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Chi McBride of 'Boston Public'

Chi McBride
Chi McBride, 40, who plays principal Steven Harper on "Boston Public," didn't start acting until he was 31 years old  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Chi McBride looms large on "Boston Public," and not just because he is 6-foot-5. Playing principal Steven Harper, a tough, moral and compassionate leader of a public high school, McBride casts a considerable shadow on the set and in viewers' eyes.

McBride, 40, has received rave reviews, both from the critics and those who tune in to see the weekly Fox show.

CNN Showbiz Today Reports visited the show's Los Angeles set, where McBride talked about success, and how long he waited for it to find him. And guess where he was working when acting came calling?

CNN: Why do you think audiences have responded so well to this show?

CNN's Lori Blackman interviews actor Chi McBride about his role on the school-based drama

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Chi McBride: I don't know; perhaps it's the fact that it is a different genre in the one-hour drama scene -- a show that is about something other than doctors, lawyers and cops. Teachers are something completely different ... and I think it makes for some very interesting television.

CNN: The character you portray, Steven Harper, is not your typical principal.

McBride: Yeah, I've had a lot of people tell me they wish I were their principal.

CNN: How would you describe him?

McBride: I think Steven is like a guy who has a piano on top of his head all of the time, and he is juggling a refrigerator, a chain saw and a broken bottle. ... He's a guy with a lot on his mind, a lot on his plate and a lot to do, and a guy that doesn't have the time to pull everybody aside and give them a pep talk.

He's a guy who makes a big painting, but he colors outside of the line when you look very close.

CNN: How many teachers out there in the real world get as actively involved in their students' lives as Steven Harper does? Is the show an accurate depiction of real life?

McBride: Of course, you have to think about taking some dramatic license just to make it entertaining. ... But I think that it is realistic in a lot of ways, sure it is. There is a lot going on in high schools and I think it's fairly accurate.

CNN: Do you think you may be setting an example that teachers and students might follow?

McBride describes his character, Steven Harper, as a man who's "juggling a refrigerator, a chain saw and a broken bottle. ... He's a guy with a lot on his mind"  

McBride: Oh, I don't know about that. I am one who always says, 'How dare television look at itself as some sort of guiding light for society.' ... Let's be real: It's just TV, and it's just entertainment.

I think the good thing about it, if anything is gleamed from it, is just to have people be aware that teachers are out there with a very difficult job, which they pursue with tireless dedication.

CNN: Many people don't know this, but you starred in the short-lived TV series "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer." Why are people still talking about this show?

McBride: I think journalists think it makes for interesting reading or interesting television. But I look at it simply the way I look at many things in Hollywood: It is a television show that I did and it got canceled, and it's been off the air for two years. I am not in therapy from it, I don't have any emotional scars from it and none of my checks from Paramount bounced.

CNN: You've done some big-screen roles recently -- "The Kid" and "Gone in Sixty Seconds," to name a few. Is there a difference in tackling the big- and small-screen roles?

McBride: Yeah. When you do features, you spend three months with a character and you get to put him on and take him off, and that is it. But with an ongoing concern, like we hope "Boston Public" will be, you create a character and you have to find what their range of emotion will be, what kind of individual you are dealing with over the course of, hopefully, many years. And it can be a joy.

Look at Kelsey Grammer. When it is all said and done he will probably be playing "Frasier" for 20 years, and that is a long time to explore the psyche of a character, but that is also very interesting work. I don't have a preference for one or the other. In movies, I have had the opportunity of working with some of the people that I respect very much.

CNN: You grew up in Chicago. How old were you when you started acting?

McBride: I was 31 years old, almost 10 years ago. I haven't done this for very long. I am just very lucky, that's all.

CNN: What made you decide at 31 that this was what you wanted to do?

McBride: I had spent many years before I was 31 hearing people tell me, 'Oh Man, you're so funny, you need to be in television, that's what you need to do.' But of course, that and a quarter won't get you on a bus. I was working at a phone company. I got tired of my life and wanted to change it.

CNN: What would you like to see your character do from this point forward?

McBride: I don't know what I'd like to see him do, but everyone else wants to see him (have sex). ... I'd like to see him teach. Even if it just a very short part of a scene, so that you can see the passion that he probably once had before he became a guy who just had to rely on pragmatism to get through the day.

'Boston Public' gets an A-plus
October 25, 2000

Fox: 'Boston Public'

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