Omar J. Dorsey: Respect the Journey

Words + Interview By: L.M.W.

Omar J. Dorsey is an actor who has been seen in quite a few films and on television over the years which include “Drumline”, “Django Unchained” and “Queen Sugar”, which is currently on air via the Oprah Winfrey Network. “Queen Sugar” also happens to be one of my favorite shows right now.

What do you feel was your biggest hurdle trying to break into the film industry and what were some things you had to do to get things moving?
Being from Atlanta, it is amazing what is happening from a film and television standpoint. I can remember having to move from there 16 years ago to pursue an acting career but many of my friends who stayed there have had thriving careers. That makes me quite happy and proud. I believe the reason that the industry has moved down there is two folds. One, the tax breaks that the state of Georgia provides for film companies.  With the rising cost of productions in states like California and New York, those tax breaks are extremely attractive.

The second reason is because of Tyler Perry. He set the stage for having a production company in Atlanta with his Tyler Perry Studios in the early 2000s. His films and television shows were a huge success and Hollywood based studios finally saw the city as a viable place to set up shop.

What was your experience like working on “Django Unchained” and what did it do for your career? 
My experience working on Django Unchained was probably the most important component in my career. I got to work with Oscar-winning director, Quentin Tarantino. I got to not only work with some of the greatest actors in the world, but I got a chance to actually watch their process and talking to a Walton Goggins, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx everyday about their preparation was invaluable.

Lol, at what point in your career did you feel like you had “Blown up like some Mega Men” (Those from Decatur, GA will get that reference)?
Since I am nowhere near where I want to be, I cannot say I’ve blown up at all. It does feel good when fans and fellow artists come up to me and tell me how much they appreciate my work.

Every actor has their own path. Some of them may start their careers with starring roles in movies or television series and others may start off playing smaller roles. My career started later but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Many of the stars or directors I worked with in my early days have seen the way my career has taken shape and they respect the journey.

Tell us about your role on OWN and Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar”.
It has been exciting to see the growth of my character (Hollywood) over the last 3 years. When we first see him, he is the boyfriend and confidant to the matriarch of the family, Violet. He’s lovable and loving. Now he is a member of the family with all of these layers.

What are some of the positive and negative effects of the age gap between your character’s relationship with his older girlfriend? 
The age range never concerned me. The love between Hollywood and Vi erases the age gap in my opinion.

The show is extremely relatable, especially within the African American community. Which episode resonated with you the most and why?
I think the show resonates not only in the African-American community, but in all families, because it shows how families truly are. I don’t have any particular episodes that stick out to me. I think more in terms of scenes. There’s a scene between Ralph Angel and Hollywood where RA tells Hollywood that he doesn’t know what to do now that his relationship with his girlfriend is done. Hollywood gives him great grown advice. I also like many of the lighter scenes. Hollywood and Violet on vacation, the party scenes with the family…those are the ones I really love.

The main theme of the show is about family and legacy. How important is it for us as a community to have something to pass down to our loved ones?
There is a main theme about legacy on our show. I think in the black community legacy is truly important. We as people haven’t had much to leave to the next generation, but what we do leave be it land, history or any monetary thing has to be protected.

In Season 2 of the show, you were offered a manager’s position and turned it down because of the conflicts between the families. Would you have done that in real life?
In Season 2 when Hollywood turns down the job to work for a company that he had just recently realized that Sam Landry, the patriarch of the family that has oppressed his fiancé’s family for generations is something that Omar J. Dorsey would most definitely do! I have quit jobs for less!

What was it like meeting and working with Oprah? Any cool stories?
Meeting Oprah Winfrey in the beginning was extremely surreal. I met her four years ago while I was shooting the film, Selma. She is a whirlwind of love, good spirits and fun. My favorite experience was going to her house when we were premiering Selma. There were so many civil rights dignitaries, African-American leaders in entertainment, religion and politics at the celebration. I was blessed to be a part of it.

Do you feel more “at home” working for a black owned network or is work just work? Elaborate.
I don’t know if I feel “at home” working on a black network but I feel “at home” working on a network that treats our stories with complexity, humanity and grace.

Ava DuVernay is a brilliant woman and season 3 has an all-female directing team. How do you feel about the strides we are making as a people?
I feel like the strides we are making as a people in the realm of film and television is because we are finally able to tell our own narratives. We know our stories better than anyone else does because we live it, we experience it and it is in our DNA. So now, the stories we tell have a soul to them.

With that being said, do you personally choose film projects that have a message or do they find you?
I do choose to pick projects that uplift. NOW, there’s nothing better than playing a juicy villain with all of these colors and levels but I can’t make that the vein of my career. I might give you that once every few years because I am pretty good at it. But, I like to make my wife, kids, parents and brother proud of the image I put on the screen. We are flooded with so many negative depictions of black men every day and I don’t want to play into that.

Tell us about your NAACP Award.
I’m lucky enough to have 3 NAACP Imagine Awards. One for Selma, one for Queen Sugar and an NAACP Theatre Award for the Robert O’Hara play BBQ from 2016. I think they like me over there lol.

You’ve worked with quite a few notable people in the entertainment industry. Not counting Oprah or Ava, who has stood out to you most and why?
I have been lucky enough to work with many generous people over these last 20 years. The list is extremely long. I’ll say that Todd Phillips, Reginald Hudlin, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins and Wendell Pierce and Danny McBride are people who have really given me the best advice on this journey.

How important is Afemo Omilami to you and why?
Afemo Omilami (along with his wife Liz Williams Omilami) is probably the most important person in my acting life. He was my first professional acting teacher when I was 15 years old. He took me under his wing FOR REAL! He taught me so much, not only about acting but about the business. I feel like I had a leg up on a lot of my contemporaries when I first started. Here was this man, a real deal-working actor with leads in movies showing me the ropes. What he did for me, I could never pay it back but I will pay it forward and I try my best to take as many young actors under my wing as I can.

In your opinion, why was “Juwanna Mann” the “Worst Movie Ever”? 
I have often said that Juwanna Mann was the worst movie ever. Lol. Of course, that’s hyperbole but it was a really bad experience for me. I was a young actor still in college when I did that movie. This was off of the heels of doing my first movie Road Trip, a fantastic beginning to my career. I thought every movie would be as joyful as that movie was. Fast forward to 6-7 months later and I’m in Charlotte, North Carolina doing this movie Juwanna Mann.

Now maybe I didn’t understand hierarchy or something but they treated me like trash during that movie. The director wasn’t the nicest person to say the least but the lead actor (Miguel Nunez) was so helpful. He was just an overall good person. All I remember was coming back to school and telling my film professor Sheldon Schiffer at Georgia State University about the experience and he said, “Welcome to Hollywood, kid!” So, I try to make it my point to talk to everyone on set and introduce myself because I don’t ever want to be the reason for making someone want to give up on their dream. Hey, a couple months later I was doing the classic movie Drumline…so there’s that.

Outside of acting, what are some of your hobbies and life goals?
Outside of acting, my other goals are writing, producing and directing. That’s the next phase in the career but after I’ve done that, I thoroughly plan on becoming a college professor and give back the information and the experience that I would’ve gained to a younger generation. Yeah, that’s my future.

Lastly, how can people get in touch with you via social media?
You can find me on social media at @omarjdorsey.

Photos By: Sean Hagwell

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