INTERVIEW BY MAYA RENEE CASTRO
Photo by McCall Olsen @mccall_olsen
Daniel Croix is an American actor in film, television, and theatre originally from Buffalo, New York. You and your mothers may know him from his latest role, Jason Franklin, on Tyler Perry’s The Oval. Meeting and getting to talk with Daniel all happened by chance and making this interview a very lucky one. Daniel is a very passionate, driven and all around sweet guy. We talked about everything from our love of theater, to Black exceptionalism and the power of creating pathways for other BIPOC artists.
Who is Daniel Croix?
It was a slightly chilly day when I sat down in front of my computer to chat with actor, Daniel Croix (he/him/his). It was interesting to learn about Daniel. He moved around a lot as a kid between cities, suburbs, and even a farm but considers Buffalo, New York to be his original “home.”
He grew up with his mom, dad, and older sister on the Westside of Buffalo. Although the cash flow was low – he recalls his childhood being immersed in creativity, poetry, and storytelling. His dad, Edgar, was a bass player and his mother, Maureen, did social work. Maureen’s passion for uplifting others made her extremely dedicated to justice and taught him at an early age about inequality. She taught him to constantly uplift others; To see everyone as whole human beings. One of the ways she did this was by putting him in a theatre program that put on local plays and built a community of non-disabled kids alongside kids living with disabilities. She felt it was important for him to be immersed with people of all different backgrounds – and he made his stage debut as a candlestick in “Beauty and the Beast” at 5 years old. However, that isn’t where his real acting journey started.
His path to becoming an actor
Daniel’s grandma, Clarita, took him to see The Lion King in Toronto when he was 10 year old. He was obsessed – so his grandma enrolled him in the Performing Arts school, BAVPA, for 5th grade. From Grade 5 through 12, he was a theater major there. Finding the theater was the first place he felt like he found “his people.” He said, “I felt like a total outsider. I was this frizzy haired, chubby, brown boy who had crushes on girls and boys. I felt a lot of shame seeing no examples of anyone like me. I was deeply confused. But then we put on plays – and I felt free. It was the Black women in the Buffalo community who led me to those spaces – especially my grandma and my favorite teacher Lorna. They “got” me, and I’m so grateful for them. ”
In 7th grade, Daniel had a new teacher, Lorna C. Hill. She founded Ujima Co. Inc. the longest running repertory theatre company in Buffalo, New York. The word Ujima is the third principal of Kwanzaa, and the Swahili word for collective work and responsibility. He recalls Lorna being tough as nails but full of love – and that he felt called to learn as much as he could from her. She instilled traditions of Black storytelling in him. Lorna taught foundations: acting, singing, drumming, dancing, and the study of Black playwrights. During the interview, Daniel mentioned her again and again, and considers her family. Lorna passed away this year, and he sees his work as a dedication to her legacy.
TV or Film or Theater?
At the age of 25, Daniel has worked in all the major forms an actor can. So I had to ask which was his favorite, TV, Film, or Theater? He told me right away that he loves working in all of them for different reasons. However, theatre made him feel nostalgic. This sparked a conversation of our mutual love and appreciation for theater. The theater is the birthplace of TV and Film and the people who work in theater continue to inspire him.
Theatre folks are hardcore. Nobody’s in it for the money. It’s all love – for the craft, for the stories, for each other. I can’t wait to get back on stage in New York. ”– Daniel Croix
The energy of theater is unparalleled. There is nothing like the raw emotion that you feel from the actors and the connection you feel from the audience. Everything happens at the moment. I truly believe that if you can start in theater and succeed, fail, and everything in between, then you can tackle TV or Film. Theater is the backbone of both those mediums and the birthplace of many of the greats.
What I knew Daniel from: The Public’s production of Much To Do About Nothing’
Before my interview with Daniel, I was trying to remember where I read his name before. It suddenly hit me, I had seen it on The Public Theatre’s website. I had been dying to see their production of Much To Do About Nothing directed by Kenny Leon, but I wasn’t able to catch it. So I read up on it, and watched clips, and low and behold that’s where I remembered Daniel’s name from. I had to ask him about the iconic, all Black production. He told me it was a dream come true. It started his acting journey in New York City. He’d auditioned for The Public five times before he got a role in this show. It was perfect timing that he got to be in this Black joy fest! He worked with phenomenal actors and learned so much just by watching them.
“Everyone felt the enormity of it. It was like – how hasn’t this happened yet?!”-Daniel Croix
This production felt much deeper than doing a play. The director, Kenny Leon, got real with them the first day. “I remember Kenny Leon meeting with us the first day and emphasizing that this is ancestral work. He reminded us that it’s likely that our parents and/or grandparents probably didn’t get the luxury of following their passion for us to stand on this stage and tell stories – and that we owe it to them to bring everything we’ve got.” said Daniel.
Shakespeare is so under the white gaze, but doing this was for the people in this play, specifically for the Black people who could come see it for free. He remembers witnessing this moment in New York City, not only for the way it was cast but how well the production was. It made him feel like he could do theater or act like this for the rest of his days and be happy.
They definitely brought it. It was a New York Times Critic pick and was one of the hottest shows of the year. A defining moment for Daniel was when one of his heroes came to the show. He recalled, “We heard in the dressing rooms that Denzel Washington was at the show. I was in shambles. After the show we met him on the stage. I’ll never forget the words of wisdom he gave us. He said – if you want to build your life in Hollywood, and do TV and film, that’s beautiful, but I’d recommend always coming back to the theater. The stage can bring you longevity. It’s a gift that will keep on giving.”
Let’s talk about Daniel’s current role: Tyler Perry’s The Oval
“The Oval” is a political drama series on BET, written, directed, and executive produced by Tyler Perry. It tells the story of U.S President Hunter Franklin and first lady Victoria Franklin, an interracial couple, and their children. Daniel plays the son of President Hunter Franklin, Jason. Daniel auditioned for The Oval in Manhattan while he was in rehearsals for ‘Much Ado’. Out of nowhere he got a call that he’d be flying to Atlanta for a final callback. As he rolled up to Tyler Perry’s studios, he marveled at the space, which was all built from a foundation of Tyler Perry’s stage plays, which later transferred to film and television. Tyler’s roots are in creating unapologetically Black theater for the community, and on the day of the callback, Daniel felt comforted by knowing that they shared that similar background. He found out he got the part that day – and knew that in some way his life would be changing.
The Oval has changed his life. Not only is it a super fun show, but it’s connected me with so many people who share a vision of centering voices of color, women, and marginalized people in film and television.
What’s amazing about Tyler Perry studios is that so many of the people working there are young BIPOC artists trying to break into the business and create. It gives us a foundation to grow. Seeing soundstages dedicated to Sydney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, Spike Lee on your way to work – it’s just impossible not to be inspired.”– Daniel Croix
One of the things I love about doing features is getting to connect with people, pushing the career stuff to the side and just talking. Daniel and I talked about a lot of stuff, mostly our dreams of what we want to leave behind and create for others. Because in the end, no one is going to make our stories except for us. It’s hard not to feel the immense pressure that comes with that statement.
Daniel talked to me about how there is always the idea of Black excellence looming over you. We always have to be the best, better than the best. I related to that. In my own art making – when I don’t live up to it I feel shame. Always expected to be doing work that has to start out at 100. And when you don’t, you feel shame. Shame for doing work that isn’t exceptional. And it feels like there are different standards. That white people get to have fun and just make whatever art they want. So you try to melt away the pressure by reminding yourself that we are better, we are just as amazing, we deserve to have the freedom to create just to create.
Our culture has done so much for the world. Where would America be without black creative minds? Yet our work is often underfunded and undervalued. As creators there is a pressure of “Black exceptionalism”, of securing funding, and of frameworks for future artists to thrive. Daniel and I talked about how we dream of creating pathways for future artists in the ways our heroes have done for us. Without Lorna, Daniel wouldn’t be where he is now.
“I think it’s possible to see a more diverse and inclusive Hollywood and theatre landscape, and that it’s so important for us to remember that we’re not alone. There are people who are creating pathways to learn from – and hopefully we can build on their work and continue it in even more progressive ways.”-Daniel Croix
However, it’s easier for white spaces because they have the pathways embedded. We have to do what we can as light skin/brown people. If we end up going anywhere, how do we reach back by creating intentional paths and bridges for those who don’t have the resources? We give them the resources.
Daniel looks up to the pathways that are being created by Tyler Perry, Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Spike Lee, and countless others who are fighting to carve out spaces for BIPOC stories. DuVernay started Array by creating spaces for crew and people behind the camera to develop voices and get hired. Waithe is creating spaces with the Hillman Grad mentorship. This is the kind of path creating we are talking about!
“Those local arts organizations and nonprofits, especially theaters, can be the first place where kids who grow up in poverty or hardship can see another path in life. I think they need to be protected at all costs, and that we should do everything we can to encourage our government to subsidize them.”-Daniel Croix
If there was no local theater or public performing arts high school there wouldn’t be a road to where Daniel is now in his life. Those institutions are often the ones that are struggling the most, so we should be mindful of supporting them in our own communities. After an hour and a half of conversation, we left on that note, feeling ready to keep pushing. I hope to continue to see Daniel thrive on screen, create stories, and continue to come back to his roots in the theater.
TV show recommendation:
The Oval Season 2 (Duh! Tune in Tuesday nights at 9 pm on BET)
I May Destroy You
Ain’t No Mo by Jordan E. Cooper
Sugar In Our wounds by Donja R. Love
Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury
The First Deep Breath by Lee Edward Colston II
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Director: Eliza Hittman)
Watermelon Woman (Director: Cheryl Dune)
Nomadland (Director: Chloé Zhao)
I Carry You with Me (Director: Heidi Ewing)
In the future Daniel wants:
A dog, a gigantic edible garden, and an impressive hot sauce collection.
Words to leave us with:
“I just want to bring stories to life with authenticity – and maybe along the way I can encourage other people to follow their dreams too. ”
Daniel Croix is an American actor in film, television, and theatre originally from Buffalo, New York. He’s best known for his starring role as Jason in the white-house drama ‘The Oval’ on BET Network, and for his stage work in the New York Times Critic Pick: Kenny Leon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ He trained at the Conservatory of Theatre Arts & Film at Purchase College and joins the ranks of notable alumni such as Constance Wu, Parker Posey, Edie Falco, and Stanley Tucci.
While not on set, he lives between Los Angeles, Hawaii, and NYC. As an advocate of environmental justice, he promotes an Eco-friendly lifestyle and does boots-on-the-ground rainforest preservation. He also serves on the advisory board of Ujima Company Inc., a multi-ethnic theatre company dedicated to preserving and uplifting the traditions of African American storytelling.
More TV/Film/Theater Features in Mixed Mag:
Renee Harrison (Issue 5)
Tomás Matos (Issue 4)
Lukita Maxwell (Issue 2)
Iris Beaumier (Issue 1)