Producer-director Terry Dawson Talks A Whole New Irving, Mental Health Within The Black Community, & More
Producer-director Terry Dawson (That’s So Raven, Six Feet Under) is giving ‘a whole new’ outlook on the everyday struggles of black millennials. The Washington, D.C. native just recently debuted A Whole New Irving, which is a dramedy web series, with production value rivaling your favorite Netflix series. So far, the series parallels shows such as Insecure, Atlanta, and Master of None. A Whole New Irving centers Irving, a typical young adult post-college, undervalued, overwhelmed with bills, who’s struggling to find work that fits his ‘passion.’ Despite his degree, he ends up working at a health food store in Venice Beach, embarking on a journey of spiritual enlightenment and self-discovery to figure out his life. We recently sat down with Dawson to learn more about him and his new series. Check it out below!
Parlé Mag: So, let’s just jump right into it. I saw that you were born and raised in Washington, D.C. What was your childhood like?
Terry Dawson: Yeah, I was. I was born and raised in Washington, and I had a great childhood. A really good childhood, in fact. I was involved in a lot of activities throughout grammar school. I did a little bit of childhood acting. So, it was really good.
Parlé Mag: With that kind of exposure, when did you know you were interested in the film industry specifically?
Terry Dawson: Very early on. I was always sounded by the arts and film. I attended Hofstra University and Howard University as well. It all came kind of natural to me.
Parlé Mag: That’s what talent is. Anything you can do well, naturally, is talent.
Terry Dawson: I like that!
Parlé Mag: I’ll let you have that one to use. [laughs] First one is on the house. You have an impressive resume, though, how did you get your start?
Terry Dawson: Ah man, I got started instantly, kind of. I went out to L.A. and was working two weeks later. I’ve worked on shows such as That’s So Raven, Cedric the Entertainer. I’m dating myself a little bit here, but, unlike the character Irving, I found work rather quickly.
Parlé Mag: Who were/are your role models or inspirations?
Terry Dawson: I’ve always said that my idols are Spike Lee and Woody Allen, but just the creative aspects of them, none of the personal stuff.
Parlé Mag: Definitely, none of the personal stuff. I agree; Spike Lee and Woody Allen are two of the most dynamic forces in this industry. They’re great people to look up to.
Terry Dawson: Right. We all have baggage and make mistakes but they are both creative geniuses at what they do. Those are my inspirations.
Parlé Mag: Of the things you’ve done in the past; writing for Entertainment Tonight, That’s So Raven, Six Feet Under, what would you say was your biggest accomplishment, thus far?
Terry Dawson: My biggest accomplishment, so far, would be creating A Whole New Irving.
Parlé Mag: This was your directorial debut, correct?
Terry Dawson: Yes, it is.
Parlé Mag: With this being your biggest accomplishment, would you say that this was also the toughest challenge in your career?
Terry Dawson: Oh, yeah, there was a lot of background work into getting this off the ground. We’ve had to build up an audience and publicity to let people know what A Whole New Irving is about and why they should be watching it. That’s why I am so happy to be doing this interview with you guys.
Parlé Mag: Speaking of that. Let’s talk about A Whole New Irving, your latest project. Where did you get the concept for it?
Terry Dawson: The concept for A Whole New Irving came from my journey of spiritual growth. I had a really good job, but it was stressful, so I needed to find ways to relax that left me refreshed. Unlike Irving, I didn’t have a pretty girl to invite me to try meditation. [laughs] I’m about to date myself a little bit, again, but this was before Google; I did a web search, and the results brought up mediation. I tried it, and I liked it. Interestingly enough, one of my childhood friends on the other side of the county was battling substance abuse, and his coping mechanism was also mediation. It was crazy, you know? Both of us had been secretly meditating for a year, and we had become a better person because of it.
Parlé Mag: That is pretty wild. You decided to portray Irving in a way that we typically don’t see. Why was that type of representation so important to you?
Terry Dawson: Yeah, Irving isn’t seen as your stereotypical black male in film. He’s cool and modern, but he has that slight touch of hood. When I created Irving, I knew exactly what I needed him to look like.
Parlé Mag: So, I’m assuming that you were very hands-on with the casting?
Terry Dawson: Most definitely. We auditioned several hundred people, all day long, over a few weekends. I still have the call sheets. We knew exactly the type of person we need for character. So, yeah, I was very hands-on. We all were, actually, but I had the final say so.
Parlé Mag: I read a statement that said most black folks have been taught to take their problems to the prayer altar. And, it said that we have been conditioned to pretend things are okay [upstairs] when it’s not. Why do you think mental health isn’t taken as seriously as it should be within the black community?
Terry Dawson: I don’t know. I have no idea why that is, but I think we are getting to a place where it’s starting to become mainstream and talked about a little bit more. Especially in television. For instance, in Empire, the oldest son, Andre has an open history and struggles with mental illness. When you get further into the series, Irving’s mom appears. She’s this devout, praying woman. And, you’ll see changes come about for Irving; it will be that moment of wondering if that came from Irving’s meditations or his mom’s prayers.
Parlé Mag: I can’t wait to see that come full circle. Yes, he [Andre] does struggle with mental illness in Empire. And, I agree with you. People are using their platforms to bring common issues to light to spark those dialogues that we should be having within our communities. With that in mind, what do you want viewers to take away from this show?
Terry Dawson: Oh, you’re asking the hard questions now! I’ve never thought about that before.
Parlé Mag: That’s what I’m here for! [laughs]
Terry Dawson: What do I want viewers to take away? Um, I guess, more than anything, I want people to be thoroughly entertained.
Parlé Mag: As you mentioned, A Whole New Irving is your first directorial project that debuted in June with four episodes, and it has already received and been nominated for multiple awards and is going international. How does that feel? Did you anticipate an instant success?
Terry Dawson: It’s an amazing feeling. We were nominated in three of five categories, and we weren’t expecting that at all. Chase Anthony, the actor who plays Irving, won for best male performance in a web series. The look on his face, he was completely shocked! But, it didn’t feel like an instant success to us. This was two years in the making and a lot of hard work.
Parlé Mag: You guys deserve it. So, what’s next for Terry Dawson?
Terry Dawson: What’s next for Terry Dawson? This! A Whole New Irving. Hopefully more episodes and more seasons!
A Whole New Irving episodes are exclusively available HERE!
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