'An Actor and A Gentleman' by Louis Gossett Jr.

One other wonderful reward for playing the role of Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley came several years ago when I was in Baton Rouge accepting an honorary degree from Baton Rouge Community College. My security guard told me about a white policeman who had been shot in the chest during a raid on a suspected Arab terrorist's house. He was in a coma, but several of the policemen asked me to go visit him and talk to him. I did. I had been there only a few minutes, just holding his hand and talking to him softly, when he opened his eyes. The first words he spoke were, "I can't get down and give you forty right now, Sergeant. Maybe later." I couldn't believe it. I told him to take his time. He recovered completely, and I am sure that today he would be able to give me at least forty pushups. But what he gave me that day was a gift I will never forget.

One of the most fascinating projects I worked on right after "Officer" was "Sadat," a role for which Anwar Sadat's widow, Jehan, personally chose me. Although this TV miniseries won me nominations for the Golden Globe and an Emmy, strangely, it was boycotted in the Middle East. Both the Egyptian and the Israeli governments found fault with certain details in the movie, but no one complained about my portrayal of Sadat. The boycott itself was odd, because the film appeared to be available in every private house in Egypt and in Israel. Personally, I felt revered in both countries and, remarkably, was able to travel from Egypt to Israel and back without having to show a passport.

Actually, we never went to Egypt for the filming but instead worked in five towns in Mexico for forty-two days. I brought Satie with me and enrolled him in the American Embassy school that the diplomats' children attended, but when my work became too challenging, I had to send Satie home. Playing a role that pays homage to such a well-known and well-respected person required every ounce of my energy and attention. I remember one particularly powerful scene in the movie. On the dark screen, a door opens and there I am, staring at the body of my brother, who has been killed. I have lost my brother and my best friend. I fell so completely into that role that I lost it, captured by the emotions that Sadat must have felt at that exact moment when he transforms from a "hawk" into a "dove." It is all in his face as he moves from there to his assembly and vows to stop the killing, telling the assembly, "If there is a way to make peace together, I will go to Jerusalem." This moment marks his transition from a fine president of Egypt to a great man of history. And we did it in one take.

Somehow, they found a schoolteacher in Mexico who was the spitting image of Golda Meir, and when I walk off the airplane at Ben Gurion Airport, she is standing there. I say, "I have been waiting a long time to meet you," and she answers with those memorable words: "What took you so long?"

Each day of this filming, I felt as if I was not acting. Instead, I was simply in the midst of a magic that consumed me, allowing me to glide effortlessly into my role and leave everything else behind. I returned to my own reality only after the cameras were turned off. Sometimes I believe that the reason I have been able to do such exemplary work on the screen is because this is the only place I can be free, neither censured nor judged.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...