Novelist Sandra Walker

Novelist Sandra Walker

Eamonn Walker, cast as Muslim activist Kareem Said on the HBO perison drama Oz, is one of just a few black British actors to find steady work in North America. Trained on the stage, Walker has performed in roles ranging from Shakespearean prince to cutthroat urban schemer, but he chooses his parts with care. Like the wise Said on Oz, the actor attempts to use his position to instruct. “I’m trying to reach people, ” Walker told Christian Science Monitor writer Lisa Leigh Parney. “My stuff isn’t about money or fame. I’m trying to improve who we are, using the medium of television.”

Born in the early 1960s, Walker grew up in the Islington area outside of London, of parents who were Trinidadian and Grenadine by birth. He considered a career in social work, but while taking courses at school he auditioned for and won a spot in the Explosive Dance Theatre Company. An injured leg caused him to re-evaluate his performing options, and he turned to acting instead. One of his first choice roles was as a punk rocker in a London musical, Labelled With Love, which helped him win a steady role in the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) television series In Sickness and in Health in the mid-1980s. Walker made his film debut in a little-seen 1991 production called Young Soul Rebels but in 1994 his performance helped Shopping, which paired Jude Law and Sadie Frost as car-crasher thieves, garner good reviews.

By this time Walker already had a number of solid stage roles to his credit, having appeared with the Citizens Theatre of Glasgow, Scotland in productions of Antony and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. For a time, he ran his own theater company, Flipside, with a friend. In the mid-1990s he came to New York City to audition for a role in Oz, a gritty new drama series planned by HBO, the premium cable channel known for its well-written, Emmy-award-winning original programming. Walker was cast in the role of Kareem Said, a black Muslim leader in the prison. The Oz part required him to lose his British accent, but Walker enjoyed working on a television project whose writers were allowed to create highly nuanced characters. Walker’s Said is a calm, sometimes rigidly upright man who attempts to be a role model for other prisoners, but the character develops over time. Walker told Parney in the Christian Science Monitor interview that at first Said “seemed to have a direct link to God, and this man refused to let prison get to him. But slowly, but surely, prison got to him. Everybody has a breaking point, and he broke.”

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