While interviewing LaMonica Garrett before 1883’s release, his deep passion for Westerns – and the history that inspires them – became immediately apparent. The versatile actor grew up obsessed with the genre. But like so many who share his heritage, Garrett struggled to find “any black characters” that looked like he did, if they existed at all.
Now, some four decades later, he’s an integral part of 1883‘s changing of the status quo as Buffalo Soldier veteran & Pinkerton Agent Thomas. And when asked how it felt to put the historic Buffalo Soldier uniform on for the first time, LaMonica Garrett‘s composure completely changed.
“It takes you to a different time, man,” the 1883 star smiled wide. “Putting on the Buffalo Soldier Sergeant uniform for the first time… You put that on, and it hits a certain way.”
Garrett’s been in Hollywood since the turn of the 21st century and has amassed stellar credits. But in all that time he’s never had an opportunity to embody a character like Thomas. Which, as he’ll tell you, comes down to the Western genre’s lack of historical representation.
1883 hits different as a result. “It hit me in a certain way when we were in Fort Worth and there were hundreds of background actors. We’re all hanging out, and a handful of the black background actors came up to me and said ‘Hey man, how does it feel? How does it feel to wear the Buffalo Soldier’s Jacket?'” Garrett continued.
“I already knew it was significant, but knowing what it means not just to myself but so many other people – and to represent it in such a strong manner [through 1883] is special,” he offered. “It started out big for me, and it just kept getting bigger.”
LaMonica Garrett on ‘1883’: 1-in-every-4 Cowboys Throughout the 1800s Were Black’
It’s one thing to pander and have representation for the sake of representation. It’s another entirely, however, to have a character like Thomas “represent this history in such a strong manner,” Garrett adds.
“1-in-every-4 cowboys throughout the 1800s were Black. There were Black cowboys [back then],” he emphasizes. So where have all the roles been?
“In every, every show I’ve seen… I haven’t seen any [Black cowboys] growing up. We were there. And if I just focus on that, the other stuff will fall into place,” he told himself before 1883 began filming.
In the road up to production, LaMonica Garrett delved as deeply into the history of black cowboys as he could. He read Black Cowboys in the American West, Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves (Race and Ethnicity in the American West), and The Life and Adventures of Nat Love (Blacks in the American West), to name a few. Through these works, he found powerful inspiration for Thomas; a brilliantly complex man who’s seen the worst and best of America in a single lifetime.
“Thomas has these principles, he has an honor to himself and the way he carries himself,” he offers of the Taylor Sheridan-created character. And to the 1883 crafter’s credit, Garrett says “It’s easy to get up and work when you have that to work with.”