This amazing actor has played a dazzling array of characters in such films as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Hunger Games, Marvel’s Luke Cage, among other projects, but it’s his work on the big screen that has garnered so many accolades. Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar for acting (Moonlight). He won a Golden Globe for his role in that film as well. In addition to winning a second Golden Globe in 2019 for his portrayal of Don Shirley in Green Book, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Green Book.
Ali took time out to talk to the press after he won the Best Supporting Actor Award, Motion Picture at the Golden Globe Awards for his role In Green Book.
Q: You play some amazing characters, very powerful. How do you prepare? Your characters have so many layers. What’s your world like getting in touch with who they are?
ALI: I think about that a lot from the standpoint that I have so much anxiety. I have to manage once I say yes. Because I only say yes to something that makes me uncomfortable. When I get a script and the little ego in me pops its collar and says, “oh, I can do that,” that’s the job I say no to. I say yes to jobs that scare me to some degree.
And I do all my preparation (whether it’s) from working with the speech coach, lose some weight, gain a little bit, do some piano training, or what have you. At the end of the day, I know when I get in my trailer and I step on set, no matter how well I have my lines memorized, I feel so nervous at that point and all that work goes out the window and for me the only thing that really calms me is prayer meditation.
Q: Who is your favorite author or is there a favorite character in a book that you would like to portray?
ALI: Well, my favorite book is Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. There’s a couple books I want to do that I don’t want to speak on because I have done that before and then there’s an announcement a week later, somebody else is doing it.
Q: How it feels to win knowing that Dr. Shirley has objected to the film?
ALI: Well I will say this: That my job is always the same. I have to look at what I’m responsible for doing, and all the prayers and energy and time and work, like I’m not one who is going to necessarily throw all that away over things that I have no control over and have nothing to do with.
So I respect the family. I respect Dr. Shirley and his family, and I wish them well. I have a job to do and I have to continue to do my job as I move on to my next project and treat everyone that I work with with respect. And in this case, I didn’t know that they were around. I made contact and I have spoken to the studio and everyone. And I have to move on at this point. But I do wish them well. At the end of the day you wish everybody was happy in any situation. You don’t want anybody to be upset about anything or be offended in any capacity.
I wish them well and send them my love.
Q: How would you describe your last three years in terms of amazing roles?
ALI: It has been remarkable and a real positive challenge in terms of just trying to balance other things in my life.
The challenging thing with me is with the success and opportunity, what comes with that is there’s a tax on one’s family life. My loved ones are very supportive of what I’m doing and it gives me the energy to do a better job the next time I go out there.
Q: You won a Golden Globe Award for a supporting role. You’re starting to lead, essentially. Do you feel the transition happening right now for you?
ALI: Well, I feel that there was a time not too long ago when I would never get an offer to lead a project. I still get supporting offers to this day. So I think for me it is just really about sitting back and waiting for the best opportunity, whether that’s a supporting role or a lead role, but wanting to play characters that had originality and depth and are complex and that are challenging for me.
So I think the shift is that — for me the clear shift is having an idea and presenting that to an HBO or studio and them saying, yes, we would like to support that or get behind that.
And I have worked in this business a long time, and within the last couple years I have made some wonderful allies and there’s people who have been supportive of my ideas and get my ideas off the ground. I think that will add to the shift in terms of how present I get to be in the story and even what stories I get to tell to some degree as I get to dip in and out of producing in the future. God willing.
Q: In college you played basketball; what was that like?
ALI: At first I was a BMX racer, which is not a team sport, but after that I was basically always playing team sports. I have never really understood accomplishing anything without the help of a lot of other people. We can’t do it without the other person. And so it’s your job to — for me at least, it is about bringing everyone together. It wasn’t about how much you worked on the court and or how much you scored, but it was about your attitude and the energy that you brought to the team.
And so I always try to be very conscious of my energy and what I bring into the room, if I’m either one of those to help uplift the situation or doing something to take away from what something can eventually turn into, and I don’t ever want to be the latter.
WATCH A CLIP FROM GREEN BOOK HERE: