NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University alumnus and celebrated actor L. Warren Young speaks with nostalgia when he recalls piling into a room with other budding thespians during his freshman year at Tennessee State University.
“They had everybody in the speech and drama department to meet in one room. I think it was like 50 or 60 people there, and the instructors were talking to us. Everybody was like ‘Yeah man! We’re going to do this man! I’m going to be a movie star! I’m going to be in this play and get in this movie!’ Everybody had such high hopes,” said Young, who television viewers from around the world can watch currently as the recurring character Fred Williams from the hit TV series Greenleaf. “Out of the 50 to 60 people who were in the room at that moment, I am the only one left. The odds are against you, but you can beat the odds.”
Young spoke in the Strange Performing Arts Building in Rehearsal Hall on April 8. He expressed excitement about returning to Tennessee State University to share with students some of the insights he has learned from being in the acting industry for almost five decades.
“I’ve been in this business for 47 years. I’ve raised a family. I’ve had to do other jobs and things like that, but I’ve always had my eye on the prize. And as they say, I’m not finished yet,” he said.
Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Matthew McConaughey, Meagan Good and Will Ferrell represent just a few of the many well known actors Young has collaborated with on the set of countless TV shows and films including “Daddy’s Little Girls,” “The Blind Side,” “Saints and Sinners,” “Shots Fired,” “The Game, “Bessie,” “Meet The Browns,” “Nashville,” and “We Are Marshall.”
TSU senior professor of theatre and award-winning director Lawrence James said Young’s visit is a tremendous experience for students, as well as the entire TSU campus community.
“It’s good to have beacons of light and success. This is an opportunity for the students to get up close and personal with someone who is a success,” James said. “We are always wanting to have role modes for our students, and to have someone of LaParee’s caliber and success to come and talk to the students should be extremely rewarding for them.”
Young, who entered TSU with a music scholarship and played trombone with the Aristocrat of Bands, also recalls being a member of the T.E. Poag Players Guild and Theta Alpha Phi National Honorary Dramatic Fraternity. He credits many of his TSU professors with teaching him skills he uses as a professional actor.
“One of the major forces in my career as a student was a mentor, and Oprah Winfrey’s mentor as well, W. Drury Cox. He was the one,” Young said. “A very knowledgeable man, a very sound man, a very personable man, and a very caring man. The four years I was at Tennessee State, it was amazing to have him as a mentor.”
Jordan Young, a Nashville native and sophomore marketing major at TSU, said his uncle consistently offered him great advice during his time as a child actor.
“Sometimes as an actor I would get discouraged when I didn’t get call backs, and he always told me to keep my head up,” said Jordan Young.
Jordan, son of actor K. Addison Young, said his father and uncle had a lot to do with him attending TSU.
“They both went to TSU. It was like a tradition in my family that for the first 17 years of my life, we always used to go early in the morning to the parade. I’ve seen the culture around here, and I’ve seen how much they have benefited from it,” he said.
James hopes Young’s visit gives students across the campus a real look at what it takes to be a successful actor.
“Sometimes theatre is looked at as that kind of secondary art form, but now we can look and see all the wonderful movies and TV shows, particularly with young minorities starting out as far as television and film are concerned, with ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Insecure,’ ‘Atlanta’ and ‘Boomerang,’” James said. “All of these are wonderful movies, and others are starting theatre groups. The point is that theatre and the movie arts and television arts are alive, and I wish more of our students would focus there, and discipline themselves academically and artistically to be successes in those areas.”
Young, who emphasizes the importance of doing theatre for developing skills as an actor, said he performed in every theatrical production except for three, during his time as a TSU student. He said students must learn different acting techniques, as well as the business of acting in order to be truly successful.
“Learn what you can at an institution like Tennessee State University that has the facilities to further your career, because those people that have studied and learned the business of this business are the ones that last and have the staying power,” he said. “There are a lot of people that may get into a series today, and you don’t see them in another year, because a lot of times they were just good for that particular role. They didn’t know how to act; they knew how to just memorize lines.’
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With more than 7,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.