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Interview: Jaleel White of “Dancing With The Stars”

April 11th, 2012 by Naivasha D Associate Producer

Jaleel White packed away Steve Urkel’s suspenders long ago, and he’s spent the years since building an eclectic Hollywood resume that reveals a man on a mission. All White really wants to do is entertain you — the medium hardly matters. The UCLA Film & TV grad is a veteran voice actor, guest-star, and sitcom regular, and recently wrote and produced the lightly-autobiographical web series Fake It Till You Make It, about a former child star turned image consultant and industry expert. In it, people say things like “Holy Ryan Seacrest!” and “He places the best nipple in Hollywood.”

Now he’s back where he feels most at home — on primetime, and in the headlines. He’s traded in those suspenders for an assortment of rhinestone-embellished suit jackets, and he is single-mindedly focused on winning this season of Dancing With The Stars (DWTS), no matter how many times people might still call in to vote for “Urkel.”

About the unparalleled standard of dancing on DWTS this season, and how the stiff competition is affecting him.

I work seven days a week. I dance for, like, five hours a day. When I’m not doing that, I’m acting. When I’m not doing that, I’m being a father. This is an incredible gauntlet to run. I don’t know when Dancing With the Stars turned into the Hunger Games, but that’s what it feels like.

On how life has changed since signing up with DWTS.

I don’t have a life right now! I don’t. When I’m done with this interview I’m going to run upstairs, eat some breakfast, then I’m going to jet off to my costume stage, then right to the rehearsal hall, and I won’t get home until 9 or 10 o’clock tonight. My body’s all beat up. My toes feel like they’ve been beat off by a mallet.

On how it feels to be reunited with fellow contestant Gladys Knight, who played his mom on “Charlie & Co.” in one of his first TV roles.

That’s one of the things that make me feel that I was supposed to do this. This feels like full-circle in my career. She played my mom when I was 9 years old, and now we’re reunited 26 years later, competing against each other on a dancing show on primetime television. It makes me proud to know her, because obviously she’s a showbiz icon. It also makes me proud of myself, because it helps me realize I’ve had a genuine career.

On what theme he’d pick if he were in charge of DWTS for a week.

I would make everybody dance to old, famous TV show songs — and channel the characters! I think that would be pretty cool.

On what show he’d like to guest-star on next.

I currently guest star pretty frequently on Psych. I love those guys, so I’m not going to give anybody more props than the people who have already hired me. I’d like to do another episode of Psych!

On his industry role models.
Joel Zwick is my mentor — the director of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I look up to him. Obviously, I have people that I admire. I used to play basketball with George Clooney. I tend to be pretty under the radar, and I appreciate the singular performance more than I appreciate any one person. Like Dominic Cooper in “The Devil’s Double.” I thought that performance was just ridiculous and amazing. I can become somebody’s biggest fan at any moment just by watching their one greatest film. And obviously, Denzel Washington’s somebody I grew up with and I continue to watch today.

On plans for the future.

At this point, I’m going with the wind. 20 months ago, my manager set me on a course of doing things that are completely outside my wheelhouse. I’m the host of a game show that started on SyFy called Total Blackout, which is a lot of fun — I never thought I’d be a game show host. I never thought I’d be on Dancing With The Stars. So right now I’m going with it. Everybody still knows I’ve got my comedic chops, and we’ll just see what the future holds.

On Jack Donaghy mentioning him on 30 Rock.

“…And I’ve met Jaleel White. Incredibly charismatic. He makes Stephan Urkell look like Steve Urkel.”

Oh yeah. I had three friends e-mail that to me. It was great.