Much has been said over the past few months about Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe’s penetrating performances in Precious. And while all of their recognition is certainly warranted, there’s a quiet yet overlooked aspect of the movie deserving more spotlight—illiteracy. Precious’ struggles in the classroom may have been fictional, but for the 32 million adults who read at a substandard level, the problem is all too real.

Book publishers Cathy Owens-Hermann and her husband, Bill, recognized the problem, but rather than turn the other cheek, the couple chose to get on its feet and do something. That something was the establishment of It Helps To Have a Dream Foundation, an organization promoting literacy through outreach and the teachings of the Hermanns’ Safari’s Song and Safari’s Dream book series.  

To help get the message across even better to America’s youth, Cathy and Bill chose to turn Safari’s Song into a theatrical production and enlisted the aid of Antonio Fargas, 40-year acting veteran most famous for his role as “Huggy Bear” in the 70s cop drama Starsky & Hutch, to ensure the February 17 production at New York City’s Kirk Theatre went without a hitch.

“Our very good friend is a friend of [Antonio’s],” recalls Cathy of her introduction to the popular actor. “[Our friend] wouldn’t have contacted him if he didn’t think [Safari’s Song] was something really good. [Antonio] invited us out to the West Coast. We stayed with him for three days. This was in 2007. He looked over what we had. He listened to some of the music. He helped me so much. He’s so brilliant and focused.”

In this candid one-on-one with DX, Antonio Fargas bares all on a few subjects, including why literacy is so dear to his heart, why hip hop digs him so much and why his son, NFL running back Justin Fargas, has nothing but love for the Oakland Raiders.

HipHopDX: Tell me how a man known for colorful ’70s and ’80s characters, become a beacon for literacy.
Antonio Fargas: Number one, when I first started this career – like it happened through me coming right out of grade school, basically going straight into high school at age 14 [when] I went for an interview to try out for a movie. That experience was because I could read well. I was able to let my natural abilities, or my natural abilities for this craft, shine enough to get a role in the movie and start this whole ball rolling. So reading has always been important to me. And then, of course, reading all those scripts all these years. I have just been seasoned to the point to where I’m ready and looking for places to give back, give back to young people, give back to the causes that I can affect through my journey and [with] the assets that I’ve been able to garner. Cathy Owens and her husband brought me an enormous body of work, which was Safari’s Song. This journey began for literacy in a big way because that was a big concern of theirs. They are trying to find a way to help young people. Cathy has been exposed to young people through her piano teachings. She is a great pianist and also has a great gift for writing. The story of Safari’s Song has, because of my urging and support, has taken on the incarnation of a book for children, a treatment for a movie and also this stage play musical.

DX: How have you been able to stay relevant and stay in the public eye for so many years? What are your secrets?
Antonio Fargas: You know, when you really get down to it, all I really did was show up and God did the rest, you know what I mean? You really get spiritual and I’m not talking about religious. I’m talking about the spirit that I’ve been blessed with. I stay relevant because I had opportunities. I realized today that I’m only getting the opportunities that we’re pre-planned for me. I knew a lot of people in the business who lasted five, 10, 15 years. This is my 49th year in this business and my 63rd year on the planet and it’s all been a gift. Even when I look back at my body of work, I’ve done some things that, you know, I could be proud of that people like on television and films. But you stay relevant also by affecting the memory and [offering] joy and hope in people. That’s what’s the basis of a lot of my characters are about. I don’t care if it’s a pimp, the guy on Everybody Hates Chris, or the guy on Martin, it’s about character. It’s about people identifying with the struggle, the survival and the aspects of life. I love characters that have challenges, that have pathos. I’ve been able to serve those characters to the best of my abilities, and hopefully, serve them well so that people will remember them, and somebody would say, “Hey, I would like to employ Antonio Fargas. I would like to call Antonio Fargas.” A friend of mine, a high school buddy, knew where my heart was at. We had such a long relationship. He was a friend of Cathy Owens.

DX: Okay, speaking of folks that love you and respect your work, the world of hip hop has always had a fondness towards you. What is it about rap and your character that seems to gravitate?
Antonio Fargas: Well, I’m a dream-maker. When you get out there, when you do things that Flavor Flav does, when you do the things that Wendy Williams does, when you get behind a character like “Huggy Bear” that I might have seen in the community, when you get behind all the people who take chances, when you get behind the pimp and the hoes of the world who do their struggles and pathos – who are out there paying the price and when you put that on film, stage and TV, it captures the imagination of people just like The Huxtables and Richard Pryor. When you get out there and do the kinds of things they do, you got to accept the fact that people will endear you or hate you or love you. I found a family when I got into the theater, people that are crazy and different like me. We were able to do something positive with it. Unfortunately, a lot of people in life are paying the price [for being different], but I have so much respect for them because they are willing to pay the price. Like my character in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. We laughed and we’re hoping there’s pathos there.

I just humbly accept all the care that the Hip Hop world has giving me. I mean, Flavor Flav has told me I’ve been one of his heroes and he fashions his character a lot around some of the characters that I have done. Will Smith, Chris Rock, Snoop [Dogg], all these guys recognize that I’ve been there. They recognize the shoulders that they stand on. I recognize the shoulders I stand on. It’s just been a great, great relationship that I’ve had with the hip hop world. That’s not something that I intended or anything like that, but people who are out there have a sense of history. They know where it came from. When Snoop says, “Hey, come be in my video” or when Chris Rock says, “Hey, come be on my series,” you know [you’ve done something right]. Someone can call and say, “Help me with my skit” or “I have this song I want to produce.” Even down to my own son, you know, who does music and all of that, he wanted me to be part of it. That’s what it’s about.

DX: I know it’s great when the Chris Rocks and all those guys reach out to you, but on the flip side of that, have you had any regrets for any of the roles that you played?
Antonio Fargas: You know it takes getting through it to say I don’t regret any moment that I’ve had in my life because I’m on the phone with you, you know? As far as my knowledge, I’m fairly healthy, content and smiling. Umm, could I have changed things? Would I have changed things? You know, maybe some circumstances. But when you look back, whatever it was [doesn’t matter]. I’m the richest man in the world spiritually. I feel very rich spiritually. If I was the director and the producer of my own life, I can say, “Yes, I would have liked to receive an Academy Award.” But no, there’s nothing I would have changed.

DX: Being someone who has dipped his toes in television, movies and now stage, is there anything creatively you haven’t done that you’d like to?
Antonio Fargas: Well, I’d like to continually perfect the greatest roles I like to play, which is Antonio Fargas. Now it’s more about being selective and working with people who want to work with me. I have no real burning desire for a stone I haven’t looked under. I think I’ve looked under a lot of stones and I’ve been rewarded. I always had this idea where I’d love to do a movie like Clint Eastwood, do a movie in a romantic sense of either being a villain or playing James Bond. You know, those types of characters. I’m content. In my life, I just want to be a great father. I want to be a great husband. I just want to continue those roles and affecting the roles of a father figure because it also takes a lot of work.

I just came back from England from doing a play and it’s a lot of work. Eventually, you get tired and you want to come in from out of the cold. So, in a way, I’m coming in from out of the cold. I can rest now and I want to rest before I really go to rest. It’s a good day for me. I’m looking forward to coming to New York to direct and stage this production of Safari’s Song. I’m going to say hi to my mom and, you know, go back to my roots and go back to the hood, go to Harlem, you know, do all the thing I can do when I come to New York. I’m seeing some theater, working in the theater, smelling the air in New York. I do what’s in front of me and I try not to look back.

DX: Do you think the CW gave up on Everybody Hates Chris?
Antonio Fargas: The business part of show business is people have no idea of the little machination that makes something a success. The main idea of television is buy cheap and sell high. There are so many different channels. We’re talking about the CW now. There wasn’t a CW before. You’re talking about In Living Color helping FOX put themselves on the map. Everything has its shelf life. It’s not supposed to be for a long time. One of the obstacles of that show was the fact that the young man was growing fast and he had a growth spurt. I think it had one or two more years, if they wanted to do it. But at the same time, there’s a lot of little things like how much the show cost and all those things. I think it’s also a social thing with a lot of TV. Shows are disposable. A lot of TV shows that tell our story have to be really, really strong in order to survive the business and the subtle racism that could be involved in the choice of letting something go and moving on to something else.

DX: What all is on Mr. Fargas’ the rest of this year?
Antonio Fargas: Well, I’m going to be teaching a TV workshop for young people. I’m going to Dallas to celebrate the career of Esther Rolle at the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and then I’m coming to New York to continue my work with Safari’s Song. I hope to be going to the Cannes Film Festival with my stepson, the filmmaker, in May. What else? I’m also trying to establish an acting work shop, a seminar, that’s called “Surviving Life Through Acting: Out of the Box Thinking with Antonio Fargas.” That’s a work in progress. I’m also working on the slow development of my book to tell my story. It will not only be interviews, but also in a book form. I just want to relax and work on my golf game.

DX: And how is that coming?
Antonio Fargas: Slow, slow because I’m always so busy. Sometimes I just want to relax and listen to music and watch my son when it’s football season, run that rock for a couple more years. I’m working with my manager to see who wants to work with me. It’s a possibility I’m going to Europe to do another play because they like me in England and they really respect what I brought to the table. I’ve been going over there since being a teenager, working in theater and different projects. There may be a tour of a play that I did over there called The Blues Brothers. I played the Cab Callaway role. Just little things. Again, I moved from L.A. because I don’t feel like I have to be competitive. I don’t have that burning desire to compete. There may be a [TV] pilot I may do this spring. I might reappear on television or something like that. I have no real plans except the ones I described. I’m letting the game come to me. That’s my new thing. I realized that, over the years, I’ve always been able to stay relevant because God has but something in my life that has helped me do that. I expect that he will continue to do that.

DX: You just mentioned your son, Justin. If you could have a couple of one-on-one meetings with owner Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, what are a couple of things that you would suggest to make the team better?  
Antonio Fargas: It’s hard to evaluate talent and all that. Everyone gets on him. I would give him props. He can run his team any way that he wants. He’s been good to my son, and that’s the number one thing that I care about. We all can play general manager. We all can play owner. It’s not my money. I’m not the general manager or the coach. But he realizes [what he has]. You don’t go seven seasons with 11 losses without knowing there’s a problem. I know that this guy, Mr. Davis, has the hunger to win. We don’t always make the right decisions. We don’t always do the right thing to make that winning happen, but I know that he is going to continue trying. Now, he’s bringing in new coaches and stuff. I believe they’re about to turn around. They’re finally figuring out either how to use or get the most out of that quarterback position in the terms of that money that they invested in JaMarcus Russell. They will find out by the end of preseason whether or not they will stay with him or move on to someone else. [Coach Tom Cable] gives them some continuity. Looks like he’s been re-hired. They brought in an offensive coordinator (Hue Jackson), someone who Justin knows as well. [Quarterbacks coach] Paul Hackett is also there. He also recruited Justin to go to University of Southern California. I mean, it’s a lot of relationships built up in that situation. It’s like show business or like a TV show. It’s a lot of thinking and decision-making which is based a lot of money. Then you got the hungry football players. Justin was voted the Commitment to Excellence award winner three years in a row. That’s voted by the players. He most exemplified what a Raider is most about. That means something to Al. A lot of times people say, “If everybody played as hard as Justin, they would be a lot further.” Not everybody have that burning desire. Justin is a lot like me. He’s a survivor. God has giving him a talent and he uses it to the best of his ability.