A Journey to the A-List
Fourteen years ago, a very talented brother decided to do something that so many other talented people do--move to the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. [Cue Jay-Z & Alicia Keys] Not everyone gets to live their happily ever after, but Nicoye Banks was one of the lucky ones.
When he said goodbye to his swampy, sweaty New Orleans home and hello to the fast-paced freakshow that is New York City, he introduced himself to a career that would slowly, but surely unfold. Banks received a partial scholarship to study under the late Gene Frankel--whoís directed and taught pioneering stars like Sisely Tyson, Lou Gosset Jr. and James Earl Jones. Banks was certainly amongst amazing company and a few months, felt ready to tackle acting as a professional for the rest of his life. He was committed! Under Frankelís advisory, Banks was sent to audition for a role in and Off Off Broadway play and landed the gig. Since then, his resume grew rapidly, boasting stage plays such as, Zooman and the Sign, A Hatful of Rain, Death of a Salesman, Trapped, Same Train and The High Priestess of Dark Alley; and films such as, G, Invincible, and his latest works Brooklynís Finest and The Green Zone. He even has TV shows under his belt--Law & Order & One Life to Live. This is only a few of the many accomplishments Banks has been able to make since his start as a child actor on stage. He is definitely breaking ground all around him and counts his blessings daily. Thatís why heís made it this far--his humble attitude and hungry spirit continue to push him into his blindingly bright future!
I know you made the move to New York to pursue acting. Do you feel youíve been able to keep a lot of your down-home southerness with you?
You know what, I do. First of all, I got home quite often to make sure it stays in me. I check on family & my son. It helps. In the south, New Orleans in particular, itís slower. Itís a little laid back Cadillac style. Thereís still intensity because itís hot & humid down there. Itís serious. Coming here to New York--the motion takes you. Every once in a while you need to have the ability to slow down & collect your thoughts. If you werenít born into this type of flow, it could spin you into a tailspin.
What do you say your journey was like thus far?
Itís been a slow, steady progression. Of course, at some point early on, I wished the big bang theory applied to me and my career--BOOM and it just happened. But, that didnít happen. Now that I look at it, Iím glad that it did take slow, steady steps because each and every level is solid ground. My stage career, being a child of the theatre, is solid. I can always go back to the theatre and step on that platform and be very comfortable. I spent some time on that level, doing those plays. Now that itís elevating to bigger budget movies & things like that, well, for a while, it was short films. I wasnít getting paid anything & there was a four or five person crew with everyone doing everything. Iíve paid those dues. Sometimes films didnít come out at all. There were films that Iíve had two lines, versus 25. Now that things are progressing along, itís cool to have a nice stroll to the top, where ever it is. I get to see all the flowers & enjoy them.
Do you prefer screen acting over stage acting?
I donít have a preference. Iíve gotten more comfortable with screen acting. Thatís definitely a new medium. Imagine youíre a pot of boiling water. Doing a stage play, a pot of water stays on the stove for two & a half hours, bubbling & cooking the whole time. In the film world, you have the water, but you need to stay boiling even if itís taken off the flame & then put back on the flame. They need that water boiling in exactly three minutes. Translation, in the theatre world, backstage weíre in character. Weíre living that life because in that full two hours, whether weíre changing costumes, makeup, hair, weíre still in that mode--still hot. In films, you might not shoot until later on in the day, itís in the middle of the script somewhere. You have to know where you are in that movie to be able to deliver that information. Thereís a lot of distractions, people walking around, but when you sit down & hit that mark, now youíve got to be boiling water. After all of the sitting in the trailer, eating at the Kraft table; Now they need you scalding hot.
Thereís so many child actors that fizzle or get eaten up by the industry. How would you describe your transition from being a child actor to being a credible adult actor?
I say it all the time. This business is a war of attrition. Itís who can last the longest? It is, who is going to outlast? Itís not so much the man or woman next to you as it is your own imagination. Do I give it up? Do I go and do something safe--get a 9-5, 401K and benefits? Or do I continue to try to manifest this dream that seems to be allusive, but itís not. Itís real. Iím glad I didnít blow up as a child because I donít know if I would know what to do with myself as an adult. I would probably revert. We revert to childhood ways in our life cycles. Having serious guidance around you early helps. They are going to be the ones to funnel and disseminate power and information to you as a child. When youíre a child, you really donít know how to control that which is coming to you. In the end, itís a business. When youíre talking about money, there are hardcore decisions that need to be made. As a child, you never really understand why you no longer have a show, why youíre no longer being sought after, no more requests for interviews & photo sessions.
Do you feel youíve had a defining moment yet?
Iím proud of them all. I really am. Thereís hundreds of men that could have been selected [for Brooklynís Finest]. There were thousands of people that were looked at for this one role. I was chosen. I am proud of that. I was put in a situation to do what it is that I claim I love. Iím proud to be accounted for on the professional level.
Did you pick up any valuable acting gems from Wesley Snipes & Don Cheadle?
First & foremost, to see that they have such great camaraderie & flow to their craft, was amazing. To see that up close & in person, is an experience. I sat there, like a fly on the wall, in the scene, as they set up lighting & whatever & I watched those things. I didnít get caught up watching them play ball, I got caught up in watching them practice, warm up & stretch. Thatís where I got the most knowledge. Iím watching Don look up & see where theyíre shining the light on him, watching Wesley survey the props, almost like he was plotting what he wanted to do. He didnít plan his actions. I watched him plan not to plan. He was looking at his surroundings. It was priceless. You never see this in the theatre. He was able to say, ďI need more light, right here.Ē Don was able to make a suggestion, ďI donít think we should have this happen. This should already be or have her just come inÖĒ Antonie Fuqua, being the professional he is--I watched the three of them do this dance that was just beautiful. Suggestions were made & they were taken into consideration immediately. When the scene pops off & now Iím in the game with them, I can see that this is a beautiful flow. I learned to be very aware of what surrounds you & keep it simple. Being a young actor, earning your spot, we feel thereís so much to do to be noticed, relevant & asked to come back again because this is our one little moment. In all actuality, you donít really need that. Thatís one thing I took from them--just be. Things will happen. And itís happened, if I must say so myself.
This seems to be a defining moment for youÖ
Honestly, I think it is. Every opportunity to work and be employed is pivotal. We actors spend a lot of time being unemployed, so when employment comes, itís personal, pivotal, important and up to us to make those pivotal, important moments count. Thatís one more thing on the resume, one more notch on the belt, one more thing we get to say, ďHey, I am living my dream.Ē
As a father, do you find it hard to balance your family life with your movie star life?
I donít because my head is straight. Not saying that I was completely whacked out before. [laughs] When things start to happen and your dreams start to actualize themselves, itís possible for you to get caught up in Wonderland. You canít get caught up and forget that this is a dream. Dreams are good, but whatís real is family. Then, you can elevate to a place and space that each one feeds off of the other. Without your dreams, you donít stay alive, well and functional enough to survive for your family. Without your family, you lose your sense of purpose and meaning of what and why you do what you doÖThatís why family is the number two, under God. Thatís just my opinion.
Youíre such a good guy--through and through. You even take the time to give back, creating The Standard and The Art of the Craft. Tell me about The Standard.
Itís an artist collective that myself and three other actors and writers created. Itís a safe haven where we can come and workshop, build & do community outreach. We create and produce new work within our community. A lot of talented people are going unseen and unheard. We put an amplifier on that voice & shine our own light on each other. Itís going to draw some attention.
I love the concept! What about The Art of the Craft?
Itís a workshop seminar that Iíve created with a partner of mine, whoís a ridiculous artist. Weíre going into schools and talking about the basics of being artists. Thereís an art to the craft. We have little ideologies and thought processes that we share to show them and enlighten them of the art of the craft. Weíre going to branch out and take this into a more city by city, school by school type of thing.
What made you create these organizations?
I donít know. The Standard created itself. Going through this war, you always want to talk to people who can relate. You share war stories and come up with solutions. Thatís called a network. My partners and I wanted to create something a little more structured. Weíre patterning ourselves behind the NEC and the National Black Theatre of Harlem, but the new version of that. Thatís where I come from--community theatre and a community of people working together--that whole ideology. Going into schools, Iím big on that because once upon a time I was sitting in an auditorium and I saw a performance that wowed me. I had someone come along and say something about their craft and I was further impressed by it. Itís my way of giving back what was given to me.
What is coming up for you?
Weíve got a Law & Order episode under my belt and itís out right now. Iím about to start working on an independent feature film. I just got that so all the details are being ironed out with that. I did a very, very beautiful short film named Spare Change thatís going to be coming out during the film festivals. Itís my first lead of any film. I am excited about that. This fall, I will be returning to the stage. At the top of next year, Iím planning on producing a play that I did last year. This is the time to be all in. It took a while to get to this moment, but itís a process. I am learning what it is to be a producer.