EBONY celebrates the strength and beauty of Black Men. “Leading Men: A Portrait & Essay Series” features nine Black actors leading the way in Hollywood. Here, actor Will Catlett encourages self-forgiveness to unlock doors of creativity.
Photographed by Keith Major for EBONY Media.
Will Catlett is ready to change the world. The A Thousand and One actor is the founder of Catlett Academy, a community of industry creatives who band together to perfect their craft and collaborate on ideas and projects. “We help artists grow,” he tells EBONY, allowing people to transform into healthy, whole individuals so they can unlock the doors to the careers of their dreams.
Of course, that internal work starts with Catlett himself. Here, he discusses his ever-evolving growth on screen and why a good night out is crucial to mental wellness.
In A Thousand and One, I play Lucky, and I immediately saw his father figure aspect: how can he give the best parts of himself to young Terry? Many of the roles I take are a chance to speak to people through the many layers of my character. I’m still in the process of discovering how my roles shape me. Whether through film or series like Black Lightning or Lovecraft Country, God has gifted me the ability to morph and escape into these parts. I find joy on all levels. I always tell actors who I coach and train that if you go deep, that role will always be a part of you in some way, shape or form. That’s the goal. You want to make sure that it reaches out and touches somebody. I want to make you feel something beyond the screen.
Let’s let us grow, fly and play risque roles and things that you wouldn’t normally see a “Black actor” in. Let’s have that freedom.Will Catlett
We talk about a great Black lead in Hollywood, and I get that we’re trying to bring inclusion and awareness. Still, sometimes, in bringing that inclusion, we perpetuate the stereotype of separation. I want you to see me without a label. Do I know that I’m African American? Yes. But when people see my work, I want you to see an artist. You can see what I look like, and I love my people, but I want to go beyond being stuck in a category of skin color.
I’ve had a few great men and women in my life who have shaped me. My dad spent 44 years in the government—we’re from the D.C., Maryland area. Just seeing him show up and go to work every day, take out the trash, sit at the table and pay the bills with my mom, to watch their ups and downs, their battles and struggles, but still show up, taught me to show up. My parents were divorced from other people when they met, and they’ve been married for over 40 years. I tell people that if you can’t find a ready-made, find somebody with a vision.
The more you look at and accept your insecurities, the more you can be vulnerable and free.Will Catlett
We have so many insecurities about how we look or what was said to us as a child. We must look at that moment and declare that I won’t let those words shape my life. I encourage myself and others to do that self-evaluation. If you go inside, you can regain your identity and strength.
Back in college, I was having a rough time. I was staying with my auntie and my auntie’s husband. And her husband had a girlfriend on the side. I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into coming out to California. That part shook me. I went back home, feeling depressed. The hospital wanted me on Prozac. But, and I’ll never forget, a good high school friend named Donald said, “All you need to do is go out and have a good time.” We went out and had a ball, and that anxiety and heaviness was lifted off of me. Sometimes that’s the remedy; you just got to go out and have a good, healthy time. You got to get out of that other space. Because when you’re in that mental state, it wants to close the world off to you. The key is to say, “I need help” and not be ashamed.
I’ve done stand-up comedy. My first couple of shows were great. And then my last show was terrible. I’m a former poet. My approach to stand-up then was that I could do a different set every night. But you got to work on that material. You can’t invite people out until you get your tight five minutes, and then five turns into ten, which turns into 20 and then you have a special. I look forward to doing it again down the road; maybe give Kevin Hart a run for his money! I’m hilarious and a clown. If you’re around me, you’re gonna have a great time. It’s gonna be fun. And we’re gonna learn and teach. That’s just me by nature because I see the best in people. I’m always in a place of encouraging people. There’s gonna be a lot of smiles and jokes cracking.
I mentor so many people at my academy that need direction. They may think they want to act, but maybe they want to design a better car. One of the things we do is create your forgiveness list because unforgiveness blocks your creativity. You wonder why there’s no money coming while you’re still hanging on to what someone said to you and the hurt from the past. My goal is to get people free. Freedom leads to more creativity with thoughts, ideas and inventions that may change the world. That’s what I’m into.