Born in The Bronx on March 3, 1954, Robert Gossett landed his first professional gig soon after graduating from high school in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest at the MercerArtsCenter in Greenwich Village. From there, he went on to perform in Lloyd Richard's Broadway production of Fences, Hal Scott's A Raisin in the Sun and Donald McKayle's The Last Minstrel Show. His other notable theater performances include Manhattan Made Me, Sons and Fathers of Sons, A Soldier's Play and Colored People's Time, all of which were performed with the famed Negro Ensemble Company of New York. Gossett's accolades include an NAACP Theater Award for The Best Performance by a Male and the Dramalogue Best Actor Award for his stellar work in Indigo Blues, directed by his wife, Michele. In film, he has starred with Jeff Bridges in Arlington Road and with John Travolta in White Man's Burden.
And on television, he has appeared over the years on such series as The Cosby Show, Amen, Cheers, L.A. Law, Bones, Charmed, and ER, and opposite his first cousin, Oscar-winner Lou Gossett, Jr., in a made-for-TV movie, Ray Alexander. But today, Robert is best known as Commander Taylor on The Closer, TNTís hit crime drama starring Kyra Sedgwick.
Here, he shares his thoughts on his career and on about the show which recently started its fourth season.
John Travolta in White Man's Burden
KW: Hey, Robert, thanks for the time.
RG: Thank you for taking the time.
KW: Congratulations on The Closerís being renewed for its fourth season and on the showís receiving such high ratings and so many accolades. Has the success of the series come as a surprise?
RG: At the risk of sounding arrogant, let me say ďNo,Ē only because I read the scripts, I know the show and the people involved. You see Kyra Sedgwick. Sheís a consummate actress at the top of her craft. The success validates it, but itís not a surprise, because when you take the caliber of writers we have and put Kyra at the top of a talented cast, youíre going to have something to reckon with.
KW: Is your personality in real-life at all like that of your character, Commander Taylor?
RG: I donít think so, but my wife might say, ďYes.Ē [Chuckles] I donít know. Donít we all have those parts in us that can be petulant, petty and jealous? At times we all can be churlish, rude and obnoxious, too. I think Taylor is like that because his powerbase was threatened, usurped actually, when Brenda [Sedgwickís Character] came on board from outside the police department, and got the job that he had really campaigned for. When power is challenged, it reacts. Power and the absence of power are going to be the overarching themes this season.
KW: Where in The Bronx did you grow up?
RG: The South Bronx.
KW: What high school did you attend?
RG: The High School of Performing Arts.
KW: So you knew you wanted to be an actor at an early age.
RG: No, I went there as a music major. But I was certainly exposed to acting there. At that time, not many people in the South Bronx thought of acting as a viable career choice. I started acting when I got a summer job at the Everyman Theater Company with the Neighborhood Youth Corps.
KW: I have a cousin, Maurice Sneed, who became an actor who got his start in a similar type program with the Har-You Act, which stood for Harlem Youth.
RG: I remember Har-You. I worked in the office there on 125th Street. Small world. Isnít that something?
KW: And you got acting work soon after high school?
RG: From Everyman Theater Company, I got a role in the off-Broadway hit One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest down in The Village. I worked that for a year. Then I went to the AmericanAcademy of Dramatic Arts for two years. After I graduated with honors, I joined the Milwaukee Repertory Company, and then went back to New York where I spent five years with the Negro Ensemble Company. Theater is really my base.
KW: Is your wife, Michele, still working in theater?
RG: Yes, she teaches at the AmericanAcademy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson is curious to know, what was the last book you read?
RG: The very last book I read was The Prophet by Khalil Gibran.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
RG: Yeah. [Laughs]
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
RG: I want to be remembered as a loving, understanding father.
KW: How many children do you have?
RG: I have three kids altogether. One from my first marriage, a daughter whoís an adult. And two kids with Michele, ages 10 and 12.
KW: Great ages.
RG: And theyíre great kids. I would hope not to mess them up. Thatís why I said ďloving, understanding father.Ē I hope I have the patience to allow them to have their thoughts and to be who they are, and not try to pressure them to be like me. Iíd be happy with that.
KW: ďRealtor to the StarsĒ Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
RG: I live in The Valley, the Sherman Oaks area.
KW: Howís your cousin, Lou, doing?
RG: I just spoke to him, in fact. I was doing a TV interview here in the hotel and the phone rang and I was interrupted by Lou. Heís shooting a movie in Pittsburgh. He was calling to invite me to a Barack Obama event in California.
KW: Are you going to attend?
RG: Oh yeah! You know I want to see the man.
KW: How are you and Lou related?
RG: Weíre first cousins. Our fathers are brothers.
KW: Did Lou influence you in terms of your interest in acting?
RG: Lou definitely influenced me, as Iím sure he has influenced many other actors. Heís one of our pioneers, as far as Iím concerned, alongside Sidney Poitier and that ilk.
KW: And heís one of just a handful of African-Americans ever to win an Oscar [for An Officer and a Gentleman].
RG: Exactly! That in and of itself establishes him as an icon, but of course Iíve still been able to call him anytime, so heís been a tremendous resource in terms of decision-making.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
RG: I tell people, ďIf you want to do what I do, go find a community theater, and volunteer. Go find an acting class and enroll.Ē If you really love acting, youíll want to act. Thatís what I did. You donít look for any payday, because the likelihood of a payday is slim to none. Iím 54 years-old, and Iím just now working at a high-profile job. The same acting I do now, I did for free. [Laughs] If you love what you do, then itís not work. So, Iíve never really worked. I can honestly say Iíve never worked a day in my life. That is cool.
KW: Is there a question nobody ever asks you, that you wish somebody would?
RG: What effect am I having on this world?
KW: Okay, what effect are you having on this world?
KW: Now you have to answer it.
RG: You are bad. Iíll get you for this. Oh my God. Let me seeÖ I conserve energy. I just got a Prius. For three years Iíve been mentoring a kid, a child whose name is Kenneth. Weíve embraced him with love in our family. What effect am I having on this world? Iím not sure yet. I have my worries, doubts and fears, but the way Iím trying to effect the world is with positive, right action.
KW: That sounds good. Well, thanks again for the interview, Robert, and best of luck with the fourth season.
RG: Thanks for your support. Iíll see you out there.