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So Ambitious: Brian White

“It’s the time away from my family,” Brian White says as we speak about the biggest challenge in his career. “I mean, the acting part is easy. Everybody in our industry would do it for free. It’s what we love to do. But the hard part is, you’re really flying without a net. I used to run down (the football field) and cover kickoffs while playing for the Patriots. You know, there’s something about just running free, eyes wide open, not knowing what’s coming at you, and you’re the first one there. It’s the same thing with a career in entertainment… there are no real rules.” 

Brian is home on a break from filming and was able to sneak in a call with us while at his daughter’s soccer practice. It’s a late afternoon and he and his wife are having some family time. When he is home, he tries to keep things as normal as possible for his daughter. Brian and his wife make sure to drop her off at school and pick her up together and go to all of her activities (soccer, gymnastics, swimming, dance, and more) as a family. It’s been a blessing for him to be home. Being with his wife for 14 years now, married 10, in August, the biggest goal every day of his life is about building their relationship stronger.

“The biggest risk is every time I have to go outside the house to get on a plane and go somewhere for four or five, six months to shoot a job in this, this fake world, um, that we work in is maintaining who I am as Brian White, the family man, the father, and the husband within all the trappings of the industry. Everything else is a blessing. The opportunity to do what I love… every day … and make money? Doing something I would do for free and be able to support my family? It’s absolutely a blessing. But the time apart …. you know? That’s the hard part. That’s the part you have to manage and work together on. Another blessing is that support system. It’s absolutely important. My family does very well with that blessing.” 

Brian is used to a strong support system. He grew up in the shadows of fame. His father is a Hall of Fame NBA player.  He found out more about his dad’s “job as an entertainer” from his friends and teachers than like his parents. They taught him a lot about it, the good things and the bad things, but they didn’t have to do it during the social media craze. Celebrity is not something that he had to adjust to. Brian understands that his daughter does and he’s keenly aware of it and knows, there’s a lot of trappings and fake stories that go along with his career path. Ultimately, he wants to make sure his daughter knows what’s what.

“I have to deal with social media,” begins to explain when we talk about rumors in the media. “My parents didn’t, but I’m also my parents’ child. I’ve had access, you know? I was raised around Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, (NBA Legend) Red Auerbach is my godfather, and my father had a 10 plus year (a hall of fame) basketball career. Before social media came about, I know how bad it can get without the cameras. I’ve seen my father do it and deal with it with my mother. So, I’m more prepared than the average person to have a discussion with my daughter since not only have I done it.”  

The more we talk the more intrigued I am with Brians story. How did this child athlete become the actor that we now see opposite of Robin Givens on the Oprah Winfrey Owned Network? Well, to fully understand that, we have to first address athletics. Of course, that’s how the story begins.

BEING A HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETE

I’d been an athlete my whole life since a Pop Warner in little league age six. I found lacrosse on my way out to baseball practice. Baseball was my best sport. And, my sophomore year in high school, I’m walking out to baseball practice and I saw the captain of the football team who was a lacrosse player. His name is Ribby Hillis, and he actually lives out here in Los Angeles. He’s a supermodel, a male supermodel from my high school (chuckles like he never imagined that happening ). Anyway, he was playing lacrosse and knocked somebody out in practice. Ribby was older than me and I thought he was all cool. And I was like, “THAT’S THE SPORT I WANT TO PLAY!!!  I don’t want to play baseball anymore… It’s too slow… I’m switching to lacrosse.” 

I switched and within a few months, a coach named Don Starsia, (who at the time was the coach at Brown University) came to see Ribby play. He saw me at practice and he offered me a scholarship to his summer camp.  I played football, basketball, and lacrosse in high school. And I was really trying to go somewhere that I could play both lacrosse and football. Thanks to those summer camps, I ended up visiting 20 schools and decided. Red Auerbach sat me down and said, you can play sports anywhere. But he said, you know, at some point you like these contacts wards your body’s going to give out and you’re going to need your brain. So I suggest and strongly encourage you to go to an ivy league school. He wanted me to go to Harvard and I decided Dartmouth was the home for me and I’ve never regretted that choice. I got looks of interest from Dartmouth College and ended up going to play Lacrosse at Dartmouth from going to that camp with Don Starsia at Cornell University.

FROM SPORTS TO SCREEN.

Dartmouth College, I was studying political science and psychology because I wanted to be a lawyer. I started as a freshman and the football program made us take ballet and I studied ballet for all four years, enjoying the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble. That’s how I got into theater. When it was time to graduate, my football coaches came to me and said “hey, the NFL scouts are interested in you. Do you want to do the combine?” I tried out for a couple of teams up in New Hampshire and the Patriots signed me. I played for them for a season, and sure enough, I got hurt. 

While I was recovering, I started studying finance. Having my Dartmouth degree and injured, I went home and sat on my moms’ couch and she’s like “Baby, you didn’t go to Dartmouth to sit on my couch and sulk. Until you can get back to the gym, start studying. So I took my series tests, I took my 6, my 7, my 63, and my 65 and I became a stockbroker. I quit finance almost as soon as I got into it and tried to go back to football. That led me back out to Los Angeles from New York. I landed a role as an extra in The Best Man as Morris Chestnut’s Teammate then on a sitcom called Moesha. That was in 2000 and when I really started acting full time.

WORKING WITH POWERFUL ACTORS AND ACTRESSES. 

They made me hungry for new things. I started out falling into this career path by being cast as a football player (The Best Man), which is what I was doing in the real world. I learned on that job that I could do stuff that was exactly like me and that people like to point a camera at me. I was like, okay, but I’m not really doing anything. I’m just being me. 

Going from job to job, I realized how much of a craft this is, just like with sports. You kinda think Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, or Michael Jordan are just great players. No. No, they’re not. They work that much harder than everybody else, with the raw skills that they have, and BECOME that great. They’re the first ones in the gym at the beginning of the day. They’re the last ones to leave at the end of the night. And they share the information that they get. They try to help everybody around them and everybody around them tries to help them. 

That’s one of the tricks that I learned early on. I’ve just been really blessed to work with a lot of great actresses and actors that have taken me under their wing. They’ve shared not only on camera tips to how to be a better actor, but how to maintain a quality career by being a good person inside the industry. Being a person of integrity, being a, somebody that’s trustworthy, that your word is your bond and it means something that you do what you say you’re going to do. That you’re not going to waste people’s time, by being unprofessional in any way. And those things have really been the pillars of helping me create a career. 

I had to borrow what’s becomes synonymous with Nipsey Hussle. It’s a marathon, a strong career in entertainment is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s built slowly, over time, by showing up each and every day and delivering the same caliber of work. Hopefully, I’ve been able to do that with the blessings I’ve been dealt and all these wonderful actors as an actress I’ve been able to work with.

WORKING WITH WILL PACKER AND OPRAH.

Each opportunity has its own benefit. This is an incredible opportunity to put me in front of,  arguably, the biggest centralized core audience in my demographic that I’ve had access to since like, let’s say Stomp the Yard. Will Packer and Oprah have the biggest megaphone that you can use to shout out to the demographic this show is targeting. 

This show is targeting everyone, but it’s a political show and it’s very timely because it’s looking at the upper crust, white collar through blue-collar politics through a minority megaphone. I think it’s also what we’ve never seen on television. Folks who look like us, people of color being okay speaking about politics. That’s the topic that shows like Power and Empire stay away from. The characters in those shows are incredibly political and incredibly wealthy, but somehow they get it all done without actually ever playing real politics. They play street politics, but we don’t see classic politics. How do they move people like the president around the town to get stuff done and realtors and developers getting land purchases and deals closed, etc? 

We will see every day how slow stuff really works. I think that is what’s so special and unique and what I’m so excited about people to receive from AMBITIONS. You get to be a fly on the wall over, let’s say maybe the past 20 years and currently in the meetings that people like Will Packer, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, John Legend and his team as well as Ava Duvernay attend every day, trying to make these billion-dollar deals. We get to find out why Kanye comes out of some of these boardrooms, so upset with the politics on the other side of that door. You know, we don’t get the full story from Kanye, but we’re going to get it in ambitions from Will Packer and Oprah Winfrey. And I’m excited for people to see it, to discuss it and it, and for it to be a new trending topic on the Internet. 

There are black folks with lots of wealth buying and gentrifying their own neighborhoods. I’ve never heard that conversation. And yet it happens in Oakland with a Marshawn Lynch. I had a conversation with him about what he’s doing in Oakland, buying up property, which is “gentrification”, but then selling it to other black folks at a proper or a fair rate as a different kind of gentrification. It’s the same thing. We could see certain rappers who grew up in Marcy Projects, wanted to go home and buy Marcy Projects and sell each unit to the people that live in them, they could. Yeah, that’s gentrification. That’s a topic that’s explored on ambitions and by my character. And I think that’s a new kind of conversation for America to have. And I’m excited to have it.

I was offered the role by Will Packer and Sheila Ducksworth, his, head of television. I worked with Sheila and our showrunner, Kevin Arkady, on a movie for TV One called MEDIA, where I played a character who is running for mayor of Atlanta. During the course of shooting that movie, we showed it with Barry Gordy and Tina Knowles. We talked about the aspects of the show that we loved and a lot of those elements from that character, not the rest of the show, matriculated into what we now have is who my character is in ambitions. 

One day, about a year ago, Sheila called and said, we have an opportunity for you. We have some material in a role we think you’d be great for. Take a look and see if he’d want to come play with us. About half an hour later after I woke up from fainting, (cause you know, as an actor, you never get a call about, “no audition”), I read everything and saw that AMBITIONS was juicy. It’s delicious. It’s not only, you know, it’s like Scandal where you have all the topical and current and poignant bits, but wrapped up in this, this juicy How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, Dallas Dynasty, Melrose Place package that that’s going to entertain and get the water cooler line longer and everybody talking, but also make sure that they’re talking about something that matters and that moves the needle in the real world.

POLITICS OF THE SHOW WHEN IT COMES TO REAL FAMILIES.

It’s interesting how this show speaks about marriage between my character and Robin Given’s character. One of the things that we always joke about is that we’re Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Beyonce and Jay Z. Barack and Michelle and Bill and Hillary, probably Melania and Donald all wrapped into one couple. We’re going to let people see how wealthy couples do it. Robin’s character is a third generation wealthy billionaire. She is a silver spoon Republican, this is a black family, dark-skinned black families. 

My character is the blue collar, Atlanta, you know, grassroots, southern family. But my character has elevated himself to where he’s independent. So he’s like, let’s say, James Brown, who was primarily an independent and voted for who made sense to him. So you have a mayor that’s in the middle. All of his constituents assume that he’s a Democrat. He’s not about the parties and his wife’s a Republican. Everybody probably assumes she’s a Democrat and then the rest of his family… strong Democrats, and they have to make it all work.

I think the genius of this show is that we get to show America how stuff really happens. That political makeup is very realistic for lots of the Uber elite, wealthy families of color that we’re talking about. But nobody, none of their fans or followers know what their politics are because they don’t talk about it. Kellyanne Conway and her husband George T. Conway are a great example that’s probably the best example of what Evan and Stephanie are like. They don’t see eye to eye politically, but they’re in love and want to get to the same goal. I think a lot about their relationship is educational for the world to digest about how “successful” relationships happen and what sacrifices go into those relationships.

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