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By Stephanie Frederick, Sentinel Entertainment Editor
You can thank fate for how the strikingly handsome actor Rick Fox landed in Tyler Perry’s new romantic drama, “Meet the Browns.” How else can you explain how the former Laker turned actor almost lost his life in an L.A. crosswalk, but somehow ended up with a starring role in Perry’s new hit film which scored $20 million plus at the box office opening weekend.
“I really didn’t notice who he was until I almost ran him over with my car,” said filmmaker Tyler Perry of his run-in with the 6’7” basketball champion. “I got out and apologized and then recognized him. I said, mind if we talk sometime. I have a project I may need your help with in the near future.”
For Fox, he had heard about the highly-successful director/writer/actor whose niche movies have resonated strongly with African American audiences and pulled in more than $200 million worldwide, but Fox really didn’t know Perry. “I just thought it was a near accident. I wasn’t hit or hurt so it was really okay.”
The two men exchanged phone numbers and agreed to talk at a later date, but then a few hours later that same day Perry - who usually working from his TP studios in Atlanta - walked into a Sunset Blvd. restaurant and runs into Fox again. Serendipity? Providence? Fate? Maybe. Perry calls it “divine nudging.” He couldn’t help but work out everything with Fox right there on the spot.
“Hey, I realize when God is trying to tell me something. I sat down and told him about the film,” Perry said laughingly and before long Fox was cast as handsome “Harry” - Angela Bassett’s love interest in Perry’s 5th film “Meet the Browns.”
“I’m glad I was in the crosswalk that day,” joked Fox. “I know a lot of actors who wished Perry had almost run over them,” he said with his signature smile. “Tyler very graciously allowed me to play a character he could have played himself. I’m grateful that he entrusted me with the role, and gave me a big opportunity in the process.”
While the movie focuses on Brenda (Bassett), a single mom of three who’s struggling to make ends meet on Chicago’s southside, Fox plays the knight in shining armor who also happens to be an ex-pro baller turned basketball scout who has his eye on Brenda’s talented son (Lance Gross) and eventually mom too. In the process, we’re introduced to Brenda’s long lost Southern family “The Browns” and between wacky yet lovable relatives and Harry - her life is forever changed.
“I think it’s just a message of faith and hope that, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in, there’s still more out there for you, as long as you continue to push through,” said Fox of the film’s inspirational theme. “I think that with all of Tyler’s movies, there’s definitely a sense of faith and hope that there’s something greater than our selves that is out there in terms of support.”
The message resonated with Fox big time. It was only four years ago, at age 36, Fox retired from professional basketball with his eye on another prize...to become an actor. Now - here he was being offered a role playing opposite Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett.
“It’s like getting thrown into the deep end of the ocean. Eventually, you have to start swimming. (he laughs). “She (Bassett) really was like a life preserver out there for me. She was not only gracious and open, but teaching and sharing,” Fox added. “I jumped ahead in terms of my understanding of working with a fellow actor because Angela grabbed me and pulled me forward and I gotta say that it will change my career forever.”
Born in Toronto, Ulrich Alexander Fox was raised in the Bahamas by his Italian-Canadian mother and father from the Caribbean. Quite frankly, he was known as “the pretty boy.”
At the age of 13, Rick decided to pursue his passion for basketball, and moved to Indiana, since the Hoosier State is so closely associated with the sport.
After high school, he went on to play for four years at North Carolina under the tutelage of the legendary Dean Smith. That apprenticeship served Fox well, as he ended up being the first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1991 pro draft. The 6’7” forward went on to spend 13 seasons in the NBA, enjoying a storybook career which included a trio of championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers.
And his private life proved to be just as much of a fairytale, when he eloped with former Miss America Vanessa Williams in 1999. Although the union would not last, it did at least produce an adorable daughter, Sasha who is now 7, and an enduring friendship.
Since retiring from the NBA in 2004, Fox has turned his attention to acting full-time, appearing in such television series as Love, Inc., One Tree Hill and Dirt, where he played a homosexual on the down-low. Now, on the big screen, he’s landed a breakout lead role “The Browns.”
Since watching and working with Perry, Fox has become a big fan. “I don’t think there’s a more dedicated person when it comes to storytelling and having his message delivered to his audience, “said Fox. “He’s obviously been tirelessly working for a number of years on the stage, as well as in movies and on TV, and I love his humble approach of consistently challenging himself and wanting to get better as a director.”
Like Perry, Fox has constantly challenged himself too. Moving from the professional basketball to acting required much work. He looked to his ex-wife Former Miss America now “Ugly Betty” star Vanessa Williams to help him successfully make the transition into Hollywood’s lights, camera and action.
“I definitely have to credit being married to Vanessa with any growth I’ve had in the course of my life, “ he added. “We’re still close friends, sharing and having conversations about our lives and raising our daughter together. She’s been very influential in helping me grow as a friend and former husband. I appreciate and value that so much because, like I said, she’s been a huge reason why I’ve made great strides.”
As for starting over - starting a new career at the age of 36, Fox said he has no regrets. “people get paralyzed because of the fear of beginning again. You’re a rookie, so you’re not as good as you want people to see you,” he said. “I say, allow yourself to be a beginner and allow yourself to grow. I had a 14 year career as a ball player - won 3 NBA championships, made a great living. Retired at 36. Now I have to begin my career again. A lot of athletes struggle because they wonder a) do I have enough time to be great again? b) what happens if I fail? Am I willing to face the criticism and go back at it again and again and again?
He added: “Truthfully, the thing that helped me was examining why I wanted to act. My answer was - to be expressive and create a message. So I accept this as a marathon, not a sprint. And when I look at actors I respect, the Morgan Freeman’s, the Denzel’s, Samuel L. Jackson and I looked at their ages, I said ‘if I’m 36 now, twenty years from now would I be unhappy to look back and reflect on having had to begin again? The answer is no.”
His role in “Browns” will surely mean his name will be added to Hollywood’s long list of leading men and Fox is thrilled to be counted in the crowd.
“It’s going to be a career for me for long time,” he stressed. “As I continue to get better like I did as an athlete over the years, I look forward to working with more actors and more directors and continue to improve and learn from them.”
His ideal role? A buddy comedy opposite a comedian. “You look at movies like “Bad Boys” where Will (Smith) and Martin (Lawrence) hooked up. Finding someone I can partner with to do something fun. I’ve done a lot of romantic stuff. I’ve done a lot of dark stuff, but nothing really comedic and fun. I’ll just stand there and play the good-looking guy. (he laughs) Notice I said I needed a comedian. Once the comedian does his thing I just sit there and smile like my college roommate told me, “Just stand in the corner and smile. Let the ladies come; don’t say anything. You’ll mess it up if it you say anything.” So I won’t try to be funny.”
As for making it in Hollywood so quickly, he said: “Honestly, I couldn’t have scripted it any better. Serendipity seems to be a theme in my life in a lot of ways. To have come from a small island in the Bahamas and to experience all of this is definitely a plan greater than my own imagination. I’ve learned to just accept the blessings and thank God for them.”
He can also be thankful for Tyler Perry’s lead foot.