Andra Fuller AKA Fish Speaks On Letting Black Jesus Into His Life [Exclusive Interview]
Just a few weeks in, Black Jesus is already ruling the talk-box, which is to say that Aaron McGruder's new gospel is getting served up proper. As promised, we sat down with the show's moral muscle and BJC's faithful disciple Fish AKA the dynamic and seasoned actor Andra Fuller to discuss when he let the smoking, drinking and chilling new messiah into his life and what it was like working with the show's architect. We touched on what the program means to him, how he's dealt with the Black Jesus freak backlash and what he's got next on the docket.
We've already noted that Black Jesus may very well be some of McGruder's most profound and accessible work yet and this is the perfect opportunity to examine exactly what makes this thing tick. Get familiar with Fish and read Fuller's personal account of being BJC's disciple below and catch the 4th episode of the saga when it returns tonight on Adult Swim at 11pm.
OKP: I guess a good place to start would be: When did you let Black Jesus into your life?
AF: Ha! Awww, man. I accepted Black Jesus into my life when I saw the name Aaron McGruder attached to it.
AF: Honestly, I’ve been a huge fan of The Boondocks for years now. Even before it was made into a cartoon, I used to live in NYC for a couple of years and would read the comic strip when I was on the train. Huge fan of McGruder’s, so once I saw his name, it was full-throttle from that point on.
OKP: What’s it been like working with him?
AF: It's been great man. Ironically enough, Aaron and I have the same exact birthday; we’re both born on May 29th. He’s older than me but we have a lot in common as far as the creativeness and seeing the bigger picture in the grand scheme of things--you know, that analytical thinking? A lot of things that he puts forth in the writing, I get it instantly. I know where his vision is, I know where he’s going with it.
OKP: Where were you at personally and spiritually when you came to the project? Are you a Christian? Are you practicing? Dedicated heathen?
AF: I am a Christian man and very strong in my faith, but I do know how to separate my professional life as an entertainer and the private practice of my faith. You know, it is possible to separate the two. For me there was no conflict. I didn’t read the script and say “ oh, I can’t do this because it’s a mockery or it’s blasphemy” or any other thing that naysayers have condemned this project for. For me, it was an opportunity to tell the story from a different perspective. 'Cause that’s all we’re doing. We’re telling the same stories or... not the same to a tee, but we’re telling the story of Jesus Christ, just in modern-day Compton doing what people are doing in neighborhoods all over the country. Simple as that.
OKP: How did you come up with the character Fish? How much of Andra Fuller is in him?
AF: In all honesty, I share a lot of similarities with Fish. Minus, you know, being an ex-con and having serious anger management issues. He’s a very loyal person, he has his own mind and he’s the one that’s not afraid to clash with Jesus. He’ll say “Jesus, that was some bullshit, and you know it.” 'Cause who else is gonna tell the messiah that he’s, he’s…
OKP: F*ckin’ up?
AF: Exactly. That he’s messin’ up. He’s bullshittin’. Nobody’s gonna do that, except Fish. He’s gonna go and speak his mind and stand up for what he believes in. And I share that with him as well as, you know, being a natural leader, which you’ll see later in the show.
OKP: Oh, it's already very clear.
AF: Can you already see that?
OKP: Absolutely. I was just thinking about how Fish is the moral muscle where Jesus can’t be. Always being the more aggressive of the crew where JC can’t.
AF: Yup. Fish is that loyal pitbull. He’ll follow Jesus’ lead, but at the snap of a finger he’ll rip at you. He'll go at you. He’s the one of the crew that has an internal conflict that’s always struggling. Do what’s right and follow JC’s lead or handle things the way he always has, which is strong-arming em’, being violent. You know, the old Fish, but he’s not trying to be that anymore.
OKP: He’s a deceptively complex character. And I’ve actually noticed that in your prior role on The LA Complex, where you’re portraying a closeted gay rapper, that the same level of complexity exists. Do you see any similarities in your approach to the in-renovation ex-con Fish and your prior role?
AF: Absolutely. The main similarity I see between my character in The LA Complex and this character Fish is that both of them are explosive. At the drop of a dime, they go from zero to a hundred. And they’ll lay it right in to you, just let you have it. [Kaldrick] was obviously a bit more complex cause he was hiding this secret that he had to protect by any means. For him, I literally played that character as a bipolar one; one minute he’s opening up...well, trying to open up. And the next he punching your face out.
OKP: I thought it was particularly interesting in the opening moments of Black Jesus to see how Fish went from being outrageously polite and trying to get the car moved expediently to getting nasty when the long arm of the law wouldn’t allow that to happen.
AF: Exactly, but the latter is the real Fish. He’s the in you’re face, whoop-ya-ass kinda dude. The former is the the dude he’s trying to become. JC had been preaching to him, “Fish, use ya words”; “Express yourself with words, Fish.” He tried to walk away, but he just couldn’t help it.
OKP: I mean when all else fails, you revert back to old tendencies.
AF: You go with what ya know.
OKP: One of the more compelling themes in the show is how BJ has influenced his disciples, even early on. And I wonder how that plays into the root of the show--what is the implicit lesson Black Jesus has for us?
AF: You’re spot on. At the root of the show, it’s simply about a modern day Jesus Christ in Compton, CA preaching the gospel of love and kindness. That’s it. Once you strip away the surface layers of vocabulary, the drinking, the smoking. Once that’s all gone, it’s just Jesus in the hood spreading the gospel.
So it’s implicit we show that influence. Like when to Hispanic gang members roll up, Fish doesn’t lead the charge. Jesus does. But at that point, you’re now gonna threaten Jesus. Fish would do anything for Jesus, he’s--more so than any other character--there to protect Jesus. He’ll let JC take the lead until there’s a threat, but still call him out when need be. As opposed to the other guys in the crew, who will tend to fall back and will pretty much take the “whatever Jesus do, I’m down with it too” stance.
OKP: We’ve noted some backlash in the coming of Black Jesus, particularly from Christian groups in Louisiana and even more particularly, in Black Christian groups across the south. Has that affected you personally? Caught any shade from family or friends for the show? Any new stalkers?
AF: I have. I’ve had a few family members, a few friends. I was born in the South, in Houston, TX. In Texas, there’s two things you don’t play with: our football and our religion. Only recently, when the trailers started airing, have I had a couple of people in my family--I’ve also had a couple of friends--tell me: "Hey man, I support you and what you’re doing, but...dot dot dot. I can’t support this show."
And depending on how well I know you and like you, that dictates whether I’ll engage in a conversation about the show or not. If I didn’t know you’d I’d say “OK” and then just leave it alone. But if I know you and we have rapport and I value your opinion then I’ll get into with you.
It’s just entertainment. We’re not making a mockery. I’ll explain to them that it’s just Jesus in the hood performing miracles. And then I’ll point out the parallels. I’ll say, Hey, the Jesus we read about in the Bible drank wine. The 2014 Jesus of Compton drinks beer.
OKP: And cognac.
AF: (Giggles) And cognac. The Jesus we read about in the Bible was...
OKP: A drunk?
AF: ...he used the language of the people. The Jesus in modern day Compton does the same.
OKP: That’s certainly been one of the most entertaining things about the show. The application of those tales to a contemporary world, without changing much about Jesus at all. But I have to ask, where do you think the dissent is focused? Has it been mostly targeting his behavior? Or is it the color of his skin?
AF: Initially, we thought it was because the title of the show was Black Jesus and people thought it was blasphemous that Jesus was Black, but I don’t need to get into all that. All I gotta tell anyone that doesn’t believe that is read your Bible. You’ll notice it says "skin of bronze; hair of wool" [Revelation 1:14 - 1:15: And his head and his hair were as white wool...his eyes were as a flame of fire;and his feet like burnt brass - ed.] and if you think about the geography at all, and you’ll realize pretty quickly.
OKP: OK, so you’ve already come to terms with the fact that Jesus might not have actually been a white man, correct?
AF: That is very politely put. (we laugh a bit) Jesus was definitely a man of color. I’ll just leave it at that.
OKP: What’s on the horizon for you? Any new projects coming up?
AF: I’m currently in the middle of season 3 of a webseries called RoomieLoverFriends. Yeah it’s one of the more popular ones and one an ABFF award for best series on the web. Which was huge. I just did my first episode for a recurring role for a show called Rush on USA Network as well. And a few other things.
In my downtime, I’ve actually been making music. Just released my first single on iTunes a few weeks ago. When I did LA Complex I wrote all the lyrics for the show. It afforded me the opportunity really focus on my craft.
OKP: Was music something that’s always been there or was it implanted by playing this character?
AF: I’ve always done music. Even in college my friends and I would all make tapes, we’d all be freestyling in the locker room. Amongst my family and friends I’m referred to as the Box. When they’d hear a song on the radio they’d call me and be like: "Ayy man, who sings that song that goes..." (mumbles some gibberish to the tune of a '90s r&b cut) I love music like that man.
OKP: So there are layers to Andra Fuller. Well, we really appreciate your time and contribution to a show that is pretty profound in very subtle ways. Wishing you nothing but success and the best going forward.
AF: Thank you.