Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews

Interview with actor Nicoye Banks



by William Gooch

published March 21, 2010


picture - Nicoye BaniksMary McGregor had a popular song out in the 1970s (Torn Between Two Lovers) about the dangers of having two romances going on simultaneously. She pined about how unorthodox and foolish it was to be caught up in such a precarious situation. Well, Nicoye Banks, who has two feature films in movie theaters at the same time—Green Zone and Brooklyn’s Finest—and has great affection for both theater and film, is not conflicted about his choice in lovers.  This dynamic young actor is successfully balancing his craft in front of the camera and the footlights while keeping both feet solidly on the ground.


Though he is jubilant about co-starring in two recently released features films with the likes of such Hollywood heavyweights as Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes and Matt Damon, Nicoye Banks will always have a special place in his heart for his first love, theater. And his long-term love affair with theater will be made manifest in The High Priestess of Dark Alley, a play he is co-producing on tour.


Just before the release of Green Zone, Nicoye Banks took out some time to talk to Stage and Cinema about his love of New Orleans, this exciting phase of his career, and his love of theater.


So, you are a southern boy. Could you talk about life growing up in the South and New Orleans in particular?


Nicoye Banks: Southern living is a beautiful thing because you have time for reflection, to be neighborly and be a part of a community. The communities have been intact there for centuries and the community gives you a lot of support and rallies around you when you're trying to do something positive. New Orleans has that extra seasoning of spice and flavor that makes us different from other southern cities. And I don’t just mean jambalaya and Creole cooking. [Laughter] Our speech patterns are slower and flatter, but when the heat is up, we know how to get to the heart of the matter.


How did you get started as an actor?


Nicoye Banks: I saw Michael Jackson perform on Motown 25 and I immediately knew I wanted to be a performer of some kind. My fourth grade teacher got me involved in poetry and oratory contests, and that same teacher cast me as Travis in A Raisin in the Sun and I was bitten by the acting bug.


Is theater your first love?


Nicoye Banks: Absolutely. You always remember your first love. On stage you have such an immense space to occupy with your message, with your voice, and with your body. You are an amplified speaker on stage, and you get the immediate gratification of reaching people, whereas on screen, the response comes later.


What advantage do you think you have being a stage actor and transferring those skills to the screen?


Nicoye Banks: Having stage training as your core gives you an understanding of how to break down text, the importance of scenes, the importance of how to squarely be in the moment. Some actors who have not trained for the stage sometimes rely on gimmicks and the tried and the true.

You studied in NYC with the late Gene Frankel, could you talk about that?


Nicoye Banks: Gene Frankel brought everything to the table. He brought Stanislavski, Method Acting, the Meisner technique and he would combine those acting styles and ask us to do scenes in all the different acting techniques. It was an incredible way to learn your craft.


Why are you based in NYC and not LA?


Nicoye Banks: I am based in NYC because I still love doing theater and I am involved in various stage projects. I believe it is my destiny to always have a base in NYC. I am always going back and forth to audition and shoot film in LA, but right now NYC is where I draw inspiration. 


Once some actors get roles in a couple of popular films, they seem to concentrate more on film than stage. You seem to go back and forth between film and stage, why?


Nicoye Banks: Stage is where I come from and I am very comfortable there; however, I make more of a living doing film and television work. By doing continuous stage work, my skills are more sharpened for on-screen roles.


Could you talk about your role as the bad cop Slim in Brooklyn’s Finest?


Nicoye Banks: Slim is an undercover cop who is a drug dealer. I present some very interesting temptations to some other characters in the movie. It was a dicey, action role.


How did you come to be cast in that role?


Nicoye Banks: I was finishing up Green Zone in London. I got a phone call about auditioning for a role in Brooklyn’s Finest. I jumped at the chance because I wanted to work with the director, Antoine Fuqua. Because my schedule with Green Zone was so hectic, I couldn’t get back to the States for the audition. When I got back to the States, the role had already been cast, but my manager still tried to get me an audience with Antoine Fuqua. So, I went in and auditioned for three different roles and ended up with the role of Slim.


What was it like to work with Antoine Fuqua, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Gere in Brooklyn’s Finest?


Nicoye Banks: Antoine Fuqua is like a general on set. He is serious and direct and brings such high quality to the set that, as an actor, you really want to deliver. If your director is really manning the set, you really want to come up to that standard.  I worked directly with Don Cheadle because we were in some scenes together. I noticed how Don and Wesley paid so much attention to detail.  They would plot out their moves and strategies and still be loose and fluid in front of the camera. I would literally take notes on Don and Wesley’s process between scenes. They were so clear about their characters and brought an incredible third eye to their scenes without imposing their will on the director.


Could you talk about your role in Green Zone?


Nicoye Banks: Matt Damon and I were the only actors in the film who had not actually served in Iraq. My role is as Sgt. Perry, an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) Specialist, and there is a certain mentality that goes with that type of job. When I was cast in the role, it was seven weeks before we knew the project was actually going to happen.


What does it feel like to have two feature films come out within two weeks of each other?


Nicoye Banks:  I literally don’t want March to end. I want to pause on March. [Lots of laughter]  Man, I am beyond excited. March has been a landmark month for me.


Could you talk about your role as creative director of the artist collective, The Standard?


Nicoye Banks:  Respecting Negro Ensemble Company, Steppenwolf, and theater troupes of that ilk, we want to follow in that tradition. We wanted to form a collective where artists could network and perform new and interesting work, and doing it in way that is of substance and in keeping in tradition with more established groups, thus the name The Standard. We have been in existence for about a year and a half and we are now producing new work that comes up to that standard that professional artists aim for.


What’s next for you?


Nicoye Banks: I am producing for the first time. I have gone back to my ladylove, theater, and am producing The High Priestess of Dark Alley on tour. I also have a Law & Order episode coming out in April.


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