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If you have self-esteem you say to yourself “Yes, I can be a doctor or lawyer. I can be anything I want.”
At AnimeFest 2004, Assistant Editor Honey Thunder along with Editor-in-Chief Matthew Anderson conducted an interview with well known stage, screen, and voice actor Beau Billingslea. Better known as "Jet Black" on "Cowboy Bebop", Beau talked about his time as a Judge Advocate General in the Army, his work on the mini-series "North and South", why "Jet" is his favorite character, and how his military training helped him for roles in "Bebop" and "Argentosoma".
Special thanks to Day Acuna, and all the staff at AnimeFest 2004 for all their help to make this interview possible.
Very special thanks to Cecelia Billingslea for the use of the pictures and taking time to talk with us at AnimeFest 2004.
So, I’d like to begin by having you introduce yourself and tell us
about what you’ve done.
Beau: Anime stuff or in
Beau: Okay. Alright. Well,
as you know, my name is Beau Billingslea I started as an on camera
actor and continue to work as an on camera actor. Most of my
professional career is on camera. I started doing voice-overs about
20 years ago. I started being called in to dub foreign films as a
black actor – a lot of African stuff so I did a lot of African
accents for the American dubs of some foreign films. And then a
couple of people who were doing those started doing those started
doing anime, and started calling me in to do anime. I’ve been a
singer; actually I’ve studied with a coach at the Metropolitan
Opera Dr. Dean Verheins. Studied with him for many years he wanted
me to go through, you know how they have the regional auditions for
Beau: He was a famous coach
in town, so a lot of people studied with him, Marsha Mason, Rock
Hudson just a lot of people. So he had this career in mind for me
and he was one of the judges in the western regional auditions for
the Metropolitan Opera so I had to get the phonetics book and learn
to sing in German. Well, I speak German, and Italian and French –
so I asked him and he said “so what you’ll do is you’ll win
the scholarship you’ll go to New York. You’ll sing in the chorus
for a while and then you’ll upgrade and then you’ll become a
soloist” I and said “oh okay, how much does that pay?” and he
said about $300 a week. And I said “You know, I’ve got a
family… (Laughs) you $300 a week isn’t going to do much for me
even back then. But anyway I continued to study with him. So, I’ve
been voice oriented for quite a while. I’ve done a lot of on
camera stuff. I actually had done about 3 or 4 weeks on Dallas, but
oddly enough the setting was Jamaica so I was a Jamaican doctor so I
was a very calm Jamaican man, you know. I don’t know if you
remember but Victoria Principle she was looking for her boyfriend.
And she went to the Caribbean looking for him.
Of course, we shot that in Malibu; unfortunately we didn’t
shoot that in Jamaica.
Beau: (laughs) Yeah! I’ve
done most of the nighttime TV shows. I did North and South Book Two;
I don’t know if you remember that. I was a big mini-series with
Patrick Swayze I was on General Hospital for a couple of years I
played Russell Stern I was Tony Geri’s best friend there. I was an
attorney on Divorce Court when it first came back. I’m actually an
attorney as well. I started off my real life as an attorney.
Actually, I guess I was a professional actor before I was an
attorney, I started acting while I was in law school I was in law
school in Connecticut and I would go down to New York and actually
that’s a “scoop” because I don’t think anybody really knows
about that…not in the anime world.
DVJ: You [read] it here
Beau: (laughs) You did hear
it here first! Yeah I practiced criminal law for a while. Actually,
my son’s an attorney now…second generation.
DVJ: Oh, that’s great!
Beau: Yeah, he’s
practicing law in LA and my daughter is a CPA she a senior
accountant for Joe Eder’s company and I have a little
granddaughter who’s my baby. She’s 7 and she is my baby. We’re
Beau: Let’s see in terms
the anime world, obviously Cowboy Bebop and Jet Black is my love.
There’s such a joy in doing Jet. There am a lot of me in Jet and a
lot of Jet in me. (Laughs) Because Faye and Spike are kind of like
my kids, like my niece and nephew more too sometimes because
they’re always getting into trouble, doing their capers and
calling for help. Faye will break into the safe take our money and
disappear then call for help “hey jet!! (Laughs) come help me!
I’m in a fix, I’m in a bind!” I guess my favorite episode is
the one with the mushrooms (Mushroom Samba).
DVJ: Ah yes.
Beau: It’s just so silly!
It’s just silly. I guess that’s about it for me just rambling.
DVJ: Has your granddaughter
seen things you’ve done?
Beau: Yeah, she’s seen
the stuff on the Cartoon Network, well, what we can filter! (Laughs)
Because, of course, anime is adult oriented, so we kind of shield
her from that. But I do promos for the Cartoon Network as well, so
sometimes she’ll hear my voice. And you know I do narrations on
the History Channel as well.
Beau: So she’s tuned in.
My daughter says if she’s doing something and the TV’s on and
she hears my voice she says: “Oh! There’s Papa! That’s
(laughs) It’s pretty cool. You know, this was a while back,
about a year or so, when she would see me on TV she would turn to my
daughter and ask “Well, when am I gonna get my turn to be on
TV?” You know, it’s like everybody’s on TV; everybody gets
their turn to be on TV – well what about me? (Laughs) But she’s
just so...well you know how all 7 year old little girls are just
darling and adorable and irresistible whether their your own or not!
But now she’s started –my daughter and granddaughter do plays at
Cal State Northridge. I told my daughter to make sure they talk to her in terms of
“That’s a hobby.” She can be a doctor or lawyer and she can
act at night or something that’s just a hobby. I just can’t
imagine her going through all the rejection we have to go through
– it’s rough. It’s really really rough. I mean, I’m
fortunate. I’m truly blessed because I get my share. So you know,
if you get your share, the rejections are kind of “eh”, you
know? It’s like a salesman. Every no is good because you’re
closer to a yes. I mean, that’s the way a salesman looks at it
right? So that’s the way we look at it too. Got another rejection
today – alright! That means I’m closer to that Yes!
Beau: In terms of my
granddaughter and with my children as I said, they’re both
professionals – an accountant and an attorney – so I didn’t
encourage. I just wanted them to do what they wanted to do and I
encouraged the professional world for them because I feel if it’s
in their blood and they have to do it – it’s gonna happen. Like
with me. I mean, I was cuttin’ up at the age of 4 and 5 years old.
I was the kid who was sitting the corner of the classroom and the
teacher would say “Mr. Billingslea, would you stop talking,
please!” (Laughs) or
“what do you think about that, Mr. Billingslea?” and I was
talking so “I…I…didn’t hear the question…” and you know
how teachers are. She knew that that was going to be the answer! She
knew I was cracking jokes – and she knew I had no idea what she
was talking about. Actually, I did my first serious show in college.
It was Emperor Jones. You know it was a role that James Earl Jones
and Paul Robeson had done. Oddly enough, I was captain of the
football team at the University of Connecticut and I went to college
of a football scholarship. Actually, I had letters for the NFL
draft, but that was in the Vietnam period and I was in ROTC. Yeah, I
had letters from Houston and Cleveland, a lot of places, actually.
Anyway, one of my fraternity brothers was doing a show (Emperor
Jones) and in those days football, ROTC and Theatre Arts did not
mix. We called them names they called us names and because of
Vietnam, most of the Football players were in ROTC, which UConn
required the first two years anyway. So they would picket our drills
when we were out marching. Because of the war, that intensified the
dichotomy of those two worlds. So my fraternity brother thought that
would be a great way to bring the university together. If the
captain of the football team did a play...and my response was
“Nah...you know…I don’t...” and then he explained what it
was and I thought “Yeah, okay!” I don’t know if you know the
story, but he’s the Emperor of a Caribbean island and he has this
sidekick Smithers, who’s Australian.
They’re both crooks and they’re hustlin’ people and
this and that and then the people turn and pull a trick on the
Emperor. He starts thinking there are haints – or spirits –
around. He has this silver bullet and he’s gonna shoot everything
and he’s running desperately through the woods. Smithers gets
killed and so the Emperor has all these monologues where he’s on
stage alone. When my fraternity brother told me that I said
“Oh...okay! I can deal with being on stage alone doing bunches of
monologues – ALRIGHT! You know?”
Beau: Center of attention!
And of course, I had done things in school when I was little. I did
the Hambone in the talent show (Beau proceeds to do a rockin’
hambone for us! –Ed.) I learned to juggle a bit and all of that
got me to Emperor Jones. I started acting professionally while I was
in law school. A friend of the family had worked with Mike Todd. I
don’t know if you remember Mike Todd, he was married to Elizabeth
Beau: He did “Around the
World in 80 Days” he was so TC got me started/ I’d pop down to
New York, do a little of this, a little of that, and that was before
because I had gotten a delay from ROTC to go into law school.
Because otherwise I’d have gone right into the service. That’s
why the professional football thing wouldn’t have worked out
anyway. I got a delay from having to go into active duty to go to
law school. So, I was an Army JAG while I was in the service.
Let’s see…I do a number of radio spots for Honda and for Hood.
And California Highway Patrol.
DVJ: In police officer
Beau: No, actually I do the
announcer. “Don’t drink and drive.”
They have more of a normal voice for the police officer. But
you know, I’m blessed. I’m really blessed with a wonderful
family, good friends and great career. I love to play tennis and
golf. More golf than tennis now because the ol’ football knees are
starting to act up! They’re talking back to me now!
What position did you play?
Beau: In football?
Beau: Actually, I started
off as a quarterback. I was a quarterback in high school that was
back in the day when black quarterbacks were switched. As soon as
you stepped on campus, you were switched from quarterback to another
position, running back or wide receiver.
Beau: Yeah. But now we’ve
come full circle. There are a lot of black quarterbacks in
pro-football and college. But back in those days, there were very
few, unless you went to a black school. So I had gone to UConn, but
professionally the NFL was interested in me as a defensive back.
Because back in the day guys played both ways.
I was the last one to play both offense and defense on our
football team. When there was a change over from offense to defense
there was one guy on the field, that was me. You know, my dad loved
that! (Laughs) I was co-captain my senior year and all of the parent
s had been together four years, so they knew each other and were
friends. If your son
had done something special, all the fathers would go “Go on –
Stand up there!” and my dad was a very modest, humble man, And the
other dad’s were cheering up on and trying to get him to stand my
father would just smile and wave politely. But he was very proud of
the fact that if here was a change over ten guys would go off the
field and ten guys would come on and I’d be out there stretching
my legs to avoid cramps! (Laughs)
Actually, I was also offered a
contract to play baseball out of high school with the Kansas City
Athletics. Of course my dad said “Nah. You’re going to
college” and I was going to college on a football scholarship.
With baseball they have a southern trip to Florida in the fall. And
with football, there was spring football, so that was a conflict.
And the coach said “You know, we’re paying for your education,
son.” So that ended the baseball dream. This is a LONG way from
anime, but it might be interesting to have a feel for who I am as a
Beau: I was born in
Charleston, South Carolina. Basically – I’m a southern guy.
I’ve got my southern roots, My folks are both from “the
country” my father was from Macon, Georgia and my mother was from
Malensis, South Carolina – just outside of Charleston. That’s
why when I did North and South – that was a very special
experience. Because it was going home, since I grew up in
Connecticut my parents came down for that experience. And I’ll
never forget what my mom said. We are at the restaurant – it was
Warner Brothers so it was a big deal. We were treated well you know.
And my mother said “I never thought I’d come back to Charleston
like this.” They were being treated like king and queen. Mom
passed last year, but that was the only time that they actually ever
came on the set. They came on the set one time and they came to the
court one time when I was trying a murder case. So they saw me in
two kind of spectacular experiences in those two realms. They always
used to come and watch me play football. It’s kinda homey but I,
like most people, wanted my parents to be proud of me, you know? And
I always wanted to bring joy to them, because they were such
wonderful, wonderful human beings, you know. My dad’s still with
us, he’s in a nursing home. They made my sister and I feel SO
important ALL the time. Our opinions were valued – well we thought
they were – even when we were 5 and 6, but that’s how smart my
mom and dad were. They honestly cared and realized that your
self-esteem as a child determines what happens later on.
Beau: If you have
self-esteem you say to yourself “Yes, I can be a doctor or lawyer.
I can be anything I want.” That’s the way my parent brought us
up and it was always a forgone conclusion that we would go to
college. “When you go to college…..When you go to college….”
(Laughs) so there was no other thought “oh yeah, when I go to
college. I think they slipped in and talked to me my sleep, too.
(Whispers) “When you go to college…”
DVJ: [I] don’t mean to
abruptly change subjects, but, you were a JAG correct?
DVJ: So do you use some of
your military experience in roles? You were on the actual show
Beau: Right. Navy JAG.
DVJ: Of course. Your
character in Argentosama is military; Jet is ex-special forces. You
do seem to get put into a lot of military roles.
DVJ: Is your military
experience part of the reason why you get these roles?
Beau: I think you’re
right. I think it’s the military experience. My upbringing, for
whatever reason, I was kind of a leader type. I think part of it
came from my athletic ability. Because, you know, with the boys –
when I moved into a new neighborhood I was immediately accepted
because I was the fastest runner. In school I was the captain of the
athletic teams. In the military I was an officer; by the time I got
out I was a captain. And so I think that played a big part in my
professional career. When I first started out acting, I did a lot of
police officers. I did a lot of uniforms, military and police. Shows
like TJ Hooker, Fall Guy, Hunter…
DVJ: Nice! You’re bringing
me back to some GREAT shows!
Beau: Yeah, that was the
day because I had a stunt double, Bennie Moore Jr.
He used to double me on all of my stunts. On these shows, you
know, there were car chases and this and that. Like the A-Team, I
was the main bad guy, so everything happened to me. I was hog-tied,
I was chased by a bear, I was foamed by a fire-extinguisher and I
was also steamed for information. It was a real steamer!
DVJ: Oh WOW!
Yeah, so I was SWEATING. I was sweating! But yeah, you’re
right; my background has played a part. When they started divorce
court again all of the lawyers, we were all attorneys – we found
out why we were all lawyers. We had to do quite a bit of writing. We
had to write our opening statements, closing arguments. So my
background had a direct influence. Obviously I would not have been
on Divorce Court if I hadn’t been an attorney. And athletics, you
know, those shows: Fall Guy, TJ Hooker, A-Team, those are active
shows. We had come to a point where most shows on television were
talking heads. Sitcoms took over everything for a while. Even now
we’re still have talking shows, we never really came back, so I
don’t see my stunt double very much because I used to see him all
the time and he’d make me look really rugged. I’d say to him
“Make me look rugged, baby, make me look good!” and he’d say
“I got your back, Beau. I got your back, yeah.” He’d do all my
hard stunts. But as I’ve said, I’ve been blessed to have an
opportunity to have done Shakespeare. You know all across the board
I’ve been very fortunate to have an opportunity to touch different
areas of show business.
DVJ: Well, unfortunately our
time is up. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy busy
day to speak with us.
Beau: I appreciate it.
It’s always great to talk about yourself. (Laughs) My favorite
subject No, I’m kidding. My family and my little granddaughter are
my favorite subjects!!!
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