Candidate Kotto speaks

In the new 'Homicide' movie, actor Yaphet Kotto sees his character's mayoral campaign shot down. But that didn't stop him from considering a run in real life.

February 06, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

If you've been following the making of "Homicide: The Movie" in these pages, you know that the premise has Lt. Al Giardello, the larger-than-life chief of the homicide bureau played by Yaphet Kotto, running for mayor of Baltimore.

The event that brings most of the detectives, past and present, to the squad room for a "super-red-ball" investigation is an assassination attempt on Candidate Giar-dello as he is about to speak at an Inner Harbor rally. The assassin's bullets leave Giardello, one of the more empowered and complex African-American characters on television, fighting for his life in a hospital emergency room.

While the movie offers much-needed closure on such fascinating characters as detectives Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) and Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor), there is no story line ultimately more important to the film and the status of black male characters on prime-time network television than the fate of Giardello.

That's all I can say without giving away so much of the movie that it diminishes the pleasure "Homicide" fans are going to find in the film next Sunday on NBC.

But the parallel Baltimore universe created by "Homicide" brings up an intriguing notion: What sort of candidate might Giardello (or Kotto) be, were he actually running for mayor of Baltimore? And how might he view the political goings-on in the real Baltimore?

As usual, the thoughtful actor with one of the more distinguished resumes in Hollywood surprised us with his answers:

So, Mr. Kotto, if you or Al Giardello were running for mayor of Baltimore, what would you be saying?

I think that Baltimore is like its own country, man, and it needs to outreach more to other cities around the world. Baltimore needs to start a citizens' exchange between Japan, Berlin, London, France, Africa. People need to see Baltimore.

Why do you say people need to see Baltimore?

There are a lot of reasons why people need to see Baltimore. They need to see Baltimore and Baltimore needs to see them for exchange programs, social programs and financial programs, because it is really a global city, you dig? But nobody knows it's a global city, except the people who are in it.

Cities like Baltimore can no longer just claim to be part of the United States only. They've got every race of people from around the world living near here, and those countries that the people now living in Baltimore are from should know Baltimore and their people are here.

And that would make Baltimore more a part of the global future?

If you don't think about the global, you can forget it. This isn't about you and me and our little locality any more. The people who run Baltimore say, "What are we going to do for the city?" That's wrong. There's nothing you can do for the city. The people make up their minds what they want you to do. So your job is to find out what the people want. And, if you look at the Internet and where people are going on it, they're going global.

And Baltimore should follow the lead of its people and get a more global outlook. It should look to the cities of the world. It should invite those mayors from international cities here. It should invite people from other nations here to see how it works. You've got a wonderful city here, and the problems that it has will disappear with growth as time goes on. But the growth has to be global. If you keep yourself narrowed down to your village, and don't become part of the world village, then you've got a big problem.

Would that be the central theme of your campaign?

Well, No. 1, I was approached by both parties to run as mayor after the show went off the air [last May].

In real life you were approached to run for mayor of Baltimore in this last election after "Homicide" was canceled by NBC?

Yes, and I was very honored that the Republican Party would come to me. But there's an individual in my life who said to me, "If you run, I'm going back to the Philippines."

That would be your wife?

Yes, Tessie. Tessie didn't want me to run. She said, "No, no, no. Come on, stay with the acting thing, stay with communications, don't get involved in politics." And we do things together, not apart. And if I didn't get her support, there is no way I could think about it, so I said no. I mean, I was sitting down and meeting with these guys who wanted me to run, but all the time she was shaking her head. And I'm not going to lose my wife over politics or anything -- not even show business.

So, while a Giardello for Mayor campaign on "Homicide" appears to be as close as we'll get to seeing a Candidate Kotto, the actor continues to be visible on several fronts.

In addition to continuing to act in feature films, Kotto says he is most actively involved in producing documentaries and films for the Internet. They will be shown on "Internet 3rd World," a sophisticated and intriguing Web site -- www.3rdworldnews.com -- that is a product of the sort of global thinking Kotto advocates for Baltimore.

Kotto also is producing a series for network television, which he declines to discuss in detail until it is sold.

"I am taking it on my shoulders to go forth to these people at the networks who now say they are looking for black producers at ABC, NBC, CBS. Well, here comes Yaphet Kotto, fellas."

'Homicide's' last shot

What: "Homicide: The Movie"

When: 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Feb. 13

Where: WBAL (Channel 11)

In brief: A finale worth waiting for

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