“Ain’t nobody coming to see you, Otis!” My favorite double negative phrase from one of my favorite movies of all-time The Temptations(1998). The line was said by probably the most flamboyant of the group, singer, David Ruffin. At the time and even now, we all know what David Ruffin was trying to say so we just go along with it. But, if we’re being grammatically correct with no emotional context, it reads like everyone is coming to see Otis. And at about 8 p.m. on an unusually warm October night, that’s exactly what I did.
The Unsung Story of Otis – Hall Of Famer, Hollywood Actor, OSU Basketball Team Captain and more
Otis Winston, one of the most decorated athletes to ever compete in the state of Ohio that’s not a household name. Winston is in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Hall of Fame for his amazing record-setting feats in track and basketball, still holds a 25-year-old high jump record for Ohio State University, co-captained OSU’s basketball team in 1997, and has been in and produced multiple films. Yeah, I know, he’s kind of a big deal.
So the interview is set and we meet at one of the fancier, more chill restaurants in Columbus. A place called ZOE on Main street in the Bexley area. We took our seat at the bar and ordered a couple cocktails all the while exchanging a few pleasantries.
I stumbled out of the gate a bit in a fit of nervousness, stammering through words. He noticed my unease and asked if everything was alright. All I could say was “You’re kind of a big deal.” It was the truth.
He laughed it off and assured me he’s “just a guy”. I relaxed a bit and took a sip of my cocktail. The interview was seamless from that point forward. Just a couple guys at a bar talking sports, faith, and the Wizard of Oz.
Possibly The Most Humble “Big Deal” In Columbus
FP: How is it that on OSU’s homecoming weekend where Alumni greats are in the public eye 24/7 you were able to slip off to an interview unnoticed?
Winston: Honestly, I didn’t go. I try to stay away from things like that. Most people don’t know that I live here now or when I’m in or out of town and I like it like that.
FP: Understandable. It seems that sports played a major role in the early years of your life, and at the level of excellence you achieved it had to be time-consuming. But somehow during all that you became an ordained minister. What kind of role does faith play in your life?
Winston: A massive role. Growing up I was a real “Bible thumper”. I lived by the word as a strict code of conduct and separated myself from those who weren’t as stout in their beliefs as I was in mine. But then I realized I couldn’t live like that, so I had to find balance. Spiritual and worldly balance.
You have to have balance. You have to be able to adapt to your surroundings and cooperate with those that aren’t necessarily like you. That’s how I was able to bounce back from a tough time in my life and how I’m able to sit here with you and have this drink.
On Being A Professional Actor
FP: How was the transition from athlete to actor? Have you always had a passion for acting and directing?
Winston: I’ve never thought twice about acting before one non-business related trip changed all that. So here I was in a rough patch in my life-multiple things going wrong, all at once. A good friend of mine Robi Reed, the VP of Casting at BET, with credits like The Best Man(1999) and Soul Food(1997) thought I needed to get away so she flew me out to Hollywood to visit with her on a film set.
One of the actors didn’t show and the other director, not knowing I was just visiting, asked me if I was the actor. I told him no. But being in a time-crunch he asked me to go ahead and recite some lines anyway. They loved it. Told me I was a natural and shortly after that I was given my first gig as an actor on BET’s show The Game.
FP: Was that what propelled you to roles in films such as TED 2 (2015) and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)?
Winston: Actually no. I landed another gig as an extra in the film Oz The Great and Powerful (2013). but after seeing my hard work and commitment I was moved up to “Lead Winkie” by Choreography Director Leslie Kay. She needed us to all march in synchronized formation. It sounds easy enough but we all had to be about 6’6” and around the same weight. That’s a lot of body to be moving around.
With my sports background I was able to pick it up quickly. But, most of the other Winkies didn’t share the same athletic background as me and were struggling a bit. So I, not expecting anything extra in return, took it upon myself help the others get in step. The Assistant Director, K.C. Hodenfield, took notice of the effort, approached me while we were wrapping up filming and told me “you were the reason we were able to get this film done,” just by getting the Winkies up to speed the way I did.
He personally has helped me get most of my gigs and I see him as one of my true friends.
The Bigger Picture
FP: Along with your acting, you have also written and produced as well. What was the motivation behind your short film Split Decision (2017)?
Winston: It’s actually based on a true story. Around the time I made the film there was a lot of racial tension. Quick synopsis, a black man crosses paths with a Neo-Nazi in a grocery store and has to make a split decision on how to react to the situation. It was “National Hug Day” so he hugged him. Among other things, I wanted to convey the message that love conquers hate.
FP: Definitely a great message you’re sending with that film. As far as your acting career where can we expect to see you next?
Winston: I’m actually headed to Chicago soon to play the role of Officer Tierney on NBC’s Chicago Fire. I have a big dramatic moment in episode 8 or 9 where it’s just me and the camera. I’m extremely excited about it, and so far it’s the biggest role of my career.
FP: Great. Best of luck with the new role. FlyPaper will definitely tune in when it airs. Is there any advice you could give to aspiring actors or athletes looking to make their own way into the business?
Winston: There were times when I didn’t have two pennies to rub together but never lost my faith. Never lose faith. Never allow your talent to take you where your character can’t keep you, and don’t hesitate to bring others up with you.
There’s enough room at the top for those willing to work. Just remember, even though the sun is out, doesn’t mean the other stars aren’t still shining.