He’s been a bodyguard for James Brown, a pilot and a flight technician. Now 75-year old actor Nathaniel Richardson sits down with Urbanlife for a talk about unexpected opportunities, black identity in Sweden and why he’s scared of “Mr. Copenhagen”.
While he plugs in the electric cord to his laptop Nathaniel Richardson gets a few glances from other guests in the lobby of the Royal Viking Hotel, close to central station in Stockholm. A fair guess is that they might mistake him from Hollywood star Morgan Freeman.
“On my last trip to the US I went to see Morgan”, he starts of telling. This was on one of the many trips that Nathaniel Richardson takes between his native US and his second home Sundbyberg, a northern suburb of Stockholm. This trip however, was more than a regular visit to see friends and family back home.
“I went to see Morgan Freeman because I wanted to interest him in this movie I’m trying to create”, he continues. The movie Nathaniel Richardson wants to make is a semi-biographic tale of the first black military pilot Eugene Bullard. Unfortunately, due to the illness of a friend to Mr. Richardson, he didn’t get the chance to pitch his idea to Freeman. But they have met. Three photos of a surprised and somewhat bewildered Freeman shaking hand with his fellow actor is proof of that.
But Nathaniel Richardson is more than a celebrity look-a-like, and he’s by far not your average senior citizen. Back in 1993 he’s at the headquarters for SVT, Swedish public service television, accompanying a friend of his.
“I’m at the TV-station and this man goes by me. He looks at me, goes away, comes back and then he says: I want you to be in my film”, he recalls with visible amusement.
That marks the start of Nathaniel Richardson’s career as an actor and the man that wanted him to be in the movie was none other than legendary Swedish director Gunnar Hellström.
The movie itself, titled Zorn, is a story about the life of famous Swedish painter Anders Zorn. Nathaniel Richardson’s performance in Zorn gets him his second role as the character general Denen in the TV-movie Zonen. Here he stars alongside Peter Haber, one of Sweden’s most famous actors today.
Acting is not his first love though, and not his first profession. As a kid he used to skip the piano classes that his dad had sent him to. Instead he preferred to go to the airport and watch the airplanes take off. But not just that, he would also sneak into the airplanes.
“One time, my father picked up the phone and called the piano teacher”, he says. The result, some harsh discipline from his father but that didn’t stop his growing interest for airplanes.
“I figured I could take a good beating because the moments in those airplanes were so good”, he says laughing to the memory. Not surprisingly his interest led him to become a trained pilot and a flight technician.
What led him to Sweden however, was not his profession as a flight technician, although he worked for SAS for many years. Instead it was his friendship with the 1960’s boxing legend Sonny Liston that brought him here. Sonny Liston wanted him to come over to Sweden and help him with some fights that were planned to take place. After a lot of persuasion Nathaniel Richardson boarded the plane to Gothenburg.
“My first European city was Copenhagen though, ‘cause we had to transfer there. When we came there I remembered that when I was a kid my mother had a broom that she used to put a coat around and put a hat on. She called the broom Mr. Copenhagen and she would tell me that if I started acting up, which I usually did because I was a curious child, she would take me to see Mr. Copenhagen and he’d deal with me”, he says.
Commenting on the life of black people in Sweden, Nathaniel Richardson says that the most important thing to remember is that you have to be aware that disturbances concerning your ethnicity and skin color can happen.
“Usually everything looks good but if you look under the rug you can find things. It may confront you on the street but it also depends on how you carry yourself”, he points out with a serious voice. Having said that he declares that he thinks it’s easier being a black american living in Sweden compared to being an african living in Sweden.
“For example, if I go in to a store with my Ethiopian friends, they don’t get the same treatment and service as I do”, he says.
Asked what things the younger generation of the black community in Sweden should focus on Nathaniel Richardson firmly states education as priority number one. But he also points out the importance of the way you dress and the way you carry yourself.
One question that catches Nathaniel Richardson off guard though is that if he could change one thing about Sweden, what would it be?
“If I could change one thing about Sweden it would be that I liked to see that this country takes more control over itself and that people who comes here have more respect for Sweden”, he states after a moment of hesitation.
Wrapping up the interview, Nathaniel Richardson suddenly tells Urbanlife.se that he was a bodyguard for James Brown back in 2006 when the Godfather of Soul graced Sweden with a visit. He even shows a photo with him and the hardest working man in show-business, the two of them looking happy in each others company.
Just another confirmation that this man, Nathaniel Richardson, is not your average senior citizen.