Mahershala Ali - Empathy for Flawed Characters in "Moonlight"

November 29, 2016 - Mahershala Ali 11/29/2016 Views: 5,082

"Moonlight" star Mahershala Ali talks about his childhood dream of becoming a professional bicycle racer and discusses the challenge of playing a wide range of characters. (5:14)

Watch Full Episode

Please welcome Mahershala Ali.

(cheering and applause)

Thank you.

Welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me,brother.

I am such a huge fan of yours.

-Oh, thank you. It's mutual.-Yeah. Every time

I see you onscreen, I'm like,"Oh, this is gonna be good."

-Oh. Thank you.-'Cause you know... No, there's

certain actors--you know those actors--

where you're just like,you're like, "Oh.

Oh, we're on. We're on now."

That's pressure.I hope not to let you down.

No. You know what,with this film, you didn't.

But before we getinto Moonlight, let's just...

-let's just chatabout the world. -Yeah.

Uh, I mean, the world of acting,the world of...

-you know,that you've come from. -Yeah.

You are really enjoying a greatmoment in your career right now.

Uh, but I guess this wasn'talways the path that you thought

you'd take. You grew upin Oakland, California.

-I grew up right near...I was born in Oakland, -Yeah.

grew up in... like, a suburb,a little town right next to it,

-Hayward, California.-And you... and you used

-to race bicycles, like,for a living? -Yeah.

-Like, you wanted to do that?-Well, uh,

so I started racing, um,

in the American BicycleAssociation at four,

and I raced till I was ten.

And I was about two yearsfrom turning pro,

so I... I got to expert.

That's the...

The next level was pro,but you couldn't turn pro

until you were, like,12 or 13.

So... Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

I just like... The worldof sport is amazing

-Yes.-that you're like, "Well,

"I wanted to be a pro, but I hadto wait until I was 12.

-I had to, uh... wait..."-Yes.

I just imagine, like,ten-year-olds

and 12-year-olds...12-year-olds walking by like,

-"Look at these kids."-Yeah. Yeah.

-"We're pros. We're pros."What...? -Yes.

I mean, this sounds likesuch a strange thing to ask,

but how do you know that you'regonna be a pro BMX racer?

Are you just, like, super fast?Are you just...

Um... it-it was...

You know, I thinkwhen you're that age,

you're just looking foranything that is...

In some way, you're eating upand responding to

-and absorbing any positivefeedback you get. -Yeah.

Here's my thing.You talk about,

you know, somebody giving youpositive feedback.

-Yeah. -I feel like that is allyou've been getting

-because you're an amazingactor. -Oh, thank you.

House of Cards was probablyone of the first places

a lot of people saw you in,as, you know, Remy...

-ALI: Yeah.-...running Washington.

Uh, you were the kind of peoplethat Trump was saying

he's gonna drain the swamp of.Uh...

-Yes. -Because you wererunning the place.

Like, your character was...was that kind of guy.

But what was interesting is,there was a point

-when you were filming House of Cards... -Yeah.

-You were also doing Luke Cage. -And, uh...

-NOAH: And at the same time,you're doing Moonlight. -Yes.

How do you switch between

-how do you get your mindinto that place? -Well, I was

concerned about that,and it was... it was, uh,

there was a little bitof resistance at first

in doing, um, Moonlight, because there was also

one other projectcalled Future Relic.

So I was doing four at one...I would have been doing

-four at one time.-Yeah.

And so something thatI picked up over the years,

um... was to makethese individual...

these playlists very specificto my character.

-With, like, music that you'dbe listening to? -Yeah. Yeah.

Music that the characterwould listen to.

-So-so Remy worksin Washington. -Yes.

He's a lobbyist.Who is he listening to?

I... I, in some way,I always thought about Remy

being similar,energetically, to Jay Z.

Can you imagine Jay...Now I'm picturing Jay Z

-As a lobbyist?-working in Washington, DC,

-Right, right. -standing,like... But it would be...

-Being a chief of staffnext to Obama? -it would be

the most excitingfilibuster ever.

Just, like, Jay Z standing up,yeah, he's just like,

"I got 99 problems,and the Flint water crisis

"is one them, man.

"We got to talk about thatright now.

-Are you ready, Pete?" Like,that would be... -Yes! Yes!

that would be fun.Um, let's-let's switch

and talk about Moonlight. Um...

You play a character thatis conflicted on so many levels.

-Mm-hmm. -You're playing a manwho clearly wants

-to be a father...-Yeah.

a man who wants to be a positiveinfluence in his community,

but at the same timeis a drug dealer.

-Yes. -Like, whenyou're playing that character,

what are you... like, how areyou getting that person across

-to us on the other sideof the lens? -Mm. Well...

what attracted meto this part is...

w-when I read that...when I read Moonlight,

it was, uh, it was so refreshingand moving to me,

because the peoplethat I grew up with, um,

who I was relatively close to,um, uh...

who sold drugs or...

the people who I knewwho dealt in that element,

growing up, to me,were still people I admired

and loved and love to this day.

Um, so, when I saw Juanon the page,

what was refreshing for mewas he was somebody

who felt like peoplewho I grew up with

-and who were full human beings.-Yeah.

Who loved-who loved me,loved their kids.

So, he was human, and, uh, so,

I-I think, in-in some regard,

it was relatively easyfor me to relate to him,

because he just felt real.

You-you did a fantastic jobof it. I, honestly,

I cannot recommendthis film enough.

Every idea, every theme,every emotion

you could possibly feel as ahuman being, you feel on screen.

-And you did a fantastic jobconveying it. -Thank you.

-You and the rest of the cast-I appreciate that, brother.

-Thank you so much for beinghere, man. -Thank you so much.

It's a beautiful,beautiful film.

Please, do yourself a favor,go out and watch Moonlight.

It's in theaters right now.