A rare meeting of theatre and rap music is currently underway at Off Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop, where Michael Develle Winn's dramatic portrait of rap artist Tupac Shakur, Up Against the Wind, recently opened after two weeks of previews. The New York-born, Oakland-bred Shakur recorded several best-selling albums and appeared in a handful of films before his often violent life was cut short by a Las Vegas drive-by shooting. Tupac grew up knowing what it was like to be on the wrong end of the law. His mother was Afeni Shakur, a member of the controversial Black Panther Party. In Up Against the Wind, Afeni is played by Hazelle Goodman, who has played her share of fierce roles over the years, including a ferocious drug dealer Georgia Mae Mahoney in television's "Homicide," the sassy prostitute Cookie in Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry," Cymbeline's scheming Queen in Central Park, and, in real life, a stand-up comic. Goodman, who is due on Broadway next season in her latest one-woman show, spoke to Playbill On-Line about her current project.
Playbill On-Line: How did you get involved in this project?
Hazelle Goodman: They called me about it. I read the script and I liked it. So, the process began. We went to Dartmouth College and did a workshop over the summer. I've been working on it since.
PBOL: Did you do some research into the part?
HG: Absolutely. I read a lot of information about her past as a Black Panther, just all the information I could get, finding out what her name means.
PBOL: What does it mean?
HG: Afeni—"loved by the people."
PBOL: Did you meet with Afeni Shakur?
HG: Haven't met with her, no. PBOL: What's the goal of the play?
HG: I would imagine that the goal of the play is to tell the story of Tupac, to tell it thorough the writer's eyes; have people get the sense that he wasn't just the thug that the media has portrayed him as—that he was in fact an extraordinary artist, really quite a brilliant mind for a young man. The play shows that side of him.
PBOL: Before the project came to you, were you a fan of his music?
HG: Not necessarily. No. I knew of him, but I wasn't really listening to rap or paying much attention to it.
PBOL: Some of the more high-profile roles you've had, like the prostitute in "Deconstructing Harry" and the drug lordess in "Homicide," have been either criminals or on the fringes of the criminal element. And now, in Up Against the Wind, you're the mother of a rap artist who had his own run-ins with the law. What do you think of that? Do these roles interest you?
HG: There are two answers to that question. As an artist, I choose to do those parts if I think there is some other depth to the character. But, on the other hand, I think it's just the stereotypical mind of Hollywood: A black woman is a drug dealer.
PBOL: Does that upset you?
HG: It doesn't upset me, because, as I said, if it's something I want to do and it's powerful and exciting, I can go with it. I thought Cookie was a good part. Yes, she was a prostitute, but she was very bright. On "Homicide," that was also a good part. She was a drug dealer, but she was an intelligent woman. In that sense, I tend to embrace them as businesswomen in crime. Crime just happens to be their business. But, it is disappointing to constantly have to be pushing through the negative stereotypes that Hollywood always wants to portray.
PBOL: Do you have any other projects coming up?
HG: Yes. I'm working on my next solo show, which will ultimately be an HBO special and before then, I'd like to do a Broadway run of it. And that's entitled, "On Edge." We're looking at 2002.
—By Robert Simonson