Best known for the tough-as-nails Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman,” Lou Gossett Jr.’s five-decade-plus career has seen him act in dozens of films and TV shows including “Iron Eagle,” “Enemy Mine,” “Jaws 3-D,” “The Principal,” “Stargate SG 1” and many, many more. Prior to his Academy Award-winning turn in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” the New York native also starred in the landmark TV miniseries “Roots.”
Now 81, the thespian continues to act, with four films in 2017 alone and even more scheduled to bow in 2018. I caught up with Mr. Gossett at The Hollywood Show, an autograph convention in Los Angeles, where he reflected on the role nobody wanted to the recent “Roots” reboot and his newest passion for directing.
Question: What is the best part of meeting your fans?
Answer: It’s a reconnection. You get to get a sense, a good assessment, of what they think about you. One [photo op] is 20 tickets at the box office.
Q: Do conversations with your fans affect role choices you might make in the future?
A: You have to feel out your fans, see what their favorite things are. Then you kind of look for something that will keep on pleasing them. The next time they see a film with your name, or see a TV show with your name, they turn [to] that one. They are emotionally involved in your career, connected.
Q: What is the most common thing they say?
A: They pick up on what I’ve always been trying to do for years: versatility. They say, “You’re good at everything. Different characters.” Whether I play a villain or a hero doesn’t matter. That is a fan, a long-term fan. And I appreciate them.
Q: Has versatility been the decider in what roles you play?
A: Yes, so I’m never typecast.
Q: Was there a role you wanted but didn’t get?
A: I don’t know. I’d have to think about that. I got one that nobody wanted.
Q: What role was that?
A: “Enemy Mine.” Nobody wanted it because you couldn’t see your face or your eyes. Five and a half to six hours in makeup, that’s a challenge.
Q: Was that your most challenging role ever?
A: Yeah. I feel that I took the “Lon Chaney Sr. challenge”: cover up with all kinds of makeup and still connect with an audience.
Q: Looking back on your career, do you have any favorite roles and films?
A: A lot. “Roots,” “Enemy Mine,” “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Q: What did you think of the recent remake of “Roots?”
A: The redo was good, but it wasn’t lightning in a bottle like ours was. We broke the mold.
Hollywood has to let more ideas in the door instead of doing remakes. There are so many untold stories out there. So many people don’t know about their history or their lives because it has not been on the screen.
Q: What do you have coming out?
A: I’ve got five movies coming out. And I start directing my next movie.
Q: What do you find more challenging, the acting or the directing?
A: Directing is a challenge now because it’s new and very exciting. It’s going to take me twice as long to prepare to direct a film than act in it.
It’s exciting. Life is really exciting.