- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

If actors can be hired to shill for a product, Troy Garity argues, they can speak out to promote a better world.

It shouldn't come as a shock that Mr. Garity, an actor to watch who co-stars in the new urban comedy "Barbershop," hears the siren call of activism.

His parents Tom Hayden, former California state senator and '60s radical, and actress Jane Fonda aren't exactly shy about speaking their minds.

"I was long involved in politics before I was involved in acting," the native of Santa Monica, Calif., says during a phone chat to promote "Barbershop."

"It's our basic duty as citizens to be involved, to be active participants. If not, we have no right to complain about anything."

His famous mom sure did her share of complaining. Miss Fonda's comments against the Vietnam War and her visit to communist North Vietnam caused a maelstrom of criticism that still reverberates.

Mr. Garity, who also starred with Bruce Willis in "Bandits" (2001), gives his mother credit for speaking her mind.

"I think a lot of actors have a lot to lose it's an unstable career to maintain," he says.

Being Miss Fonda's son also makes Mr. Garity part of an American acting dynasty. The 27-year-old actor, who makes a vivid impression as the movie barbershop's sole white employee, can look to late grandfather Henry Fonda, his mother, stepcousin Bridget Fonda and uncle Peter Fonda for inspiration.

That heritage is "a great privilege to me as an actor," he says.

•••

When Mr. Garity first began acting professionally, he harbored some fear that fellow actors would assume his background granted him special privileges. The name Garity, which is his paternal grandmother's maiden name, grants him a measure of anonymity.

"It made me work harder to get myself a sense of entitlement when I walk in a room," he says.

Time washed away those thoughts.

"I don't really care anymore what other people think. I put in years of concentrated hard study," says Mr. Garity, who attended New York City's American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

"My work will stand for itself, or it won't. People won't be hiring me for my two parents. Bottom line is, either you can connect with [audiences] or you can't."

His latest role finds him embracing the hip-hop culture. His character dresses, sounds and looks like a rap star, much to the chagrin of his fellow barbers.

The film, he says, doesn't peddle the usual racial arguments one might expect.

"Who wants to be PC?" he says, pointing to a scene in which Cedric the Entertainer's character assails Rosa Parks' civil rights record. "What's funny is that it's written in a way that the whole barbershop is debating him on the issue, [but] his voice prevails," he says of the charismatic comic.

"The barbershop is such a great focal point for a story," Mr. Garity continues. "It's a safe place to speak."

It also provides a juicy role for Ice Cube, a hip-hop icon who has forged an artistically uneven but lucrative film career.

"Ice Cube is a superstar," Mr. Garity says of the rapper, whose Cube Vision production company helped make "Barbershop." "There's not many musicians who have maintained a career as long as his that still produces hits he sort of opened up the market for rappers to enter the world of cinema."

Mr. Garity, who played his own father in the Abbie Hoffman biopic "Steal This Movie," identifies with the hip-hop scene, a cultural force that he says is spreading beyond U.S. borders.

In France, he notes, hip-hop hasn't reached the commercial heights it has stateside. "Yet all the kids are heavily involved in it, like it was here in 1984. There's a reason why it crossed cultural bounds. It's about affirmation and defining yourself and challenging yourself mentally."

Some grouse that rappers are taking away roles from established or fledgling actors. Mr. Garity swats away those concerns.

"The real question," he says dryly, "is why do actors keep trying to be rock stars? If [rappers] can help get another movie greenlit, then good."

•••

As he was growing up, Mr. Garity's parents gave the green light to his own creative impulses.

He wrote and performed skits at his parents' Laurel Springs Camp for the Arts in Santa Barbara. "We'd write plays based on our life's events," he recalls of those casual sessions. Later, he relocated to New York to pursue acting full-time.

Along the way, he took time out to create the Peace Process Network, an organization that defuses gang tensions.

These days, his busy acting career has him cutting back his time with the group, but he says he still supports it financially.

"In the past 20 years, 10,000 people have been killed in gang warfare," he says. "I find it terribly frustrating that our leaders are running around the world screaming peace treaties but they're neglecting a war that's taking place in our back yards."

The group employs former gang members who inspire respect to broker cease-fires between rival gangs.

"It's so powerful and beautiful when you're around people taking control of their lives," he says.

Early next year, Mr. Garity will be seen in a potentially divisive telefilm, "Soldier Girl," which revisits the true story of an enlisted man who fell in love with a transsexual and was killed by his fellow soldiers.

He says the film explores the hotly argued "don't ask, don't tell" standard for allowing homosexuals in the military.

"It's a completely irresponsible and dangerous policy," he says. "I don't know of another issue [in which] both sides vehemently loathe the law."

Should his current projects ignite his career, he says he is prepared for the consequences of fame. After all, he spent a lifetime watching its impact on his parents, warts and all.

"I think fame and success manifest itself into what you want it to be," he says. "I'd rather go this route and do it and say, 'Oh gosh, the burden is too much, let me stop,' than one day die and have regrets."

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