How Belafonte Found The Preacher

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“I would say this is the first major and the first serious attempt at doing a western that dealt with historical facts and truths about Black experiences,” Harry Belafonte said of Buck and the Preacher.

However, Belafonte struggled to find his character “The Preacher” due to his popularity as a singer.

“Through the years, in my performances, a certain image was built up, and there has been an intense audience acceptance of that image. Anything that violates that image sometimes turns the audience off – making other energies and other efforts unacceptable,” he said.

Belafonte feared that the same would happen while performing in the film, and he worked hard to delve into the character.

“In the film, I was intensely aware of this thing that plagued me all my life in my aspiration to be an actor. I worked intensely with my acting coach, Alice Spivak.”

Still, despite the work, Belafonte felt that the energy and characterization that he was bringing wasn’t coming through. That is, until he realized the issue.

“One day while shaving, I was looking in the mirror, and I became aware of the evenness of my teeth. And every time my teeth showed, it softened the villainy in the character. So I took my wife’s eyebrow pencil, dried off my teeth, and began shading my teeth. The darker and uglier they became, the more the character seemed to fulfill itself.”

The outward change helped Belafonte capture the essence he was looking for. The make-up department then adapted this new look for his character, changing the color and style of his teeth.

“That was perhaps the single most important thing that happen to me in terms of the character because from there on in, I had absolutely no external preoccupations with what I was to do. I became very much the character.”