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Drivin' Ain't Easy

Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas takes Miss Daisy for a ride.



Do you remember that episode of Starsky & Hutch when Hutch hired Huggy Bear to drive his elderly mom around and she freaked out because he was an irascible pimp but later they became best friends? Well, of course, you don't, because it never happened. But if the notion sounds vaguely intriguing, Antonio Fargas, the Everybody Hates Chris actor who played the colorful informant Huggy Bear on Starsky & Hutch, is coming to Memphis to play Hoke in a touring production of Alfred Uhry's acclaimed drama Driving Miss Daisy. The Cutural Development Foundation of Memphis is presenting the play, which runs from Friday through Sunday at The Orpheum.

Flyer: First things first: Who's the real Huggy Bear? You or Snoop Dogg?

Antonio Fargas: Well, hopefully, he thinks he is. But I created the part, so I'm the original.

And now you're doing Driving Miss Daisy with Karen Grassle, who played Ma Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie.

Driving Miss Daisy is the perfect opportunity to explore an American classic, at the perfect time in my life. I've been acting for 47 years now.

This isn't the first time you've played Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy. What's it like to return to a role over and over again?

I've done it four or five times. You know, every role you ever play keeps on growing and living inside of you even when you're not performing it. So every time I reconnect, I find out that the character has grown.

Most people know you from your work in films like Foxy Brown or television shows like Starsky & Hutch, but you're not just some '70s actor attached to a touring show. You have a serious resume.

My first love is the theater. That's where it all started, and without it, nothing else I've ever done would have been possible. If it wasn't for the theater I don't know what I would have done. Thank goodness for the arts for impaired people like me.

You were around for the startup in the late '60s of the Negro Ensemble Company, which created shows like Day of Absence and A Soldier's Play.

I was living in Chelsea and studying in Harlem when [NEC co-founder] Robert Hooks came to town. He wanted young black actors to do something for themselves. That group was really the nucleus for black actors at the time.

What was it like working on The Great White Hope with James Earl Jones?

It was incredible to watch a genius like James Earl Jones create his character. To watch all these great actors creating their characters. What I didn't know then was that they were also watching me.

But even after these great breaks you had to hustle and work odd jobs.

I was too naive to know just how bad the odds were against me. I packed boxes, sold Christmas cards for UNICEF, and worked as an usher for CBS. But those times weren't hard times because I was a dreamer who was willing to work. And I had a burning love for theater and for life.

And now you're an archetype. If somebody refers to Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch, everybody knows what they are talking about.

Yeah, it's pretty crazy when you start showing up in crossword puzzles and Jeopardy! questions. But I'm not somebody who's going to complain about it. People are going to come to see Driving Miss Daisy to see Huggy Bear. That's the power of TV. That's the power of memory. Starsky & Hutch had everything you could want: It had swagger, it had hot young guys, a sexy car, clothes, and music that reflected the times.

Has the Huggy Bear image ever gotten in the way?

Not really. I may have wanted to play Hamlet on stage, but I never wanted to play James Bond. Look, I've played three different homosexual roles. I've played four pimps. Each one is different. Each one is a specific human being. And each one presents a unique set of challenges.

So who's Miss Daisy's real best friend, you or Morgan Freeman?

Morgan did it first, and you've got to give him respect for the impact he had. But then you have to go on. You just have to free yourself as an artist and go on.

Driving Miss Daisy with Antonio Fargas, Karen Grassle, and Cliff De Young is at The Orpheum (525-3000) Friday-Saturday, May 11th-12th, at 8 p.m., and a Sunday, May 13th, matinee at 3 p.m. Tickets are $16 to $40.

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