Russell Hornsby: World Citizen
Actor Russell Hornsby is one of Hollywood’s hottest stars and leading men, but the role he enjoys playing the most is his own.
There are few professions on Earth as volatile as acting. On the surface it may appear glamorous, but it can be tough, brutal, lonely and soul-crushing at the same time. One moment you can be feted as the King of Hollywood, the next you’re filling the 3 a.m. slot on a local telethon in Biloxi. Sustained longevity in the craft takes a range of abilities, awareness and a passionate dedication to its artistic nature — attributes that Russell Hornsby has in abundance.
The 47-year-old actor was born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland with his younger brother and is amongst the leading pack of the next generation of American actors with his starring role in the new hit drama series BMF (a.k.a. Black Mafia Family) from executive producer Curtis (50 Cent) Jackson. Hornsby brings his considerable talents and observations on life to his role in the series, which debuted as the No. 1 premiere on the Starz app this year.
“I consider myself a world citizen and an observer of people and I’ve been that way my entire life,” says Hornsby in a recent interview with Dolce. “What happens for me as an actor is when I meet certain people, I take their essence and spirit and file it away. When I met an old man who was a sanitation worker, and he talked about his trash route, I listened to the way he talked, his tone, observed his body language. So, when I read a script, images waft over me and I start to hear voices, of how somebody is going to talk or walk, hard-working men who work with their hands. That created a different type of man than today’s man. I’m not always a thinking person, but I’m a feeling person and I carry myself with empathy for everyone I meet. So, when I get roles as everyday hard-working people, it’s me trying to honour them and their level of dignity and integrity as the backbone of this country.”
Having attended an all-boys catholic school in Berkeley, California, Hornsby is candid about why he entered the acting profession. It was not part of some grand vision or plan or guiding inner calling, but to meet girls. “It was on a dare that I auditioned for the school play when I was 16, as it was that cliché that there would be plenty of girls there from a sister’s school, and that was very enticing,” recalls Hornsby. “And I literally got bitten by the bug. That flare to be in front of people felt like I was at home.”
Married and now the father of two children, Hornsby has been one of Hollywood’s busiest leading men for more than two decades, recently turning in award-winning performances in films including The Hate U Give, Creed II, Fences and starring on the NBC fantasy drama Grimm for six seasons and on the Netflix crime drama Seven Seconds opposite Regina King. Hornsby was recently cast to play the well-known boxing promoter Don King in the Hulu series Iron Mike, and up next is the film CHASE opposite Gerard Butler and a recurring role in the hit Netflix series Lost in Space.
Though previously named as one of Variety magazine’s “10 Actors to Watch,” what shaped Hornsby’s career and life the most were his early acting days on stage in August Wilson’s Jitney, with other cast members 20 years his senior.
“I Consider Myself A World Citizen And An Observer Of People And I’ve Been That Way My Entire Life”
“I was only 24 years old at the time and I like to call those years my ‘master’s in life,’” says Hornsby. “It was because of those beautiful people who had lived already, who had faced the world head-on and had been knocked down to some degree, but who had gotten back up to tell the story. They were able to say to me the stuff out here is real and it’s hard, but you will have the opportunity to make something happen for yourself if you commit to it.”
While his passion for his craft is evident, it is Hornsby’s intellect, informed by his many years of observing life and people, that is most impressive, especially his insights on community and culture, shaped by his years immersed in both.
“Community brings and helps develop culture, as it brings a better understanding of culture in where you came from and what you are willing to represent as you go forth,” observes Hornsby. “When we were kids, we all came from a certain community that helps develop us and grow, and in that you’re creating culture, and culture dictates and impresses upon you how you’re going to see the world, how we think and what we’re going to be perceived as. So, you take that nucleus of what we got as a child and you take that community with you, along with that culture, to another community, which is going to be a part of a different culture, and these mesh together and develop you in a different way. So, it is important you know how to identify community, not just people. My wife and I look at our kids now to figure out what culture and community they will be a part of to ensure they will make a positive impact on society.”
Actor, society leader and world citizen are three impressive credits to any name, and Russell Hornsby is making a positive impact on the screen and off, just when we need it the most.
Interview by Estelle Zentil