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'I’ve seen the bad stuff, I’ve been a part of it'

TALENTED JAMAICAN: Actor Paul Campbell

MANY ARE familiar with the chillingly ominous “Walk an’ live…” line uttered by the pesky predator Priest in the hit motion picture Dancehall Queen.

This role was, of course, played by Jamaican son of the silver screen Paul Campbell.

It was only befitting that we should convene alongside a shimmering blue pool on the sunny isle of Jamaica for a candid conversation on a Sunday evening. After all, this is where his journey began!

His deep brown eyes - which have made scores of audiences believe his various portrayals - pierced in a warm but intent way. I commenced by asking “Paul, are you a serious man in real life, as well as when playing certain roles?”

He immediately broke into a genuine smile and replied, “When it comes to the art of acting, I am serious. I’m passionate about all forms of art, that’s where my seriousness comes in. But I don’t take life too seriously.”

Campbell currently resides in America, and he is also an avid film producer through PAR production - a company of which he is CEO.

This year the actor has received the Caribbean Heritage Award at the Oracabessa Festival and has been honoured at the Image Entertainment Distinction Awards.

From landing his very first acting role in the Jamaican National Pantomime, to featuring in Hollywood blockbuster movies such as First Sunday, Campbell’s tantalising tale began when he was an adolescent living in the depressed area of Maxfield Avenue, Kingston.

He delved deep within to find a profound focus, inspired by the strength of his beloved mother who singlehandedly raised him.

“I fell in love with acting to distract from the fear and trauma of what was happening within my community. I fell in love with that instead of the gunman, himself. I fell in love with acting like him without necessarily being,” he explains.

Growing up in such a notorious area worked to inform and even enhance Campbell’s acting capabilities, especially his frequent villainous roles. He says: “I’ve seen the bad stuff; I’ve been a part of it. There is a certain reality and truth that comes out when I’m playing such a character. I take it that when people see it, they recognise it as real and people become uneasy which is a compliment.”

Although he is certainly galvanised by these roles, Campbell is a versatile actor who received formal training at the Jamaican School of Drama and has featured in many stage productions, as well as screen.

Much of these roles have portrayed ‘good’ characters such as in his major debut film role in The Lunatic in 1992 and in the 1999 film Third World Cop - Jamaica’s highest grossing film to date - where he acts as the heroic cop Capone.

However, Campbell is up to usual tricks in the upcoming independent film Jamaican Mafia. Written by budding actor and screenwriter Mykal Fax, Campbell takes on the role of Soljie, who is the leader of an underworld organisation. The film also includes appearances from notable Jamaican personalities, including DJ Nardo Ranks and music diva D’Angel.

Beaming with pride, Campbell says: “I’m very proud of Jamaican Mafia and the way that an eclectic team and various entities have come together to produce it. All thoughts were about making it of the highest caliber so it can stand in any market.”

Campbell is now gearing up for the launch of Jamaican Mafia in the USA.

Despite the many wonderful achievements that Jamaica boasts to the rest of the world, the gangster stigma has had a negative impact on overseas’ opinion of the country and its citizens.

The island’s minister of national security, Peter Bunting, recently alleged that the country’s violent subculture is being reinforced and promoted by the entertainment industry.

With that said, Jamaica’s actors and entertainers are usually left with an uncomfortable amount of responsibility to shoulder when it comes to their craft and how it is interpreted.

This begs the question of the intended impact of Jamaican Mafia, which Campbell eloquently clarified: “It is regarded as a gangster film but the story is not necessarily on the ‘shoot ‘em up’ aspect.

The actor added: “It is more about loyalty, family values, the relationship between my character and his nephew Zoolian [played by the film’s writer Mykal Fax] and that’s the decency that is going to resonate more than the other aspects of the film.”

Quick to point out that this is a matter of art and entertainment, he continues: “Acting is life imitating art. With Jamaican Mafia people are going to be entertained. It’s not going to particularly have you coming out of the theatres wanting to be any of the characters, but more thinking ‘that was a great film’.”

By his own admission, Campbell is in love with the sort of rogue role which he is most well-known for, and is no hurry to give them up.

“I will never stop playing the villain roles; I love ‘em. They are less predictable and more interesting to interpret. The good guys will get the girl, win, walk off into the sunset with a bag of money...that’s boring,” he says.

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