Blair Underwood rides a new "Streetcar"

Actor Blair Underwood, star of the Broadway revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire." CBS

(CBS News) In the 1951 film "A Streetcar Named Desire," Marlon Brando played Stanley Kowalski, the role he created on the Broadway stage four years earlier. Now, as Rita Braver tells us, a new "Streetcar" - and a new Stanley - have arrived on Broadway:

"I'm a firm believer in you just gotta go for it, and let the chips fall where they may," said Blair Underwood.

He has been going for it for more than a quarter of a century.

We first got to know him in 1987 as Jonathan Rollins, the brash young associate on the hit series "L.A. Law."

Since then he's had scores of roles in television and film, playing everything from doctors to patients, soldiers to thugs . . . and even a president.

But now he's taking on one of the most iconic roles in American theater: Stanley in the Tennessee Williams play, "A Streetcar Named Desire."

CBS
"I'm nervous and I'm scared, therefore I'm more excited than I have ever been in a long time," Underwood said.

That was clear just walking outside the theater with him; it was clear when he proudly showed us around the set: "Welcome to our home - the home of Stella and Stanley, in the French Quarter in New Orleans."

Underwood (who keeps a photo of his friend and mentor, the actor Sydney Poitier in his dressing room) has long dreamed of playing Stanley.

"There's so much to mine and excavate," he said. "All the riches in these words."

And he's about to make theater history. It's the first multi-cultural production of "Streetcar" to run on Broadway. And along with the usual class distinctions, there's another stark contrast here between Stanley and the two main female characters - his wife, Stella and her Sister, Blanche du Bois, the faded southern vamp.

Wood Harris (Mitch), Nicole Ari Parker (Blanche DuBois), Blair Underwood (Stanley) and Daphne Rubin-Vega (Stella) in a revival of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire."
streetcaronbroadway.com
"So you have that aesthetic on the stage, these two light-complected women, this one married this dark-complected man, Stanley. And there's a sense of looking down on this man just based on that, purely based on that."

Underwood says that doesn't excuse, but helps explain Stanley's violent side.

When asked whether it was more fun for him to play a good guy or a bad guy, Under wood said, "Oh, a bad guy's always better to play! Bad guy's always better!" he laughed.

But Blair was a good guy growing up, so beloved in Petersburg, Va., where he went to high school that a whole busload of fans came to wish him well on the play, including his father, a retired Army colonel.

"We were raised to carry ourselves with that understanding that when you walk out this door, you represent your family name, you represent the United States Army, you represent your country," Blair said.

Underwood said he was four or five when he realized he wanted to be an actor: "It seemed like such a cool thing to do, that they would actually pay you to be on TV, they would pay you to be in the movies," he said. "Everybody I knew wanted to be on TV, so I figured if they paid me, that's what I gotta do."

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