By: Janice Dayle
Basil Wallace spoke candidly and with unassuming grace about his artistic journey, fickle Hollywood and his latest movie "Blood Diamonds" in which he plays a major supporting role. Possibly best known for his breakthrough appearance as Screwface - Stephen Segal's ruthless co-star in "Marked for Death," Wallace embraced his part in the "Blood Diamonds" tale of glitter and gore with a sense of responsibility for facilitating the re-enactment and hence awareness of harsh realities facing Africa's diamond mining industry. "Historically Africa has been a hotbed of exploitation of not only resources but also the manpower of indigenous people who live there...this is a gloomy and unfortunate past, but at the same time the world is hopefully becoming more aware," Wallace said.
Likening the writers of "Blood Diamonds" to traditional story tellers such as those who perpetuated African and Caribbean folklore like Anancy stories, Wallace had words of admiration for the their polished methods that held true to a common quest. "It was the writing that I enjoyed upon introduction to this movie," Wallace affirmed, explaining that like many others, these storytellers' mission is to teach especially children valuable moral lessons. "I think the cold, greed moral of the "Blood Diamonds" story that director Ed Zwick pursues is as honest as can be while it still remains a tale," Wallace explained. Although not a true story, a compilation of real issues shaped the characters of the film set on a backdrop of the 1990's civil war in Sierra Leone.
South Africa became Wallace's home for seven weeks as his scenes were all shot there. He said, "Africa was full of hope from my vantage point - I am very proud of the transition there." Wallace conveyed immense optimism, saying while the past remains indelible in the young, rocky nation, South Africa is moving forward towards a brilliant upcoming generation.
This sentiment defines a view that has gained Wallace the distinction of being bestowed with an honorary doctorate. His penchant for imparting knowledge gained through decades of experience in theatre and film led Wallace through intensive experiences of not only personally sharing with students of film craft, but also developing a curriculum. "The doctorate came from that exchange with United Negro College fund and other historically black institutions in Texas where young minds are working with people who look like themselves." Wallace thinks it is an excellent opportunity to make himself available for questions and answers in this way.
"I can only give back, since this was done for me," Wallace explained as he praised his life long teachers starting with his parents and grandparents - and going on to describe the invaluable lessons taught by friend and former co-star Sidney Poitier. "It has been a good passing of the torch process. As my generation's dad, Mr. Poitier is the man who set the tone for the bar we all try to reach," Wallace said. Thrilled at Poitier's willingness to share and his successful longevity that withstood tough times, Wallace stated, "He was able to keep his head on his shoulders, his wits about him and his sense of humour. Those were tough times - because Hollywood does not always invite us to the party, we have to make sure that we are not left out of the party."
Born in Kingston, Wallace lived near Spanish Town until leaving Jamaica as a child. Returning often, he once taught at Jamaica's School of Drama. In reflecting on his decades as a performing artist, Wallace explained how his natural dramatic intelligency was unearthed, when forced to perform a believable piece as a child, trying to avert harsh punishment after being naughty. Wallace, who plays Benjamin in "Blood Diamonds" most recently appeared in the family comedy "Like Mike." After his 1987 feature film debut in Robert Townsend's "Eddie Murphy Raw," he amassed film credits to include, John Dahl's "Joy Ride" and Dwight H. Little's Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home." On the small screen Wallace has had guest roles on numerous series like, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "The West Wing," "ER," "Judging Amy" and "NYPD Blue."