Walker, Eamonn 1961 (?)–
Walker, Eamonn 1961 (?)–
Eamonn Walker 1961 (?)–
Eamonn Walker, cast as Muslim activist Kareem Said on the HBO perison drama Oz, is one of just a few black British actors to find steady work in North America. Trained on the stage, Walker has performed in roles ranging from Shakespearean prince to cutthroat urban schemer, but he chooses his parts with care. Like the wise Said on Oz, the actor attempts to use his position to instruct. “I’m trying to reach people,” Walker told Christian Science Monitor writer Lisa Leigh Parney. “My stuff isn’t about money or fame. I’m trying to improve who we are, using the medium of television.”
Born in the early 1960s, Walker grew up in the Islington area outside of London, of parents who were Trinidadian and Grenadine by birth. He considered a career in social work, but while taking courses at school he auditioned for and won a spot in the Explosive Dance Theatre Company. An injured leg caused him to re-evaluate his performing options, and he turned to acting instead. One of his first choice roles was as a punk rocker in a London musical, Labelled With Love, which helped him win a steady role in the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) television series In Sickness and in Health in the mid-1980s. Walker made his film debut in a little-seen 1991 production called Young Soul Rebels but in 1994 his performance helped Shopping, which paired Jude Law and Sadie Frost as car-crasher thieves, garner good reviews.
By this time Walker already had a number of solid stage roles to his credit, having appeared with the Citizens Theatre of Glasgow, Scotland in productions of Antony and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. For a time, he ran his own theater company, Flipside, with a friend. In the mid-1990s he came to New York City to audition for a role in Oz, a gritty new drama series planned by HBO, the premium cable channel known for its well-written, Emmy-award-winning original programming. Walker was cast in the role of Kareem Said, a black Muslim leader in the prison. The Oz part required him to lose his British accent, but Walker enjoyed working on a television project whose writers were allowed to create highly nuanced characters. Walker’s Said is a calm, sometimes rigidly upright man who attempts to be a role model for other prisoners, but the character develops over time. Walker told Parney in the Christian Science Monitor interview that at first Said “seemed to have a direct link to God, and this man refused to let prison get to him. But slowly, but surely, prison got to him. Everybody has a breaking point, and he broke.”
In Oz Walker was cast alongside such actors as Ernie Hudson, B.D. Wong, Rita Moreno, and Zeljko Ivanek. The show, though known for its on-screen brutality, nevertheless won critical acclaim. “The sharp racial divisions, the predatory homosexuality, the unceasing tension between guard and inmate, the tendency to prey on the weak-willed and the utter lack of trust and security are all dramatized in [Oz] with an uncanny level of believability,” opined Variety’s Ray Richmond.
Since relocating—at least for some months of the year—to New York, Walker has also enjoyed steady work in feature films. He played Dr. Mathison in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable in 2000, and was the
Career: Member, Explosive Dance Theatre Company, London, early 1980s; made London stage debut in Labelled With Love, 1983; appeared in the BBC silcom In Sickness and in Health, 1985-87; made feature-film debut in Young Soul Rebels, 1991; regular role in the ensemble drama Oz for HBO, 1997-.
Address: Office—c/o Home Box Office (HBO), Inc., 1100 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6712.
choice of actor Laurence Fishburne to play a pivotal role in his feature-film directorial debut, Once in the Life. Fishburne had based the screenplay on his 1994 stage play Riff Raff, and took one of the leads as Mike, a sharp, street-smart denizen of New York’s Lower East Side. Mike meets his white half-brother, Torch, in a holding cell in jail on a minor charge, and the two plan a money-making deal involving a drug heist. The scam goes badly, and the brothers take refuge hide in a squalid hideout; Walker was cast as Tony, who is hired by the drug kingpin to find them. Independent Sunday journalist James Mottram called the film “a bizarre marriage of theatre, film and poetry that somehow defies all earlier hood-movie conventions.”
Walker, who is married to a writer and has three children, has also continued occasional acting work in Britain. He took the lead role in Othello, an acclaimed production for London Weekend Television that aired on American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations in January of 2002. The work was a contemporary version of the Shakespeare play about a Moorish prince of the same name who becomes embroiled in jealousy and treachery during the Venetian-Turkish conflict in the Mediterranean Sea in the 1570s. Walker had been offered the role on three other occasions, as he told Parney in the Christian Science Monitor, but had always declined it, feeling that he “didn’t have enough life experience.”
The updated Othello, set in contemporary London, cast Walker as John Othello, the city’s first black police commissioner. Ben Jago, his subordinate, is played by Christopher Eccleston in this version, while actress Keeley Hawes played Dessie, Othello’s wife. Dessie hails from a wealthy English family, and her marriage to Othello has made the couple media celebrities in England. The plot hinges on an episode of police brutality and Othello’s advancement to commissioner; machinations by Jago and racial tensions endanger the couple. “Walker creates a convincingly strong, impassioned Othello,” noted Caryn James in the New York Times, who termed it a work “about love, race and politics [which] resonate[s] with meaning for our own culture.”
Walker has modeled his career after that of Sidney Poitier, the first African-American actor to win an Academy Award for best actor. Walker was particularly impressed by Poitier’s 1967 performance as a police officer in a racist Southern town in In the Heat of the Night. He saw the film first when he was just nine years old, he recalled in an interview with Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service reporter Gail Shister, and remembered an actor of “great dignity and intelligence who handled a particular situation. I had never seen it handled like that before by a black man—on screen or any other place. He was, to me, a role model.” Working in an entertainment industry where positive roles remain scarce still, Walker conceded in another interview that things had changed in recent years. “From the time when I became an actor, it’s improved,” he told Mottram in the Independent Sunday (London). “Is it right yet, where I can say I have equal opportunities with my fellow white actors? No, it’s not. Is it getting that way? Yeah, it is. But other things need to happen.”
Young Soul Rebels, 1991.
Once in the Life, 2000.
In Sickness And In Health, BBC, 1985-87.
The Bill, 1988-89.
Oz, HBO, 1997-.
Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2002, p. 18.
Daily Variety, April 19, 2002, p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter, January 28, 2002, p. 16.
Independent Sunday (London), September 2, 2001, p. 9.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 10, 2001.
Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2002.
New York, January 7, 2002, pp. 62-63.
New York Times, January 21, 2002.
Variety, July 14, 1997, p. 34; October 30, 2000, p. 22.