Mighty busy

Baltimore native Lester 'Mighty Rasta' Speight tackles many acting opportunities, including his latest role in 'Norbit'

February 19, 2007|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

Lester Speight obliged the phone interview but only for a few minutes. He is, after all, a busy man. Ever since he splashed onto the screen four years ago as an office linebacker who enforces workplace etiquette with bone-jarring hits, the Baltimore-born actor has been tackling a busy Hollywood schedule.

Busy enough to turn down a part in a tear-jerking film with Dakota Fanning when Eddie Murphy came calling with a role in his hit comedy Norbit. In what he calls his "breakout role," Speight stars as one of the antagonists to Murphy's aloof lead character in the movie.

Although widely panned by critics, Norbit roared last weekend to this year's biggest box-office opening so far and the biggest opening of a nonsequel for DreamWorks ever, according to LA Weekly. From Friday to yesterday, Media By Numbers LLC. reports, Norbit dropped to third place behind Ghost Rider and Bridge to Terabithia.

Speight's also been busy enough to take part in six other projects since last spring, including a role in the coming Harold and Kumar movie sequel, a spot in an episode of the Fox television show Prison Break and a voiceover of the Xbox game Gears of War.

Or, to describe a feeling most folks looking to make it big in Hollywood covet, busy enough to feel busy.

"It feels like you're in demand, and at the same time you have to be humble," says Speight, a 6-foot-6-inch, 305-pound former All-America football player at Morgan State University. The 44-year-old actor also goes by the screen name Mighty Rasta, which he coined during a stint in professional wrestling.

"I've gotten to where as an actor once you kind of establish yourself, it's a snowball; success begets success," he says. "People see you and they keep calling because they see you as helping to make their projects successful. You feel busy and that you have a sense of security."

Still, most folks have known him as "Terrible Terry Tate, Office Linebacker," a role he played for a wildly popular Reebok commercial that aired during the 2003 Super Bowl and spawned a series of similar ads. The fictional Tate would deliver Ray Lewis-like jarring hits on unsuspecting office workers who failed to exhibit proper workplace protocol.

"You know you need a cover sheet for your TPS report!" he'd bark.

When CBS aired a special last year titled Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials, the "Terry Tate" spot was voted the second favorite Super Bowl ad behind Coca-Cola's "Mean Joe Greene" commercial.

A movie featuring the Terry Tate character is in the works and a Tate commercial for a future Super Bowl is possible, Speight says. But lately he's branched out from that character, earning a reputation as an actor who not only brings enormous screen presence but a tireless work ethic.

"He's totally committed to any role he plays, and you don't find that in a lot of seasoned actors," says director Jeff Byrd, who directed Speight in a television pilot called Bam Squad. "As well as being a physically commanding person, he's also very funny. He has great comedic timing and knows how to dominate any frame he's in."

Though he's gained attention recently, Speight has been a regular in films and TV for nearly a decade, ever since he gave up trying to make it in pro football (after failed attempts to play with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants). He decided to pursue a passion for acting and worked with various teachers, including Michael Mack of the now-defunct Fearless Acting Workshop in Washington. Speight was good enough to land a few stage roles in local productions.

"I did everything I could around Baltimore," says Speight, who remembers playing Othello in a local production. Still, he says, abandoning dreams of pro football was tough. He knew they were all but doomed when he signed with the USFL Baltimore Stars and the team folded shortly afterward.

But acting, he says, "is exactly what I pictured. I'm having a great time. I didn't play pro football like I wanted, but I believe God wanted me to take away from the game things that I could use in acting. All you have is what you've done in your life, and you have to take those tools into any production."

Assertiveness, focus and a knack for seizing opportunities are some of the things he feels he's carried with him from football. Speight's screen credits include Homicide: Life on the Street in 1998; Walker, Texas Ranger in 1999; the 1999 Oliver Stone film, Any Given Sunday; two episodes of The Young and the Restless in 2001; and a recurring role on the Damon Wayans sitcom My Wife and Kids.

He also had a role in The Corner, the Emmy-winning, HBO miniseries about drug life in inner-city Baltimore.

Because of his imposing frame, Speight has played everything from an inmate to a bouncer to a security guard. Yet he can easily switch to the role of gentle giant, on and off the screen.

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