Actor, producer, playwright, businessperson and Centre alumnus David Greer ’92 (pictured below, right) certainly has an impressive resume, and now he can add an appearance in Tate Taylor’s James Brown biopic “Get On Up” to his long list of accomplishments. In the film, Greer goes on a date at the famous Apollo Theater with actor Jill Scott’s character, Dee Dee, who eventually becomes Brown’s second wife. Greer’s latest play, “Hour Farther,” hits the stage next month in Connecticut and New York City. We recently sat down with Greer to talk music, movies and memories of his beloved alma mater.
1. Tell us about your appearance in “Get on Up” and how you landed the part. Have you always been a James Brown fan?
I’ve been a James Brown fan all of my life, as have most Americans, because his lyrical, music, dance and music business innovations have become dominant DNA strands in the popular music culture of the last 50 years. Mass media tend to focus on Mr. Brown’s many imperfections. What they fail to capture is that James Brown was a shoeshine boy from the backwoods of South Carolina who became an entrepreneur, humanitarian, culture creator and global iconic force whose genius and determination inspired and attracted millions worldwide—from paupers to presidents.
Getting the part as Jill Scott’s character’s date in “Get On Up” goes back to fall 2010. An associate of mine and I had been trying to get a meeting with the licensing manager of James Brown’s music rights in order to propose a Broadway musical about Mr. Brown. I pitched my project in February 2011 and the licensing manager was impressed, but told me that they already had a script about Mr. Brown for the screen. He did, however, ask me if I would leave my day job to join him, Mick Jagger, Brian Grazer and others to produce the film! As much as I wanted to join them, that was a move I could not afford to make and had to very painfully decline. I did brainstorm a few ideas for the movie with one of the producers and assisted one of the film’s casting agents. So the part with Jill Scott was, in part, a byproduct of those relationships.
2. What was filming a movie like? Did you enjoy working with the other actors and director?
My experience with the cast and crew on set was like one big extended family. Everyone was absolutely as gracious as they could be. Since the movie’s star, Chadwick Boseman, and I are both students of James Brown, we had several conversations about Mr. Brown and his story between takes. Jill Scott was an absolute charmer also! Imagining myself at the Apollo in the 1960s, while Mr. Brown and his band are performing “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” before he steals my date was a surreal experience.
Also, there are a couple of facts about the film and Mr. Brown that intersect with me and Centre. First, the movie’s opening scene occurred on my birthday, September 24, 1988. Secondly, Mr. Brown’s first son, Teddy, died at the age of 19 in a tragic car accident in 1973. Mr. Brown mentions in an autobiography that earlier that same year, he had enrolled Teddy at Centre College to start class that fall.
3. How do you manage to juggle a successful business career while also pursuing your interest in theater?
I’m always working and when my body isn’t, my mind is. I love it all. There are synergies in terms of skill sets between pitching strategies and business cases in the corporate world, and developing and pitching projects in the theatrical world, but you can’t do them at the same time. I have used late nights, early mornings, weekends, personal days and holidays to get it all done. And it has definitely come at a cost. James Brown has a song called “Paid the Cost to Be the Boss.” I’m not trying to be “the boss,” but if I ever get the opportunity to produce a Broadway musical about him—or some other dream projects I have—it’s going to take that kind of attitude.
4. How would you say your experience at Centre prepared you for your future or “opened doors” for you in any way?
Centre gave me so many opportunities to learn, to lead, to create. To study at places like Stanford for the summer, the American University in Cairo, Egypt, as a Rotary Scholar and to be president of the Black Student Union. I have an enormous debt to administrators and staff who always supported me, like Tom McKune, Dr. Bruce Johnson, Dr. Phyllis Passariello, Kathy Barbour and Dr. Milton Reigelman. I grew up in the small town of Oakland/Three Forks, Ky., adjacent to my grandparents’ farm, and neither one of my parents went to college and my mom didn’t get to go to high school, but they always supported me. At Centre, I got used to feeling like I could do anything I set my mind to and enter any door like I already belonged.
5. What advice would you give to current Centre students who have a variety of interests like you but are unsure how to pursue them?
Set your goals and just go for them. Aim for the stars and you will at least reach the mountaintop. Plan your work and work your plan, but don’t be afraid to change your plans if it is not working out, as the road to success is often filled with failures. Don’t be afraid to network with those who are doing or have done what you want to do. Lastly, money may make you comfortable, but it will not buy you happiness.
Greer is pictured above with Tate Taylor, director of “Get On Up” and “The Help,” at the world premiere of “Get On Up” in Augusta, Ga., Brown’s hometown.
Photo credit: Ryan Wehneyer, Chronicle Media.