Antonio Fargas ('Starsky & Hutch') (2015)
'It's (Still) All About The Hugs!'
Antonio Fargas is an American actor known for his roles in 1970's blaxploitation movies, as well as his portrayal of the iconic character "Huggy Bear" in the 1970's TV series Starsky and Hutch.
His breakout role began in the late '60s cult film 'Putney Swope.' After starring in a string of movies in the early '70s, such as his role as Link Brown in the movie 'Foxy Brown' and in 'Across 110th Street,' he gained instant, and now ongoing recognition as streetwise informant "Huggy Bear" in the aforementioned Starsky and Hutch TV series.
Fargas also appeared in ABC's All My Children in the mid-1980's as the father of Angie Hubbard. And, as a nod to his early roles, he had a part in the 1988 blaxploitation spoof 'I'm Gonna Git You Sucka,' as well as another Wayans brothers "hood" parody, 'Don't Be a Menace,' in 1996. He guest starred in the mid-90's sitcoms 'Living Single' as well as 'Martin' and 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.'
Fargas even played the driver in the 1998 music video of Backstreet Boys hit single, 'Everybody (Backstreet's Back)'!
As busy as even, Antonio Fargas is now launching his brand new Los Angeles and Las Vegas-based revue-style stage show, The New Jump Blues, and has just been announced as the Brand Ambassador for NBC's COZI TV!
Chatting recently with "Huggy Bear" himself Antonio Fargas, he took me back to this very early days of acting - and singing! "My initial foray was at 14 and with a film called 'The Cruel World,' when I started in the business. That was 55 years ago, because I'm a vibrant and happy soon-to-be 69 year-old person today. I'm just so blessed to have had 55 years of the business that I love and still to have music in my life, and these new opportunities to say thank you, and to be considered, humbly, as an icon or someone who's shoulders some of these young performers stand on: like Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and Chris Rock."
"They all know whose shoulders they stood on and even all gave me opportunities in their shows too. The last was Chris Rock's 'Everybody Hates Chris,' and then I also did Will Smith's show, and I also did Martin's show. They all were historians who had a history of knowing whose shoulders they stood on and for me to know that I prepared my shoulders for others to stand on is humbling. Because when I came into the business there were very few of us in television. There were very few of us that were just coming out of the Civil Rights Movement. I grew up in New York where there was this renaissance of black theater that sort of came out of the Civil Rights Movement. So I became one of the young cats who was brought up by a loving and giving family of artists, who loved me, and nurtured me."
"So to be 18 and to be playing in the West End in a play by James Baldwin was amazing. I was cast when I was in a high school play called 'The Amen Corner' which when it was touring Europe, I bathed in the River Jordan on my 18th birthday; because we were playing in Jerusalem. So to end up in the Edinburgh Festival and be seen by some of the representatives of Brian Epstein, The Beatles manager - because he had just purchased a theater in London called The Saville Theatre, and was trying to find acts to put in there - was a trip too! He actually brought the play to the West End, so I had the privilege, at 18 years old to play for The Beatles manager. It was just around the corner from Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby Street in London. We even played in Liverpool. So to bring all that history back and to continue on and to find a series like Starsky & Hutch was something very unexpected also."
So just how did you land the role of "Huggy Bear" in Starsky & Hutch? "I was doing a film called 'Across 110th Street' with Tony Franciosa and Yaphet Kotto and the director from that film, Barry Shear directed the pilot for Starsky & Hutch. So, when I was in L.A. just struggling and trying to find my way, I got a call from Barry Shear saying he was casting an Aaron Spelling TV pilot; as nobody even knew it was going to be a TV series, but it was definitely going to be a movie of the week. So to then be part of that tapestry and to know now that this will be the 40th year celebration of Starsky & Hutch blows my mind! It's been forty years since we did the pilot, so to still be taking about that show and the many others that were around at that time, now representing COZI TV as their Ambassador, talking about that rich tapestry that I was brought up in and that I was a a part of, is certainly a privilege."
It's actually funny that Starsky & Hutch was a show about the two cops, and yet it's the character of "Huggy Bear" that remains so iconic today! "He's endured and it's been really amazing. I had no idea he would still be talked about today, but the recurring theme about all my characters that I've played is that they were all survivors - and we haven't even touched on all the other characters that I've played. I even played gay roles before it was popular. I was included in a book called The Celluloid Closet, which reveals actors who played gay roles before it became what it is today: where people are getting Academy Awards because they are willing to go there now. But people who did that before that, well, it was a taboo kind of thing where people were playing these roles, but only on the surface. But Huggy Bear and Lindy from 'Car Wash,' and Bernstein from 'Next Stop, Greenwich Village' had heart. It was something about the inside of the character, but I also knew Starsky & Hutch was about relationships."
"It was about these two guys, and I was the guy on the side that was really just a survivor. I was an informer, so somebody who lives on the other side of that has to learn how to survive every day. How do you survive in a hostile world and Antonio Fargas had to survive in a hostile world. A world that he was in fear, but with all this cast of characters around me it enabled me to survive. Every character. People ask me what character do I love the most, and like my children, I can't pick one over the other, because each one was an important part to me. Some were the most important thing in my life at the time. And even though Huggy Bear was only four years out of my life of 55 years in the business, it's a foundation that gave me access to the world. Because Starsky & Hutch was syndicated to over 100 countries."
"I always talk about when I was doing a play in England, in a small town, because they have such great theaters there, I had to take a taxi to the theater every day. And I also had the privilege of doing pantos in England too, which is a whole other subject. But I was doing a play and I had to get a taxi to the theater and inevitably, every one of those taxi drivers in that small town said, 'Antonio, you don't have to pay me for this trip. I just want to thank you for what you did for me growing up watching Starsky & Hutch. It seems we all loved Huggy Bear and Starsky and Hutch and all those memories that we have as young people who watched those shows in that era of television. An era where there was an innocence, it just meant, and still means so much to me."
Doing the COZI TV gig obviously flashes you constantly back to a fond bygone era of TV, but are you watching anything on TV these days, perhaps? "No, it's not like today's TV, which I don't understand very much of, in truth. I'm still really blessed to remember the era that I thrived in, which was always about relationships. Starsky and Hutch had a relationship. The Dukes of Hazard and even the innocence of The Brady Bunch all were based around wholesome relationships. All those kind of shows were about a time when people could imagine themselves there, a part of what was going on. It was almost like escapism into soap operas where it felt like you were reading a good book."
"And COZI TV frames that because it's the best of those shows and they've put them into a context where you can feel real warm and fuzzy about cozying up to you TV and watching your memories of feedback that was gotten from baby boomers. Those who grew up watching the first thing the baby boomers produced at that time. And the homage that has been made by some of the remakes of those great shows, including the times when they did movies from them - like the Dukes of Hazard and all of those shows."
"The goal of the history of COZI TV is that nothing gets thrown away when we realize what we had, and the times that we had watching these classic shows. And to be a part of that, and to be siting here talking about it 55 years later, in the context of a career, that's kind of me coming back round full circle on my journey to my roots. It's just great to still be doing all this work and yet still letting the chips fall where they may."
Talking about remaking old TV shows into movies, they did just that with 'Starsky & Hutch' (Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson) back in 2004. What are your thoughts on the way that turned out? "Well, I had mixed emotions, because when they were casting the film they talked to me about making the film and wanted me to make an appearance in it, but David and Paul were reluctant to be a part of. I think they had thoughts of redoing it themselves, but time had passed them by long enough where it wasn't viable for them to play those roles. But I think Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson still needed their support to sell it to the fans, so I think they still did an admirable job in the end. Of course, Snoop Dogg did his rendition of his concept of what Huggy Bear should be, but Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller did a wonderful job, yeah."
"But they didn't try do what we did. They played to their strengths which was comedy. We had a dramatic comedy, an organic relationship kind of stuff that just so happened to be funny in its pathos. But once they then got Paul and David somehow, it still didn't work out that I was in the film. But I was in London for the premiere there, walking the red carpet with David and Paul, and Ben was very appreciative. And I thought that I took the high ground, because I had no axe to grind."
"In fact, it brought attention to what David, Paul, myself and Bernie Hamilton did, which really couldn't be touched. But, they did an admirable job of bringing back the memories to those people who witnessed the original TV show and it also brought in a new audience of people who had no idea what it was - because we didn't have as many Nick At Nite's and COZI TV and remakes and reruns. We just didn't have enough air time back then. But now we have all these new networks and internet opportunities that come now, and all the defining box sets of almost every series. Or you can simply download every series due to the advancement of technology!"
"But yeah, I had a lot of fun on Starsky & Hutch, but I just don't think they could touch what we did; but at the same time it was great for the fans to see David and Paul at the end of the film. And I was sorely missed by the fans, but that's in the past now."
Did you ever miss out on anything else in that manner, perhaps? "Well, I was one of the hottest African-American's on TV when 'Roots' was cast and I didn't get a role in the show. So it's also my claim to fame that I was one of the people who was around and prominent at the time, but I wasn't in 'Roots.' They had every man and his brother in that TV show, but they all did wonderful, simply wonderful jobs in making that an historic television moment. But I understand today that my life, my journey has all been spiritually guided and this day, this interview, and everything else falls into that path. I just have to relax. I just let the game come to me today. I don't struggle about what my next job is any more, because when I look back I've got 55 years of worrying what the next things were going to be, of what was going to happen. And yet I was always fulfilled and got what I needed and got my share. And I have a legacy behind me that I'm very proud of."
Is there an episode of 'Starsky & Hutch' that still stands out to you today to be one of your own personal favorites? "There were two shows. One where Hutch was strung out on drugs and we were trying to help him, because the baddies had gotten him into that situation. Then there was the one that David Soul, in the last season, that David directed called 'Huggy Can't Go Back.' The original Captain Dobey, because when I did the film 'Across 110th Street' Richard Ward played the gangster, and so when Barry Shear was brought in to direct the 'Starsky & Hutch' show as a TV series, be brought in my friend to play Captain Dobey. But somehow, the Network didn't like that, it didn't work out, and so they brought in Bernie Hamilton."
"So, they brought back my dear friend Dick Ward, who is no longer with us, and he played my mentor in 'Huggy Can't Go Back.' It was about Huggy Bear going back to his home, and what also made it memorable was that David Soul, who had this wonderful musical success following Starsky & Hutch, brought in his friend, Dr. John to do the theme song for 'Huggy Can't Go Back.' So, with David directing it, and it being the last season of the show, it was really very, very memorable for me, and very emotional. So that was one of my all time favorites."
"If you see the pilot of Starsky & Hutch, you'll see Dick Ward playing Captain Dobey, and then when the series went on the air they switched it to Bernie Hamilton. Dick was also in a play with me called 'The Amen Corner' when I was 17 years-old, and then we did a play Off-Broadway called 'Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,' before we did 'Across 101th Street.' He was a very, very fine actor and gentleman."
Given that you weren't on screen as Huggy every episode, was waiting around patiently one of your best qualities, so to speak, back then? "Only in the fact that, again, having to survive on just one or two takes of the seven days it took to shoot the show, knowing they would eventually come to Huggy's place was good enough for me. I soon found out less is more, because I was able to deliver the color so vividly of Huggy Bear, that it became something that people began to sort of look for. So my time on screen was very little, but it had its own color and drew the attention of the audience and was very fulfilling for me. I just wanted to always do what I called the dirty work, the character parts and things that other people didn't want to do, didn't want to take chances with."
"Huggy was most certainly a survivor. I was innocent when I got that role though. I was just happy to get a job," he laughs, "and to go to work and to enjoy not having the attention drawn on me. I learnt so much about how to be a star and how to survive from David and Paul, and how to keep on the good side of the network people, that I just rode in on their coat tails. I was very honored and pleased to be a part of that show."
And adding to your new musical group, The New Jump Blues, and your work as Brand Ambassador for NBC's COZI TV, you even have a new movie currently being filmed, correct? "Yes, it's called 'Beyond Skyline,' that should be out next year, and there's another tentative film that I'm almost positive I'll be doing, but I don't want to jinx it by talking about it beforehand," he laughs. "He's a very innovative director who found me and wrote me the most wonderful letter, that I was part of projects that made him that he was allowed to say the kind of things that he wanted to write as a writer. And it's a very exciting project that I'm just so pleased to be a part of."
"He reminds me a lot of Robert Downey when I did the film 'Putney Swope.' Bob Downey Jr's father. It was just this out of the box kind of thinking. It's revolutionary. It's the kind of thing that's not really a studio picture with all of the bells and whistles. It's like guerrilla filmmaking, like when we did 'Putney Swope.' We worked at night, when I was working on Broadway in 'The Great White Hope' and filming 'Putney Swope' at night. It was just a wonderful crazy time. But there was a method to Robert Downey's madness, in terms of what his vision was. And that film has been used in film programs as something that was to be studied. I believe that this film that I will be making this summer will have that same kind of impact."
It seems to me that whatever you have put your mind to in the business you have succeeded ten fold at - is this really true? "Well, you know, when you look back, the mis-steps were learning experiences. Some people had the whole Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame thing, but somehow, for me, my career was already pretty much ordained. When I got in touch with myself, knowing I was on a spiritual journey, no, I wouldn't want to have changed anything that I've done in the past, at any stage in my life. It's because I'm sitting here today a happy and contented guy," he smiles, broadly.
Having been as open about everything as you have, having revealed so much about your life and your work, is there still one thing that you haven't revealed in an interview, if not for the longest time, perhaps ever? "In a way it's cliched, to say that I survived my own mis-steps and I don't care, at the time, if it was through the medicine we needed to survive: the alcohol, the drugs, or gambling, or whatever. Whatever I needed to survive, I got and so now it's all about giving back in life."
"In a small sense, it's about putting away the shopping cart when I take my groceries to my car and taking the grocery cart back. About leaving the parking space in front of some place for somebody who really wants it. It's about not getting angry abut someone who cuts me off on the freeway."
"Those are the kind of things that I don't get to talk about. Those are the kind of things that when somebody recognizes me in the supermarket or is sitting next to me on a plane ride, and after we get through Starsky & Hutch and all that other stuff; the hook, the thing that gives me the connection with other people, we start talking about kids. We start talking about out families. We start talking about just being a human being on the planet."
"That's the most rewarding thing about just being able to take the mask off and just be. It's about taking the mask off whenever I get an opportunity and getting used to that. Because it's not something that comes naturally to me. I became the actor I became because I hid the fear and I didn't want you to know me. So I was able to get into character and create all these masks that gave me a good living, one that gave me all these opportunities to go places. But now to be able to take this mask off and to be able to say I was proud to wear the mask and to get all the medicine I needed so that I could give, so that I could discover who I am and why I am on the planet today, that's what my message is today."
And finally, we here at Excusive Magazine love Penguins. Do you have any love for them also, perhaps? "I love nature and every time I see a documentary on the Antarctic and where the Penguins are I just marvel at the variety of them. And also my favorite is how they launch themselves from the sea onto the ice. How they slide and then stand up and start walking off. That's a thrill and a vision for me."
I'm so glad Huggy Bear loves Penguins! That's made my day! "Yeah, I love Penguins because I love clothes. They always wear nature's tuxedos so they are always so classic, so neat."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'Rum And Coca Cola' by The New Jump Blues (featuring Antonio Fargas) @ Westside Jazz Fest 2013
NBC's COZI TV Official Trailer
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED STARSKY & HUTCH poster from Antonio 'Huggy Bear" Fargas himself, just answer this question about the original TV show: In which city was 'Starsky and Hutch' set?
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win an AUTOGRAPHED STARSKY & HUTCH poster from Antonio 'Huggy Bear" Fargas himself! Just send us an e:mail here before October 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: SIGNED STARSKY & HUTCH Posters to: email@example.com
Check out Part 1 of our BRAND NEW interview with ANTONIO FARGAS where he talks about his new music undertaking, THE NEW JUMP BLUES band:
Antonio Fargas Interview - Part 1