Leroy Golding

"Celestine Tavernier"


THE GOLDING VARIATION:
Leroy Golding Wants To Be King Of America-- And He Might Just Make It

By Don Wilson

We're sitting at a small table in the cramped, homey environs of Tea & Sympathy; a British-style restaurant located in Greenwich Village. Outside it is as cold and dour as the proverbial dark and stormy night. It has in fact been snowing here in New York for what seems the better part of a century. A chill hangs in the air which insinuates itself into each and every corner of the room -- except the front table where Leroy Golding is holding forth on the differences between American and English restaurants.

"You're a lot more aggressive here So eager to please!" he says, grinning. "Not that I mind, of course!" And the he lets go with a good-natured laugh. All those around him can't help help but be drawn in. It is the dead of winter and yet Golding, from Jamaica by way of East London, functions as a warm, pleasant breeze. He has a sense of self-confidence that would have impressed Muhammad Ali on a good day. But few resent his sense of self.

The thing you notice first about Leroy Golding is that he is totally unlike Celestine Tavernier. Celestine has been described as someone so straight and upstanding that he'd have to be given a surgical procedure in order to have an unclean thought.

Leroy Golding, on the other hand, relates tales which range in characterization from slightly naughty to downright bawdy.

Recounting his experiences with Garey Bridges, who played Celestine's younger son, Lloyd, Golding pauses nostalgically, with obvious affection sliding into his voice.

"I had to keep an eye on him. He was so completely unaffected by this "Star" business. Garey was probably the only one in the cast who was less professional than me. He'd hang out with his mates getting into all sorts of mischief. I tried to make sure the kid took care of himself."

Golding's concern for younger actors stems from his earlier career in social work. It was a bout of unemployment from that profession, back in 1986, which put Leroy on the road that would eventually lead him to Albert Square.

The Actor's Life

His entree into acting occurred when a friend was able to get Golding an Equity Card -- which made him eligible to work in government-sponsored dramatic workshops and on television programs geared at youth.

He describes those TV shows as basically the British equivalent of America's after-school specials.

"They had to be good shows," he recalls, but there also had to be some lesson or instruction within the content of the programs that would appeal to and be directed towards the kids. They were educational films, really. "Watch this -- kids! This is the right way to operate equipment! This is the wrong way!" That sort of thing."

Having caught the acting bug from this experience, Golding plunged into a steady stream of jobs which basically utilized his talents as the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Extra."

His gift for being able to attract attention by simply standing still or walking around in the background of other actors' supposed big scenes led Golding to be cast in a program where he met the actor David Lumsley. That actor recommended Golding to his agent and she sent Leroy on auditions for a few shows and commercials. One, in particular -- a spot for Guinness -- still strikes a chord whenever Golding mentions it. That's because it was his first experience with rejection as an actor.

"They were doing an ad geared toward Africans -- both in England and Africa," recalls Golding. "I was taken through the process and very nearly assured of the spot."

But then his agent got a call informing her that the company had decided to "go another way." Reading between the lines, Golding concludes that he was rejected for being "too black."

"Imagine," he now says. "For an ad aimed at Africans....!"

Walford Days

Success was just around the corner, however. As a means of getting Golding used to the audition process, his agent sent him up for a part that had just become available on one of England's most popular soaps, as the head of a new core family.

The BBCaverniery had been stung by criticism that EastEnders was far too "lily-white," to accurately reflect contemporary East London. The producers thus felt encouraged to introduce a new Black family. So the Tavernier clan entered Walford and Leroy Golding's fortunes took a significant turn for the better."

Golding claims that his own lack of experience enhanced, rather than hindered the ability of his Tavernier co-stars to work well together.

Helping the acting newcomer created a sense of camaraderie among the thespian "family."

Jacqui Gordon-Lawrence, who played Celestine's wife Etta, is in Golding's opinion, both a consummate professional and "a great lady of the theater." He adds that "It was wonderful following her in a scene or having her keep up with me. We played very well off each other."

Golding has further kind words for the rest of the cast, especially Todd Carty, Bill Treacher and Mike Reid, who respectively portray Mark Fowler, Arthur Fowler and Frank Butcher. Golding now regrets that there was not more interplay between the Taverniers and the Butchers.

"I think with Frank and Celestine there was a friction based more on class differences than racial ones. Frank, I think, felt uneasy around Celestine, due to Celestine's education and higher social status. I think it would have been interesting to get into that a little bit."

Half the Taverniers, including Celestine, have since moved away from Albert Square. But Golding's character recently returned to his old stamping grounds "to tie up a few loose ends," in episodes that have not yet been broadcast in America.

Parenthood

Asked what motivates him these days, Golding smiles and says "Daniella," in reference to his three year old daughter. He described her as "the boss," in a manner that further underlines the differences between Celestine and Leroy. Ironically, during the years when he was playing a father on TV, he never gave much thought to actually becoming one. But now that it has occurred, Golding says that he cannot imagine his life without parenthood and the changes it has wrought in him.

Children have always held a special place in Golding's heart. He personally sponsors a youth group composed of inner-city kids, for whom the organization provides day trips and other special activities.

He speaks proudly of the recent trip his group took to Amsterdam. "Something happens to kids when you take them out of their everyday surroundings and show them that there is more to the world than they have seen so far. It's a very special experience."

Golding was himself the youngest of seven children. When he was aged seven, his parents emigrated to London, at first bringing along only the three oldest children. Leroy followed a year later, having lived the intervening months with his grandmother. He recalls that year as one of solitary play, with much time spent watching the ocean and dreaming of England.

"The first day I got to London it was culture shock," he says. "This was November and I had gotten on the plane wearing a shirt and a light pair of pants. When I stepped off the plane it was like I had stepped into another world."

America, America

Golding's latest new world to conquer is that of the American media. He is off to Hollywood in the hope of converting his East End reputation to more global success. One of several goals is to meet with representatives of Bill Cosby. (Think back to what that American star looked like around 1975 and you'll realize how closely Golding resembles him.) The Grand Master Plan is for a sitcom to star Golding as the English cousin of Dr. Cliff Huxtable. However, if that doesn't work out, the Golding ambition will still drive him onward.

He tells me that any part, no matter how small, would suit him at this point -- just a chance for a "foot in the door" of Hollywood. Golding is, after all "the extra's extra."

Another serious snow storm buffets New York the night of Golding's exit. His plane leaves the ground shortly before the first snowflakes fall. I could have predicted it.

Don't be too surprised if you hear more about Leroy in Hollywood. This man truly has "a way about him"

Even Celestine would be impressed.





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