Most remember Dwayne Nelson by his infectious catchphrases "hey, hey, hey" and "uh-huh" on the 70s sitco, "What's Happening," but Haywood Nelson who brought his onscreen alter ego to life had been grinding on the stage before landing what would become hisdefining role. The actor-turned- executive producer talked toESSENCE.com about his defining role, why he never gets tired of folks treating him like Dwayne and his secret celebrity crushes.
ESSENCE.com about his defining role, his two secret crushes on the show and how how becoming a Scientologist has helped him.ESSENCE.COM: So the "What's happening" cast shared such great chemistry. What inspired your character Dwyane?
HAYWOOD NELSON: Some might not know that "What's Happening" was the television version of "Cooly High." When I went on the audition it was an audition for exactly that the tv version of the movie. My character Dwayne was made up of three men: Pooter from the movie and two guys I grew up with named Smiley and Greg. I never talked to those guys about me incorporating some of their personalities into my character nor have I seen them. So they might other hug me or punch me if they ever saw me today (laughs.)
ESSENCE.COM: So Mr. Nelson, do you ever tire of folks mimicking your character Dwayne's Triple H greeting?
NELSON: (Laughs) No, I never get tired of hearing it because I put it out there. I get it all day everyday by folks from every walk of life and every age group because they all think they know me and went to school with me. Really, it can't get better than that. I'm blessed and people's responses to me have never been negative. It spawns great conversation and makes me late to every appointment I have (laughs). No I never get tired of hearing it.
ESSENCE.COM: What inspired your two signature catchphrases?
NELSON: Well, "Hey, hey, hey" was my version of Fat Albert's "hey, hey, hey" but I just rearranged it and put it back into play. The "uh-uh" came about during some improvewhen my character, Dwayne, was asked to go in the backyard with flashlight at night and he's like, "Nope it ain't gonna happen!" and then he says "Uh-huh." Despite the fact that it's not the most macho or intellectual response, the emotion was right (laughs). The point was he ain't doing it-period.
ESSENCE.COM: So as the heartthrob were you ever involved in any work romances?
NELSON: (Laughs) No not me, but I had a big crush on Dee. Whe is the bomb and if it weren't for our age difference it would be very dangerous and tempting waters. Dee was sharp and was a mart young girl. She could tell adults off and get away with it. I also had a crush on Shirley. I love her wit. I love people who are fearless and I'm a spiritual guy so I connect with people spiritually. Now, Debbie Morgan, who appeared on the show, and I used to date. It was my fault, I blew it. It didn't work out because I was too young, with a Porsche and was interested in driving around and taking road trips with my boys when she wanted time. if I had my head on right I would have married her.
ESSENCE.COM: Wow, who knew? What do you miss most about the show?
NELSON: What's the most memorable about the show for me is that we loved each other. The original producers really trusted us and allowed us to be free so it felt more like a high school drama class in high school than a television network show. Now, I'm trying to do my own shows as an executive producer. I worked a little behind the cameras and helped to distribute films in Senegal. I hope that when people see my body of work they will say that brother dropped it for real on us even at the expense of his own image. The other side of my mission is that my work will be an equalizer for people of color the because the disparity between the perceived popular culture needs some help and if I can produce content that will teach stories about our history and others history around th world then I've done my job.