For more than 30 years, Hollywood actor Blair Underwood has been a powerful staple in Black Hollywood. As a graduate of Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, the two-time Golden Globe nominee and seven-time NAACP Image Award winner has an extensive series of credits to his name, both on and off screen. However, one of the biggest achievements he’s most proud of is having the ability “to give back and be of service to others.”
Recently, Underwood delivered the commencement address at American InterContinental University (AIU) where he sought not only to inspire but also empower graduates to define success on their own terms.
“It’s not always about what you know but the tools and skill sets you use to navigate through this thing called life. What makes someone successful in their mind by their rules, not societal standards? One of my definitions of success is being truly happy in what you do.”
We caught up with the veteran actor on the brink of one of his final appearance starring as “Blue” in the stage play Paradise Blue. He shared with us his inspiring advice for the 2015 graduating class of AIU, upcoming projects and the indelible mark he hopes to leave behind, both personally and professionally, once its time for his final curtain call.
EBONY: Why did you want to participate as commencement speaker in AIU’s graduation ceremony?
BU: Well, there were kind enough to invite me. (Laughs) Actually, within the last year or so I’ve been looking into an online degree for myself. I’ve had a number of contemporaries and friends in my life who’ve gone on to get degrees and it’s been really inspiring to me. I heard about AIU and became really fascinated not just by the program but how it works. The fact they asked me to be a speaker was and actually is an extreme honor.
EBONY: What were some of the key takeaways you hoped to share with AIU graduates?
BU: I hoped to share four key takeaways that were told to me as a child by my father. He called these the rules of success: Set a goal and decide what you want. Sacrifice and decide what you want to give up in order to get what you want. Find a mentor and learn from them; always listen to those who’ve gone before you. And, finally, create a strategy to help plan your work and work your plan.
EBONY: What quote do you live by?
BU: “Do what you need to do so you can do what you want to do.”
EBONY: How have your educational experiences impacted your professional career as an actor/director/producer?
BU: It’s given me a point of reference with respect to technique, tradition and history of this industry, as well as the craft of acting, television, theater and movie making. It’s really a perpetual education and I like to think of myself as a perpetual student because you really never stop learning. In terms of the formal traditional training I had at Carnegie Mellon it’s given me that foundational barometer and point of reference.
EBONY: When it’s all said and done, what do you want to be remembered for most?
BU: I hope to be remembered by someone who did his absolute best to be a great husband, father, son, sibling and friend. The personal sides of life are the most important to me. I work extremely hard in my career and I love what I do. I’m grateful for the opportunities and I hope to continue to have those opportunities and give back when I can.
EBONY: Are there any other exciting projects on the horizon?
BU: I’m starting back on Marvel’s Agents of S.H. I.E.L.D airing on ABC where I’ll be involved with at least six out of the first 10 episodes this year. It’s a fun gig and I’m excited about it. I’ve actually never done anything before with superheroes, so I’m having a really great time