Antonio Fargas: The Loud Bassoon interview (1999)
by Chillykid

Antonio Fargas may be best known as sly and streetwise Huggy Bear from "Starsky & Hutch," but in nearly four decades of acting he has created an amazing body of character work. From the pitiful pimp Fly Guy in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka to the hilarious transvestite Lindy in Car Wash, Antonio has always been a scene- stealer, though mainstream Hollywood has never really given him his props. He's huge in the UK and the Backstreet Boys love him – not to mention his Sony PlayStation credits – such is the life of a true icon. Currently Antonio is busy putting the finishing touches on his first-ever CD, I'm a Player. The Loud Bassoon's Chillykid rapped with Antonio just after his birthday, touching on his career, country music, and "the whole player game at an international level." Here's how it all went down …


LB: Hey Antonio!
AF: How's it goin'?
LB: Good to talk to ya.
AF: Hey, thank you, thank you.
LB: I should congratulate you on behalf of the Loud Bassoon, on being in our Hall of Fame.
AF: Well man, you guys did me proud.
LB: (laughs) I'm sure it's your greatest honor.
AF: 'Cause it was my sentiments exactly, but you put the edge on it, too. It was cool, you know, to hear, to see that there's similar thought out there in terms of looking at my shit, you know?
LB: Oh yeah.' You're one of our all-time favorites.
AF: Yeah, I'm just representin', and you know, and we'll beat 'em with time. So what do you want to do with this thing, man?

LB: Well I don't know, I mean I figure we just chat about your upcoming album I'm a Player, and you can just sort of tell me a little about what you want to do with it, where you want to go with it, and we can lay down some hype. Why don't you tell me about your role as an international player.
AF: Well, I really believe, you know, that the whole player game at an international level, and bridges that I cross as an artist and characters that I played, give me the validity to be that international player. And I started feeling that real strong when some of what I call the young turks in the business started giving me props … Snoop Doggy Dogg, even 2Pac when I met him … Will Smith … these guys who really appreciated what I represented and how I laid it down in the '70s and 80s. So it gave me an opportunity to see that I had a sense of musical voice, or a rapping-like style, that could represent the player lifestyle, that could drop knowledge on some of the young players as well as use some of the rhythms and beats from the 70s as a bridge, you know, to the 90s.
LB: Right on. So what does it mean to be a player in the 90s?
AF: I think that the 90s player has got to define himself in terms of what he represents today, and if he does it through looking back, then that's cool … I think that the coolest thing that the 90s have got going for themselves is to appreciate what happened in the 70s, that's what makes a player in the 90s hip.
LB: Right. You can't be a true player without acknowledging what came before.

AF: So before the millennium lets out, I'm hoping that the 90s will define itself in terms of what kind of player is on the scene today, and the international player appreciates how we laid it down in the 70s. When I was coming up in the 60s and early 70s, I wasn't looking at what happened in the 50s and 60s, but nowadays you have to give props to what came before.
LB: Well, you're definitely laying it down. I listened to the tracks you have up on MP3.com and it's pretty smooth stuff.
AF: Well the thing is, that's just the tip of the iceberg, that's just a flavor, and that's what's exciting about going the MP3 way, because what I have to offer is something unique to boutique … a new kind of production, so to speak, and it's not your average record company sort of deal. Because of my television and film work, I have, in a sense, an international following that's even greater outside the states than it is here, so it gives me a chance to stay true to what we're trying to put down, and not have to, you know, go too commercial.
LB: How would you describe the style of the music?
AF: My stuff is hard-hitting in a love sense. It's not, you know, graphic, or pornographic, and there's not a lot of expletives in my stuff, even though it represents a hardcore point of view. It's hardcore, but in a love sense.
LB: I see what you're saying. It's definitely pretty sexy. The title track, I think, is great. Is that going to open up the album, you think?
AF: Well, you know, this is still a work in progress … what we put on MP3 was just seven pieces … it's the tip of the iceberg of the inventory that we're building and expanding upon. 'Cause there's some really hot stuff that hasn't been released yet, so we're looking to follow this up with about sixteen cuts for the album when it's totally filled out.

LB: Can't wait. So what kind of stuff are you grooving to? What do you get into as far as the new artists?
AF: Well, you know, I've always sort have been a loner 'cause I feel like I don't define myself by what other people are doing. If anything I define myself by the music that I came up with – Bobby Womack, Otis, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, and Teddy Pendergrass, stuff like that. But in terms of what's happening today, I appreciate what's going on, but the way I'm doing it is not defined by today's artists. Personally, as an artist, I don't go to a lot of movies, 'cause I don't look at what my fellow actors are doing in terms of how they do their work. Hopefully, though, people are looking at my stuff.
LB: Had you ever considered recording an album before, or was this something you took on as a sort of new challenge?
AF: Well, I always knew that I had a musical voice, but I had so much respect for real songwriting and also for people who can what I call truly sing. You know, the people that I've mentioned, who are sort of my heroes. I mean, that's my period. I always knew I had a voice, but this was a new thing, because what I do is combine dramatic spoken word and music. So I've now been able to lend my acting ability to the music, and I love it because what I try to do is create stuff that you would want to see live, it's a live performance …

LB: Have you been able to perform the music on stage yet?
AF: I was able to perform three of my tunes in a mini-concert with David Soul in London, and I worked with a band for the first time. It really felt like I was sort of reborn, because I really felt like the dramatic side of acting gave me … you know the phrase, sometimes it's the singer, not the song. It's the stylizing. I look at each song as a dramatic piece.
LB: You mentioned David Soul – he put out a bunch of albums in the 70s, too. You "Starsky & Hutch" guys must have a musical thing going on.
AF: Well you know, David was the first one to sort of blow my mind when he came out with his hit while we were doing the show "Starsky & Hutch." And that sort of, in a way, gave me encouragement, because here's a guy I knew very well, and it surprised me that he even had a voice like that, you know?
LB: Right, it was a totally departure from his work as an actor.
AF: I saw the dramatic side, I saw him as an artist who worked in television and film and here he had this whole other side – a very talented musician as well as writer and singer. So it gave me encouragement back then for a sense of what I'm doing now.
LB: So what did you think the first time you heard his music?
AF: Well, I knew it wasn't particularly my style, but he just had such a great voice and you know, the simplicity of "Don't Give Up on Us Baby" certainly struck a chord – an international chord because it became such a worldwide hit. And I think that that chord was that he kept it simple, and I feel my music does this too, I try to keep it simple. I try to tell a story, because I think a story is real important, it's what's missing today in some of the hip-hop and some of the contemporary music. Pop music today has missed the story. Actually, I kind of really get off on some country & western music because country & western is saying what black music used to say.
LB: Wow …
AF: You know, like "I lost my baby, I found my baby," stuff like that. We don't have that as prevalent today in pop music.
LB: That's really true, for sure. A lot of the best songwriters now are working in country music instead of pop.
AF: Hey, Dolly Parton is you know, poppin' out stuff and a lot of guys, you know, who have that down-home feeling that blacks have sort of in a sense gotten away from. They've gone away to the hip-hop. There's still some guys who do ballads, still some of that stuff out there, but not as prevalent as it should be all the way through.
LB: And people don't always see that really, country-western is not too different from the blues. It takes a lot from the blues, so it makes sense – it's simple.
AF: Yep, yep. I like that. I like telling a story and I like talking about simple relationship stuff. And player music is definitely about relationships.

LB: Definitely. So tell me a little about this chain of Starsky & Hutch clubs in Europe. American people don't really know about this.
AF: "Starsky & Hutch" is viewed as sort of an icon of the 70s, including my character Huggy Bear. A lot of kids go to clubs, and then when they go they're really into 70s music. It blew me away because I met the guys who started the clubs in London, and in fact I just came back from Cyprus where they have a big Starsky & Hutch club in Ayia-Napa in Cyprus. A lot of young people come to Cyprus from all over Europe, particularly from the UK, it's sort of like the new Ibiza. And a lot of them go to the Starsky & Hutch clubs 'cause they heard about it in the UK and they'd been there … and they're really into it. I have a great time when I go to London, I do some Starsky & Hutch clubs.
LB: So now do you deck yourself out in the old Huggy Bear gear, or what do you do?
AF: No! No, you know, I got my own style!
LB: Of course.
AF: And they really appreciate it, they have a sense that whatever Huggy says is sort of connected to the street, you know, word on the street. And however I dress, I always have my own style, and they think it's pretty cool. I don't have to get into the platforms and bellbottoms … even though it's really quite crazy, a lot of people come to the clubs that way, particularly in London.
LB: Anybody in fishbowl platforms, like Fly Guy?
AF: No, but if I had about 10,000 pairs I could have sold 'em all.

LB: (laughs) Yeah, you definitely made an impression in that one, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. "Pimp of the Year," who could forget it? Actually, I was going through your filmography and it's amazing – you've had such a varied career, I mean you've been in everything, every type of movie …
AF: That's true, and you know it's interesting, many people only remember "Starsky & Hutch." Television is the most powerful medium in the world. More people can see you in one night on television than even go to the movies, or certainly to the theater, in a month. And I really sort of believe in the sort of feudal system in art, and right now I'm a, not a lord, but I'm ready to become a master. You can tell my work in film, television, and theater at this stage that I have a well-rounded experience and a real strong basis in the business. And I feel real strong about where my craft is at.
LB: Personally, I think you're incredibly underutilized for as talented a person as you've proven yourself to be.
AF: Well, you know, I think that's so spiritual, because if I didn't think on the spiritual tip, I could be real frustrated. I mean, I'm right where I'm supposed to be, and in a sense I totally agree with you, but at the same time I think that after 39 years, people still don't know much about who Antonio Fargas is. Which gives me a lot of legs in the business and a lot of ways to express myself – my company, Bump It Productions; also through my theater work and my film work as well as my television work.

LB: So do you find that you're sort of typecast in the public eye, or in the industry?
AF: I think … you know when you do something very well, and I have no problem being what I equate to, like Jimmy Cagney, or Clint Eastwood, who does one thing very well, and is known for that. But even within the genre that I'm so-called "typecast" in, you know, I've played gays, I've played pimps, I've played lawyers, I've done a lot of things within the character – I'm a character actor, not a leading man, and I don't aspire to that, you know? I just aspire to be good at my craft and even within the genre that I'm allowed to be utilized commercially, I still think there's a lot of room for variety and depth.
LB: And you seem to get props not only from the black community, like the documentary The Celluloid Closet even featured your character from "Car Wash."
AF: Right! You know, a lot of actors now are trying to earn their stripes by saying that they have the commitment to go there now. A lot of times you see actors who play gay roles and you always can tell that they're saying that "this is not me, I'm only acting that." And to really be it, to go there, you know, is the soul of the artist. Let people think, maybe that is the case … I pride myself in getting deep into my characters and really going for it.
LB: That pays off, because everybody seems to have a different favorite character that you've portrayed, you know. And It cuts across to different types of people, I mean the gay community really points to your Car Wash character …

AF: Yeah, and Next Stop Greenwich Village too. You know, it's incredible when you have the variety of people that come up to me, from all generations – I've had judges, basketball players, you know, hip-hop generation, people from my generation – all saying that they enjoyed some segment of my career in terms of what they might have grown up with. And it's amazing when people say "I grew up watching you on 'Starsky & Hutch'" – you know, that means something, because during your formative years the things that impress you last a long time in your memory. And I have a lot of strong memories, you know, of characters and times – the time that I spent on screen and on stage. So do people who saw it, they remember.
LB: Absolutely. So is there a role that you'd really like to do that you haven't been able to do in your career?
AF: Well you know … I don't like shopping unless I have money, you know what I mean?
LB: (laughs)

AF: I like the niche that I'm in, I'm not uncomfortable with what I'm doing. But I've also done Shakespeare, I've done a one man show about Toussiant L'overture the Haitian, on stage I played Emporer Jones. So on film, certainly I'd like to score some more character stuff. Sure, I'd like to play a cop, a judge … whatever's out there.
LB: You're getting to the point in your career where you're kind of becoming an elder statesman to the younger kids that are coming up now, you know …
AF: Yeah, I mean, there were some guys who laid it down before me and now through time and longevity and survival, I've done the same thing for some other people. All I want to do is have people pass that on, you know … I have a legacy to pass on. It can be downloaded at some university some place or just one on one with people on the street. So many people have come up to me at times and said, you know, "When I came to Hollywood" – One guy who's doing a TV show – a writer, you know, and it's quite popular right now – he said "When I first came to town, I met you at a barber shop and you gave me a lot of hope and inspiration and support, and I wanted to thank you for that." Another guy stopped me one time and said "You know, I really want to thank you because, many years ago my sister came to Hollywood," and she wanted to be a star or something like that … starry eyed dreams, you know? And I told her, hey, I think you should go home, you know, and do something else. And she did. And that was what worked for her. So it's nice to be able to get that kind of feedback on a one-to-one basis. I still try to do that, because you never know who you'll meet.
LB: That's true.
AF: You meet people, and they could be the next Spielberg, they could be the next Spike Lee. In a sense, through my work, I helped Keenan Ivory Wayans get where he's gone. At the same time he's done something for me. He appreciated what I did. And he's gone on to do great things.

LB: You were definitely an essential part of that film, and he's obviously gone on to great success since then. What about some of the other people you've worked with?
AF: I did another film way back called Putney Swope
LB: Mm-hm, that's Robert Downey.
AF: Yeah, it was a classic. I remember Robert Downey Jr. running around in diapers when were doing that movie. And that was a little before some of the classics – Car Wash, and of course, Shaft. I mean, I'm quite proud of my body of work.
LB: You know, one that stood out that I'd never even heard of before, and I was a little curious about was a version of Huckleberry Finn with Ron Howard.
AF: Yeah, that one I played Jim Young, with Ron Howard!
LB: What was that like?
AF: I was very proud of that.
LB: And Donny Most was in it?
AF: Yeah!
LB: And Merle Haggard.
AF: Yep.
LB: That's a weird cast.
AF: That was a wonderful production.
LB: Yeah? Was that a cinematic movie, or was that TV?
AF: It was a movie made for television, and a guy named Robert Totten, who used to direct "Gunsmoke" directed that, and he was really good. The guy that directed Across 110th Street, Barry Shear, he was the one who directed the pilot for "Starsky & Hutch," hooked me up, that's how I got that job.
LB: Wow, and the rest is cinema history.
AF: Yep.

LB: (laughs) So do you have a Huggy Bear doll?
AF: Yep, I still have a couple of them left.
LB: Wow, that's pretty special. You know you've made it when you're converted to doll form.
AF: Yep, and there were two other things: being on Hollywood Squares was like a milestone in my career. The other thing is, a long time ago, in like the early 80s some people came over from Holland and asked me to do a song. I recorded a Christmas song.
LB: For real?!
AF: Yeah, and I went to Amsterdam, and I recorded the song, and when I was over there doing some promotion, I went to a bar, and the bartender said, "Oh, it's Antonio Fargas," and he went over to the jukebox and punched up my song on the jukebox.
LB: Oh my God!
AF: That was like a milestone – here I was, I mean, it was like the first time I saw myself up on the screen, you know, me with and all these famous guys, but I was on the jukebox. That's even before Bump It – so it was sort of a natural progression to now, and I feel real strong and comfortable about trying my musical expression today.
LB: Are you gonna do videos and stuff for the album too?
AF: Well, you know, I think that we have the capabilities of doing that, and since our stuff is really so visual, it's an easy thing to do, it's all there. So yeah, we're looking forward to using every means necessary to promote what I'm doing musically.
LB: Now, you've been in a bunch of music videos for other artists … I know you mentioned Snoop Dogg, and you were in one for Master P …
AF: Yeah, and Tony Toni Toné … I did the Backstreet Boys video "Backstreet's Back," and they asked me to be in their next video, in fact I'm shooting that tomorrow. So it's nice to be able to get into, you know, some of the white pop music as well.
LB: You have such a diverse audience. You're the kind of character actor that comes on and just instantly lights up the screen. Like, every time you're on the screen I just get in a good mood.
AF: Yeah, I mean, I've been in movie theaters when people didn't know I was there, and when I come on the screen, there's a whole murmur that goes through the audience. That makes you feel good when you have that kind of identity, where people can identify with you in a positive way, artistically, you know … that they got enjoyment out seeing your work.
LB: That's got to be a great satisfaction.
AF: It is. It almost beats money.
LB: (laughs) Almost.
AF: (laughs)

LB: So speaking of money, was this you in this Sony PlayStation commercial?
AF: That's right!
LB: How'd you hook up with that?
AF: Well, the theme of the "Driver" game is like a 70s car chase, like from 70s cool television shows, so who better to represent that than Antonio Fargas? And actually the game is the #1 game in the UK and also now in the United States.
LB: Wow, you ever play it?
AF: Oh yes, it's brilliant.
LB: I haven't played it, but I was instantly interested when I saw that you were on the commercial.
AF: And they're talking about doing a "Driver 2," and I should be associated with that also.
LB: That's terrific. Anything else on the horizon we should know about?
AF: I'm going to be doing the Music of Black Origin Awards, hosting the aftershow in London, on televison, October 6. In a sense, modestly speaking, I've taken the UK by storm. It's really interesting that in 1965 I did a play called "The Amen Corner" by James Baldwin at the Edinborough Festival, and the respresentative of who managed the Beatles at the time saw the play and brought us back to London to play on the West End. I think my ongoing saga is not only revival – I don't think I've ever gone anywhere – but survival, it's just been real constant. But I've sort of taken the UK by storm and I've worked on a few projects for television over there, as well as some of my musical projects.
LB: Yeah, I heard you're working with Beenie Man?
AF: Yeah, I did a track with Beenie Man and Adam F over there … he's like the Elvis of drum'n'bass.

LB: Well, it's definitely great talking to you, I wish you the best of luck with the album, I think it's a great direction for you.
AF: Hey man, I really appreciate talking to you, you know, much success with your ventures and any time you want to drop in on us, we'd like to keep you updated on what we're doing.
LB: Very cool. Oh, and by the way, happy birthday.
AF: Thanks a lot man.


Images kind courtesy of bumpit.com