Richard Lawson has more than 100 acting credits in television and film to his name.
These include “Poltergeist,” “Dirty Harry,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Saints & Sinners,” “Kojak,” “L.A. Doctors,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “All My Children,” “Moesha,” and many more.
Lawson was in Houston, Texas to receive the top acting award at the Ensemble Theatre’s 2019 Gala.
Mocha Man Style contributor, Lloyd Gite, sat down with Lawson to discuss his career, family, and what it’s like to be in the public eye for five decades.
Mocha Man Style: You’ve been acting for 50 years now. Was acting a childhood dream of yours?
Richard Lawson: It was 1969 when I got into this business. I was in college to be a lawyer.
Somebody heard my voice one day and they wanted me to be involved in a reader’s theater. I did it and it got a great reaction. I became a speech champion and then someone from the college’s drama department came to me and asked me to be in a musical.
At that point, I had a revelation that I was put on this earth to do this. I found my purpose early on in terms of why I was here.
From that moment to this moment, my passion, my vision, my singularity of purpose has never wavered.
I’m still having more fun than anybody in this business. Acting is like I’ve been on vacation for 50 years.
MMS: You were in the Vietnam war and received a purple heart. What impact did that have on your life and your acting career?
Lawson: I was a medic. I was the only one that was dealing with any kind of one-to-one compassion.
I learned a lot about people and humanity. Human beings. What we need and what’s important to us.
As an actor, I had a rich soil to draw from in terms of human emotions.
MMS: You also founded an acting school many years ago. Tell me about that.
Lawson: My school is the Richard Lawson Studio. On the surface, it’s an acting school. But underneath the hood, it is an empowerment academy.
I empower young people to achieve their dreams. I get people to take a look and vocalize their dreams. I basically use my skills and my knowledge from teaching for 40 years and acting for 50 years in this systematic way of helping people be a better actor, a better artist, how to be a better person.
My wife, Tina Knowles Lawson, and I created a foundation called WACO Theatre Center. WACO stands for Where Art Can Occur. It’s like a community center. We created a space where artists can be themselves and find who they are, what they are, what they want and we present those works to the public.
We also have a mentorship program for 12 and 13-year-olds. We use art to help instruct, encourage, and empower them to find their own purpose for being.
MMS: What is your hope for your acting school and WACO?
Lawson: My acting will continue to expand. That will help support the school becoming greater.
I’ve invented a number of teaching modalities and teaching tools for the school. WACO will continue to expand as well.
Each year, we plan to add 30 more students. We hope to develop mentorship programs at all KIPP academies throughout the nation. We want to continue to make a difference in the world for mainly young people because that’s really where our hope in the future is.
We need to recognize the gutting in our communities. Money stays in the Asian community for 30 days. In the Jewish community, it’s 28 days. In the African American community, it’s 6 hours. I want to change that.
We can do that through our kids, our young people.
Our kids’ parents are stuck in a survival mode. If we can help our kids expand and open up the actions of their minds, helping them to see that they can make a difference by being responsible people, doing responsible things, bringing money back into the community, re-establishing businesses in the community, buying black where that money stays in our community longer.
MMS: Your daughter Bianca Lawson is also an actor. She currently plays Darla on the Oprah Winfred backed series, “Queen Sugar.” Did she become an actor because of you?
Lawson: I think it’s something she always wanted to do. She was always interested in TV and movies. She loved movies so much that as a young child I told her she would have made a great film critic.
I can’t claim credit for her talent because she did that on her own. I can say that when she was about nine, we sat down and had conversations about her being in this business and the responsibilities of being a professional, doing the work and doing it for the love of the art.
She completely manages her own destiny. She knows what she wants. She really handles her business.
I can say that she’s my favorite actress in the whole world. It has nothing to do with the fact that she’s my daughter. Every time I’ve seen her on-screen, she moves me to a great extent.
MMS: Four years ago, you married Tina Knowles, the mother of Beyonce’ and Solange. But you’ve known her for decades, right?
Lawson: When I first met Tina, she was pregnant with Beyonce’. She was in Oakland to visit my sister.
I thought she was one of the prettiest women I’d ever seen in my life. She was even more beautiful inside. She had a very quiet, beautiful spirit. She was always helping people. I was always helping people as well and we sort of respected that energy in each other. We had an early admiration for each other.
She was married and we respected that. We were friends over the years. I went to Houston for the Shakespeare festival in the park in the ’80s. I brought Bianca with me and she stayed at Tina’s house and she took care of Bianca with Beyonce’.
I’d also come to see Tina’s hair and fashion shows. When Beyonce’s career took off, I didn’t see Tina much for a period of time. Six or so years ago we reconnected.
MMS: What impact has she had on your life?
Lawson: Together we have developed a mutual respect and a partnership that really works. Being with her has shown me what is possible when two people connect.
We work together, live together, co-exist, and make each other better at the end of the day. That’s really what a relationship should be about.
MMS: How do you deal with the criticisms and pressure of being in the public eye all the time?
Lawson: The beautiful thing about all of us, Tina, Beyonce’, Solange, Jay Z, Bianca, my son Richie, Kelly Rowland, who is family as well, is all of us are conscience people who are consistently trying to move the culture forward…I expect the B.S. I understand what it is.
I’m not afraid…my creativity does not pass through the lens of someone else’s morality. People are entitled to say what they want to say.
What you think of me is none of my business. How I react, how we engage, is my business. I want to create engagements that make a difference.
Lloyd Gite is a former TV journalist and the owner of The Gite Gallery in Houston, TX, which features African and Afro-Cuban art.