Courtney B. Vance on Family, Faith, and Making Marriage Work

Why the Tony award-winning actor says failure and vulnerability are essential in faith and love.

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Posted in , Mar 2, 2016

Courtney B. Vance and Angela Bassett, O.J. Simpson American Crime Story, Guideposts

Tony-winning actor Courtney B. Vance is going for an Emmy in his latest critically acclaimed role on the hit FX crime drama The People v. O.J.  Simpson: American Crime Story. Vance stars as Johnnie Cochran in the 10-episode miniseries that explores the social, political and legal consequences of the infamous O.J. Simpson case.

The Harvard graduate has had a long and storied acting career, from theater to film, since 1980 when he began at Yale University School of Drama, along with his future wife, Golden Globe-winning actress Angela Bassett. The two have since been married for nearly 20 years and are the parents of twins, daughter Bronwyn and son Slater Vance. Guideposts.org caught up with the busy actor to learn how he manages faith, marriage and family in Hollywood.

GUIDEPOSTS: How has faith played a role in your acting journey and how have you been able to sustain a successful career as an actor?

COURTNEY B. VANCE: The difficult thing is viewing things from God’s eyes. From his perspective a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. So I have learned to look at the pauses in between, God is working something out and for me not to worry about it and for me to continue work. Just like a farmer is not standing over his seedlings waiting for them to grow. He is busy getting things done, preparing for that time when it’s time to harvest because when it’s time to harvest and you’re not prepared then you’re in trouble. It’s all about preparation and perceived blessings. I’m just trying to be prepared.

GUIDEPOSTS: When you were in that seed stage of life, how did you prepare? How did you learn to be patient and persevere?

CBV: By failing. You know failing is nothing but an opportunity for learning how to succeed next time.  I’m a big proponent of “you've got to fail." I was in college and I did an apprenticeship out at the Shakespeare Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, and for a weekend, master clown, Mary Conway came in and taught us. She said, “Here’s the secret: acknowledge your failure, and in the acknowledgment of your failure, you can make people laugh, make people cry, you can do anything you want to and you can make people go with you. But you have to be willing for the audience to see you at your lowest.” And that has stuck with me since that time. The failures can be an opportunity into places unknown and to let God do His thing.

GUIDEPOSTS: That’s an interesting parallel between the level of vulnerability you have to have in order to succeed in your career and the vulnerability you have to have in order to excel in your relationship with God. What advice do you have for people to be more vulnerable?

CBV:  No one likes going back to Kindergarten. But every time we begin a new project--as actors and I’m sure in business, in law, in faith—you have to start where you are. You have to start not knowing.  But if you try to short change that [vulnerability] or go around that, you will never get to that place where you are commanding the stage.  [God] is asking us to let Him in and if we let Him in, He will give us the desires of our heart and “open up the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing we don’t have room enough to receive.” That’s ours; that’s the promise. But that’s hard for us because we want to know everything now, we want to know and be in control and we’re not. Ultimately, we have to sit and pray and hope and work in that in-between time.

GUIDEPOSTS: How does this idea of relinquishing control impact how you maintain your high-profile marriage and parenting pre-teens?

CBV: It’s all about humility. I fail every day in my relationships and my marriage. I must say, “Honey, I’m sorry,” about 10 times a day. “I messed that up, didn’t I?” You may be a go-getter in life, but when you come home, you have to check that ego at the door, because it doesn’t fly in God’s house. [The Bible says] if I don’t do what I’m supposed to do in terms of honoring her, my very prayers will be hindered. When I read that, I said, “Oh, my goodness! It’s all about her.” It doesn’t work without her being happy.

Sometimes my lowly human self thinks I’m in control and I’m head of my house and all that. She checks me so fast--woo! [LAUGHS] So, I recognized that I’m fifth. God’s first, she’s second, the children are third, my work is fourth and I am fifth. That’s why, I think, 50% of marriages fail. Because we just don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. That you give and then you get. You humble yourself and then God gives to you. 

Watch Courtney B. Vance in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story on FX on Tuesdays.

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