Updated: Dec 4, 2022
Tadhi Coulter (TC): What's your connection to Marvin Gaye? How did you discover him and his soulful sound?
Gromyko Collins: My dad is currently a gospel DJ and promoter, and owns a 24-hour gospel radio station. But he has worked with jazz and R&B stations in his career as well. Needless to say, we had access to a wealth of music growing up in the house. One day I pulled "What's Going On" either from the plastic, black milk-carton crate used to store albums at the time or off the turntable and it intrigued me; it was something about the way it sounded and made me feel. I loved Marvin Gaye's chords. They made me feel good and put me in a place of 'wonderment.' I wasn't necessarily thinking about what he was saying as much as the mood he put me in. It was a moment. I always say 'If music was a place, I'd stay there all day'! I used to play that record a lot. That was my introduction to him. We had records around us all the time. Now I had to be between 10 to 13 years old when I recall, for sure, 'Wow, I really dig this'!
I listened to records in the den or in my bedroom. We had a 2-bedroom house, and me and my 2 brothers shared one room. We had some of everything in there--guitars and bass amps. We had one of those old-school record players that was like a piece of furniture. You lifted up the lid to the record player, which was on one end and a radio and 8-track cassette player on the other side. We had access to all of those records, so I played the "What's Going On" album in the bedroom or den.
TC: Was the "What's Going On" record on the album the only song you listened to that made you feel that sense of wonderment, as you say, or were there other songs on the album that had the same affect on you?
Gromyko Collins: Oh, no no! It was the whole album. In retrospect, the way Marvin produced the album was like one seamless event. Like how he put it together, it just streamed and moved into one movement after another. All of the emotions he was going through. He really put his foot into that album, you know what I'm saying! I've heard stories about how Berry Gordy didn't want him to do that album because Marvin Gaye was known to be the ladies man. A sex symbol! Berry felt like changing the direction of who Marvin was as an artist would be dangerous for him and the label at the time. And, Marvin really had to put his foot down when it came to the subject matter. He just wanted to speak his truth as to what he was feeling, you know, and rightly so. It was a good call because here we are.
I think the album's sound was an organic, honest experience. Again, I don't think it was anything that Motown was shooting for 'cause again there was some pushback to Marvin doing the album. You see what I'm saying! He had an awakening. He had something he needed to get off his chest. So, you know, speaking as an artist and producer myself and speaking as a label owner, the label owner is going to be like, 'Hey, we need to make money!' while the artist is like, 'Hey, I feel this way.' So when it comes to making the music and making the money, there's always an internal battle between the label and the artist as to what's most important. They never line up well. A lot of that happens more often than not. You're always going to get that fight between the artist and the ones who put out the music because their job is to make sure that the music sales versus, you know, 'We need your creativity but we need it just enough to make money'! If there's no understanding to both sides, or very little middle ground, then a lot of times it's a hit and miss. In the case of Marvin Gaye, I think it had a lot to do with his relationship with God and what he felt God needed him to say at the time. I think that was the thing that really took the album to a whole other level. It spoke to the people! You have to be sensitive, too, and aware of 'What's going on!' in the culture of the times, which lends itself to a good record. Hence, the biopic is perfect for this time.
TC: What about the "What's Going On" biopic, if you can imagine, makes it perfectly suited for our time?
Gromyko Collins: Oh, gosh! I mean, 'What Is Going On'? Every wrong thing that could be happening at one time is happening. It's a palette--it's an hors d'oeuvre--just take your pick. So many options for calamity. A movie like this is pivotal...like what Marvin did is timeless, and it still works. It's time to hear that story, and for people to stop and think...I believe it'll be quite impactful...it would seem as if nothing since the release of the LP [on January 20, 1971] has changed. If anything, things seem to be getting worse. I mean this man sang [Gromyko sings the following lines off the "Save the Children" record],
There'll come a time (There'll come a time)
When the world won't be singing (When the world won't be singing)
Flowers won't grow (flowers won't grow, no)
Bells won't be ringing (the bells won't be ringing)
Who really cares? (Who really cares?)
Who's willing to try? (Who is willing to try?)
To save a world, (to save a world)
He's talking about protecting our children. We've got human trafficking...kids are missing! I mean like what are we talking about, you know what I mean...? Are they trying to save the children or trying to steal or kill them?? Like, 'What are we doing about the kids'? You know, it's a lot right now. I personally believe that good and bad come from the same source--one can't know itself without the other. It brings about a kind of balance. I would venture to say that right about now, it's time to balance out this bad with some good.
TC: How do you plan on or think about changing some of the things you've just mentioned by securing the role of Marvin Gaye for the biopic? What is it you feel you bring to his life story?
Gromyko Collins: I resonate with Marvin. A lot of what he was about I get and feel. I understand--I agree with a lot of it! So as perplexed as he was, he seemed to know himself. He knew how to be honest. What I notice about him--in looking at his interviews and performances--is that everything about him seems to be rooted in pure honesty. He could be confused, mad or whatever, but he's honest about those things. He's honest about every aspect of what he's going through. When a person knows how to be honest, I feel like that is very important in their knowing themselves.
You're not in denial of you...you know what I'm saying? We should understand that we're both good and bad, so I resonate with the concept of knowing myself. I know the good and bad within myself as well, so I can understand and resonate with who he was because, to a degree, I'm that same guy. I feel that it's not that far of a stretch to embody what he went through. We just have a lot of similarities in general. We're roughly the same height. I'm 6'1" We're about the same color. I've heard plenty of people say that we look alike. I have the ability to sound like him because I mimic people. We both play piano and drums; we're both songwriters and composers. All of these things! We both have Arian blood, being that our birthdays are like 2 days apart--mine the 30th of March. His the 2nd of April.
TC: Why do you think you are the person best suited to play Marvin Gaye for the biopic?
Gromyko Collins: I think in order to be a good to great actor, part of your job description is paying attention to the details and nuances, knowing every little thing to get into the character or role, especially when you're doing a biopic, when you're embodying and impersonating another soul. It's pretty deep! The title of the job description is called acting but I would suggest that it's more so channeling a person's energy. So you're not acting but rather becoming that person you are. It's a gift to be able to channel a person's energy, and get a sense of who they were, whether they're living or not living. That's a gift within itself, and I don't know if someone can teach you that versus your having the gift and someone instructing you on how to use your gift. When I think about that, I think about Robin Williams. I think that he was a person that really just jumped in and out of people's energy uncontrollably to a degree. He could just go in and out and if you didn't understand his gift, one could deem him to be crazy.
TC: Do you have any reservations about being cast for the role, considering what you've just described and its implicit danger to your spiritual, emotional, mental and even physical health?
Gromyko Collins: I have thought about it. I think about it often actually. You have what you call 'Method Acting,' a process by where you're getting ready for a role. You've done your research and you've got your script and you are literally being that character night and day, 24 hours, 7 days
a week. When you're not at work, you're still that character. It goes in pretty deep. So, basically you're making the decision to always be in character. I have not done that for this role. I kind of don't think it's necessary, per se. Only from the standpoint that I already resonate with who Marvin Gaye is. And, again, the danger you speak of, I think it's dangerous when a person doesn't have a good sense of who they are because it can really be tricky when you're trying to figure [yourself] out...cause everybody all over the world is going to that point in life where they ask that question, 'Where do I fit in?’ you know. So, sometimes it's easier to become someone else because sometimes it can be difficult to be you, especially if you don't know what "You" is or what you are yet because you haven't figured that out.
I'm at a place in my life where I feel like I have a good sense of who I am. So, I can rightly divide, if you will, and make the choice, 'I know me, so I know that this isn't me, and I don't resonate with this.' I understand that this is a job, you know what I mean. I can rightly divide and sift through and understand what is and what isn't at the end of the day. I think that part of it is one of the reasons I'm not too fearful of it.
TC: What makes you think that you deserve or are in fact qualified to play such an iconic figure as Marvin Gaye?
Gromyko Collins: I've done the work, and I'm sure that everyone else does their work, you know what I'm saying! It boils down to, at the end of the day, "Do you qualify to play this part"? That's me, myself included. Let's just put it this way, God forbid I don't get picked for the role, I know...! I know...not I guess...I know that I qualify to do this role. I'm beyond qualified. I know that. Whether or not they pick me...if they do not pick me for the role, it would be for some other reason than my not being able to perform or do it justice. You know what I'm saying...whatever that is. Like 'It was a close call'! 'It was just something about this or that person we really just decided to go with!' Maybe they had more experience or whatever the case could possibly be. It's not going to be because I just missed the mark. I deserve to be amongst the giants up for this role. I believe that--100% with everything that's within me, you know! There was a time I heard, before Warner Bros. got involved, that they had already given Luke James the part. And this was before I had even gotten the chance to put my [audition] reel together. And I said, 'Oh, for real!' Everything within me said, 'Nah! That ain't gonna matter, bro.' Everything within me said to continue and move forward, and make the reel.
TC: What are you doing now to prepare for the role?
Gromyko Collins: I have to lose a few pounds. Thankfully, Marvin wasn't a big guy ever. His weight teetered probably to no more than 30 pounds. He was his slimmest in his twenties, it seems like. He looked to be anywhere from 175 to dare I say 190 pounds. 175 to 185, and as he got a little older he went from 185 to 215 tops! I think when he did the "Sexual Healing" music video, that was probably his biggest [weight], aside from when he got the opportunity to try out for the Detroit Lions in 1971. The prospect of securing the role for this film has given me the drive to slim down sooner. I've always wanted to get back down to my high school weight of 180, right. I'm currently 211. I was like 230-234, so I've already started to lose some weight. I've got 20 or so odd pounds to go in order to get to 180, and what that process has been for me is really just doing a stricter diet for myself--eating nothing but raw fruits and vegetables. I can eat as much of that as I want, and I just do some cardio in the gym at least 30 minutes a day; some sauna work of meditating for another 15-20 minutes. I'm not just trying to burn myself out. I do just enough to maintain throughout the course of the day.
Marvin Gaye wasn't a built guy, so he didn't have like a lot of cuts...like his body wasn't chiseled or well-defined, or anything like that. He was just a slim guy, and he looked cool in his clothes. That doesn't require me to do a whole lot of lifting or resistance [training] or things like that. So, it's really about just slimming down, which thankfully is easier to do as opposed to like getting athletically fit...getting abs and all this other kind of stuff. I know early on he tried out for the Detroit Lions.
TC: It's pretty incredible that you moved forward with completing your audition reel, which speaks to your work ethic and actually putting forth the work to secure the role. What made 'walk by faith and not by sight', to use a religious or biblical expression, to complete the audition reel, which you completed actually in October 2020 during our COVID-19 pandemic?
Gromyko Collins: It goes back to being convinced about what it is that you believe, and what it is that you know. Like everything within me knew and still knows that I deserve to be seen and heard in this type of light, in this capacity. I've always...and maybe I didn't tell you this either...since my late teens or early twenties, I've said to myself, 'Yo! If they ever do a movie about Marvin Gaye, I bet I could do that role.' It was during the time that I started actually thinking about acting. Like, before 'Fat Albert' started becoming a movie, I had the idea of making 'Fat Albert,' the movie. I was talking to a friend about it when we used to do the Friday Night Prayer and stuff like that, and he would say, "Go do 'Fat Albert,' the movie." The next thing you know, another friend told me, "They're actually working on 'Fat Albert,' the movie. Like, 'Oh! OK!' So it's like, intellectual property is happening all the time. You have to know...you just have to believe. It doesn't matter what anybody else says or thinks because some people can tell that you can do what you believe and know, and they don't want you to do it. They don't want you to achieve it. So they'll say whatever to throw you off. It's like, 'What did God tell you to do?' if you wanna go from a biblical standpoint. Noah building the ark--God told Noah to 'Build the ark'! 'Man, it's like sunny California out here--it hardly ever rains!' You know what I mean! What would I look like building an ark. Imagine, everybody's laughing and talking about him. 'What a fool!' 'It's hot as fish-grease out here and you're talking about building an ark'? 'You better enjoy this day'! You know what I mean? Noah spent years building this ark. It's built and done and bless God because it gets to raining. Well, he's got somewhere to go, and so does his people. So, for such a time as this, all the naysayers now want to get onboard. How ironic! So now, you've made a believer out of those naysayers. The same principle applies to my going after this role that I believe I'm destined to do...destined to become. So, 'What did God tell you to do?' 'What did God give you to do?' 'What has God purposed you to do?' God has purposed everyone to do something, right? Sometimes you have to go against all odds. You know what I mean? People are always going to have something to say. It doesn't matter.
TC: As a source of inspiration for other aspiring and seasoned actors even, what would you tell them?
Gromyko Collins: First and foremost, I would tell them to be honest with themselves about what they can and cannot do. There's a fine line between 'Belief' and 'Denial' or 'Delusion.' Learn the difference, and within the context of knowing the difference, do everything that you know God has purposed you to do in this life because half the stuff on which we depend in this life was created and or designed by people who had opposition. One of the greatest inventors of all time--Thomas Edison, is quoted as saying, "Many of life's failures are people who didn't realize how close they were to success when they gave up." How many times did it take him to create the phonograph...to get it right! We wouldn't have record players without the phonograph. I'm almost certain that Henry T. Sampson faced opposition being the pioneer of the technology used to create the first cell phone back in 1973. Tape Player, Television...all of these things were created...the internet...I mean, it's like come on. This quote has stuck with me. The bible is filled with people who have problems and indiscretions, insecurities, and anxieties--people with all kinds of issues whom God uses in spite of their stuff.
Watch "Gromyko Collins Is Marvin Gaye" [audition reel] below; Post a Comment on a scale from 1 to 10; Like the video; Subscribe to Gromyko's channel in support of his 'Audacity of Becoming Marvin Gaye' for the "What's Going On" biopic.
Edited Gromyko's Top 10 Marvin Gaye playlist to reflect his Spotify curated playlist of Marvin Gaye 'Top 15' hits on 6/6/2022 since the initial publication date of interview