Underwood Sr. That’s the key thing to understand. Why do we salute? Respect. When you don’t salute, there’s a message there.
Your father just said that he saw your performance and said, “That’s what I would do.” That must be source of immense pride.
Underwood He’s seen me play so many characters in 35 years, some very bad. It’s nice when you can play a character aligned with his values, because I respect those values.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did the two of you have about racism?
Underwood I have to tell you, we didn’t talk about it a lot. We talked about it in terms of, “You are an African-American. You are a black man.” My dad taught me when I was 10 years old: “Everything you do as a black man in this country is a political statement. Everything you do. Not what you say.” The way I’ve built my life and my career, I don’t need to talk a lot. It’s what you do. I’ve always known and understood that excellence is the best deterrent to racism, period. That’s how we were raised.
Underwood Sr. There’s an old saying in the military: “You lead by example.” That’s what I always tried to do with my men in the military.
I’m sorry, I have to ask this in good conscience, Blair, otherwise my fiancée might pre-divorce me. During the second act, there is a moment during a monologue when you’re getting dressed and the crowd goes wild. Was this moment planned?
Underwood What’s planned is that the script says the character is getting dressed. You can never plan the reaction.
Were you surprised by it?
Underwood I was the first time. Maybe the director knew something I didn’t know. During rehearsals, I just have two buttons unbuttoned; I’m thinking about my lines. When we moved from the rehearsal hall to the stage, the director, Kenny Leon, said, “Blair, this is a real note, don’t laugh. I think you should just unbutton a couple of more buttons, because I think some people in the audience might appreciate it.”