Robert Guillaume is an American stage and television actor, known for his role as Benson on the TV-series Soap and the spin-off Benson, voicing the mandrill Rafiki in The Lion King and as Isaac Jaffe on Sports Night. In a career that has spanned more than 50 years he has worked extensively on stage, television, and film.
Speaker Series: June 2013 with John Wesley
Insights from Robert Guillame actor and artistic pioneer, who discussed his philosophy and approach to acting, which never included auditioning or acting as a stereotype, which he referred to as “spookifying.”
He described auditioning and building a career during a time when there were very few people of color in film or television, and if there were any, they were usually portrayed as stereotypes, something he never succumbed to. He always felt he was equal to “everyone in the room” as well as to network executives, because he never accepted the limitations of racial stereotypes. He never felt intimidated because he was a person of color or an actor/artist of color, rather, he felt he was their equal and peer. He also felt that he owed it to all people of color to portray characters that were authentic and multi-dimensional, and this belief always informed his artistic choices.
He emphasized the importance of believing in yourself as an artist and acknowledging that you chose this life. He pointed out that when you face your fears, you conquer them. Further, he said to always be true to yourself and never let anyone – writer, director or casting director or network executive – define you or dictate to you how to approach a role. In addition, another key component of your career is to continually work on your craft as an actor.
He cited the poem Invictus, by English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903), as a profound influence on his approach to his personal and artistic life and it is also a favorite poem of Nelson Mandela. Mr. Guillame quoted from the last stanza:
“It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
Mr. Guillame also pointed out how important organizations like the 3As are, where artists can meet each other, have conversations with each other and discover like-minded individuals to create projects together that move beyond race and stereotypes. This way, you can create viable, quality work with opportunities for yourself as you build audiences for your work.