(The Root) — After playing methodical Baltimore detective Lester Freamon on HBO's The Wire, actor Clarke Peters might surprise audiences in his latest role. As Bible-thumping Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse in Spike Lee's newest film, Red Hook Summer, which opens in select theaters on Friday, Peters' character wants to build a better relationship with his iPad-toting grandson Flick.
In the coming-of-age tale, the young boy has left his cushy, suburban Atlanta lifestyle for a few weeks in gritty Brooklyn, N.Y. The bishop tries to teach him a sense of responsibility and introduces him to the values of the good book. By the film's end, it's clear that the bishop is the one who really needs saving.
Despite the top billing in Red Hook Summer and the reprise of his role as ornery Mardi Gras Chief Albert Lambreaux in HBO's upcoming season of Treme, Peters told The Root he misses playing Freamon and ambling around with his trademark bowed legs. Thanks to a recent double-knee replacement, his legs have been straightened out. "I thought that'd be a good thing, but you know what?" Peters says with a laugh. "I lost my swagger and I'm really depressed." [Spoiler alert: a key plot development is discussed in the interview.]
The Root: Unlike many of your previous characters, would you say Bishop Enoch Rouse is less than likeable?
Clarke Peters: He's not [likeable] but it's necessary to hear his story. This male disease that permeates not only sports but politics, religion and schools is something we shouldn't turn a blind eye to; everyone [involved in a molestation] situation is a victim. I imagine from the moment it happens to someone they become hardwired for that, and the addiction perpetuates itself.
We must find a way to stop it, and I don't think the solution is locking up all of the perpetrators, because they've been victims, too. I'm only saying this having gone through Enoch's journey but the medicine might just be a beatdown. The bishop is really out of my usual characters, who are mostly nice old men, but I'm happy to have done it because I'm an actor and actors need to stretch, not be pigeonholed.
TR: There is a scene with Bishop Enoch and a boy named Blessing Rowe that Spike Lee mentioned was particularly difficult for you to shoot. How did you get through it?
CP: During the scene, I couldn't even look the little boy in his face. I looked at his [collarbone] and I noticed he had a button undone. I have five kids; being tactile with a child is no problem, so I fixed his button, which looked like I was unbuttoning his shirt and I knew it would read like that on camera. But I put it in my mind that "I'm getting my son ready for bed," because if I had to emulate some sort of transgression against that child, I would've walked off the set.
But Spike was generous enough to see [my apprehension], and we worked through it. The audience doesn't really want to see that and they don't need to, because you see Blessing [as an adult] tell Enoch that he's committed the worst crime any person can do to another by taking away his hope and faith.
TR: Between Bishop Eddie Long and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, what do you make of Red Hook Summer's timeliness regarding sexual assault in the news?
CP: I'm an artist because we're allowed another sort of communication with our higher selves. I didn't make Sandusky or that preacher do what they did, but somebody said you have to do this now because people need to have this discussion. Spike has his finger on the pulse of issues that we shy away from or even blatantly ignore. In hindsight, we couldn't have picked a better time for this film.
TR: HBO's New Orleans drama Treme returns in September. Can you share any spoilers regarding Big Chief Lambreaux?
CP: He'll be the same, because while much has changed in New Orleans, much has stayed the same. People don't have their homes, and thousands don't have insurance. The corruption is in your face. Still, in little ways things are changing for the better. Wendell Pierce's Treme character Antoine Batiste has rebuilt his community and is seeing that the other communities don't have grocery stores, so he makes a chain. In doing so, the community doesn't have to go somewhere else to get what they need.
I grew up in New Jersey but I spent my summers on Putnam Avenue in Brooklyn. As a kid, there was a Haitian grocer, a Jewish shoemaker, my uncle had the liquor store, another one had an electrical shop — everything was there in the community.
Hillary Crosley is the New York bureau chief of The Root.