Muscular, deep-voiced and imposing in presence, Ving Rhames has made an impression in the more than 50 movies and several dozen television episodes in which he has appeared. This week, the Juilliard-educated actor best known for Pulp Fiction, Dawn of the Dead and the Mission: Impossible movies takes on a regular series role in the TNT medical drama Monday Mornings, aptly airing on Monday nights.
It's based on the best seller by Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN fame and centers around the weekly morbidity and mortality meetings where doctors analyze cases that went awry and assign blame when necessary. Rhames is the hospital's gregarious trauma chief.
What kind of guy is Dr. Jorge Villanueva?
He's divorced, estranged from his son and is into having one-night stands. He hangs out in a sleazy bar outside of work. You'll find out things about him that I believe make him more human. There are a lot of layers to him that make him extremely vulnerable and strong.
What kind of research did you do?
Before we did the pilot, I went to a couple of hospitals, spoke to a couple of surgeons. Funny, years ago I did a recurring role on ER, but I was not a doctor.
You have a busy film career. What was behind your decision to do a television show?
I was traveling a lot. My son is nine and my daughter's 11 and I sponsor a kids' basketball team. I had to find the time and a balance of being a dad and work. I got offered a few series, two I was really considering. The writing on this was better than 95% of the movie scripts I read, especially for an African-American actor. I think the show is trying to say something about mankind, man's inhumanity to man, power. Are doctors gods? Here they're held accountable. It has many more colors. That's what attracted me to it and why I'm doing it. I think my work has to stand for something. I have [accepted] and will accept huge paydays to be in Mission: Impossible 5 or whatever — that's escapism — but what it comes down to is what my great-grandchildren will be watching when I'm gone and what great-granddaddy stood for.
That's important to you?
Yes. This role is a positive, strong Black man and kids don't see that often. A lot of times the characters are not fleshed out or are not in shows at all. Kids need to see reflections of themselves on television. In general, the images of Black men on television are not strong or positive. A lot of times they're watered down or made more palatable for middle America. I've been able to cross over, thank God. But it's up to us to change the industry. The Cosby Show had positive images but how long ago was that? If it's not Denzel or Will Smith, who else is there? We need strong, positive Black images.
How and why did you start coaching youth basketball?
I started the basketball team because of a kid that my son played with — his pregnant mother was murdered by a rival gang that was after her boyfriend. I grew up very poor in Harlem, in the ghetto. My parents were sharecroppers from South Carolina. I've been lucky. But when you're a kid and thinking about joining a gang, you can make one foolish mistake that could alter your whole life. I take no money; we all help in our own way, give back in some way. I'm trying to do something positive to stop violence and teach them that you have to be responsible for your actions.
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(Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)