…For people who are doing this for money and fame then burnout is going to occur because they are in it for all the wrong reasons and when they keep falling short of their goals they’ll get discouraged. After exhausting what seems to be every possibility and expending all that time and energy in doing so burnout is imminent. For those of us who are truly passionate about our craft and doing the work, we understand that this is first a labor of love and if there is any reward or recognition that’s the added bonus! We understand that if you are consistent in doing the work the notoriety and all the benefits that come with it will be the reward in the end if you’re good at what you do.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Thai Edwards. An accomplished Actor, Model, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist, Thai “THE THAIGA” Edwards is a man of many hats. When Thai enters a room his commanding presence is immediately felt. Combined with charisma, charm and a serious work ethic rivaled by few, many say he is destined to be Hollywood’s next big leading man.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Thai! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in the 80’s on Chicago’s south-side, it was wild and crazy time back then. This was around the time crack/cocaine, gangs and the so called “WAR ON DRUGS” was at an all-time high. I grew up in the hood, not the projects, although I did have a few relatives who did. However, I can recall a few areas I lived weren’t the nicest. I was a really smart kid, the majority of my classes throughout grammar school were gifted and honors classes and curriculum. I was very good at art and I would draw or sketch whenever I was in or out of class. I loved science, basketball, singing, dancing and martial arts my father was an avid practitioner in a couple of disciplines. It wasn’t until my parents divorced that my life took a turn for the worse, the issues at home began to overshadow my academic as well as athletic endeavors. My life began to spiral out of control after leaving home at 13yrs old. I started failing in school and ended up losing my eligibility to play organized sports for a short time. I became a very angry person and for a long time I became something that I couldn’t even begin to identify with today. Twenty-Five years ago I was a completely different person — I was ready for whatever or whoever, I was short tempered often times and very quick to fight. I made all of my family ties in the streets, I started gang banging really heavy and selling drugs which provided the means to get whatever I needed to take care of myself. I was alone the majority of the time just trying to figure things out the best way I knew how. I guess you can say I grew up hard… Chicago really isn’t the place for gullibility, you have to learn certain lessons quickly or you could lose your life! The streets of The Chi don’t care who you are or how old you are, anyone can get it anywhere at any time.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I first started my career in entertainment on the fashion side as a Print/Runway model. I was fortunate enough to work for a few popular urban clothing brands i.e.,(Karl Kani, FUBU, and Sean John, later came Banana Republic and Kenneth Cole). I once had a job on the TV show “Walker Texas Ranger” it called for a model type “Featured Extra” to do a scene with “Mia Pebbles” one of the Co-Stars on the show. Although I only had a few lines, I was bitten by the bug from the time the Director yelled “ACTION”. From that moment I knew that acting was something that I’d eventually wanted to cross over and do like other male models before me. It wasn’t long before I was called back on the show for small re-occurring roles, and from the relationships I made on set helped me get work in a couple of independent projects.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I would say… How I was almost Suge Knight in the 2015 Oscar nominated “Straight Outta Compton” movie directed by F Gary Gray. They saw me eight times for that part and the final decision was made on a full dress rehearsal the very last night before shooting Suge’s scenes. I had the full prosthetic beard, makeup, red suit, the whole nine. I even gained 45 extra pounds so that I can have the same intimidating size on camera and be true to form. But the powers that be passed on me… Not getting that one hurt so bad because I sacrificed a lot, not just physically but financially because I couldn’t do any model work to compensate for the loss! As it later turned out having that extra size helped in landing me a lead role for an independent film I starred in called “ANABOLIC LIFE”. I played “Jason”, a steroid dealer who was responsible for destroying the life of “Adam Stenson” played by the talented “Chris Levine”. This production was highly nominated in several categories at film festivals and my Co-Star Chris even won “Best Actor” in the film — Check the Irony in this… Chris had to put on 60lbs. to show the effects of the steroids in the film, but when we started he was 140lbs. We filmed for a few weeks then took a 6-month break and he came back a whopping 200lbs of solid muscle. I didn’t even recognize the guy! He actually accomplished what I was trying to do with S.O.C. I’m not sure if I would have won “Best New Actor”, but having to physically transform yourself into something else is just bad ass anyway! That level of commitment to yourself and craft is what separates the good actors from the great ones! In having previously doing the same thing although it didn’t work, let me know that I have “That drive and degree of dedication” to compete and make it in a business that dictates your value on how far he or she is willing to go. The second lesson learned is not to commit to any extreme physical changes like that without a contract in place, because another role that suits your new look may never come along. Third lesson I learned is “What’s for you is for you” no matter how much I thought that part was mine or right for me, the person who actually got the part was the right one for the job. GOD had a different plan for me, as an actor we all have individual paths and processes that we must go through in order to reach that next level! GOD used the same sacrifice that I made for S.O.C. and used it for another project and purpose for my benefit and for that I am grateful. So now I just embrace the process and the journey as it all comes!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest things I can recall is my very first “Hollywood Audition”. I literally went from watching everyone on T.V. to packing up all of my things and moving from Texas. After I got settled within the first couple of weeks of finding an agent I was auditioning for the same parts as the people I was watching I couldn’t believe it! I was at Cats Studios in West Hollywood and it was packed, mostly standing room when a seat was finally available I sat next to this funny older white actress she reminded me of “Betty White”. As I sat going over my lines preparing for my turn with the Casting Director, I had no idea that I was reading so loudly I swore it was all in my head. I was mid-sentence and she gives me a shoulder check and whispered “From how you look I wouldn’t have guessed you’d be so green, “Shhhh” you’re too loud… You’re giving away all your good shit!” She said “Look around everyone is watching you wondering who you are and what you’re going to do, you got this save it all for in the room”. It was the funniest and the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done since I’ve been in the business. When it was my turn I went in and did my job and got some really great feedback from the Casting Director. Although I didn’t get the role, it really made me feel good to be able to hold my own going up against real working veteran actors.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just recently joined the cast of SISTA’S, a brand new dramedy written, produced, and directed by Tyler Perry for the 2019 Fall Season line up on BET Networks. I’ll also be preparing for a few other movie projects, a couple of photoshoots, some motivational speaking events and my brand new website www.thaiedwards.com is coming soon. Anything else that comes my way is all GOD’S Plan and I’m beyond ready.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television?
As an artist who tells stories for living, I think diversity is very important and necessary because every story is different and characters change with every plot. It’s sad that the industry has just figured out that people of color can bring just as big of a big box office draw if not bigger i.e., (Black Panther, Get Out, Hidden Figures, Crazy Rich Asians) all broke records something that our white counterparts didn’t really expect, but for those of us who were a part of that demographic knew differently. We don’t get to see stories about “US” on that scale! Of course we’re going to support films that depicts the world we live or want to live in like (WAKANDA). There are so many amazing stories we can write about that can entertain the masses or introduce subject matter that would allow us to address issues that affect us all.
How can that potentially affect our culture?
To me the biggest cause separating us as a people and as a culture is the lack of communication, people are afraid to talk about things because a lot of the times the content matter is uncomfortable. You can’t find understanding by remaining ignorant to issues that play a part of people’s lives, we must open the dialog necessary so we can understand what other people are going through. This is the only way to find solutions if not common ground so that we all can live happily among each other.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Try not to take things personally in this business when you get turned down or denied for a job. Always keep in mind that this is business and no matter how much you think you deserve the job the powers that be may think differently. Always come prepared for auditions and do your job to the best of your ability and whatever happens in that room leave it there and prepare for the next opportunity. Do not beat yourself up trying to figure out why you didn’t get a role — The jobs that you book are the jobs that are for you and no one else, although you didn’t book that gig someone from that same audition may think that you’d be perfect for something else this has happened to me on several occasions.
2. Often times you’ll have a dry season try to stay busy doing something to help develop your skills or craft to help you stay relevant. Even if you’re not auditioning as often as you like get out and do things that are going to keep your skills sharp. There are stage plays, student films, short films, that you can easily work on that can help give you the visibility you want or need to take your career to the next level. We also live in the world of social media create your own content, you can become a brand just by being “YOU” using a platform that you own! You never know who’s watching you, to work in bigger projects people need to know who you are and what you can do. Your next job is always attached to someone else so show as many people you can what you can do as often as you can. When I’m not working on projects I’m usually doing photoshoots, shorts, stage plays, public speaking events, or something related to my business. If you have social media use it as often as possible and to the best of your ability.
3. Take care of your body and don’t abuse your temple, what you look like and how you present yourself is your calling card! You need to stay ready so you never have get ready! Watch what and how you eat, work out, and keep alcohol and a partying at a minimum and get plenty of sleep. Be and look the very best you can at whatever age you are, you never know who you may meet just based off how you present or carry yourself at any given time. Even if you aren’t a celebrity people would engage you because you look like you can be somebody in the business, this rule can apply for both men and women and could ultimately open some doors to the opportunities that you want.
4. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you! Proper networking is essential if you want to work in this business Hollywood is all about relationships. To get where you want to be in your career and gain some momentum you must first learn to network effectively and with intention. Remember this is a people business and your next job is always attached to someone else and you never know who that person may be. When you go to social events remember people are always watching you especially if you’re a new face! In Hollywood there are always parties and events to go too, although these are social events they are a means to meet the right people and position yourself to do whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. Do your research, find out who’s who and try to position yourself in a way that you can meet them. If by chance you get to meet these people or the gate keepers to the people you want to meet know you’re stuff, be confident, self-assured, be professional. “Never come off needy, or desperate industry people can smell you miles away like blood to a shark”. Remember you only have one chance to make a good impression if you ever get this opportunity don’t blow it, you may never get it again!
5. Know who you are as a person have an identity, self-awareness is important before you come into this business. Hollywood is a great place to work but it can also be a sad and scary place to work as well if you don’t know who “YOU” really are! When you’re a child star you don’t have any idea of who you are so the industry tends to mold or create an identity for you. Hopefully your parents or guardian(s) are involved in the day-to-day processes of your career to aide in this area because it can provide the direction you need to become the best person/artist you can be. Often times when the child phase is over the transition into adulthood can be very hard because they’ve physically changed and it can be harder to have the same success if any as an adult which often leads to a lot of personal problems i.e., (Drugs, Alcohol, Depression, Unsavory Behavior, etc.). However if you’re an adult these same things can happen if you’re not in tune with who you are and aren’t spiritually grounded this industry will eat you alive! There have been so many artists who have been created by the industry who may have experienced a hot streak earlier in their career and when the flame fizzles out they don’t know how to cope with just being themselves. I consider myself lucky because I came in the game much later and I have lived and experienced life before this. I know how it is to have money, and I know how it is to struggle, most importantly I know how to survive in the grey areas in-between. I do what I do for the love not the fame!! “If my works within this industry rewards me with monetary wealth, fame and privilege then that’s a blessing to me and my family and a tool that I’ll use to help someone else who’s trying to succeed in this business.”
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Unfortunately working in this industry is a marathon not a sprint it takes a lot of time and commitment in learning and doing your craft until you get your break! For people who are doing this for money and fame then burnout is going to occur because they are in it for all the wrong reasons and when they keep falling short of their goals they’ll get discouraged. After exhausting what seems to be every possibility and expending all that time and energy in doing so burnout is imminent. For those of us who are truly passionate about our craft and doing the work, we understand that this is first a labor of love and if there is any reward or recognition that’s the added bonus! We understand that if you are consistent in doing the work the notoriety and all the benefits that come with it will be the reward in the end if you’re good at what you do.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would say that we must first learn to respect and value the lives of every individual regardless of how they choose to live it in spite of their color, religion, socio-economic background, sexual orientation or what they choose to identify as even if we agree or disagree. We all inhabit this planetary space, and we are all a part of one race “The Human Race”. All of the hate, discrimination, reverse discrimination, bigotry, and racism needs to stop now!! No one on this planet was raised the exact same way, under the same conditions or having experienced the same things in their lives. Be it right, wrong or indifferent we all have a something that separates us from one another that makes us all unique and brings value to the world, it’s called “INDIVIDUALITY”… It’s like a fingerprint, it’s what makes us different from everyone else! In my opinion society is so enthralled with knowing or telling the personal details of a person’s life when it’s absolutely no one else’s business but their own! There used to be a time when (Sex, Religion & Politics) was something that we as a society deemed unacceptable in a public platform or forum, but now it seems to be all we talk about! They’re so many pressing issues and problems going on in the world that we as a nation and society should be prioritizing, people are broken and hurting just trying to live day to day! The world we live in has changed so much in terms of racial and gender diversity and equality or what has now been deemed culturally and socially acceptable in our society that we’ve all lost focus on the bigger picture! Being able to live free in our beliefs, having opinions, and live in our truth regardless of what that may be or look like without being ostracized for it is what makes the United States of America the greatest country on earth. Our pledge of allegiance clearly states “One Nation Under God”, so let’s all focus on being the best human beings we can be and let GOD determine what’s right and wrong. Bottom-line is we can get a lot more accomplished in this world with love than hate by being unified instead of divided, but still I digress.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people who have attributed to my life which in turn has helped me stay focused on pursuing my career goals and dreams. Unfortunately like so many others I come from a broken home both of my parents are alive and well however my relationship with my birth mother is estranged and my relationship with my father has always been challenging. Needless to say I never really had a lot of family support, after leaving home at thirteen I had to practically raise myself. I guess you can say I was raised by a village, my former honors fifth grade school teacher Judith Harris saw that I was having some issues at home and made a commitment to make sure that I’d stay on the right path and never left my life. It wasn’t until after leaving the eighth grade I would meet a guy by the name of Chris Morrow on the basketball team who would later become my best friend and because of my home situation he asked his mom Lois if I could move in with his family. So when I speak about my home life I always say that I have three mothers the two that helped raised me and my birth mom. The reason I put so much emphasis on these four individuals is because this was the time in my life where I was in the most trouble, the head space I was in at that time was a very dangerous and self-destructive one. I was trying to cope with so many things and as a child that can be hard to do, it was so hard to stop living in a state of survival mentality so in the beginning it was hard to always do the right things although I had I family support — In fact I almost got kicked out a few times! For a short period of time I was the “Problem Child” it took some time to get acclimated to my new surroundings, family members, and priorities but once I got up to speed they became family to me. I thank GOD for all of these people their patience and all the sacrifices they made for me because they literally saved my life! I had gone through so much from being in the streets, there were times that I didn’t even want to be alive! When I left Chicago and moved to Texas I left with a different purpose for my life, it seemed like GOD always put someone in my life who was instrumental in helping me every step of the way. When I first moved to LA and decided to pursue acting full-time as a career I met Dallas King through some mutual friends at a barbecue. We hit it off immediately not knowing that he was a director he promised to put me in my first movie and unlike so many others I met before him that told me the same thing he stayed true to his word and the rest is history!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Time is the Currency of Life Be Careful how you spend it!”
I’ve learned that you can’t help where you come from or the circumstances you were born into in the end you are “NOT” your circumstance. These are nothing but distractions or excuses people like to use for their failures or shortcomings. You can be successful if you really want to success is predictable, it leaves clues that people before you left behind i.e., (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc.) Failure is also predictable, failure is the end result of doing the exact opposite of what it is to be successful or to not even try at all. Success takes a lot of work, discipline, sacrifice, failure, more work and sometimes isolation from people you like and love. The problem is so many of us die before our time or don’t achieve the things we want in life because we waste a lot of time being around or with the wrong people. I’m sure if any of us could take back all the time we lost from bad relationships or situations and re-invested that same time and energy working towards our life goals, that we all would be a lot further in life than we are. Wherever you are in life be it professional or personal is the end result of how you spent your time. I now understand “You don’t get what you want in life, you get what you deserve.” In the world of professions you can be the best in the business. In life you can either be bitter or learn to be better, life tends to be a lot harder for people who have dreams. Life is short, we all have an expiration date I’ve learned to stop wasting time on people or situations that doesn’t positively affect my life or future.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
The one person that I would like to meet is Charles Avant he’s known as “THE GODFATHER” of Hollywood. He’s is by far the most powerful black man in the industry, when I say industry I mean i.e.,(Music, Film, TV, Politics, etc.) He is responsible for the discovery and success of so many people within the entertainment industry and outside it. A man from humble beginnings like mine Clarence Avant, pushed the boundaries for black entertainers, political leaders and tastemakers to have an imprint on pop culture today and he did it all without any formal education and by being himself! Love him or hate him anyone who’s in the upper echelon of influence in entertainment and politics respects him. Anyone who can command that kind of respect or admiration is someone I want to meet and learn from.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can find me on Instagram: @officialthaiedwards Follow me on Facebook @theofficialthaiedwards and Twitter: @thaiedwards