Tuesday , April 23 2024

GalaxyCon Richmond: Jaleel White

Jaleel White (Family Matters, Sonic the Hedgehog) told his fans at GalaxyCon Richmond that he has a lot to look forward to this year. In the fall, he’ll be hosting a new game show called The Flip Side. And he’s working on a book.

White credits his other upcoming projects—which he can’t talk about yet—to creatives who watched Family Matters. He said, “I have to thank all of these people quite frankly who have just crossed over from 40 to 50 who are like, ‘Man, I grew up with you. Let’s go make something.'”

On Playing a Moment Authentically

White was one of the stars of ABC’s “Thank Goodness It’s Funny” (or “TGIF”) lineup of the 1980s and 1990s, playing Steve Urkel in Family Matters. While that show was marketed as a sitcom, it covered some serious topics, including guns in schools and police brutality. White said that the best comedians, people like Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, know how find the right balance in a scene that shifts its tone.

With these comedians, “they can be very, very funny, but then it’s time to be heartfelt and give the authenticity of a moment. That’s something I always prided myself on as well.”

In the episode “Marriage 101,” Steve and Laura have to work on a school project about marriage. White remembers how he and co-star Kellie Shanygne Williams played an emotional moment. He said, “If you go back and watch that episode, our tears are real. I’m looking at her eyes and she’s looking at my eyes. As actors, we just pushed the heck out of each other.”

On Playing a Certain Hedgehog

Aside from Family Matters, many of White’s fans grew up watching the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons. White voiced Sonic and other characters in three series. “Basically, I got the job of Sonic because I was the biggest star on TGIF. The way executives think [is] that the [TGIF] audience would roll into Saturday morning.”

At the GalaxyCon Richmond Q&A, someone asked if White had anything to do with the fact that Sonic loves chili dogs. White laughed. “I do enjoy a good chili dog. I really do! They don’t agree with me the same way they did when I was in my 20s. It’s one of those things that a writer threw in. I’m not a vegetarian, so I did not protest! I wish it were deeper.”

On Avoiding the Typical Path of Child Actors

White is happy that he didn’t go the usual path of child actors. Interestingly, college was the farthest thing from his mind when he was in Family Matters. He took a break from acting to attend UCLA for a degree in film and television.

“My mom left a lot of money and opportunity on the table because she was myopically focused on things that were un-Hollywood. Throughout the entire run, all my mom cared about was that I was going to college.”

As an adult, White remained serious about his career in acting, producing and writing. However, when he pitched an idea to Nickelodeon, he was dismayed by the executive’s reaction. He said that the executive looked at him and asked, “How come I’ve never seen your mug shot anywhere?”

On Independent Projects

In his early 20s, White signed on for a comedy called Who Made the Potatoe Salad? He found it to be an eye opening experience. With such a small budget for the film, the team could only purchase one catered order of food for the dinner scene, which needed to be filmed over two days. A crew member covered the food with a sheet after filming wrapped on the first day.

White laughed about the second day, when they uncovered the food in that hot room. “You couldn’t even put your head forward because the food stunk so bad! It was such a low-budget movie. When I found out the entire budget of the movie, I [said], ‘I could’ve afforded to keep buying more food for us.'”

As with any film, there are unique hurdles to overcome before you reach the final product. “I don’t think—sometimes in these smaller comedies—that people realize what duress actors were under to get certain shots done and meet budgetary and time restraints.”

Visit the GalaxyCon Richmond website for more information.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

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