Meet Your Host: Actor Billy Slaughter
The Press Club of New Orleans is happy to announce that actor, Billy Slaughter, will host its 60th annual Press Club of New Orleans Awards. Slaughter is a proud Jesuit High Blue Jay alum who got his start on the stage at Mt. Carmel Academy (where he met his wife Nicole). Slaughter has performed in over 80 films and television series, including “The Magnificent 7,” “American Horror Story” and “The Big Short.”
Billy was kind enough to take a few moments to answer a few of our questions.
You’ve been in big budget blockbusters like “The Magnificent 7” and “The Campaign” and cool indie hits like “The East” and “Midnight Special.” How would you compare New Orleans media to Hollywood or other city and national media you’ve been interviewed by over the years?
For better or worse, I feel like New Orleans is more focused on reporting news and Hollywood reporting entertainment. The media here wants to stick largely to the objective headlines, facts and bullet-points; whereas Los Angeles likes more subjective detail, description and sensationalism. For example, I easily get press in L.A. when I do a small, insignificant role opposite a major star or on a major project – it’s all about the names, the brands and the hype. But then the local news here is like…big deal: a local actor got a small role in something.
Conversely, when I do something like “Dark Meridian,” a multi-award-winning film I starred in and executive produced, that’s objectively a big feat, the local news is all over it, but I can’t get much play in L.A. because it’s an independent film with no major names.
What has your experience been like working with the New Orleans media and do you feel they shine a bright enough light on the local movie production scene?
I’ve had mostly good experience with the local media. It seemed for a long time like we weren’t great at celebrating our own. I think this contributed to the reverse brain-drain that plagued us for so long – that our best and brightest felt they had to go elsewhere to really get their due, or even just some respect. I don’t think this was necessarily malicious or intentional, but had to do with our very cultural identity. We’re so used to amazing free entertainment, so used to being or having something cool. Maybe part of it is our “Southern hospitality” nature, that we’re so good at hosting and making others feel welcome, we can neglect what we have right here. I think we have gotten better at tooting our own horn (something uniquely New Orleans!). Mike Scott at NOLA.com, Jabari Thomas at News with a Twist, John Wirt at The Advocate – we have some great advocates (no pun intended) of the industry. But overall we can shine a brighter light on our accomplishments.
I’m happy to say “Dark Meridian” got a lot of really good local coverage in the past year, but there are other instances where it’s easier to get national attention than local attention. When Georgia stepped up their production game and took our #1 spot, they did and ￼continue to do a great job at getting their brand out there and putting a big spotlight on it. Perhaps if we’d done a better job at highlighting and informing the overwhelming positives of Hollywood South, we wouldn’t have messed with the production incentives and lost so much ground to Georgia and others. We know a problem with so much of the news is how skewed it is to negative rather than positive reporting. Not to say we can’t critique ourselves, but we can’t lose perspective. It hurts everyone to talk about every one shyster who abused our system for every hundred-plus locals in the entertainment industry doing a great job and benefitting themselves, their community, our city and our state. So we just need more self-promotion than self-criticism. Anything less simply isn’t factual reporting – we have a lot more good news than bad when it comes to the state of Louisiana film and television!
Growing up in New Orleans, were there any members of the print or television press whose worked you enjoyed or looked forward to?
As a kid growing up in New Orleans, I was introduced to real journalism in the golden age of WWL. Garland Robinette, Angela Hill, Phil Johnson…these were great role models. Garland, as the bayou boy, taught that you can be both proud of where you come from and shaped by it, but not limited to or defined by it. He was a poster boy for independent thought. To know that I could be a proud Southern male and think for myself was huge in my own journey. Angela was such a pioneer: a strong, intelligent, confident woman in what was such a Burgundy-esque boy’s club. And Phil’s style of informed, educated, critical editorial is so sorely missed in today’s news, where any airbag’s strong opinion is mistaken or substituted for credentials. Then as I got older and finally found my way into acting, David Cuthbert, the former theater critic for The Times-Picayune, became an early friend and mentor. He actually produced my first community theater production and was partly responsible for giving me my first professional break…for which I’ll forever be grateful. He was the opposite of the snooty theater critic tossing praise or insults down from his ivory tower. David was not only a huge fan of local theater, he was an active participant – as a major patron and producer of theater, he literally put his money where his mouth was. In life and especially in the biz, there are talkers and doers. I always respect those who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and jump into the fray.
Just as importantly, if you absolutely had to choose, no ties allowed, who makes the best po’ boy in New Orleans?
Lotta’ great po’boys around, but since me and the po’boy were both conceived in the same neighborhood, I gotta’ go with the original…Parkway Bakery of Mid-City. And this was the first place I had a surf-n-turf po’boy: shrimp or oysters with roast beef gravy or debris! You never forget your first! Parkway, if you’re listening…I openly accept po’boys and rum cakes for free plugs!
Besides the local food scene, what else do you look forward to when returning to New Orleans from a long gig?
I have a young daughter, Charli, so I’m usually enjoying the family-friendly side of the city: Hanging at the zoo, or an impromptu day riding streetcars. I like to teach my daughter that as in life and especially in this city, the experience is much more important than the destination.
In all my years here, I can still contentedly roam the Quarter any day of the week. And growing up across the street from a cemetery, I still stroll the cities of the dead for fun, which I know, must sound insane to anyone not from here! If I’m hitting a club late night, it’s likely to see one of my best friend’s bands: Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes. But with all my local Catholic guilt, I do regret that I’m surrounded by all these wonderful waterways that I’m never on or in. Thinking I need more friends with boats.
You can check out Slaughter in “Dark Meridian” and “Dead On Arrival,” two locally-shot crime-thrillers now available on DVD and download. Slaughter will also appear in USA Network’s upcoming series “The Purge” and Hulu’s “The First.”
Join Billy Slaughter and your fellow Press Club of New Orleans members this Saturday, July 21, at The Jung Hotel & Residences for the 60th Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards Gala, honoring this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipients political analyst Clancy DuBos and Renette Dejoie Hall, president and publisher of The Louisiana Weekly.