Brian White arrives at “The Game Plan” World Premiere held at the El Capitan Theater on September 23, 2007 in Hollywood, Ca (AP Photo / LMartinez)
Anyone who’s had, or who knows someone who’s had, heart disease knows that there are many unpronounceable medications. “Laughter,” of course, isn’t one of them.
But “The Heart Specialist” (2006), which came out on DVD Tuesday, unabashedly stands for the proposition that laughter is the best medicine. It may not cure, but comedy certainly can aid immensely in the healing process.
In a recent interview with athlete turned model turned actor Brian White talked about the dramedy in which he stars as Harvard Medical School grad Ray Howard, a “playa in a white coat,” who gets his comeuppance for his lothario ways when he interns at a C-rated Florida hospital run by a quirky chief resident, Dr. Sidney Zachary (Wood Harris). “Dr. Z” practices medicine by day and takes to a comedy stage by night. He voluntarily takes Howard under his wing — and, along with his beautiful and (truly) Platonic friend Donna (Zoe Saldana) — teaching Howard a few life lessons that affect him in unexpected and profound ways.
Turns out, the story was written by Dr. Dennis Cooper, a real doctor. Asked whether the story is based on fact, White responds:
BW: What’s really cool about the “The Heart Specialist” is that Dennis Cooper, the writer-director-producer is a doctor himself, an acclaimed writer of TV — “Hill Street Blues,” “Miami Vice”— who decided that he wanted to honor his friend David, who is also a doctor, with this kind of story.
And originally he took it to the studios and they said, ‘Sure’ — ‘just re-cast it with a mainstream (read: Caucasian) cast, [and we’ll] put the money into it.’ Dennis said, ‘No, I guess I’ll have to go the long route …’ He and David raised the money themselves … and here we are.
Dennis is Caucasian and his producing partner Kristin Overn is also Caucasian. When he started to put this movie out, Dennis realized he had a tricky road being a non-Black screenwriter-producer-director making a movie [for a Black audience].
… It was hard to get a distribution deal so we took the film up to my buddy Tyler Perry, he gave Dennis some notes … we added a few other things to make it more comedic … so that we could get it out to people.
White says, “It was a real eye-opening experience to see the process of Dennis’ journey to get this film out to the marketplace and what he had to actually change … and it inspired me to work even harder so that those things don’t have to get changed next time and we can make better and better films each time out. So it was an honor to work with Dennis and to see him work so hard to honor his friend.”
LAS: One of the central premises of the film is the laughter can heal. Is that truly Dr. Cooper’s philosophy?
BW: Yes, yes … Your attitude and your mood affect everything. Hope matters, you know. Happy people get sick less often than sick people … Everybody gets the call from their parents to call their grandparents — and the reason why is that it puts a smile on their face and brightens up their day, physically and emotionally …
White notes that “Dennis is a very smart man … that he’s a Harvard doctor himself … He remembers “…sitting down with Wood and Zoe … and it was a low-budget movie. We didn’t do it to get paid, and we all went to lunch that first day, saying that the script was really special …”
LAS: It was a lot of fun. The scenes at the beach were really special … and it was refreshing to see a Platonic friendship between two Black folks and to add to that the element of comedy made it really, really work — especially ‘cause it was a three-way friendship.
Did you have any experiences that informed your acting as a doctor while you were working on this film?
BW: Well, one of the things that was very powerful and profound is that Dennis and David were on set every day, so we went through medical boot camp probably more than they get on most TV shows … they wanted any doctor who looked at it to say, ‘This is realistic, authentic,’ so I really appreciated the attention to detail that Dennis was able to get in a 15-day shoot.
We all feel it’s important to give the younger generation new ideas and role models to aspire to …Most of what they see is not doctors, lawyers, Cosby shows … they’re watching everything but that … So I’m trying to find more people like Dennis Cooper that wanna make inspirational, motivational, positive-type films that do show Platonic relationships, supportive relationships, intellectual relationships, inspirational …
LAS: In some scenes, I felt like I was watching a real surgery!
BW: And that’s what Dennis said: The mood in most ERs is light because those guys wouldn’t be able to take it. The subject matter you’re dealing is so real, so life and death, that the attitude has to stay light just to handle it — it’s a lot like police officer or firemen [work] … their jobs are so trying that laughter is the best medicine.
LAS: Is there anything about medicine that was an aha moment, something that you learned?
BW: Just the notion that medicine is something you don’t do unless you absolutely love it. These guys work 22, 24 hours for 5, 7 10 years before they actually make any money … and that’s after 10 years of school! So going through the process, even learning some of the technical terms, the dialogue, you realize how educated, how polished, how buttoned up these surgeons and doctors and specialists need to be, and how much pressure is on them …
… And just a healthy, healthy respect for what Dennis and David were able to do. To become accomplished in that world? And then to transition to become accomplished as writers, producers and filmmakers, it’s just mind-boggling.
LAS: I used to watch your dad (Boston Celtics guard great JoJo White) with my own dad. Did he as athletic turned actor, did he impart any lessons to you that helped you in any way become an actor?
BW: The no. 1 thing is confidence. As an athlete, you’re only as good as your last throw.
No. 2, Always be a student of the game or of the craft …Don’t miss the lesson.
No. 3, Don’t rest on your laurels … I learned those three things from my dad, and I apply them every day.
LAS: What about your mom?
BW: My mom is my role model. I just wrote a book called “Black Carpenter” It’s about the lessons that’ve been passed on to me. And my mom’s my idol; she’s my no. 1 hero. I learned how to be a man, I learned the benefits of education, I learned how to think for myself … My mom is everything!
LAS: So what’s up next for Brian White.
BW: Today I’m working on a Monica (Brown) video with Malinda Williams. The song is “Until It’s Gone.” Also there’s “What My Husband Doesn’t Know” with David E. Talbert. That’ll be out sometime October, November.
My next movie is out — “Politics of Love”— the movie just dropped on VOD and DVD. Then on Feb. 24, is “Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds” with me and Tyler Perry as brothers …!”
To keep up with this multi-faceted talent, just go to brianwhiteonline.com.