Fresh off a year collecting festival prizes for his first short film, “Swing Low,” Detroit actor Phil Elam will take to the stage Saturday in the Detroit Lighthouse Community Theatre’s production of “Lilies of the Field,” drawn from the Oscar-winning 1963 film with Sidney Poitier. We caught up with Elam after a rehearsal Tuesday.
Have you done a lot of stage work in Detroit?
This is the first theater I’ve done in Detroit, period. I’m not even sure how I got on (the producers’) radar, but I got an email asking if I’d like to audition for this play. All my previous work has been in film and TV, and all locally.
Where did you grow up?
In Detroit. I attended Henry Ford High School.
How did you get into acting?
It started in Speech Class in high school. My teacher asked if I’d ever thought about competing in the Forensics Festival. So I performed a couple monologues for that. And the next year I won the regionals.
Tell me about “Lilies of the Field.”
It’s a story about courage, conviction and faith. A handyman runs into four nuns, and they get him to build a chapel in the middle of the desert. It’s about the trials and tribulations they face in accomplishing this.
Will we see your new interpretation of the handyman role or your interpretation of Sidney Poitier?
It’s going to be a mix. It’s like a master class. When I first got the part, I really had to think about that — do I want to bring my own thing to it, or stay true to what Poitier did? Being an artist is about finding your own voice, but this is an iconic role and an iconic man. So I decided, ‘Why don’t I just learn from him?’ ”
Does racism figure large in the play?
There are undertones, but nothing blatant.
How old are you?
(Elam laughs.) I’m not going to tell you that.
‘Lilies of the Field’
2 p.m., 5 p.m. Saturday
A.D. Hinds Performing Arts Theatre
8801 Woodward, Detroit (in the old Temple Beth El)
Free parking in rear off Gladstone.
eventbrite.com (Search for “Lilies of the Field”)