OWN
02/03/2016 08:34 am ET

One Of TV's Most Famous Butlers Says His Role Came With An Off-Putting 'Stench'

"When I got the role of Benson, I was not the happiest camper," says actor Robert Guillaume.

It's been hailed as one of the greatest sitcoms on television. "Soap," the hilarious series that parodied those outrageous soap opera storylines, was a favorite among 1970s audiences, and at the center of much of the action was an African-American actor named Robert Guillaume.

Guillaume played the part of Benson, the feisty butler for a wealthy suburban family. Though the role was so successful that it later landed Guillaume his own spin-off series, the 88-year-old tells "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" that he was initially hesitant to take on the part.

"When I got the role of Benson, I was not the happiest camper," Guillaume says.

The basic nature of the role -- a black servant for a white family -- is what gave the actor pause.

It's as though nothing has changed since 1800.

"I had reservations because you're serving food, you're serving a family… It thrusts you back in time," he says. "It's as though nothing has changed since 1800." 

To get more comfortable with the role, Guillaume says he had to look at Benson's part with a nuanced perspective.

"The more I examined the role and read the script, I figured out a way to take some of the stench off the idea," he says. "And I began to look at it that way."

"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.

 

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