Glynn Turman on Why His Emmy-Nominated ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ Role Hits Close to Home

(ABC/Mitch Haaseth)

Glynn Turman couldn’t believe the news he had been nominated for an Outstanding Guest Star in a Drama Emmy for his heart-wrenching performance as Nate Lahey Sr. in How to Get Away with Murder.

The 72-year-old veteran actor won the Emmy in the same category back in 2008 for playing another dad, Alex Prince Sr., in the HBO drama In Treatment.

“My reaction was, ‘What?’” Turman said, checking in from the set of the film adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, coming to Netflix.

“I really wasn’t expecting it at all because we hadn’t campaigned or anything for the nomination,” Turman continued. “I was told that the production company had put me up for a nomination. I was appreciative, and when the prelims came out, I of course voted for myself to become nominated. That was it. Then, boy, here we go.”

Turman has been seen in everything from the old soap Peyton’s Place, to the classic ’70s film Cooley High to A Different World and The Wire, to the House of Lies and The Red Line. He is busier as ever with roles on Claws, Mr. Mercedes, the Netflix film Sextuplets, the list goes on and on.

Here, Turman somehow found time to reflect on his Emmy nod and tease some upcoming projects.

Viola Davis, who heads up Black Bottom as Ma Rainey, has also secured an Emmy nomination for HTGAWM. Did you celebrate together?
Glynn Turman:
We hugged. We were all smiles. It was like, “Yeah!” She was so congratulatory. What are the chances? You’re working on a completely different project with somebody. Then you find out that with the project you previously worked on, you were nominated in your respective categories.

You give such a powerful and emotional performance as the imprisoned Nate Lahey Sr. It’s a timely story that touches issues like mistreatment of minorities in the criminal justice system. What was it like to bring this tragic character to life?
It’s a rough journey for me, because I dedicated this performance and character to my father, who went through the system many years ago. I almost grew up knowing him as a man in the system. I was able to express that to the producers and writers and tell them how much this story meant to me personally.

I was able to deliver truths that I knew and felt firsthand. That’s what made it such a special storytelling process for me. There is an obvious connection to a lot of people. A lot of men of color especially who know this to be a truth of our nation.

Glynn Turman as Nathan Gordon on “The Red Line.” Photo: Elizabeth Morris/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2018 WBEI. All rights reserved.

At a time when diversity is so prevalent in today’s Hollywood conversation. What kind of impact do you think streaming services have had on providing more opportunities for actors like yourself?
I think the need for content has finally surpassed the exclusion process that we are so used to in this country. There is so many outlets and talented people who have been chomping at the bit for generations to get an opportunity to contribute to the storytelling of America.

Now it’s also being proven that there is money to be made with the telling of the different stories from different cultures and experiences from different points of view. Now here we are in an era where some are trying to put the genie back in the bottle, but it can’t happen because the genie is out of the bottle. These young people are not going to stand for it.

You are on set of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with Viola Davis in a different environment than the courtroom, but some similar themes could be seen in both projects. What can you say about the filming process so far?
People are going to be knocked off their chair. They have a team here putting together something special. You have Denzel Washington, who has put together as producer, some of the finest people today in the business starting with August Wilson as reverent material in storytelling. That’s where it all starts.

Then you have George C. Wolfe, one of the finest directors I’ve worked with. I’ve really been blown away by the brilliance of this man. Then Ma Rainey has already been talked about. When you see Viola and her interpretation you’re going to say, ‘Oh. Oh, that’s Ma Rainey.’ She does what she does.

I’m so lucky to be part of the band. It’s a wonder we get anything done. We almost feel like we are having too much fun to get the work done that we do. I guess it’s a way to relieve the pent-up tensions that the piece naturally brings to itself. We keep each other in the realm of not falling into a state of craziness.

You find some balance in material working with Marlon Wayans in the Netflix film Sextuplets. That must have been a welcome change of pace.
It was wonderful to just go all-out, insane with the crazy comedy of Marlon. Just laugh and no-holds-barred. Everyone is going to love this film because we are at a time where we need laughter so badly right now. Marlon is just a master at being zany. Everything is incorrect, politically incorrect, but so joyous, which is done so well by this team. I needed a break. It’s perfect timing from the dramatic.

Glynn Turman, Laura Innes (director) (ABC/Mitch Haaseth)

Would you say you have a renewed motivation with so many parts coming your way? Where do you want to see your career go from here?

I want to do my projects. I have a lot of projects in my trunk that I have either written or had writers do. Those are the ones I’m looking to do. Hopefully, I’m closer and closer to that end. I still enjoy acting. I still get a great deal out of it. At the same every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.

We saw Nate Sr. die last season, but with HTGAWM known for flashbacks, can we expect you see you pop up in the upcoming last season?

Viola has finished her segment of work on set here. The last thing I said to her when we said goodbye before she flew to California to start How to Get Away with Murder was, “OK, so I’ll be waiting to hear from you.”

It’s a running joke, but it’s something that would be wonderful to return. I just hope they do it.

Sextuplets, Original Film Premieres Friday, Aug. 16, Netflix

71st Primetime Emmy Awards, Sunday, Sept. 22, 8/7c Live, Fox

How to Get Away with Murder, Sixth & final season premieres Thursday, Sept. 26, 10/9c, ABC

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Original Film, Premiere TBD, Netflix