By Charles D. Springfield
“Some people have that je ne sais quoi/ I don’t know, but you just have to look back/two times, two times,” sings Amel Larrieux in the song “Trouble” from her CD entitled ”Morning.”
That’s exactly what I thought when I first saw Stephen Tyrone Williams cross my television screen for the first time. One Saturday afternoon, I was watching a collection of film shorts dealing with the theme of unrequited love.
Each film in the collection showcased a varying degree of the bitter sweet pain. The infatuated characters inhaled each love interest so deeply into their beings as if he or she were the oxygen needed to continue breathing. But viewers of the films were quickly shown the dark reality of the situation. Watching the characters not being loved the same way in return, not being available or being totally invisible to their love interests can send painfully shocking waves through one’s veins powerful enough to stop even the healthiest of hearts.
Three shorts into the collection, amongst a backdrop of clear skies, deep waters and brown sugar-colored beaches, Williams’ character Romeo appeared on screen in the film “Float.” There was something about Williams, a je ne sais quoi (I don’t know what) “thing” about him. In appearance, he resembled a young Sidney Poitier. His on-screen presence was cool and unaffected similar to that of Leonard Roberts (“Love Jones” and “Heros”). And he delivered his lines with the eloquence and homespun wisdom of a Maya Angelou.
This guy had something special and I was instantly a fan. Thanks to modern technology advances like Facebook, I made contact with Williams and kept in touch via a series of status updates and direct emails. I soon learned that he was one of the African Warriors in Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” video, “Float” was being turned into a full-length film called “Children of God” and that he was an all around nice guy who loved his family, especially his son.
So when I learned that the first New York City screenings of “Children of God” were taking place at NewFest, the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Film Festival presented my Marc Jacobs, I had to secure my ticket and contact Williams for some additional information.
Filmed in the beautiful Bahamian islands, “Children of God” is Kareem Mortimer’s debut feature which takes a close look at the lives of three people trying to survive in a homophobic and violently repressive island nation. Jonny is a young white gay artist who recently lost his inspiration, putting his art school scholarship in jeopardy. In an attempt to clear his head, he travels to the serene island of Eleuthera, where he meets a black musician Romeo, played by Williams. Under the ever-watchful eyes of the judgmental island-dwellers, Jonny and Romeo embark on a steamy secret love affair that puts both their lives in danger. Meanwhile, Lena, a jaded preacher’s wife, initiates an anti-gay crusade on the island when she finds out her own husband has been sleeping around with men. As Jonny and Romeo fall deeper in love, Lena’s quest to rid the island of gays picks up steam and, together, the three stories barrel towards a dramatic conclusion.
Turning a film short into a full-length feature film can be riskly, but Williams said the writer/director and crew were thrilled at the opportunity. He said one of the biggest reasons it was expanded was because many fans of “Float” wanted to know more about the characters and what made them tick.
“From the beginning, people wanted a full version of ‘Float’,” Williams said via telephone while wrapping up a production of “Fences” in Syracuse. “Because of the time limit of short films, there’s only so much you can show to tell a complete story. I was excited about going deeper and finding out more about the character and why he does what he does.”
Another thing he enjoyed about being involved in the production was that he was part of a platform that attempted to show how similar people are, whether he or she is black, white, gay or straight.
“We tried to show the common thread between all the characters,” Williams said. “There is just so much hype about how different we are as people. We are more alike than we like to think. And at the end of the day, we are all children of God.”
To Act or Not to Act, That is the Question
Williams began acting while in high school. But he said it was something he fell into. A friend suggested that he give it a try because it was “FUN.” The friend was right. Williams initially had a lot of fun. Then acting started to transition into something that carried a lot more weight for him.
“It wasn’t until I saw August Wilson’s characters from ‘Fences’ that I saw characters that related to me, my family, my uncles,” he said.
Acting got very serious for Williams after attending the International Thespian Festivial while in high school, an annual week-long theatre festival that brings together U.S. high school theatre clubs, thespian troupes, and programs. Organized by the International Thespian Society, it is held annually in late June on the campus of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in Lincoln, Neb.
“I used it as a litmus test,” Williams said. “I really didn’t know if I could do it…become an actor. If it went well, I decided I would pursue acting professionally.”
Well, the rest is history. After much strong nudging by his high school drama teacher, Williams went on to earn a bachelor's degree from the University of Alabama in Theatre and Communication Studies. He has performed in feature films and stage plays all over the United States, the Caribbean and Africa. Williams has collaborated with filmmakers: Simon Henwood (Kanye West), Michael “Boogie” Pinckney (Spike Lee), Keith Davis (Yale), Edward Morgan (Cirque du Soleil) and Tim Bond (Syracuse Stage) to name a few. He has also walked the boards at Market Theatre-Johannesburg and Seattle Repertory Theatre to Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and the Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Sky's the Limit for a Superstar
In the entertainment business, making comparisons from one artist to another is common place – especially if there tends to be a resemblance. Williams began receiving comparisons to Sydney Poitier when he was still in high school.
After hearing it too many times to count, Williams decided to see who this Poitier character was. It wasn’t long before Mr. Poitier became one of Williams’ biggest influences because of Poitier’s universal appeal and ability to break down certain doors for African American actors and African Americans. He is also inspired by James Dean, Marlon Brando, Denzel Washington and Jeffery Wright. And being an all-around artist, he also is motivated by the artistry and passion of Nina Simone and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Williams doesn’t want to make predictions about his future as an actor. He is taking on acting one role at a time, pushing himself to become a better storyteller and seeking stories and themes that are universal.
“People in general set up expectations on how far people go,” Williams said. “Positive people motivated me to just go and see what happens. I feel grateful for that and to have been acting for this long.”