I’m sitting with Sam Sarpong in a small conference room with Tatyana Ali minutes before Sam’s photo shoot for Switch Magazine and he’s just made a joke about how people recognize him, but they don’t know from where.
“So now my goal is to put that name with the face.”
I don’t know who Sam Sarpong is. In fact, I’m winging this entire interview because I don’t have a press kit nor did I even know this interview was going to happen.
“But you make the most of it, right, René?” Sam asks, encouragingly.
In twenty minutes, I’ve gotten to know Sam Sarpong better than I know a lot of people in my life. In fact, he has me wondering why I haven’t heard of him before. Film, television, modeling, music; Sam is a one-man media deluge. For six years he was the face of Tommy Hilfiger and was the third black male model to have an exclusive contract the likes of Tyrese and Tyson. He had a recurring role on the hit television show, Boston Public (FOX) and he continues to play his recurring role on ER (NBC), as Antwan Celes. Sam has also signed on as a season regular on Veronica Mars (UPN). Sam recently starred in Love Don’t Cost a Thing and can be seen in the upcoming movie, Lucky 13. Musically, Sam has worked with stars like Beyoncé Knowles and Will Smith and currently has a new rap album in the works with his group, The League. Even with such an impressive serving on his plate, Sam still has room for more.
As I ask Sam about his latest project, a reality show for MTV, which showcases Sam’s journey through the industry, he makes sure to get some footage of me on his handheld camera.
“Basically, it’s called Life of an Entertainer. I started it eight years ago and it’s just behind the scenes of fashion, hosting, modeling, and rapping. Just everything I’ve gone through, trying to make it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.”
One interesting segment on Lifeof an Entertainer is when Sam loses the role of Future—which coincidentally is Sam’s rap name in real life—in 8 Mile to Mekhi Phifer.
“I showcase that on my show…you get to see me going through the whole process. And you’re seeing how I’m going on all these call backs and how exciting it is and then how acting-wise it comes down to me and one person, but I like to show the political side because the average person that goes to see a big budget movie, they have no idea that people like Mekhi don’t even audition. So that’s why I’m showing that 8 Mile thing on my show because when you’re an actor, stuff like that is so hard to deal with.”
I had the opportunity to watch a clip from the show and, without giving anything away, the kinds of connections Sam has will blow your mind. Unfortunately we’re going to have to wait until May or June to have our minds blown because the industry big wigs want to air the show at the same time as Sam’s new movie.
“[Lucky 13] is basically a Jewish version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It’s about what a young man goes through when he’s having a bar mitzvah. And I play a famous director who’s hired to shoot his bar mitzvah video. It stars me, Garry Marshall, Doris Roberts, the kid is Daryl Sabara…Daryl Hannah plays my girlfriend, Jeremy Pivens plays the kid’s father, Jamie Gertz from Still Standing plays the mother. Neil Diamond’s in it, I mean it’s a pretty sick cast.”
The industry is not always about success and Sam made sure I knew that. He recounted numerous parts he’s been turned down for, but he stays resolutely positive and doesn’t sweat the small things.
“To be honest with you, I’m sure a lot of actors will tell you this, I audition constantly. I’ve been acting eight years. I could probably count on one hand how many of those roles I really, really wanted. The rest you go on. There are so many characters I audition for and to me they’re BS, but you know, I got a mortgage, I got family to help and as an artist you just do it. I play gangsters all day long. Sam Sarpong’s not a gangster. Hopefully one day I’ll be in a position where when they come to me with those gangster roles, financially I’m secure…and in my career I’m secure so I can pass on them. So to be honest with you, the ones you really, really want really bad…those are the ones that get to you. But even if I have six call backs, unless I’m really passionate about the role, it’s just like a part of life to me.”
Like other serious music artists, Sam is deeply into his music. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the photo shoot, Sam took time to rap along to his song “Heaven Only Knows,” a pro-God rap with tight beats and lyrics that flow. In the second verse, Sam gives props to his father.
“I thank my dad for showing me God. And for when, growing up, when I wanted to play ball on Sunday’s, he was like ‘Na-ah-ah, you’re going to church.’ So it’s a real personal song for me and I know, you know, people are really gonna feel it.”
Sam is currently working on a new rap album with his group, The League, which also features Mike Kasem, son of legendary DJ Casey Kasem. The album is due out around May or June.
We talked a little longer before his photo shoot about the other things going on in Sam’s life, like his spread in GQ and his Levi’s campaign and his three Miller Lite spots currently airing, but what engaged me most was Sam, himself. He really talks to you. Granted, Sam is his own best publicist, selling himself to you and pitching the title of his show every chance he gets, but he also wants you to know about him as a person.
“At the end of the day, I just want people to know that I’m just a real cat, you know? Entertainment is a job to me and it’s what I do, but at the end of the day…Sam, he’s real, he’s cool. What you see is what you get. You’re either gonna like me or you’re gonna love me….” Sam pauses and laughs. “You’re either gonna like me or you’re gonna hate me, but even if you hate me…you’re gonna say, ‘You know what, I don’t like Sam, but he’s this, this, this, and that,’ because I’m real. I’m not gonna front. This is me. This is who I am.”
I know you now, Sam. This year, the rest of the world will, too.