In January of 1969, after returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam as a combat medic, I discovered that if I enrolled in college, I could get out of the Army three months early. After arriving at Chabot College, I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer. Fortuitously, while playing Bid Whist in the student union, I met a couple of people who were on the debate team. They suggested that I join them on the team and that would help me towards my litigation abilities as a lawyer. While talking to them about it, a powerful woman, who was all of 5’2”, came into the room and asked whose voice that was echoing down the hall. After a few questioning looks between us, I finally asked whose voice was she referring to? She said, “That’s it. What are you doing at 3 o’clock this afternoon?” I said, “Well….” She said, “Good… come to room 708.” Dr. Barbara Merdes was her name and she introduced me to Readers Theater and Forensics (Competitive speaking). I went undefeated for two years and became the state forensics champion. Dr. Merdes was an important role model for me.
The drama teacher, Glenn Dubose, came up to me one day and asked if I would be interested in doing a musical called Golden Boy. That sounded like fun. So, I embarked on this wild, exciting, crazy adventure ride in the world of ‘The Theater’. That was 51 years ago, and I haven’t gotten off the ride yet. It just keeps getting better and better. I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had. I love what I do.
For Richard’s full filmography, view the full list below in the tab section of this page.
My first professional job was in the national company of No Place to Be Somebody with Ben Vereen and Philip Michael Thomas. Some of the more notable performances in the years to follow included Drama Critics Awards for my work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Los Angeles Theater Center (LATC) and Streamers at the Westwood Playhouse. Other memorable experiences included productions of Fool for Love at LATC, Checkmates at the Westwood Playhouse, a New York Shakespeare Festival production of The Mighty Gents, a New York Manhattan Theater Company world premiere of The Talented Tenth, the American premiere of Hapgood at The Doolittle Theater in Los Angeles, two different productions of Othello, one at the Houston Shakespeare Festival and the other at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, directed by Milton Katselas, Vision and Lovers at The Skylight Theater, also directed by Milton and The Exonerated at the Actors Gang Theater in Los Angeles. Recently, I produced, directed, and acted in a revival of No Place to Be Somebody at the WACO Theater Center in North Hollywood, California.
Some of my selected films include Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist, Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, Stick with Burt Reynolds, The Main Event with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, Coming Home with Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, Audrey Rose with Anthony Hopkins and Marsha Mason, Wag the Dog starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, How Stella Got Her Groove Back starring Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett, Guess Who starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, For Colored Girls starring Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington, and a host of others. A few well-noted indie projects include Blue Hill Avenue, The Last Stand, and Love for Sale. A few films from my early days include Scream Blacula Scream with William Marshall and Pam Grier, Black Fist (originally titled Bogard) with Dabney Coleman and Philip Michael Thomas, and Sugar Hill. I was a series regular on The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Dynasty, and Chicago Story. Notable movies-of-the-week include Jericho Mile, The Golden Moment, Johnnie Gibson, FBI, Pandora’s Clock, and Jackie’s Back. I have also guest-starred on popular series such as MacGyver (recurring character spun off to a pilot called The Coltons), Wiseguy, Amen, The Parent ‘Hood, St. Elsewhere, Picket Fences, Judging Amy, The Division, NYPD Blue, All of Us, Numb3rs, and Real Husbands of Hollywood, The Royal Feast and The Royal Family Christmas and Saints and Sinners to name a few.
I created the part of ‘Lucas Barnes’ on the soap opera, All My Children.
A natural extension of teaching is directing. The following is a selected list of some pieces I’ve directed: No Place to Be Somebody, Othello, Death of a Salesman, Chicago, Heat, From the Heart of Love, Lullaby Lady, Driving Miss Daisy, Unfaithful, The Fisher King, and Excuse Me.
In 1976, I began studying with the world-renowned acting teacher and director, Milton Katselas. In 1980, I began teaching his classes. I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in the training of some of the most successful actors in the business.
In 2005, I created my own acting/empowerment studio called the Richard Lawson Studios. On the surface, it’s an acting school. Underneath the hood, it’s an empowerment academy. Since its inception, I’ve empowered people to identify their dream and then provide the tools to help them manifest it. I empower actors to develop the skill and gain the techniques necessary to create the evidence needed to fulfill their dreams. I use acting techniques to empower anyone to identify what it is they want and what they need to do to go get it.
My “wild, exciting, crazy adventure” has included other dynamics, of course, besides the stage, film, and television. From 1983 to 1994, I helped to administrate and run the drug education, training, treatment, and aftercare program for the National Basketball Association/National Basketball Players Association. I trained under Dr. Dave Lewis, Kip Flock, and John Bradshaw, three of the top men in their field. I was instrumental in helping to make that program one of the most successful drug programs in Corporate America.
March 22, 1992, I was on USAir’s flight 405, which crashed during takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Twenty-seven people died and 24 people survived. An event of this magnitude has an indelible effect on your psyche and spirit. It certainly teaches you that there are no guarantees in life. You have to live every day as if it’s your last. Events surrounding the plane crash inspired me to write a yet unpublished novel, which I’m also adapting into a screenplay.