinking without them even thinking it, it’s just a beautiful thing. We are truly a family with all of its dysfunction but with all of its love and tenderness. 

GD: Yeah, and some of some of the tension as well, because I want to talk about Dre and Junior, which is always such an interesting relationship to follow over the six seasons especially, and how that’s changed. I mean, Dre can be kind of tough on him sometimes, but there is obviously still love there and it feels like Dre is giving him more credit for things than he has in the past, maybe. So what do you think about how that relationship has evolved? 

AA: It’s a maturation of Dre, accepting the fact that Dre Jr. is his own man and is growing into his manhood, and I have to accept that, good, bad or indifferent. There’s always gonna be contention there because he’s my namesake. I’m his father. He’s my son. But the maturation process of Andre Sr. is evident in his acceptance of how his son is and what he’s becoming, the young man that he’s becoming and I love that relationship between the two of us. 

GD: Well, we’ve seen you and the cast cover so many different topics over these six seasons and 2020 being what it was, with Black Lives Matter having what was a real breakthrough moment and a conversation that was finally being had seriously on the national level, do you think that there are new elements related to 2020, the protests, the sort of online discourse that there was, all the different responses to the movement that you feel like you can still try to incorporate into Season 7? 

AA: I do. Every day there’s something new. Every day there’s new information. Every day we grow. So yeah, there’s always an angle from which to approach something. The current administration, everything that’s going on within the community with police brutality, systemic racism, protests. Yeah, there’s so many different colors that you can paint that collage with that there’s always going to be something to say and a place to say it from.

GD: Well, I talked to Tracee a few weeks ago, and she mentioned that you guys will probably be back in the fall before the election. So I’m curious just how the Season 7 process is coming along in this strange time. 

AA: Well, today’s our first day. I haven’t made it to set yet. I probably won’t be on-set today because my day’s filled with interviews like this, but tomorrow I will be back and late last week, we got an individual tour of the soundstages and how our new abnormal is going to be, what our new reality is and it’s going to be crazy. There’s a unit A and a unit B. One way in, one way out. We have crosswalks, we have crossing guards, we have everything but stoplights on the set now. So we’re taking every precaution that we can and adhering to every new mandate and rule that there is and compliance that there is to make for the health and safety of everyone involved. So it’s going to add some time to our tape days. It’s going to take an adjustment on how scripts are now being written and how they’re going to write these characters and this family together for these big family scenes, these big Stevens and Lido scenes, so it’ll be interesting to see how this first week goes and how we’re able to pivot and the changes that we’re going to need to make. 

GD: Well, I also want to talk about a few other things you have going on. You’re keeping very busy. You guest hosted “Jimmy Kimmel Live” for a week. What was that whole whirlwind of a week like for you? 

AA: It was interesting. It was fun. Interesting because you’re in an abandoned home, no live audience, with literally a skeleton crew of maybe five people. Two cameramen, a sound man, an AD and a producer, and you’re just there flying by the seat of your pants, not really feeding off the energy of a live audience because there isn’t one there. So you just have to trust your instincts and trust what’s written for you by the writers and what you’ve come up with. But it’s always a great time there. It’s fun but daunting at the same time and you never know what the final cut is going to be until we make the final cut. It’s like, “Yo, did I hit this joke? Did this land? How is this going? How was my interview?” The only thing that had some type of resemblance to what the show normally is are the interviews that you’re doing, even though you’re doing them via Zoom. But at least you’re bouncing off of another person as opposed to delivering a monologue to camera and thinking that a laugh is going to go here. 

GD: Well, you do host a lot of things, I mean, you host “To Tell the Truth,” of course, you’ve hosted some award shows, now this. Do you find that there is a key to success for you for being a good host? 

AA: For me, the key to success is to just go out there and have fun. The only thing that I’m in control of in the equation is me, and as long as I’m out there having fun and I know I need to hit this mark, and I know I need to say these words on this teleprompter or say these words from the heart or from my mind, that’s all I can do. As long as I do the best that I can do and as long as I prepare the best that I can be for that moment, the rest is up to the audience, and that becomes subjective anyway, whether they like it, love it or hate it. You’re never gonna appease everyone. I appease myself, though, knowing that I did the work, I put in the work that was needed to get to that point, and that’s all I can do. That’s my recipe for success for that. 

GD: Well, just to go full circle here to bring it back to the Emmys, I think you’ve gone every single year that you’ve been nominated going back to 2015. Do you have any favorite memories from those times that stick out in your mind? 

AA: One was the year that I didn’t get my mother tickets because she was on punishment, and my mother showed up to the Emmys anyway and I feel this tap on my shoulder as I’m sitting front row center and I turn and it’s my mother and I’m like, “What the hell are you doing here? I didn’t get you tickets!” She turned to her friends, like, “She got me a ticket.” And found out my mother was a seat filler at the Emmys that year because I didn’t get her tickets. She went as a seat filler. Anthony Anderson’s mother is a seat filler at the Emmys where he’s nominated! So that was my wildest memory from the Emmys that year. 

GD: Your mother is truly a superstar. Watching “To Tell the Truth,” she shines. 

AA: Yeah, she does. She does.

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