Rick Fox: Fair and Balanced
Ulrich Alexander Fox was born in Toronto on July 24, 1969 but raised in the Bahamas by his Italian-Canadian mother and father from the Caribbean. At the age of 13, Rick decided to pursue his passion for basketball, and moved to Indiana, since the Hoosier State is so closely associated with the sport.
After high school, he went on to play for four years at North Carolina under the tutelage of the legendary Dean Smith. That apprenticeship served Fox well, as he ended up being the first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1991 pro draft. The 6’7″ forward went on to spend 13 seasons in the NBA, enjoying a storybook career which included a trio of championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers.
And his private life proved to be just as much of a fairytale, when he eloped with former Miss America Vanessa Williams in 1999. Although the union would not last, it did at least produce an adorable daughter, Sasha who is now 7, and an enduring friendship.
So, between sharing custody and Rick’s enjoying a recurring role as her character’s bodyguard on her hit TV-show, Ugly Betty, the couple has remained on good terms. He also has a son, Kyle, with his college sweetheart, Kari Hillsman.
Since retiring from the NBA in 2004, Fox has turned his attention to acting full-time, appearing in such television series as Love, Inc., One Tree Hill and Dirt, where he played a homosexual on the down-low. Now, on the big screen, he’s landed a breakout lead role opposite Angela Bassett in Meet the Browns, Tyler Perry’s new movie.
Here, Rick reflects on his new movie, the NBA, the NCAAs, Vanessa, fatherhood, Obama and being bi-racial.
KW: Rick, thanks for the privilege of a few minutes with you.
RF: No, my pleasure, man.
KW: What was it like working with Tyler Perry, my pick as the best black director of 2007?
RF: Being a writer/director, Tyler is very hands-on, and very graciously allowed me to play a character he could have played himself. I’m grateful that he entrusted me with the role, and gave me a big opportunity in the process. And having watched his work, and now actually having worked with him during the process of shooting this movie, personally, I don’t think there’s a more dedicated person when it comes to storytelling and having his message delivered to his audience. He’s obviously been tirelessly working for a number of years on the stage, as well as in movies and on TV, and I love his humble approach of consistently challenging himself and wanting to get better as a director.
KW: What would you say is the message of Meet the Browns?
RF: I think that with all of Tyler’s movies, there’s definitely a sense of faith and hope that there’s something greater than ourselves that is out there in terms of support. This particular one deals with a single mother who’s facing a lot of challenges in her life, and who has maybe lost hope that there’s any support out there for her. She finds it in the South in her family that she didn’t even know, along with a man who’s trying to move through his own personal struggles. And on the love relationship side of this, they both step out of their fears of beginning again to each other. So, I think it’s just a message of faith and hope that, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in, there’s still more out there for you, as long as you continue to push through.
KW: Landing the lead role of Harry is really a breakout opportunity for you. Were you at all awed by the challenge of acting opposite Angela Bassett?
RF: Oh, totally. [Chuckles] There’s definitely a long line of deserving and more talented individuals who are waiting to work with a talent such as Angela. But having taken my hands off the wheel a long time ago, and not thinking I’m controlling this path in life, I was blessed to be in this situation. I was definitely in awe for a period of time, but it’s like getting thrown into the deep end of the ocean. Eventually, you have to start swimming. [Laughs]
KW: So, how was it working with her?
RF: She really was like a life preserver out there for me. She was not only gracious and open, but teaching and sharing.
KW: I like how Tyler is so gifted at creating characters who resonate as recognizably real.
RF: Yeah, Angela and I experienced our characters that way as we continued talking to Tyler and worked through his vision of them and the message that he wanted to bring. There was a certain truth and realism that we wanted to have evolve out of the story. And it was easy to find as we went along, because his voice just rang through so passionately and so clearly.
KW: I have to talk a little about basketball with you, given the Lakers’ resurgence and that Carolina is the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament. I wonder how many people know that as a teenager you played basketball in Indiana. Were you named the state’s Mr. Basketball while in high school?
RF: I was close, runner-up, but I did learn how to play the game there.
KW: Well, you certainly led a charmed life after that, playing at Carolina, being drafted by the Celtics, and then winning three championships Lakers. What was that like?
RF: Honestly, I couldn’t have scripted it any better. To have come from a small island in the Bahamas and to experience all of this is definitely a plan greater than my own imagination. I’ve learned to just accept the blessings and thank God for them, even here where I find myself working with Tyler after he nearly ran me over by accident with his car on Sunset Boulevard. I’d never met him before that incident and shortly thereafter we’re discussing a role in one of his movies. Serendipity seems to be a theme in my life in a lot of ways.
KW: And you married Miss America, too. I interviewed Vanessa for the first time last year and I was just so impressed with how grounded, sane and intelligent she was.
RF: Well, I’d have to say that I definitely have to credit being married to Vanessa with any growth I’ve had in the course of my life. We’re still close friends, sharing and having conversations about our lives and raising our daughter together. She’s been very influential in helping me grow as a friend and former husband. I appreciate and value that so much because, like I said, she’s been a huge reason why I’ve made great strides.
KW: Will your character, Dwayne, remain on her TV-show Ugly Betty long-term?
RF: We’ll have to see. I know I’m still there, alive and kicking for now.
KW: Who are you picking in the NCAA tournament? I’m just about to fill out my brackets and could use a little help. Let me guess, your alma mater, Carolina?
RF: [Laughs] Yeah, what was that, a stab in the dark?
KW: And who do you like to win the NBA championship? Let me guess, the Lakers, even though they lost to Houston which is on a helluva roll.
RF: Well, I’d like for them to get healthier, that’s for sure. And then they’d have a really good chance of creating that Eighties and early Nineties run that their fans got quite used to enjoying, including the Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan was curious about where in L.A. you live.
RF: I live in Westwood, in UCLA country.
KW: And bookworm Troy Johnson was wondering: What was the last book you read?
RF: I’m reading a great one right now by John Truby called The Anatomy of Story. But the last one I finished was A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Would you describe yourself as happy?
RF: Am I happy? I’m very happy, yeah.
KW: Is there a question nobody asks you, that you wish somebody would?
RF: Wow, I love that question. That’s a good one. I think I’d regret throwing out an answer to that one without giving it some thought. That’s a powerful question, man.
KW: I’ll ask you that next time. Who are you supporting for president?
RF: Being Bahamian, and having lived here all my life, I’d have to say that I recognize the historical ramifications of a Democratic change, whether it’s a woman or a black man. Personally, I would like to see Obama win, but I don’t think we would lose as long as either of those Democrats wins.
KW: Since you have a black father and a white mother, do you think you might have a special insight into Obama?
RF: Yeah, though I haven’t read his book, I definitely connected with the way he was raised, like I have with a lot of friends who are bi-racial and looking for a way to effect change in general. I’ve known some who’ve felt that the hope for the future of the world rests with the views of kids who’ve grown up in bi-racial marriages. There’s a tolerance that you see in folks who’ve experienced both sides, in some cases many sides, and come from multicultural backgrounds. Their perspective is not so polarizing in a black and white way.
KW: How do you deal with the fact that you have both a black and white background, yet when you walk down the street, people see you as only black?
RF: That doesn’t bother me. I have a comfort zone in whatever setting I’m in. People might perceive it as being naive, but even when I was the only black kid in high school, I never saw myself as anything but a human being trying to get an education. In the NBA, it was interesting watching the reactions of fans or coaches when my dad would come to visit me. They’d be shocked because he was dark-skinned. Then, they’d see my mom who was as white as the beaches in the Bahamas. It was always intriguing to watch the reactions. My teammates were much more comfortable than some of my coaches when my mother showed up. The different reactions gave me an insight about how various people viewed the world. But, personally, I found myself in the middle and was always comfortable, regardless.
KW: Because you were just you, and your parents are you parents, I suppose.
RF: Yeah, it’s like how Eckhart Tolle discusses in that book, A New Earth. He talks about how people lose the experience of taking-in a human, a bird, a flower or a tree because they’re living on the superficial level of labels. Instead of really stopping to take-in a person fully, they take in the label. I think that what I was blessed with by being raised in a bi-racial family is that I took in people and things as I experienced them as opposed to saying that’s a black man, that’s a white man or that’s an Asian man.
KW: I thought it was pretty moving after the South Carolina primary when the Obama supporters started chanting “Race doesn’t matter!”
RF: There can’t help but be more and more change, because more and more people have grown up around an interracial relationship. From that standpoint, it’s no longer such a rarity in this society, where most people, just a generation before wouldn’t even consider entering one, out of fear.
KW: What’s up next for you?
RF: Spending quality time with my son and my daughter during Spring Break is my focus right now.
KW: Well, Rick, thanks again for the time, and hope to speak to you again soon.
RF: Wonderful. Thank you.