Timothy Richardson, who plays Mitchell Crawford in the film adaptation of James Earl Hardy’s classic novel "B-Boy Blues", joins Gaye Magazine in an exclusive, tell-all interview to discuss how he found himself landing a lead role in the film, all that he learned while on set and what he hopes this film will bring to those eager to watch.
Timothy Richardson’s face softened into a smirk as he revealed the parallels between his role as Mitchell and his own self.
“Me and him fell in love so easily...by the end we had to protect that heart of ours.”
For nearly 30 years since its release, B-Boy Blues has become a crucial piece of work for young Black, gay men all over the world. It’s a leading force in the growing genre of LGBTQ literature and continues to depict what an authentic gay love story would look like back in the 90’s that still serves relevant today.
Needless to say, the film had just as big an impact as the book! The team at Gaye Magazine had the honor of being asked to attend the private and intimate screening of B-Boy Blues at the AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9, just minutes away from the actual set.
The movie was more than good–– it was “jood” which is a term that is often referred to in the film as “more than good.” This film was extremely well crafted and displayed themes of sexuality, masculinity, identity and family. Although B-Boy Blues captures the passionate love between Mitchell and Raheim, fans can still expect to be met with some thoughtfully placed comedic relief.
Another thing that can’t go unsaid was the cinematography. Throughout the film, one can say it had a dreamlike feel, especially during the lovemaking scenes. The crew was truly unafraid to play with the contrast ratio while being strategic in the camera's placement. There was a visual language present that almost made it seem like you could watch the entire film without any of the characters saying a word.
During the Q&A at the end of the screening, one member from the audience spoke on the visible chemistry both Richardson and Thomas Mackie, who plays Raheim, shared in the film. Richardson admits that while they spent a lot of time together on the set, they also did so off-set. From grabbing lunch together to going to the gym, the two were inseparable and that bond truly projected itself on screen.
However, the love for telling a story was also visibly present in Richardson every time he stepped in front of the camera. The way in which he embodies his character Mitchell Crawford is something rarely seen before and yet, Richardson is only at the start of his career. It truly makes you wonder how someone who was just getting their feet wet in their acting career end up receiving a call from Jussie Smollett that would end up changing his life forever.
Like every good success story, it always starts out with a dream. This “Florida boy” as Richardson puts it, was introduced to his passion for the arts after transferring to Lake Nona High School right before his senior year. Though he didn’t know it at the time, this would ultimately lead him onto the path to doing what he loves.
Richardson was a well-rounded student and even ended up running track at the University of Miami while working towards a bachelors of science in education. Once closing that chapter of his life, he made the decision to pursue his craft with no limitations, receiving his masters in arts of film with a focus on cinematography.
What was the defining moment in your life in which you realized you wanted to pursue a career in film?
“I knew I wanted to work in film when I saw the movie, Moonlight. First of all, I think that film is a masterpiece; a beautiful portrait of real life. The cinematographer for the film, James Laxton who’s a major inspiration in my career and the director, Barry Jenkins who’s just phenomenal along with the writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney who I’m so honored to call my friend, all played a part in this decision. Through their work, I knew I wanted to be a part of something that was this beautiful and at some point it was simply just too inspiring for me not to pursue work in this field. That movie unlocked an artistic interest in me.”
Now that you’ve had some time to get your feet wet in this industry and have landed such a crucial role like that of Mitchell, looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self just getting started in this career path?
“Well...I think over the past two years, starting what I like to call the metamorphosis into becoming your own, it’d be, ‘Don’t care what people think. They don’t pay your bills'. I tend to get in my head a lot, so that’s the biggest piece of advice I’d be able to offer myself.”
Now, diving more into the B-Boy Blues project, how did you find yourself auditioning for a part in this film?
Richardson slowly slouches back in his chair and a soft laugh escapes.
“Man, this is actually a great story and yawl are the first ones to hear about it! King Jussie Smollett, who was our fearless director, actually found me going through my audition tapes at Tyler Perry Studios.”
Once more he snorted, a small grin flashing across his face.
“What’s funny and nothing against Tyler Perry, but I’ve never been booked by him so it was really interesting that he (Smollett) happened to find me through that avenue. But, I’ve come to understand that God’s plan is so much different from your own and you just never know how that’s gonna go. I ended up getting a call from my agent and she had let me know that Jussie Smollett had ended up wanting to do a Zoom meeting with me. I was ecstatic and at this point I was just getting through my second year of grad school so I wasn’t auditioning much.”
“Of course, I had immediately gone to go buy the book and had read it right before our meeting. When we hopped on the call we just talked about the vision and I went through several auditions before we met once again via Zoom and with James Earl Hardy sitting in back of him he had let me know that I booked the part. I just remember running around my small apartment, tears rolling down my face.”
“Being an actor man...when I’m able to tell a story this important in my acting career and a topic that's so timely...it was just unworldly to me when I got the news. He had literally told me that same day that they needed me on a plane like yesterday. I immediately flew out there and we started shooting the movie in Harlem. It was just such an experience.”
When you were going through the audition process, how much information did they give you on your character going into it? Did you always know you were going to play Mitchell?
"Originally I was actually in consideration for a co-star role in the film. It just so happens that the original actor for Mitchell ended up not being able to do it. Soon after, Jussie gave me a call and we talked about it and I was just like, ‘oh...the lead??’ It was my first lead role in a feature film so that level of opportunity...to take it in was just a lot. But I was excited and looked forward to the opportunity to audition for it. He had given me 24 hours to go over the lines, and I was blessed enough to get the part. It was all just a whirlwind of emotions. Going from originally playing this co-star position where I was already beyond grateful and then somewhere down the line being asked to switch over to such a prominent role was just crazy."
Once you found out you’d be responsible for depicting Mitchell, why was playing this role so important to you? What did you feel you brought to the table that would help in accurately portraying this character?
“Well I’ll start it off like this. I am an active ally of the community, and I love the art that the community produces. I love the stories and the nearest and dearest friends who have shaped my life that are part of this community. These people have had so much influence on how I’ve grown into the man that I’ve become. To be so actively involved is life changing and it’s activism that I genuinely look forward to doing; especially being able to express that in the media of film whether that’s being behind the camera telling the story or being in front of it. When people watch the movie they’ll see me portraying a young man in which they see themselves. I would hope when they do see the character they see themselves.”
“Overall, I left B-Boy Blues more secure and confident in myself as a man. Mitchell played such a big part in that. He helped me discover so many different sides to myself as any well-written, complex character should. I had to ask myself ‘who was I before I stepped into this role’ and ‘who am I now stepping out of it?’. I’ll never be able to thank Mitchell enough for what he gave me.”
In a movie as important as this, some people will say that just being an ally of the community is not enough to play such a role that requires you to capture the experience of a gay Black man in America. I know many critics may feel that you must identify with the community in order to authentically do this story justice. What do you say to those critics?
“As artists I think it’s so important to understand that the way I think or the way I love isn't the only way. You need to be conceptually open, and I think diving into roles to tell real stories even if that story doesn’t necessarily correlate with your own life, allows you to recognize the many linear parts of our lives. Mitchell loves love and I love love. This is where I was able to make the connection between me and the character that is Mitchell. When you strip everything from it and you’re able to focus solely on the love aspect of the film, it will touch you in a way you could never imagine. No matter who you are or who you identify as, who doesn’t want that?
Also as Black people and Black men, I think this introduces a necessary conversation. This is not to be political in any sense, but I do believe things like this are combating toxic masculinity in the Black community and combating homophobia in the Black community. I feel that those are things that are important to talk about because oftentimes we act like it doesn’t exist. That’s one of the reasons why for me, I felt it was important to play Mitchell and that was the inspiration in taking on this role.”
In your opinion, how well of a job does Hollywood do in portraying the Black LGBTQ community and if necessary, what do you feel Hollywood can do to improve on it and make our stories more authentic?
“Well being more on the Indie circuit and I’ll take it from there only because I believe that’s where real stories still lie, I feel it starts with pushing in more funds and grants towards narratives specifically catering to the LGBTQ narrative. That’s how we get these projects off the ground. Now, when it comes to Hollywood, I feel there's a stigma on members of the LGBTQ in the sense that everyone's life is the same and everyone goes through the same problems as opposed to digging into more realistic, everyday life.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that B-Boy Blues does such a great job of taking it to the basis of socialism. Seeing these two men in their everyday lives, working their everyday jobs, falling in and out of love and displaying their relationships and friendships. Sometimes Hollywood has them as the glorified, eccentric friend or the comic relief and that's the only narrative we really see. I just don’t think I've ever really seen an in-depth look of a man who’s balancing a man he likes and a job while wanting to maintain a relationship with his parents and his brother etc. To have lived in that space and provide some humanism to it is what I appreciated in B-Boy Blues and unfortunately, we’re not getting from Hollywood. I feel like Moonlight was obviously a great example of telling a small story in a really big way and the impact it can really have while getting an intimate look on families and what somebody is going through. They shed so much light on that.
When I first got booked for B-Boy Blues I looked up how many films were actually made for the LGBTQ community, specifically a story like how James Earl Hardy tells it. Couldn’t find any. The closest one to it was Moonlight and this film is very different from it. It just let’s me know that there's definitely a space that needs to be filled. The fact that the most recent reference to my research is from 2016 means that a lot of those stories aren't piercing through the noise and the big budget movies and that needs to change.”
Tell me what your experience was like working with someone as talented and renowned as Jussie Smollett?
“Jussie is the definition of art. He understood this script from front cover to the end. He poured so much of himself into it and his level of focus to tell this story is something that fueled not just me as an actor but the entire crew. I told him once, ‘this feels like a paid internship just being able to watch you work and seeing your passion for this art.’ You couldn’t help but leave that experience not only being renewed but understanding that there’s just no way I can go back to my old self. Being around someone that functions at such a high frequency only raises your bar easily and that’s the type of energy you want to radiate yourself. Jussie was just—absolutely amazing.”
From your experience and your own lens, what would you say is the toughest part for you being an actor?
“Funny enough, I’ve never really talked about that before but I’ve always had an answer for it. Some people will try to be superficial with it but to be real about it, as an artist, it's the consistency; working and just the ambiguity of not knowing your next project. Now granted, before booking B-Boy Blues I was working on David Makes Man but for me, it’s being able to not necessarily detach from the work but finding oneself outside of the acting. You have to. It can be a lot of hurdles that can eventually start to get to you emotionally so I think you need to broaden your horizon. When I went to film school I found my love of being a DP. It still is a way for me to be engaged in storytelling but just being on the opposite side of the cameras.
The younger me would’ve said the toughest thing about acting would've been hearing the word ‘no’ but now the older me realizes that it’s more than that. You start to get used to hearing ‘no’ but sustaining and taking care of oneself is the most important thing I think an artist should do.
Do the things that keep you artistically inspired. Life is the biggest inspiration of art and you got to go live it. Once you’re able to find that balance, you’ll find peace and tranquility in your work. You know—the great Phylicia Rashad once told me to ‘stay the course.’ That was probably about three or four years ago but it’s true. We have to learn to not fake the funk even for people who are well established in their careers. That fear that stays in the back of our head of not having the capability to pursue our dreams later on becomes a weapon that pushes us. One day you’ll be able to look back and tell yourself, ‘Look what I’ve made it through.’”
What does your process look like when getting into character for a role?
“I actually find remembering lines very easy. That’s just a blessing from God but I love finding the subtext of the text. I think that’s what makes for a great performance. Being able to find those little nuances you develop with your character and those touches of you that you’re able to include in the character without making it about you. You have to be part of the ride. Also reading the script from cover to cover, I take a lot of notes and I love reviewing them with the director. I’m always checking in to see what direction we’re going with this character or how I'm telling this story. Above all else, I’m a student of the craft and I’m always trying to make sure that we’re telling the story right. I would hope that I’ve done enough work to where Mitchell’s voice is the voice you hear when watching this film.”
Earlier you had mentioned that you had read the book when you booked the part and soon after you had the responsibility of portraying Mitchell into film. What difficulties did you face taking a character that was once written for literature and translating it into a movie?
“To be honest, I didn’t even think about the fact that I just commemorated a character from a book until the movie was done. It didn’t hit me. I went in so focused to do the role that it wasn’t until after. You're walking in with the pre knowledge that this is a really important book that a lot of people have read and it’s not until after the movie was done that it crossed my mind, and now that I think about it, I really hope I did a good job. For the true book readers out there, these people are serious about their books and they can be very critical when it comes to a film adaptation.
Nonetheless, I think—you know what—no. I know we did such a good job at elevating those words off a page. James was a little emotional on the last day of shooting because it was everything he would’ve hoped it could be. Just to see that in him made me realize that we did his story justice.
The biggest thing was understanding the stakes. Everybody treated the book like their baby; it’s James’s baby. I knew that knowing the history and the time that it’s taken to get it on the big screen, we have to come correct. It’s too important of a book to do it any other way. Everyday on set, Jussie pushed and challenged me and whenever I doubted myself, he’d be there to tell me to ‘trust it.’ I walked away being very proud of what I had done there and the contribution I made to this story.”
B-Boy Blues spans over decades from the books, the play and now the films. Many of James/ loyal fans have been following along with this storyline from the very start and through that, have gotten to know these characters extremely well. In understanding the depth, talk to me about the pressure you felt in satisfying these loyal fans?
“I wanted to make sure above all else that this is truly who Mitchell is. I didn’t want to play a caricature of Mitchell nor did I want to play a version of what I thought was Mitchell. I just wanted to play Mitchell. To take it back to Jussie, he did such a great job of making sure that the cast only focused on the story we came to tell and nothing else.
After the movie I began researching comments about the book whether it be people leaving their thoughts on Amazon or YouTube and I thought to myself, ‘man—I’m really glad I shot the movie already!’ Some of these people really know the book inside and out and I could have easily psyched myself out had I seen these comments while shooting the movie. For those who are a fan of James' work, I know they’re really going to fall in love with this film. We really worked hard on this for yawl.”
James has undeniably become a pillar in the LGBTQ community and has changed the narrative around Black gay love. With that being said, what’s one thing you can say you learned from him while being on the set?
“Love is love. Ans that’s all it is. I knew it before but James is just unconditional love. He’s so loving and nurturing and that’s one of my biggest takeaways. There’s nothing that me and James talked about more than the fact that this is simply a love story and that was the biggest thing we wanted to push it as. The experience of working with him was just amazing.”
As Black gay love becomes more mainstream, we also see a lot of people who are not in support of this. Lil Nas X nearly broke the internet after his BET performance in which he kissed a man on stage. Many people spoke out on it to share their thoughts and Lil Boosie was one of many who was upset at the performance. Though I’m paraphrasing, he claims that this narrative is damaging to young children and that displaying two men kissing on TV puts the young generation at risk. When you hear something like this, what is your reaction to it and if necessary, how do we combat it?
“It’s damaging. It’s both damaging and unnecessary. Subjectively everyone has a right to say what they want to say or feel how they want to feel but deep down, morally, we know it’s not right. I'm not huge on social media but it was actually from this magazine that I found out about that situation. I was telling my partner that I love the fact that they shed light on things like this. I wasn’t even aware that he did this. That’s why I feel this line of work is so important to tell a story like this.
To be who I am and look the way I look and then go tell Mitchell’s life, I think it's so important because historically we’re used to seeing homophobia in the Black community. We need to have a bigger conversation as to why in pop culture things like this can be said amongst the masses and all that’s said is ‘this is wrong’. Of course it’s wrong but something needs to be done about it. I can try to find the most eloquent way to say that but I can only take it back to the way that I feel and what I believe. Because I’m on the record, I won’t say what I truly feel but in no way is this way of thinking ok but we have to go further than simply just acknowledging that it’s not ok.”
What upcoming projects are you currently working on and what can fans expect from you in the near future?
Well of course outside of B-Boy Blues if anyone wants to go back and watch "David Makes Man" you’ll see me there. I also have some things in the making that unfortunately I can’t talk about just yet but on the independent filmmaker side of things, I have a couple of projects that should be streaming in a couple of film festivals. My thesis film that’s called “Brothers”, which is a story about two young Black men that have been friends for years and despite them being friends for years, their friendship is constantly questioned because of differences in sexuality. That made its premiere at the BronzeLens Film Festival here in Atlanta, Georgia, so that’s streaming on a few platforms as well.
Right now I'm just focused on B-Boy Blues and there's a line I say in the movie that goes, ‘from your lips to God’s ears’, so I really hope that the movie is received well and it does well. Outside of opportunity I'm just looking forward to the conversations that I get to have to see how the movie made people feel.
Whether speaking on your career or more on your personal life, where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
“Making movies and telling stories. Telling real stories. I want to continue to develop what kind of story teller I am and I want to work with some amazing people. I want to work with Barry Jenkins, and I'll make sure to say that on record so that it could happen! Lena Waithe and Jordan Peele would also be a dream of mine to work with in the next couple of years.”
If you simply can’t get enough of the legend that is Timothy Richardson, be sure to head over to his Instagram @timothymrichardson to stay up to date with any upcoming projects. In addition, be sure to watch Richardson’s thesis film, “Brothers” which can be streamed on Vimeo!