Interview by Ashana Arthur for CULTUREGO Magazine.
At 40, Conrad has been acting for close to two decades. On screen he is the complete embodiment of the character he is portraying, in person he feels like a vessel coursing with spirit; an energy that permeates the air and could stretch out into infinity but has chosen to remain in the body known as Conrad Parris. No doubt this “permeability” is directly related to his ability to transform into different characters as an actor.
“I define creativity as “giving of yourself”. This is what I was taught to do as an actor, invest myself . . .…..build this thing that transcends the physical self and becomes immortal”.*
Which is exactly what he does.
Conrad reveals that the journey of becoming “an actor” was unplanned and unfolded gradually. Now after twenty years of “investing himself”, a seasoned actor, how does he feel about the journey so far? Is he satisfied? What`s to come? …..He answers these questions and more…
EP: How did you become an actor?
CP: It was something I’ve always wanted to do but I didn’t know I really wanted to do it until I turned 21 and had my first job. Outside of going to work and going home I was bored out of my mind and wanted something to do. Trinidad Theatre Workshop was actually in the Old Fire Station which was just across the street from where I was working in the Red House. I joined their New Actors’ Program and that lit the fire up in my belly.
EP: But you were acting all the time before that…
CP: Not really, at least not consciously. Through primary school I had represented my school, ‘Morvant Anglican,’ in various pursuits: Spelling Bee, Music Festival, Art competitions…
Then in secondary school I tried to avoid all of those things: I still ended up in the choir and in cadets. I Ieft school after I did ‘A’ levels at St. George’s, and went to work. Then I went to UWI. When I left UWI in 1999 I decided to put myself out there as an aspiring actor. Fortunately through my experience with ‘Trinidad Theatre Workshop,’ I had made contact with people in theatre. Bernard Hazel, put me on to ‘Westwood Park’ and my first play called “Mixed Nuts” with “Immortelle Theatre Company”.
EP: Was there a specific moment when you realised that you liked theatre more than your other endeavours?
CP: That didn’t really occur to me until I reached UWI and was reading for a Linguistics Degree. The first year was cool and then the second year was markedly different; it seemed to be intensely clinical and I was losing my mind. I was like, “Jesus!” However I was minoring in Theatre Arts and that is what seemed to take precedence, when the semester was out I would fall in with a theatre company and try to find work. Eventually I started working with Raymond Choo Kong. Just from being around, visiting different people and showing them my interest, saying “I want to be an actor, I want to work on stage”.
They would say, “Work backstage”. Some people would be put off by that, I wasn’t, I was willing to do whatever was available just to be in the environment.
EP: When did you realise that you couldn’t go back to anything else?
CP: For about the first three or four years I was kind of throwing one eye over my shoulder thinking “Maybe you should get a job”.
EP: And after all of those years of work, things seem to be going well for you at the moment…
CP: I think they are going well. I’m a radio announcer on 107.7. I do that every day. I’ve been doing that for a little over a year now. I’m doing ‘Story of the Nation’ which we started a couple months ago. It’s still kind of a blurry place that I’m in now though. The climate of theatre and film practice is evolving in Trinidad and Tobago and it’s a very interesting time.
The way I work has changed. For example, I used to do a lot more theatre let’s say eight years ago. I would do six, seven, eight productions during the course of a year and maybe, somewhere in between, I might do something for television or I might do a film. Now the first half of my year might be theatrical pursuits; two or three productions, and the second half of the year will be something for television and something for film or in this case something for the web like ‘Story of the Nation’ which we are in talks to bring to television; finger toes and unmentionables crossed. So my career is evolving and the way things are done is evolving as well. It is exciting but I don’t really have the time to do cartwheels, because I`m trying to still navigate.
EP: Who are three actors you admire locally and three actors you admire internationally?
CP: Locally Raymond Choo Kong, Penelope Spencer, Richard Ragoobarsingh and Cecelia Salazar. That’s four. Raymond is absolutely amazing in how multi-faceted he is. Even though he is a master behind the mathematics of comedy, he is also a master behind the mathematics behind real drama and he displays that both as a director and as an actor. He has a lot of depth: experientially and knowledge wise and emotionally as an actor and he is not to be underestimated at all. I draw a lot of similarities between him and Robert De Niro.
Take De Niro, now you see him play these really subtle nuanced older men as opposed to the more bombastic characters that he played as a younger man. You saw the depth then, and you see even more depth and experience and emotional intelligence now and Raymond has all of those things too. So does Penelope Spencer and Cecelia Salazar even though they are two very different women, and two very different kinds of actors, their wealth of experience and empathy is amazing to watch. Penny may give me a very hard clout if she hears this but ….Penny’s approach is very gutsy, she just dives, all into a character, into an interpretation and Cecelia, Cecelia’s approach seems to be very calculated, she will find physical things that she may associate with what she’s clued into, in her character analysis and she will build a character from this piece of physicality. You’ll see this thing blossom during the course of rehearsal and you know you have to face these forces of nature that are Penelope and Cecelia And internationally, Al Paccino, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Denzil Washington. There`s a clinicality to how all of them approach characterization but there’s a, particularly with Meryl Streep, there is an adverb a reviewer used, and I thought it was very appropriate. Even though we’ve been watching Meryl Streep for however long there’s a glee with which she plays a character now. There’s a kind of free-form that she has developed now, with all of that empathy and all of that experience and all of that knowledge, it’s just easy and she has become that much more effortless, even though you know that they have put in this kind of scientific work. There’s a way that they break it down and build it back up that is just effortless and wonderful to watch and those four really do that for me every time I see them regardless of what it is they do.
The virtuosity that they display in their work is astonishing. You’ve seen them grow over the years and they set the barre very high pretty much from the moment you saw them right up until the last thing that you’ve seen them do and it’s amazing. That only comes with experience and going through the stages.
EP: Do you feel a level of satisfaction with your career? Do you feel a level of confidence in yourself as an actor? How do you see the future in terms of your career?
CP: I do feel a lot more confident than I did twenty years ago when I started. My confidence has certainly grown. Of course that isn’t to say that I feel I’m all that. I still feel like there is so much to learn and that’s fine, ‘cause I mean my father who was also an actor, he always taught my brothers and I that, life is a learning experience, you should be a student of life. But I still feel like there is so much to learn and so much to do. I used to be a little terrified of that but now I am in a place where I am not so terrified as long as you’re alive and you keep your mind open, you will be in a learning space and you will find yourself in situations where you learn different things. You won’t necessarily be bored or frustrated or driven to distraction because you’re open to experiences as I figure you should be as an actor, or well, as a person. So, I am not terribly certain as to what the future holds I could only tell you some of the things I would like to do. I would like to do more film, more internationally acclaimed work. It would be great if I could meld internationally recognized work with locally produced work. I think particularly in the film industry, we are evolving into creating opportunities for that, where we could create locally produced work that will be recognized internationally. We are finding our voice slowly but surely and well, we are gaining our footing and I think our steps are becoming a little bit more rapid, so maybe ten years down the road we will be running and ten years after that we’ll be flying and hopefully I’ll be alive and be a part in that veteran stage, to be able to add my expertise and hopefully glee as a performer in that regard.
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