Paul Pryce: From Oprah to the Stage
When Oprah (yes that Oprah) met Paul Pryce in 1999, he was Paul, the young Trini trying to make his mark in the modelling world. Appearing on “The Oprah Show” for the “Sexiest Island Man” contest, in the Bahamas, he won the hearts of viewers, with his charm, wit, and six-foot-three striking look, copping the title “King of the Caribbean”, and bragging rights as the sexiest man in the Caribbean.
He then went on to book modelling gigs in New York and Paris, and complete his bachelor’s degree in management and marketing at The University of the West Indies (St. Augustine).
Exactly three weeks ago, Oprah caught up with Paul on a segment where she was chatting with former guests to see what they’re up to a decade later. This time, she met Paul – actor, writer, and producer – building a new model for his life.
Based in Connecticut, having recently moved from New York City to attend school, he’s now in his first year of studies for a Master’s of Fine Arts at the prestigious Yale School of Drama, on a full scholarship. This 32-year-old is in good company. Yale has produced actors such as Angela Bassett (“How Stella Got Her Groove Back”), Sanaa Lathan (“Love and Basketball”), Paul Newman (“Road to Perdition”), Meryl Streep (“The Devil Wears Prada”), and Chris Noth (“Sex and the City”).
With plans to run his own theatre company and film production company, he’s not waiting for opportunity to fall in his lap. He’s creating it. On a recent trip home to Trinidad, he held a viewing at UWI to generate interest and raise funds for a documentary titled “Undocumented”, which he’s writing and producing, with his writing partner and fellow actor Christian Hogarth, and American director, writer, and producer Ron Morales. A dramatic television series, it chronicles the hidden lives and stories of undocumented immigrants living in the United States of America. Born to a Jamaican father and Martiniquan mother, this Trini draws on varied island experiences to colour his stories, and so far the response to this developing work has been positive.
Here’s what he had to tell Outlish about his journey thus far.
O: Trinis most commonly know you as the guy who won Oprah’s Caribbean’s Sexiest Man competition, and as a model. You’ve also done some acting at home. How do you define yourself now?
PP: My days of modelling are over. I’m still a bit involved, but to a much lesser degree. Right now it’s all about acting. I’ve been acting for the last five years, and I’m now also venturing into producing and screenwriting… Finding the money and getting it done. Getting the crew. Getting the stories you want to tell. That’s the new direction for me because you can’t just be the actor anymore. You’re the producer, the director. That’s how the more popular ones do it. They’re producing and writing their own material. I’m a big Tyler Perry fan for his business acumen and drive.
O: Tell us about “Undocumented”.
PP: This series seeks to go beyond racial and cultural stereotypes by discovering human truths in a particular community, ethnic group or individual, as they wrestle against obstacles while they attain their dreams. It explores many perspectives of the ‘illegal immigrant story’. The journey to America, the challenges of assimilation, the severed relationships and the new ones formed, and the reconciliation of what America’s promise truly means. There are an estimated 20 million undocumented immigrants living in America. This series seeks to portray them for who they are, representing them honestly. So far, the response has been good.
O: How did you decide to expand your direction?
PP: Creative control. Work begets work, so you always have to be searching for the next role. It’s not always the best actor who gets recognised. It’s the one who’s always working. I wanted to create my own visions and create roles I want to see for myself, especially in the US market, being a Black actor. Being a Black West Indian you can’t wait to have another “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” to get your big break. You create your own avenues to get into writing and producing, and you just have to keep at it.
O: How hard is it trying to make it out there?
PP: Just being an actor trying to make it is hard in itself. While roles have opened up in theatre and film for ethnicities, it’s still limiting, but every encouraging. I think once you’ve created your own avenues for yourself, you stand more of a chance not only, if you’re a good actor, but if you’re also a producer and an actor, so when one end kind of stops, you’re always creating so you have options for work. There’s no real difference between whether it’s hard out there as a Black actor or Black West Indian actor. It’s hard period.
“It really comes down to whether you believe in yourself.”
O: You’ve done modelling and marketing, and now you’re onto acting. How have all of these experiences prepared you for where you’re heading?
PP: Actually, the one’s thing that’s prepared me the most is swimming, having swum competitively for almost 12-15 years. I was on the national team in my teens, while I was attending St. George’s College. Swimming teaches you real discipline, mental discipline. Training with Anil Roberts, training under that pressure, it prepares you. I remember I was kind of swimming at a point. I was being a mediocre swimmer for years, going in and dropping out. And then I made up my mind that I could do it, and compete at a high level. It was like overnight I made that decision to do it.
It really comes down to whether you believe in yourself. You get that confidence. It’s a psychological transformation, that belief in self that you can tackle anything. Swimming is very mental, like all sports. It makes you mentally tough. That’s helped me as an actor, because you’ve got to really believe in yourself. A lot of the good athletes are very mentally tough.
O: Where do you see yourself heading?
PP: World domination (laughs). Honestly in terms of creating great art, mastering my craft as an actor and writer. Creating the stories I want to tell. Our stories. West Indian stories. And creating an empire of sorts.
O: For you, what goes into storytelling?
PP: Imagination. I think that’s critical to creativity, expanding that. I see myself getting to the top of the pile home and abroad.
O: How do you balance being back and forth between New York and Trinidad?
PP: I miss my mom. So I always miss home for that. I’m very connected to Trinidad. I also feel it’s important for every young person to leave Trinidad. People are easily fooled by things because they haven’t had that exposure. Seeing what the standard is and seeing what other people in the world are thinking can influence you in a good way. I’m away, but I’m always thinking of home. My hope is to be between here (home) and there (the States).
“There’s a fear factor in our older generation for risks.”
O: What’s your take on how the arts is revered in T&T?
PP: Trinidad has a lot of talent and untapped potential, but Trinidad is a conservative society. The arts have been in the slums for years. That comes from the society. Pan, calypso, and mas’ are not revered and respected. There’s a lack of respect for the arts period… in Trinidad…. in the Caribbean, I’d go so far to say. Whereas abroad you have museums and galleries and they herald their playwrights and artists, here, if you give thought-provoking work, it doesn’t get recognised. And it’s also related to the leadership of our parents, who don’t see the potential of the arts, which is a reflection of the society. There’s a fear factor in our older generation for risks. I understand why a parent might want their child to follow a ‘safe’ route, but it has to be balanced.
O: Your studies with Yale. How did that come about?
PP: I felt like I’ve been acting and I went to HB Studio, which was a great foundation school, but I felt like something was missing. You go into theatre and you see certain actors and you feel like he has something that you don’t. I always say you’ve got to choose a craft and be a master. I want to be a master. To do the kind of performances I want to do, I feel that I want to do that intense training that only the best can give.
O: There are other great acting schools. Why Yale?
PP: There’s Juilliard, and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England, but Yale is the best… one of. So I thought I’m going to go to that school. That was the only school I applied for. I wanted go there and nowhere else. The auditions were rigorous. You go through a series of nine stages. It’s rumoured to be about 2,000 applicants, and they choose 16 for their class of actors. It’s extremely competitive. And I prepared. I had an acting coach, a singing coach, and a voice and speech coach.
You prepare four monologues – four classic, two contemporary dialogue – and you perform for a panel over and over, over a few days. Then they bring you back in the final audition for 30 persons. Then they carry you to the campus at New Haven, Connecticut. You see productions, faculty, the school and the culture. You get to see if this is the place you want to be because you have to accept them the same way they accept you. That place is magic. The faculty is extremely generous. They want you there, and are excited about what they do. I feel if you go there, you can do anything.
O: This is your first semester. How’s your Yale experience so far?
PP: Being at the Yale School of Drama is amazing. It’s been a completely blessing being here with all these talented young actors, directors, dramaturgs, playwrights, technicians. Every aspect of the theatre is covered so you get this mixing pot of people in various disciplines working together to create art every day. The faculty are some of the most renowned in their field and they are so generous with their knowledge, they are truly investing in us all and expect great things from their students, not in terms of fame and fortune at all, but in terms of being leaders in the field and creating true and honest art. Every day is unexpected. Every day they throw something new at you, to test your tolerance of the unknown. Every day is another challenge. You have to bring your best every day; it’s expected of you.
O: What other projects do you have going on, besides the documentary?
PP: I’m also writing a feature length screenplay based in Trinidad. That’s all I’ll say for now. I’m still working on the treatment and talking to producers down here who are interested in pushing it. Trinidad has immense talent, and I plan to stay connected to home.
To stay in the loop with Paul, and check out some of his work, visit www.paulpryce.com.
Photography by Mark Lyndersay of http://lyndersaydigital.com. Mark is a professional photographer and writer working in Trinidad and Tobago since 1976. His column on personal technology, BitDepth, has been continuously published since 1995. He is currently pursuing a photo essay series about how Trinidad and Tobago pursues its culture and festivals called Local Lives. Both series are archived on his website at http://lyndersaydigital.com.