Courtney B. Vance: What a Man

By R.L. Witter

On an early Los Angeles morning, his voice is quiet at first, a bit muffled as though he’s distracted. He adjusts the telephone and suddenly his voice fills the air. His tone vacillates between deliberate, professorial, ministerial, fatherly, and humorous. His thoughts and words form a stream of consciousness that reveals both his Ivy League and theological educations. Mr. Vance is every good thing you heard he is, every good
thing you hoped he might be, and so much more. He has mastered the balance between confidence and humility that you often find in a man of God, and it carries over into his mastery of balancing career, marriage, family and faith—the fundamentals of a healthy life.

“Healthy living means keeping it moving, keeping it flowing,” he announced boldly. “The Bible says he ‘who striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.’ Not eating too much of any one thing and making sure I get my water and go to my doctor’s appointments, my dentist appointments, my yearly check-up… Healthy living means taking care of this vessel which is not mine, but His. I’m just a caretaker.”
Vance pepers his speech with bible verses and parables wthe way my sprinkles
cinnamon and sugar on her corn pudding. It’s just the right amount, and in the same
way that final sprinkle bakes up and makes the whole house smells deliciously sweet, Vance’s words offer a comfort and conficence that make you feel the way that corn pudding tasts-divine. But Vance didn’t grow up in the church, yet he exudes the swagger of a man of God. “People don’t curse in front of me,” he revealed. ” I didn’t tell them not to curse in front of me, they know. It’s the same with Angela… they know her spirit.”
I asked him how his journey thus far has brought him
to this place in his faith. Some might not be aware that
beyond acting, Vance is an ordained and licensed minister
in the Church of God in Christ. “I always had a yearning
for the Lord and didn’t know it,” he explained.
“When I was younger I was trying to get back into the
church and The Preacher’s Wife happened—everything
came together with The Preacher’s Wife and I said ‘I’m not
going to get into that—do this role—without giving my
life to the Lord.’” Something divine was definitely happening.
“I’d been yearning my whole life,” he continued.
“I remember I’d go home for summers and go to church
. . . there was an altar call. I got halfway down there and
then I got scared and went and sat back down . . . You
can’t hide from it. It took a minute—He had to get everything
together. I needed Angela Evelyn.”

A Man in Love: A Healthy Marriage
In that film he played a minister facing difficulties in his
marriage. In real life, however, Vance’s 20-year marriage
to Angela Evelyn Bassett (who’s played roles from Tina
Turner to Biggie’s mother, and Betty Shabazz—TWICE,
among countless other memorable roles) is right up
there with Barack and Michelle on the black love-ometer
and their photo is often accompanied by the
words “relationship goals.” It’s not just because they are
both black and beautiful. It’s also because they are so
obviously blessed. They exude love—that quiet, everyday
kind of love that seems to deepen with time; that “we
know what we’ve got” kind of love that radiates from the
inside out until its radiance glows brightly around them.
The two authored a book in 2006, Friends: A Love Story.
As their love has continued, so has their story; and Vance
is happy to reiterate what has worked for them in fostering
a healthy, lasting marriage. “The focus is off of me. I
get up in the morning thinking ‘How can I help her?’
What can I do? And it’s not 50-50,” he explained.
“Sometimes it’s 150-0. As a man you’ve got to be willing
—when we first got married, Angela Bassett was ‘IT’ and
my career was not where it is now . . .” He continued,
“And the love that I brought was not initially always
money. The love I brought was peace of mind, anything
she needed taken care of was taken care of, the house
was secured, and so she could go out in that street and
know that she’s loved and secured. And when a woman
knows she’s loved and secured, she’ll then turn back, lift
you up . . .”

There’s that Courtney B. Vance swagger again. It’s
that quiet strength he exudes as the type of man who
rarely has to raise his voice. “Don’t be trying to defend
something you’ve done that you already know is wrong.
Mess up, fess up… If you’re going to be the leader, be the
leader in ‘I’m sorry,’” he said firmly. “So whatever I have
to do to get us back . . . Just tell me what I did and I’ll
apologize… and in half an hour, 40 minutes, we’ll be
back . . . doing our thing.”

As A Father: Raising Healthy Children
In addition to the challenges all parents face, Vance and
his wife have to factor in dealing with fame and how it
affects their parenting and their children, 11-year-old
twins—a boy and a girl. As with his marriage, Vance looks
to God and the church for strength and guidance. “The
focus is the family,” he stresses. “From the time they came
into this world, they’ve grown up in the church, we’ve
raised them in the church. They do scouts at the church,
we try to do everything through the church…We’ve been
doing it for eleven years… so that’s all they know.” Vance
and his wife have taken the time to lay the spiritual foundation
for their children that will see them though their
lives. “Eventually it’s just in them. And when they go into
the world, they will be able to refer back for it to keep
them on that path. If something seems a little odd to
them, you won’t be able to describe what it was, but they
will—the Holy Spirit makes sure they know…You just
have to make sure that’s what they know so when they
get out into the world, eventually they’ll seek it out.”

As An Actor: A Healthy Career
Vance recently garnered quite a bit of recognition and an
Emmy® award for his portrayal of Johnnie Cochran in The
People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. It was one of
those performances where the actor disappeared and
only the character appeared on screen; Vance was
Johnnie Cochran—period. He attributed his stellar performance
to a combination of his innate ability, training,
and faith. “When you’re empty,” he explained, “you can
be filled. I’m empty. Tell me where he starts, where he
ends up, what’s in between and we start building the foundation.”
After playing Cochran, in December 2016 he
went from reserved businessman to party animal in Office
Christmas Party, showing his comedic chops and that he
really can excel in any role. This summer he’ll star with
Tom Cruise in the much-anticipated reboot of The
Mummy, and in 2018 he’ll reunite with the team from
American Crime Story to depict Hurricane Katrina. That
doesn’t even begin to cover his more than 30 years of
film, television, and stage roles. He’s also the proud winner
of a Tony® award for his work in Six Degrees of
Separation and an Obie® award for My Children! My Africa!

As A Son and Caregiver: A Healthy Love
In addition to his duties as minister, husband, father,
and actor, Vance is also a loving son. May is ALS (amyotrophic
laterals sclerosis) Awareness Month and unfortunately,
his mother, Leslie, has been battling the disease
since 2012. “Out of the blue she started lisping, we didn’t
know what it was and it took a year for the diagnosis,” he
explained, “then the transition from being able to walk,
speak, and swallow. Now it’s a feeding tube and all she
can really do is blink . . .” The sadness in his voice lingered
only for a moment before it was replaced with
resounding love and pride. “You talk about a hero! Most
people would give up. She has her moments, but she
refuses to let joy cease, and that’s the blessing . . . She’s
the strongest person I have ever met! She’s continually
teaching us how to live—it’s hard to live; it’s easy to die.”

There was really only one conclusion I could draw
from my conversation with Courtney B. Vance. He’s the
man. From his professional accomplishments to his commitment
to God and family, Vance is the type of man
who leaves people and places better than when he found
them. He may not have grown up in the church, but he
has grown in his faith, and it in him. Psalms 37:23 tells
us, “the steps of a [good] man are ordered by the LORD:
and he delighteth in his way.” Courtney B. Vance is a
good man and we’re praying for every step he takes.