Monday, July 7, 2008
Why Blair Underwood Deserves an Emmy
Dear Academy Voters:
OK, I admit it: I have known and worked with Blair for more than a decade now, and I’ve been a fan since “L.A. Law.” Many of Blair’s newer fans remember his work—and…er…his assets—in HBO’s “Sex & The City.” Or noticed him in Something New and Madea’s Family Reunion.
But a lot of us can take if farther back. Before I met Blair, when he appeared in 1996’s Set it Off as Jada Pinkett Smith’s love interest (if you haven’t seen it, rent it), I was moved to tears because I was a single woman convinced I would NEVER, EVER meet a man of the warmth, poise, intelligence and unabashed adoration Blair personified on-screen. (Turns out I married that guy after all, two year later—his name is Steven Barnes—but who knew?)
Blair deserves an Emmy for his work on television in the past year. Not just a nomination—which should be forthcoming next week—but he deserves to take home that statuette. If there was a category called “Busy,” Blair would win hands-down.
Blair is being lauded for his riveting portrayal of Alex, a Navy fighter pilot wrestling with demons after bombing an Iraqi school in HBO’s outstanding series "In Treatment." But let’s not forget that he was simultaneously appearing as the hunky Mr. Harris in CBS’s “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and as multilingual millionaire Simon Elder in ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money.” Not to mention directing his first feature film, Bridge to Nowhere. And, oh yes, promoting our collaborative erotic mystery novel, Casanegra.
Blair juggled all of that AND managed to pull out his best work on television in the difficult and intimate one-on-one format of "In Treatment," opposite Gabriel Byrne.
After more than twenty years in the business, Blair has taken Hollywood by the throat and forced television viewers to take a good, long look beyond his face.
As I watched Alex on "In Treatment," I knew that character. I’ve seen that combination of rage and vulnerability in people I care about, and Blair nailed it. Blair peeled himself away to show us the human devastation and emptiness at the core of the horrible tasks we ask our young men and women in uniform to carry out far from home.
Maybe it’s because Blair’s father is a retired Air Force Colonel who lived that feeling when the cameras weren’t rolling. Maybe it’s because Blair could be justifiably pissed off that despite an impressive career, the slots for Black Leading Men in movies are few and far between—especially since he’s so obviously meant to play a love interest, not a wise-cracking buddy or a spiritual guide.
Whatever the reasons he was able to access that rage, Blair’s portrayal of Alex is as authentic as his smile is bright.
Every once in a while, an actor we’ve admired for years reminds us why we first noticed him in the first place. And reinvents himself before our eyes.
True, I’m biased. But anyone who didn’t notice that this was Blair Underwood’s year must not have been watching enough television.