Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Actor Goes Off-Script, Reaches Tough Teens

New Episode Airs Tonight, 10 p.m. eastern on FX 

by Maniko Barthelemy

When seven million people tune-in every week to watch witches, revenge, and Greek mythology with a splash of painful American history in the midst, it’s a sign.  “American Horror Story: Coven has hypnotized a horror thirsty audience. Back to close its third season and on the heels of an announcement by FX that American Horror Story is returning for a fourth season later this year,  tonight’s premiere episode will surely take loyal viewers and newcomers on a suspenseful horror-filled ride. The show, is co-creator, Ryan Murphy’s dream and vision. It’s definitely not for the weak at heart or those of you with a weak stomach. Sex, lies, violence, Witchcraft, Voodoo, Greek mythology, love and hate set in New Orleans, all sizzle on-screen.
Photo courtesy of Ameer Baraka
New Orleans actor, Ameer Baraka, 35, is a striking character on the show, half man and half bull. “I auditioned four times for that role,” said Baraka. As Minotaur Baraka is voodoo and New Orleans legend, Marie Laveau’s lover (played by Angela Bassett). Kathy Bates is Delphine LaLaurie, an infamous socialite who committed unspeakable crimes against her slaves. “I’m in the company of people like Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett and that’s like taking an accelerated acting class because they are excellent at what they do,” said Baraka. 
Ameer Baraka in character as Minotaur in American Horror Story: Coven (Production still courtesy of Ameer Baraka)
Minotaur speaks very little in the show. He is chained, tortured and mocked periodically. LaLaurie uses him to bait and torment Laveau. It’s evil versus evil. Baraka enjoys the challenges, ratings rewards, lights, camera and action onset. Off script, he’s busy in a much more profound role. “I didn’t learn how to read until I was 19 and in prison,” said Baraka. “One of the inmates, his family used to send him books and he taught me algebra and how to read, so I started studying the dictionary using any free time I had to read books.”
Photo courtesy of Jeff Ray
Baraka spent four years in prison for selling drugs, the result of growing up in a family where he was misunderstood and marginalized. “I had a severe case of dyslexia and instead of trying to help me, my family would call me stupid and dumb,” said Baraka. Acting in school plays worked momentarily as a disguise. “I couldn’t read but I knew how to act like a clown, so I played that every chance I got,” said Baraka. Reality was much harder to ignore. At 13, he became a drug dealer.  “I couldn’t compete at school and I wasn’t being encouraged at home,” said Baraka.

Guilt and regret motivate Baraka to help teens most people try to avoid. “A lot of kids in trouble in New Orleans can’t read but I want them to know they can do something about it” said Baraka. He visits a New Orleans youth detention center at least twice a week, speaks at alternative schools, and follows-up with kids released from detention centers. “The streets lied to me and the same lies are being pumped into the minds of talented young people who are being snuffed out of their true potential,” said Baraka.

Taking his potential to the next level with his own story, is Baraka’s additional mission to get his message across on an international level. In a’N.O.L.A. Life,” a drama about his life, stars a few of the young people he’s met over the years, who once felt hopeless. “God gave me this purpose to save lives. It’s a great feeling when kids get out of the youth study center and tell me they’re staying in school. That feeling is better than any award I could ever get,” said Baraka.
Ameer Baraka seen here with Kathy Bates. Both star in American Horror Story: Coven.  (Photo courtesy of Ameer Baraka)
Baraka hopes his character gets more time onscreen as the story of American Horror Story: Coven evolves. After all, the turmoil of being torn in life-changing directions reflects the life of pain and progress Baraka leads, one no one can direct or yell cut.

Here’s  a look Fox released earlier this year, showing what it takes for Baraka to transform into his popular character, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFAhwCc6_1w. 
Here’s a look at the trailer for N.O.L.A. Life, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mp96InGbanE.
What do you think about Baraka and his vision off-set?

E-mail Maniko Barthelemy directly at NewsHeels@gmail.com or leave a comment on this page. 

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