Ask Paul Campbell if he considers himself an actor or a thespian and he will simply say, in perfect English, that he is a thespian, the difference being a thespian is a classically trained actor.
Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Campbell makes no effort to hide his rough upbringing. In fact, he embraces that upbringing, which, he said, propelled him to become the thespian that he is today.
South Floridians will get an opportunity to hear Campbell tell it live when he premiers his one-man show, Paul Campbell: The Life and Time of a Jamaican Movie Star, early in the new year at the Miramar Cultural Center, the first stop on a 20-city international tour.
The show includes an exhibition of his and an outreach program for inner city youth.
“It’s my rise from the depressed area ghettos of Jamaica to the halls of Hollywood,” Campbell said. “It’s just me talking about my life and getting over obstacles that I had to get over to get to where I am today.”
And a hard life it was.
When Campbell was younger and living in Kingston, he used to defend his neighborhood against gang warfare, while attending grade school. When he came to the United States in 1995 to become an actor, his first roadblock was his accent. West Indian actors were not the hot commodity they are today.
In 2006, he was diagnosed and treated for cancer and found himself homeless and grateful for those who gave him a helping hand. He is now cancer-free and ready to resume acting – and giving back to the community through a program he started.
“Stretch is a charity that we put together because I’d like to give back in any way that I can,” Campbell said in a recent interview. “The motto of Stretch is ‘Shoot with a camera, not with a gun.’”
The program will give young people in the community cameras to shoot their life experiences, while providing workshops for them to learn various aspects of the film industry.
“When I took stock of the reality of what really happened, all of the obstacles I had to get over, and knowing kids and people in Jamaica who are facing the same thing today, that’s the kind of thing that I would like to show people,” he said, “my way of persevering through the years with all of these obstacles.”
But painting and community outreach are just a few of the projects about which Campbell is passionate. Soon after Paul Campbell: Life and Times premieres, he is expecting the release of his two latest films: Out the Gate and Machete Joe.
In both films, he revisits the character that has made him famous to those who have been following his career: the crazy, tough guy. Machete Joe is expected to be released at the end of this year and Out the Gate in early 2011.
Asked what advice he would give to an aspiring actor – or, more specifically, thespian, Campbell replied, “Be true to thine own self. You’ve got to be there for a long time.
I wouldn’t advise my sons to become a thespian, though. I’d rather them owning a studio. In a case like mine, it was just a hard, hard, hard battle fought. But it paid off.”
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com.