An Interview with Neal Ghant, Star of The Mountaintop
By Diamond Do’zia
DD: Although you are making your Aurora debut, you are a very distinguished actor. What are some of your career highlights and interesting things Aurora audiences should know about Neal Ghant?
NG: WelI, with career highlights I would have to start with Freddie Hendrick Youth Ensemble of Atlanta where I got much of my professional theatre training. I started acting in church plays, and people were like, “Hey you should consider this.” I always thought it was just something fun to do, but much of the training that I got was really on the job. I didn’t go to school particularly to do this work. I just jumped in and learned on the job. For highlights, some of the pieces that I enjoyed the most was American Buffalo which I did at Southwest Art Center with True Colors, about a year and a half ago. Also One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at The Alliance a year or so ago. Fortunately I’ve just been able, since I’m older and continue to do more work in town, the roles have been coming in a little more accessible and acceptable, as typified by being here at Aurora playing Dr. King. Hopefully that can be an added highlight in my career.
DD: What were your thoughts when you were offered the role?
NG: My initial thoughts when I was offered it was, I was so happy to find that Eric J. Little was directing. He’s a friend of mine, we’ve been friends for a long time. I’ve been onstage with him as a performer as well, so with him directing that was certainly a plus. Of course also working alongside Cynthia D. Barker, of whom I’ve known for seven or eight years. We’ve worked onstage together quite a few times. I’m glad to be getting the opportunity to work with friends, and come to the theatre and see how fantastic this place really is. The drive is a small consequence for what we’re doing here.
DD: In this script, playwright Katori Hall focuses on the man rather the myth or public perception of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How has this influenced your approach to the role? Why is it important for us to explore such an influential figure through this lens?
NG: Well I think Katori wants to remind people that there is still a long way for us to go, just as a nation, which includes all the different races, cultures, and creeds that inhabit America, but specifically for black people. I think choosing Dr. King, you’re automatically preloaded with ideas and concepts that people are going to bring with them. When you talk about Dr. King, you’re going to be talking about racism and things of that nature, so that’s there. For me personally I feel that there is still a ways to go and that we do need to revisit love, compassion, understanding, and the fact that America has yet to achieve the goals and dreams of many civil rights leaders throughout history, and even til this day we’ve yet to get there. So it’s as relevant as anything. In the piece we talk about how do we fight a war in Vietnam but not fight the war against negroes in our streets. You can fast forward and say well how do we fight the war in the Middle East and still not fight for the war against negroes in our streets. It feels like that sometimes, especially with the deaths that have taken place on our streets, whether it be economic deprivation that causes black people to suffer or police influence that causes people to suffer. I’m not saying all police are bad however, I think it’s very important because it was taking place and it has been taking place on our streets in this country since black people got here. I think these things are very relevant to talk about in plays, on tv, and on the radio. I just think it’s time that black people, particularly, unite and start building for themselves.
DD: Is there something in particular that inspires you about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy?
NG: Absolutely. The man himself inspires me. I’ve been studying the man, and the more I learn about him the more his viewpoints about love, togetherness and ultimate sacrifice is inserting and inspiring. It makes me think do I have that in me? If I were put in the same situation that he was would I have the strength and the constitution to mentally and physically to go through what he did. So, that in itself is inspiring to me, that blows my mind everytime I think about it.
DD: Many people have seen footage and films about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Do you believe experiencing this particular live story will impact audiences differently? What do you hope audiences will take away from this show?
NG: I hope it impacts people, positively or negatively it’s not for me to call, but in the end by the time you walk out of the theatre I would hope that people would consider him more outside of the way he is presented to us in books, and the news. He was a man, and because of his upbringing he was truly the right man for the job. Hopefully they will take a renewed sense of his purpose and also get to know the man he truly was. If we can open that door, or open that curtain to his inside, people will have a little more empathy and understanding.