It was difficult to play Malcolm X again: 'Godfather of Harlem' actor Nigel Thatch

It's not the first time that actor Nigel Thatch is playing preacher Malcolm X but he says portraying the real-life figure again in "Godfather of Harlem" series didn't make his job easier.
Nigel Thatch
Nigel Thatch

New Delhi

Thatch played Malcolm X in 2014's Oscar nominated film "Selma" and he said this time it was about playing the same man but at two very different times in his life.
"It's very different simply because in 'Selma' we showed Malcolm at a different time in his life. In 'Selma' we covered Malcolm post the Mecca pilgrimage in 1965. Here we take the Malcolm of 1963 where he is still under the tutelage of Elijah Muhammad.
"Everything Malcolm thinks is based on what Elijah has taught him and that is the word he is giving to the people. But it still was difficult to play even when I was playing him for the second time," the actor told PTI in a telephonic interview from the US.
Inspired by actual people and events, "Godfather of Harlem" reimagines the story of infamous crime boss Bumpy Johnson, who in the early 1960s returned from a decade in prison to find the neighbourhood he once ruled in shambles.
The season one of the crime drama series is currently streaming on Hotstar Premium.
Malcolm X is considered to be a controversial figure in American history and Thatch credited writers Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein for laying down the blueprint of the character.
"I basically follow the blueprint. I try not to get into the way of the writing as much I as I can. Pretty much everything is laid out and from that point on when you have the words down on the page, you can bring those words alive," he added.
Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker plays Bumpy. Thatch's Malcolm X is an old friend of Bumpy's and one of the prominent figures in the Nation of Islam movement.
The 43-year-old actor said the relationship between Malcolm X and Bumpy is based on respect.
Bumpy knew Malcolm when he was Malcolm Little -- his real name -- yet to become the public figure, he said.
"A lot of people don't really understand that there was a history between the two. Prior to working on the show I'd never heard of the relationship between them. It was an incredible learning experience.
"Not only did they know one another but their equation dates back to the time Malcolm X went to prison and later finding Nation of Islam. Bumpy initially knew him as Malcolm Little. There is a lot of respect on both ends. When they run into each other years later, Malcolm is now very different and Bumpy respects the fact that his friend is no longer Malcolm Little."
The crime-politics-religion nexus always makes for a heady cocktail and Thatch said most gangster sagas are somewhat similar with different characters.
"When you're watching 'The Godfather', 'The Goodfellas', so on and so forth, it's pretty much the same recipe with different characters. Basically, most of the time they tell the same story. There are very good actors playing roles in all those films I mentioned.
"But in 'Godfather of Harlem', you add Malcolm X to the mix, it just takes the show into a different direction. Add the civil rights movement in the 1960s coupled with that element in the Bible of the streets in Harlem also coupled with the power and politics... Those three things separate our show from the regular gangster crime dramas," the actor said.

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