Trinidad and Tobago-born actor, producer, and writer G Anthony Joseph has been riding a wave of success in recent months. His classic action films Men of Gray and Men of Gray II: Flight of the Ibis are now streaming on PAVILION+ via the Roku Channel and he has secured new television and film roles.
In 1990 the first Men of Gray, created and produced by Joseph, and co-written with his wife, Ria Roebuck-Joseph, and the film's director Ric Moxley, was released on TTT (Trinidad and Tobago Television).
It is an action-packed thriller about a former police officer Joe Cameron (Joseph) who returns to action when his old partner discovers the reason their best efforts to fight the drug war in Trinidad is because their former captain is on the take.
"Joe and his partner work beyond the law – with Joe’s martial arts skill frequently put to the test – to prove the government scandal and to bring down the drug lord behind it all."
Joseph, speaking to Newsday in a Zoom interview, recalled the first film was supposed to be a college graduation project. He was unhappy with the college he was attending and asked if he completed a film whether it would graduate him. His request was met with laughs.
But Joseph moved ahead with his film. He contacted Moxley, who had hired him when he came to Los Angeles to be in his student film at the University of Southern California, to direct the film.
He also spoke to the late Horace James who was head of production at TTT. James told him to come with what he had and he would supply the rest. He and his wife invested about US$7,000 of their money into the project. The deal was TTT would release it, and it came out in 1990.
"I went back to LA afterwards and they released it and that's when it blew up and became this thing that I never knew was even possible."
He returned with the film, but it was on three-quarter-inch VHS-like tape and he could not do much with it except enter film festivals, which he did. It won first place at the Pegasus Film Festival in Oklahoma and kept rerunning in Trinidad and the Caribbean for years.
When Joseph and the team saw all the press, they decided to return to Trinidad and make a sequel.
"We had so much heat from the press we thought when we came down getting the funding would be much easier. Well, that ending up taking like six years. That was heartache."
Men of Gray II: Flight of the Ibis was released at the Globe Cinema locally in 1996 and then across the Caribbean.
"So of course, that blows up all over the place."
Flight of the Ibis, which Joseph produced and co-wrote with his wife, and which Moxley returned to direct, follows police hero Cameron as he descends into the Caribbean drug underworld to clear his name from false evidence stacked up against him from an unknown source of murder and corruption. The film also features Tricia Lee Kelshall, Paul Tuerpe, Michael Walker, Cauri Jaye, Hansley Ajodha, Michael Cherrie, Errol Fabien with the late Horace James, and Devindra Dookie.
Joseph recalled he returned to the US with Part II on film and did a deal with Scott Jones, CEO of Artist View Entertainment, for worldwide distribution. The film was picked up by US cable network Showtime and was re-released on VHS in America under the title Crackdown.
Joseph said the film kept going and still running in many parts of the world.
"So 25 years passed, which is around the life of a film. So I figure it done."
The Stephen connection
But then he was contacted by TT actor Stephen Hadeed Jr. He met Hadeed in 2008 while signing autographs at MovieTowne for the film Contract Killers (which he featured in and co-produced).
"(He) came up to me and said something like, 'I want to get into the film business and my father said if you want to do that, the only person to talk to is G Anthony Joseph.'"
Joseph told him he was busy but if he could visit him at his hotel, he would have time to chat between 2 and 3 am. Hadeed showed up, the two spoke and the aspiring actor then went to New York to study acting and subsequently returned to Trinidad "to continue to pursue his acting dream."
Flash forward to the present day and Hadeed was chatting with a man in LA who was putting together deals with streaming service Roku for Caribbean content.
"And when they were talking, he said, 'I would really like to reach this guy called G Anthony Joseph.' And Stephen said, 'Well, I know him.'"
Hadeed immediately contacted Joseph and connected the two. They spoke and signed a non-exclusive one-year deal with PAVILION+ via The Roku Channel.
Joseph was surprised when they asked to release the original Men of Gray as well, which had never been released internationally.
"That's on video. That's on a VHS machine."
But they promised to clean the film up and Joseph was shocked they were not only able to do so, but in just a couple of months. The films are available on Roku to all viewers in the Caribbean diaspora across the US, UK, and Canada for free.
He expressed special thanks to Hadeed for making the connection with the PAVILION+ team.
“I am just so honoured that after 31 years, Men of Gray and Men of Gray II are back for a re-release on the international stage on such a prestigious streaming platform as PAVILION+ via The Roku Channel,” Joseph said in a statement.
“The idea for Men of Gray began as a school graduation project in Hollywood, California and the timing of this release cannot be any better as I wrap up final preparations for the production of Men of Gray III: Liberty in the Fires. This is the beginning of leaving another imprint behind for another 30-plus years."
The Fires and Father Hammond
Asked about the third Men of Gray film, which is set in the Caribbean and Mexico, Joseph said over the past couple of months the team has been discussing when it could come to TT and start filming. He said however, due to the current lockdown the team will either wait a few more months or possibly use a new technology that is superior to green screen to recreate the TT locations.
He added the team also wants to shoot an episode of a TV series called The Flying Squad.
"I try to tell Trini filmmakers coming up, I don't mind if you stick to Caribbean content, but it must be something grand. It has to be something the world can relate to."
Joseph, who has appeared in popular US TV series like JAG and The District, also has new developments in his acting career. He secured the role in a television series playing a "bad a--" vigilante martial artist priest named Fr Hammond. He recalled at the audition there was a scene where the character had to pull out a medieval-type weapon, and he surprised the crew by bringing a weapon from his collection.
"You have to do something to make you stand out."
Joseph has begun shooting the pilot episode of the as-yet-untitled series.
He was also recently informed he had won a role in a film as a sheriff helping to clean up a corrupt school.
"I was just in shock."
Joseph explained for one role there could be between 500 and 2,000 submissions.
Returning to the Men of Gray franchise, Joseph said he was surprised the films remained popular so many years later, but this has become apparent in the last four-five months, when he began posting on social media after years of his children urging him to do so.
"The kind of messages I've been getting has just totally humbled me. (Messages like) 'I became a cop because of that movie.' 'You changed my life.' 'You led my film career.'
"I'm still flabbergasted. Up to yesterday, I was getting messages."
But, he said, "Even now when I'm doing something I'm not doing it to be recognised. I'm doing it because I love it. I love to do it. So messages like that, I told my kids recently, 'That's worth it. That by itself is worth it.'"
Roku is not currently available in TT but both Men of Gray films are available for download at this link .