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December 2008
CADILLAC RECORDS | An Interview with Eamonn Walker

An Interview with Eamonn Walker
by Wilson Morales

December 1, 2008

For most of his acting career, Eamonn Walker has prepared himself for any role he has taken. Whether it was for the theater, or TV series like HBO’s Oz, or films such as ‘Tears of the Sun’ or ‘Lord of War’, he’s known what he was getting into, but when he took on the role of Howlin’ Wolf for his latest film, ‘Cadillac Records’, little did he know that he would have to do something he hasn’t done before, sing.

In this tale of sex, violence, race and rock and roll in 1950's Chicago, "Cadillac Records" follows the the rise and fall of Chess Records and the exciting but turbulent lives of some of America's musical legends, including Muddy Waters, Leonard Chess, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf and Elvis Presley. Chess, who co-founded the label with his brother Phil, was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Director Darnell Martin also scripted the film, based on an original idea.

Besides Walker as Wolf, the film has Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Emmanuelle Chriqui as Revetta Chess, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Beyonce Knowles as Etta James, Gabrielle Union as Geneva Wade, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf, Eric Bogosian as Alan Freed, and Marc Bonan as Keith Richards.

In speaking with Walker, he spoke about his enthusiasm in being in the film, his character, and his approval to be the first Black James Bond.

What was it that attracted you to the role?

Eamonn Walker: What attracted me to the role was that Darnell Martin called me up in London and asked me if I would like to play the role of Howlin’ Wolf. We had worked together when she shot the first two episodes of (HBO’s) Oz. That’s wherewe knew each other from. A couple of years had gone by and so I had asked her to send me the script and before we got that far, I had asked who else was in the film. She then named the cast – Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody, Mos Def, Beyonce, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Where do I sign?’

How much did you know about Howlin’ Wolf before taking the role?

EW: I didn’t know anything about Howlin’ Wolf. I had to do some research. Before we started shooting, I knew that I had to step up to the plate and bring what I could to the role. I listened to some stuff on youtube and it was a journey gathering more information. He was a big man and a righteous man who believe what I believed in.

Unlike the other roles you have done, did you know when you this role that you would have to do some singing?

EW: No, I didn’t know. When I said yes when I signed, I was so happy to be working with that caliber of actors, I forgot to ask. A few days had gone by and after I read the script and did more research, I phoned Darnell back. The research showed how much of a singer he was, and Darnell has said that all characters who sing in the film will be done by the actors playing the parts. So the first thing I did was control my voice for the role.

Had you sung or played an instrument before?

EW: No, never played an instrument before and I have sung in a play. I don’t consider myself a singer. I consider myself an actor. I’ve done some background vocals for some friends of mine in London.

In doing research of Howlin’ Wolf, are there any similarities with your background?

EW:That’s probably a question for Darnell to answer, but as I did my research, I found that he was beat up by his parents a lot and subsequently ran away from home. He went through a lot of trials and tribulations; and the journey he went on to be the best man he could possibly be. His story is not my story, but I had to immerse myself in him.

Why do you suppose there was a rivalry between Howlin’ and Muddy?

EW: The rivalry comes rom the fact that Muddy liked to dress up in flashy clothes and accepted what Leonard Chess gave him. That’s where you get the film title. They got paid by the bling, whereas Howlin’ was the opposite. He was a self made man and didn’t need a Cadillac. He wouldn’t want to be lied to as Muddy was lied to often times. He knew how the company was exploiting the talent and wanted no part of that. That’s what was between them as artists.

How was it working with this cast?

EW: Amazing. You put together a cast like this and everyone comes in with their A game. What I remember best about this film is that every time I look at it, I know that I brought my best to the role and so did everyone else.

Why do you think we haven’t seen biopics on any of these individuals?

EW: I don’t know. Every character in this film could have his or her own separate film. It has to do with the film business and whether producers think money can be made from any of them. There is another film about Chess Records out there.

What do you have coming up next?

EW: I did a film with Woody Harrelson called ‘The Messenger’. The story is about an American soldier who falls in love with a dead soldier’s wife and a crisis ensues. The film is by a first time director, Owen Moverman. I’m also shootinga series for NBC with Ian McShane called ‘Kings’. It’s a fantastic new series that I think will be different for television. It’s a modernized version of King David. McShane plays King Silas.

Daniel Craig mentioned recently that it was time for a Black James Bond and your name came up in numerous polls and conversations. How do you feel about that?

EW: If they want to make that comment, I’ll take it. Daniel Craig is a friend of mine and I was at the premiere when he made that comment, and I think he was talking about me when I went inside. I had no idea it would become what it has become. If they want to put into a James Bond film, I will be there for them.

Why should anyone go see ‘Cadillac Records’?

EW: ‘Cadillac Records’, apart from anything else, the music is amazing and they have gone through great lengths to give the blues, which is about pain, some recognition. You will learn history through the voices. At the same time, it’s the birth of rock and roll. Elvis Pressley wouldn’t have happened if this music wasn’t there. You will also see amazing talent put in some great performances.


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