Block Telesales Calls NOW
Receive no more
About the Cast...
SIDNEY POITIER, knew he wanted to play the role of FBI agent Roy Parmenter in Columbia Picture's "Little Nikita" within less than an hour of sitting down to read the script. "This script crackled from the beginning," he explains, expressing his immediate excitement for this story of the turmoil of a teenaged boy (River Phoenix) who learns from an FBI agent (Sidney Poitier) that his parents are actually deep-cover Soviet spies. The secret turns the teenager's world upside down and catapults him into the frightening world of international espionage.
"As far as acting is concerned," Poitier says, "I felt that I couldn't set my sights realistically higher than where I had been swept, and when I couldn't reach beyond my grasp, I backed off for a while. Until this film."
Poitier adds that his character has a pronounced effect on the character played by River Phoenix. "He helps him to become more substantive as a man," Poitier says. "I mean, he's a young man coming into his own and he helps him across the line. On the other hand, Jeff gives Parmenter, who sees the world as flawed, a chance to see the world less so."
Poitier, who plays the unorthodox FBI agent Roy Parmenter in "Little Nikita," passed on many screenplays before accepting this role, opting instead to direct, produce and write in recent years. Like his other roles, Poitier approached "Little Nikita" with a fervor. "My career has been a rather remarkable experience for me in that I have had an association with more films that I characterize as films of stature than a goodly number of other actors. I have made films that make some kind of statement and leave an impression."
Poitier became the first black actor to break through Hollywood stereotyping and emerge as a famous star, a number-one box-office attraction, an Oscar winner -- and a symbol for the many black performers who followed his lead.
He is the youngest of seven children from a humble rural family in tiny Cat Island in the Bahamas. He moved by himself to Miami at the age of 16, and he experienced culture shock arriving in New York a year later with three dollars in his pocket.
He enlisted with the U.S. Army at age 17, and served with the 126-27th Medical Detachment during World War II. After his discharge, he returned to New York "to do something constructive" with his life, and by a fluke applied to the American Negro Theater, which was looking for actors. It wasn't until his second audition that he was accepted.
He advanced from bit parts in the school's productions and then won a role in a Broadway play that attracted some attention. This led to his being cast in prominent roles in "Lysistrata" and "Anna Lucasta." Later he won acclaim for his performance in Broadway's "A Raisin in the Sun," going to Hollywood to reprise his role in the Columbia screen version in 1961.
Poitier made his motion picture debut in "No Way Out" in 1950 opposite Richard Widmark. Other parts followed, including the difficult role of Reverend Msinangu in "Cry, the Beloved Country" and "The Blackboard Jungle," for which he received critical acclaim.
Poitier's performance in "The Defiant Ones" garnered him an Academy Award nomination in 1958. In 1964, his performance in "Lilies of the Field" won him the coveted Best Actor Oscar.
Poitier's more than 40 screen performances include the current "Shoot to Kill," "Guess who's Coming to Dinner?," "In the Heat of the Night," "For Love of Ivy," "To Sir With Love," and "They Call Me Mr. Tibbs."
His directing career got underway in 1972 with the film, "Buck and the Preacher." That film featured Poitier's friend, Harry Belafonte. Among the eight films he has directed is Columbia's hugely successful "Stir Crazy," starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. In all, Poitier has appeared in five of the films he directed, but he prefers not to assume both responsibilities at the same time.
In "Little Nikita," it was a relief for him to have the opportunity to act without having to simultaneously function as director. (Poitier has appeared in five films he directed.) He has no wish to return to the double job of actor-director. "It is so hard physically," he explains. "As an actor, I have the time to sit between scenes while the director might be standing in the rain outside setting up the next shot."
With "Little Nikita," he works in step with a director who is also an actor, Richard Benjamin. "I bring an understanding of his problems, you see," Poitier says. "I know how not to complicate them for him. I know where he's going and what he needs to make the moment work. I'm able to appreciate and to be respectful of the place where he's trying to take me, and I go there more willingly now that I've been a director."
On February 20th, during production of "Little Nikita," the cast and crew assembled to toast Poitier on the occasion of his 60th birthday. The cake presented was inscribed "Happy Birthday, Parmenter, From Your Friends at the Bureau," a reference to his FBI role as Roy Parmenter.
Poitier's autobiography, "This Life," was published by Knopf in 1980. The autobiography took two years to write, and he was not assisted by a ghostwriter.
Poitier lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, the former actress Joanna Shimkus, and their two daughters. He also has four daughters by a previous marriage. Apart from his filmmaking, Poitier enjoys reading, music, golf, tennis and traveling.