Since we’re just two days away from the return of OWN’s “Greenleaf”, I jumped at an opportunity to interview GregAlan Williams, who portrays the man we all love to hate – Robert “Mac” McCready – and is also an accomplished writer! In fact, Williams just released the audio version of his novel Heart of a Woman, which he originally penned in 2009. Check out my interview with GregAlan Williams below! (The audio of the transcribed interview is below.)
1.You are well known as an actor with movie and television credits such “Baywatch,” “The Game” “NCIS: Los Angeles” “Castle” and many more and most recently “Greenleaf.” What prompted you to write a novel Heart of a Woman, and how did you find the time to write it?
Well, my first two books were non-fiction. I always wanted to write a novel, and I actually wrote “Heart of a Woman” in 2009. Well, actually, it took me four years. I started in 2005. It was published in 2009, and I just liked the long-form. I love screenplays, but I like the detail and the attention and the special skill that it takes to write in the novel form. And so I wanted to do that. I wanted to write a book for a target market or a constituency, in particular for women who remember the ‘60s and the ‘70s and that sort of thing, my peers. Because so much of African-American literature for women is sort of directed toward a younger group of women. I very much wanted to celebrate that time and women of that era and our shared memories.
2. According to the description of your novel, Heart of a Woman is about a woman who must “destroy her husband’s young mistress, enlist a murderer to catch a blackmailer, and in exchange for more than a million dollars, she must also seduce a slightly mad, man of God.” Not to mention that Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass are principal characters. How did you come up with this plot?
It really evolved around the protagonist, Jimi Stone. The book describes her as woman who has the ability to hear the hearts of strangers. As a polio victim, she had polio as a kid, there was a summer she was confined to her parents’ porch. Over the course of her life, she notices things. She sees things. She sees people, but perhaps most importantly, she hears them. And so all of her life, people would come to her and find themselves sharing their secrets with her.
Ultimately, as an adult, she finds herself working directly for Berry Gordy as his fixer, as his operative. And so the information that people have given her about themselves over the years, in particular, people in the entertainment industry, she’s retained all of that and so she uses that knowledge, that information, to fix things that have gone wrong. For example, in the book, a young, a young Motown star gets in trouble with the law and Berry Gordy dispatches her to fix it so as to preserve Motown’s good name. And she does, indeed, do that. She fixes it in a very complex way with a number of people, some good, some bad.
Did you have a writing coach to help you?
Well, I’ve been writing all of my adult life. I was a journalist in the Marine Corps. As a very young man, I used to write for Black Teen magazine, Right On, Soul Teen. There’s a radio station in the book that is based on a very famous radio station in Los Angeles KJLH. I had the good fortune to be hired as a copywriter for KJLH in 1980. So I’ve been writing for a long time. So you know we sit down and we say let’s try this on. We write commercials or we write copy, and we write for magazines and newspapers and we write non-fiction books and then we sit down and say, ‘I wonder if I can write the ‘Great American Novel.’’ So sat down to write it and I’m a history buff, and it is historical fiction so I spent a lot of time in Detroit doing research there and of course so much of the book is set in Los Angeles, and I know that territory well. And I’m an E.L. Doctorow fan so this whole notion of mixing fictional and historical characters has always been very exciting to me.
E.L. Doctorow is a very famous writer, and he did that a lot. One of his most famous books is Ragtime, and I think Teddy Roosevelt was a character in the book. In fact, the movie version of the book was the movie that brought the late Howard Rollins to stardom. He starred on “In the Heat of the Night” for many years. So Ragtime was the first book of E.L. Doctorow’s that I read.
3. Heart of a Woman was originally released in 2009. What prompted you to revamp the novel with an audiobook?
I’ve wanted for years to sort of merge my skill as a writer with my skill as an actor and that was really the impetus. Let me now see if I can not only narrate the book, and that was the easy part, but let’s see if I can voice all of these characters in kind of a believable way.
4. I know that “Greenleaf” is filmed in Atlanta and the Greenleaf home is near New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and that you live in the Atlanta area as well. Why did you to leave Hollywood, move to Atlanta and create the Actor’s Breakthrough film actors training studio in the Atlanta area?
Yes, the Greenleaf mansion is right around the corner. Well, I had been on a television show for about 7 years, ‘Baywatch.’ During that time, I had written a couple of non-fiction books and that had turned into a lot of speaking opportunities so I was doing a lot of speaking around the country. And I came to Georgia to speak at a fatherhood conference and I met some folks who were doing some very innovative work with fathers and families in middle Georgia.
So I decided to take a sabbatical for two years once I left the series in ’97. I went on sabbatical for two years and worked at a Headstart program in Macon, working with this fatherhood program so that’s what brought me to Georgia. So when that was done, and it was time to go back to L.A. and start acting again, I just decided to stay in Georgia and commute. There was no work in Georgia at that time so for years, I commuted out to L.A. and New York to work. And then as production began to soar here in Georgia, I was traveling a lot less and that gave me an opportunity to teach here in Atlanta. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of actors here who have my range of experience. There are some, but most, of course, are in L.A. and New York. And in particular as it related to actors of color, it gave me an opportunity to mentor a number of actors and to help move them along in their careers.
Have you taught any actors that are recognized?
Not any names yet but plenty of folks who work. In fact, four of my students were on “Greenleaf,” and I had nothing to do with it. Because they had secured their own agents and auditioned and booked. And we have dozens of actors on all kinds of shows from Atlanta to Sleepy Hollow. We just had an actor who finished a movie with The Rock so we’re very excited and very proud that we have started a number of actors in the business, training them. They studied very hard and now they’re working professionals. I teach at the studio six hours every Saturday. We have other instructors, but I teach at the master level from about noon to 5 p.m.
5. Robert “Mac” McCready is the ultimate villain, and you portray him masterfully. Is there any part of Mac that you identify with, and what is your inspiration for portraying him?
Well in the second season, I identify with Mac’s loneliness. And I will tell you what I mean. Because Mac has been found out and he’s estranged from the family, he’s very lonely. Family, believe it or not, is very important to Mac. The church is very important to Mac. And so Mac is estranged from both the church and the family and because Mac is estranged, that means that I am also separated from my acting family – Lynn and Keith because in the second season, really the only actor that I get to work with is Merle and that is wonderful and then some of the wonderful guest stars that we have. But I don’t get to see and work with some of these other folk that I love so much like Lamman and Kim and Deborah Joy Winans and all of those folks. I hardly see them so Mac and I we’re both lonely in that regard.
One of the things I teach is that when we take on characters whose values we don’t share, we tend to want to make those characters very different from ourselves and think of those characters as being very different, but here’s the truth. Mac is obsessed with his abusive behavior. He’s obsessed with 13, 14, 15-year-old girls, wholly inappropriate. So when you approach a character like Mac, I think the first thing you have to do is say, What do we have in common? Well, you know what? I’m not obsessed with 13,14, and 15-year-old girls, but I’ve been obsessed and I know what obsession is. I’ve been obsessed with some grown women. And as a much younger man, you know sort of out there dating, partying, certainly, on occasion have been less than honest, less than forthcoming about what my intentions were, etcetera, etcetera. I’m not a perfect guy so I have to look at as much as I want to be 180 degrees different, we have some things in common.
Or I’ve had some things in common so when you approach a character, because you cannot portray a character you don’t understand and you can’t portray a character who you wholly dislike. It’s impossible to step into that character’s life unless that character is self-hating and Mac is not self-hating. Sometimes, he is but most of the time, he is not. So one has to come to understand that and but that doesn’t mean approve of, but to understand and to be able to identify the rationalizations that he uses in order to engage guilt free in his predatory behavior.
Mac is also funny particularly when he called his age-appropriate beard girlfriend Lorraine “bottom-shelf” & “off- brand.” Did you find that funny? I know it wasn’t supposed to be funny, but it was funny to me.
I think it was funny in its audacity. I mean what you could do but laugh because it was so horrible. I have to say this, you see, this is why I love writers. Now when I first got the script, I looked at it, and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t say this. This is horrible!’ See, left to me, the actor, if the writers had said to me, ‘Okay, GregAlan, here’s a moment when you need to put this woman in her place.’ I would have come up with some mundane curse words and this and that and the other. But this writer is so brilliant that they totally sidestepped the nasty language and came up with something so horrible. Bottom–shelf! Off-brand! When I first read it, I said, ‘I can’t say this.’ I said to my lady, ‘Girl, read this.’ (Laughter) She said, ‘You can’t say this.’ I said, ‘I know. I know.’ But you know that’s why I love writers – so innovative. I don’t think, maybe, you heard Mac curse once. I don’t think Mac curses. He is a good Christian, you see. So he would say something like that. That what makes him even all the more creepy because he’s a rapist. He’s an abuser. But yet he finds cursing perhaps to be a little beyond him. Isn’t that some madness?
6. I call Mac, Mac the Molester. How does one research being a “respectable” child molester?
Well, this speaks to the courage of the producers because people can’t molest children, most of the time, unless they are respectable. Ninety percent of child molesters are very respectable. That’s how they are able to do it. Sometimes, I ask my acting students, ‘How is it that a serial killer is able to kill serially?’ And they come up with all kinds of things. But the truth is it’s because he doesn’t seem to be a serial killer. In other words, he’s not just snatching people or banging people on the head. Oprah said that she wanted to show the audience that abusers are seducers, and that is what she has done and by extension, that is what the producers and writers have done.
So that is the truth, and that should forewarn viewers not to see the bogeyman under every bush but to understand that sometimes, the people we entrust our children to, those folk have positioned themselves in those respectable places in order to be able to hurt children.
7. What’s going to happen next Tuesday and Wednesday? Is Mac dead? Will he ever admit to molesting Faith? Did Mac see his sister Lady Mae molested by their father? If you can’t answer these questions, what can “Greenleafers” expect in this second half of Season 2?
Well, remember, in the first half of season 2, in episode 8, he did admit as he was choking Grace, he said, ‘They wanted it. I didn’t do anything they didn’t want me to do.’ So he did admit to essentially all of his crimes. As to whether he will live or die, I will say this to you: every goodbye ain’t gone.
For more information about “Heart of a Woman,” go to heartofawomanbook.com.
Double Emmy Award-Winning Actor, Critically Acclaimed Author, Respected Educator, Prolific Speaker, Master Storyteller… these are just a few characteristics to describe the creative genius of Gregory Alan Williams! Widely known for his role (of seven seasons) as beach cop Garner Ellerbee on the most watched television show in the world, Baywatch, GregAlan is most recently recognized for his portrayal as prime-time television’s most hated villain, Robert “Mac” McCready, on OWN’s hit drama series, Greenleaf .
His 30-year Hollywood career began as a founding member of the world-renowned Penumbra Theater in St. Paul, MN. From there he went on to do stage work with Pulitzer Prize Winner, August Wilson, as well as the Chicago Shakespeare Repertory Theater,Chicago Theater Company, Mixed Blood Theater Company and Chicago’s Goodman Theater. To date, his broad list of acting credits include recurring roles on the ABC Network’s Secrets and Lies, BET’s The Game and HBO’s The Sopranos. His 250 prime-time appearances include The West Wing, NCIS: Los Angeles and Castle, just to name a few.
What’s more, his film career boasts 42 feature films, including celebrated classics such as Remember the Titans (Denzel Washington), In the Line of Fire (Clint Eastwood) and Old School (Will Ferrell). His recent film credits include, Terminator Genysis (Arnold Schwarzenegger ),Misconduct (Al Pacino), The Accountant (Ben Affleck), Hidden Figures (Taraji P. Henson) and so much more! In 2017, audiences will enjoy GregAlan in the upcomingBill Duke film, Created Equal as well as the highly anticipated faith-based films, A Question of Faith (Kim Fields and Richard T. Jones) and All Saints opposite John Corbett. GregAlan also founder and Dean of the Actor’s Breakthrough film actors training studio in Atlanta.