When James Pickens Jr. got the call from his manager 12 years ago to read for a pilot called “Grey’s Anatomy,” little did he know it would lead to him holding a record for the longest running African-American male role in television history.
“I never thought it would last this long,” said the Ohio native who portrays Dr. Richard Webber on the ABC medical drama. “As actors, we’re guns for hire. We go in and do a job and then before that one ends we’re looking for the next one. Eriq La Salle was on “E.R.” for quite a long time, but I don’t know if he was there for 14 seasons.”
That kind of longevity is rare especially on a Shonda Rhimes series.
“I’ve had such great storylines and she’s written me some incredible stuff as an African-American mature actor,” Pickens said. “This is Hollywood. I never assume anything, but at this point I feel pretty secure.”
While on hiatus, he is co-hosting with Aimee Garcia (“Lucifer”) the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors’ 35th annual Caucus Awards Dec. 3 at L.A.’s Skirball Cultural Center.
Among the nominees for this year’s ceremony are producers Kenya Barris (“Black-ish”) and Ilene Chaiken (“Empire”); writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (“American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson”); and directors Ken Olin (“This Is Us”) and Ava Duvernay (“Queen Sugar,” “13th”).
A portion of the proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Caucus Foundation, which has provided grants and awards of $1.6 million to 164 worthy students to complete their film, television or new media projects.
Pickens believes it’s important that groups like the Caucus bring awareness to those that are giving a creative conscience to the industry.
“Hollywood is finally realizing they have to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk,” he said. “[Recent events have] brought to light that they have to ramp back up the moral barometer of Hollywood. This is nothing new. It’s just now that women are not going to take being objectified and rightfully so.”
“I think it’s more incumbent on the men in Hollywood to understand they have a responsibility,” Pickens added. “These awards shows now can bring that to light and hopefully we can move on. Not forget it, but highlight and find ways to adjust in a way that’s going to be positive.”
“The big thing was that no one was held accountable,” he added. “I think, especially with the things with Harvey Weinstein, folks are finally saying no. You’re not going to get a pass on this one. We got to look at this for what it is and address it for what it is. And not sugar coat it.”
Pickens, who is an experienced horseman and roping champion, has just entered a producing partnership with Morgan Freeman on a longtime dream project for both to bring the story of Bass Reeves to television.
Of the black man who was the first deputy U.S. Marshall and basis of the Lone Ranger, he said, “We had a great meeting with CBS and have two great young writers that have a clear and exciting way to tell it, so we’re moving forward.”
“[Morgan] always wanted to play this role,” said Pickens, who will now have a hand in searching for the right actor. “He’d been tracking this thing for 25 years as I have. It’s such an incredible story. I think we have something that will be pretty special.”
CLIPPETTES: The 60th Grammy Awards nominations were announced with Jay-Z receiving the most with eight, including Album of the Year for “4:44.” Kendrick Lamar garnered seven including one in the same coveted category for “DAMN,” giving a hip hop artist a rare chance to receive the honor at the ceremony to be held Jan. 28 in New York …
A variety of genres are represented on Dec. 1 with country singer Valerie June at the Globe, soul diva Teedra Moses at the Troubadour and Lizz Wright at the Catalina Jazz Club. Also that night, En Vogue, Blackstreet, Ginuwine and Midnight Star jam at Anaheim’s House of Blues …
Will Downing’s Soulful Sounds of Christmas will fill the City National Grove of Anaheim on Dec. 3 with special guest Avery Sunshine …
Alan Govenar’s feature-length documentary “Extraordinary Ordinary People,” described as “a music-fueled journal through folk and traditional arts in America,” has its L.A premiere Dec. 1 at Laemmle’s Music Hall to be followed by a question-and-answer session with the director …
Classical soul duo Black Violin is in concert Dec. 5 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, with jazz crooner Gregory Porter set for the next evening …
Debbie Allen’s “Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” returns Dec. 7 for a three-night engagement at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, where she will be joined by Tisha Campbell-Martin, Tichina Arnold, Carlo Imperato, Matthew Johnson, Kristopher Nobles and Dada …
Andra Day, Dave Matthews, Pharrell Williams, Savion Glover and Tony Bennett have been revealed as the special guests for Stevie Wonder’s 21st annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert on Dec. 10 at Staples Center.
TASTY QUIP: “They’re trying to change the name of Harlem to So Ha and No Ha. That’s BS. When I was growing up we called D.C., Chocolate City. Now, Vanilla Swirl. Gentrification is all over the world. And no one talks about how the black and brown people are missing. Where do they go after being misplaced?” – SPIKE LEE to News One Now
TC ON TV: Dec. 1 – “All Def Comedy” (HBO): Tony Rock hosts this all-new six-show revival of Russell Simmons’ landmark stand-up series with turns from well-known comedians such as DeRay Davis and Gary Owen, along with emerging talent. DJ Mustard is the new music supervisor for the episodes taped in October at L.A.’s Avalon Theatre. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC): The cast of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” “The Tonight Show” (NBC): Queen Latifah, Sam Smith.
Dec. 3 – “Miss Me This Christmas” (TV1): Erica Ash, Redaric Williams and Eva Marcille star in this holiday tale of a marriage on the rocks.
Dec. 7 – “Psych: The Movie” (USA): The fan favorite series starring James Roday and Dule Hill returns as an original movie with Zachary Levi and John Cena. “The Great American Baking Show” (ABC): The British hit gets a domestic makeover with Ayesha Curry and former NFLer Anthony “Spice” Anderson as co-hosts. “Top Chef” (Bravo): Kicks off season 15 in Colorado with its most diverse group of chefs ever including Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen guru Tonya Holland; Brooklyn’s Butterfunk Kitchen owner Christopher Scott; Adrienne Cheatham, former head chef at Harlem’s Red Rooster; and Fatima Ali, the first Pakistani woman to ever win on “Chopped.”
TASTY QUIP: “America will survive once it recognizes the position it’s in, and the trials that it’s facing. Once people stop being nonchalant to it and recognize it, that’s when. When it’s not something that’s just swept under the rug because we’re the quote-unquote ‘greatest country in the world.’” – KENDRICK LAMAR to Variety
As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment newspaper columns on the West Coast, serving nearly one million weekly readers. To reach Bill Vaughan, send email to email@example.com or via Twitter @tastyclips.