Hollywood By Way of Surry: Antonio Charity talks about his life as an actor, love of Surry County

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: Oct. 2, 2017 | 12:00 p.m. 

Chris O’Donnell, LL Cool J, Antonio, and Michelle Trachtenburg together on the set of NCIS LA

SURRY – It’s a long way from Surry County, Virginia to Los Angeles, California, but tv, movie and stage actor Antonio Charity has never forgotten his roots. In fact, he recently revealed that through years of developing roles in shows as varied as Gray’s Anatomy, The Wire, and Sons of Anarchy, his love of his Surry County roots has only grown deeper. Recently he described from his current home in L. A. how he feels about acting, how excited he is about his most recent role in Seth MacFarlane’s “Orville” series on FOX, and how he feels about his family back at home in Surry.

“What I do is storytelling,” he said. “I love it. I feel it is extremely important. And it comes with a great responsibility because I know the power of a story – of picking characters. We are molding people’s attitudes and values about issues.   Television and film, even more so than music, help to change attitudes about things. This is why I think it is important. It takes a conscientious and responsible person to do it right. Otherwise, you’re creating wrong attitudes and ideas about things. To me, it’s almost like ministry – a way of educating and informing people.”

“I love the actual performance – creating characters,” he continued. “In theater, I’ve gotten to create all kinds, but film and tv are all stereotyping. I choose characters because whatever character you’re looking for, this guy can do it. I remember Phil Jackson referred to Scotty Pittman as a ‘fill in in the blank’ guy; you could put him almost anywhere in the court to fill any role. And that’s how I want to be seen. Give it to Antonio and he can do it.”

His versatility is well documented through all the diverse characters he has portrayed since he graduated from Howard University and took up acting as a profession, but his love of the work began earlier – right in Surry County – when he joined the Surry High School Repertory Company as a freshman in 1987.

“My former drama instructor at Surry High, Wiley Powell, Jr, was the first person to inspire me to pursue this as a career – the first person to make me think that I could actually do this,” Charity explained. “I kind of believe that this is something God intended – that it would have happened somehow. But Mr. Powell was the vehicle – the tool to inspire me to do this. We did a one-act play – “If it doesn’t hurt, it ain’t love” – and Surry High had advanced at least seven years to the state level in competitions. There was another student three years ahead of me and I’d heard how good he was since I was in elementary school. Well, he got into trouble and couldn’t do it when it was time to advance in the competition, and I got the role he was supposed to play – as a replacement. And after I did that first play, people were so exuberant and so excited and congratulated me so much – I liked the feeling.   One judge said to me 3 times – ‘Pursue it – pursue it – pursue it!’ I actually quit playing football to do drama club.”

“Coach Bear,” he continued, “my former coach, gave me a big ole bear hug after that performance that he’d never done on the field. Coach bear being so excited, the judge so encouraging – these were both so good. But when I heard Mr. Powell say, ‘He was better than Greg ever could have done,’ and Greg was legendary? Those are the most inspirational words I’ve ever heard to this day.”

Charity went off and majored in theatre after high school, then came home to Surry to work at Gwaltney’s and Kings Mill Resort in Williamsburg to save up money to finance a move to New York. After nine years in New York, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lives now with his wife, Tige [TIE jee] Johnson Charity of Baton Rouge, Louisiana – founder and executive director of the foster kids’ acting and film-making organization Kids in the Spotlight. And Charity described the joy of their life as their five-year-old daughter, Ebony Jewel, who has her own youtube show featuring her cooking with her proud dad.Then Charity shared something that revealed a great deal about his own character, saying, “Through the years away from Surry County, I always anticipated being invited back to the school. And when they invited me to speak at the Surry County High School Graduation in 2014, that dream was realized. And what I had told my wife for years, I shared with that graduating class: ‘I have been writing my speech for 15 years now – keeping a list of things I wish I had known at their age – things I have learned over the years.’ I would say to my wife so many times that one day this is what I’m going to tell the kids. I just hope that I can somehow inspire them as Mr. Powell inspired me.”

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Now, Charity, the youngest of James and Emily Charity’s 12 children, somehow finds time to help Tige as a volunteer with (KITS) in between developing all the widely varied characters he portrays. When asked about some of his most recent roles, he rattled off an amazing list.

“Well, I recently filmed a Lifetime movie with Toni Braxton, FAITH UNDER FIRE, based on the true story of Antoinette Tuff who talked down a gunman at an elementary school in Atlanta about 4 years ago. That will air sometime next year,” he said. “And a few weeks ago I guest starred as a music mogul supposedly based on Suge Knight on the Amazon series GOLIATH, starring Billy Bob Thornton. That won’t be released until next March. In December a sci-fi indie film I did, called ALTERSCAPE, will be released. I played the District Attorney in the indie film THE LYING TRUTH, on Amazon, and guest starred in the recently released Netflix series GLOW. And I did two films that are on Netflix now – HUNTER GATHERER, and the family film LIFT ME UP. I also did voice-over and motion capture work in a new video game that’s being released next month. It’s real cool seeing my digital image in a video game! But I’m not supposed tell you which game it is until after it is released.”

Charity then shared his enthusiasm about his guest starring role in Seth McFarland’s new FOX series, The Orville, which aired last Thursday.

“I haven’t been this excited about a job in many years,” he said. “A lot of tv stuff is not that substantial; you do it because it’s a paycheck. But this is a really great character – very well written. A very meaty role you can really get your teeth in. I joke with people and say like Matlock, Perry Mason and Claire Huxtable all rolled into one. It’s from Seth MacFarlane who did Family Guy and the Cleveland Show – a comedian – basically Star Trek with comedy. My character name is Advocate Kagus – a recurring role, God willing. Right now, it’s a one guest star, one episode situation, but if people respond favorably they can always bring him back.”

In spite of his many successes, Charity said that there are two things about acting as a career that he does not like.

“Not working,” he said first. “People look at my resume and reel and say ‘Wow, you’re doing great!’ But you’re looking at 20 some years of stuff. There’s a lot of time between roles. It’s a financial struggle. And it keeps me away from home.”

It’s obvious that he means his Surry home – not the current one in L.A., when he describes the second drawback, saying, “I love Surry County. On Halloween of 1995 I left with a U haul, and I have been homesick every single day. Since my daughter was born, I try to get home every chance I get. I want to get her closer to family – that’s how much Surry means to me.   I grew up on Hog Island Road out in Surry County, and I remember being happy – eating good food all the time – and playing in the woods a lot. I just wish I could give my daughter the life that I had.”

Copyright 2017 by Womack Publishing
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