Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Access Files: Mahershala Ali

(Mahershala Ali after receiving Best Supporting Actor at the 2017 Oscars. Image found at: http://www.bet.com/celebrities/news/2017/02/26/mahershala-ali.html)

What we see of actors on-screen is just a snippet, Access Files are my aim to look  at their influence beyond the screen.

Mahershala Ali, the man most people will recognise from his role in Oscar's 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight, as well as picking up the Best Supporting Actor award for himself on the night. Now, to say Ali is a new face to film would be entirely untrue, but it can't be denied he has certainly burst into mainstream media and success in the past few years. So let's look at everything Ali from his film debut and history, his accomplishments, future works and his influence outside of film.

The Backdrop

Mahershala - full name Mahershalahashbaz - Ali, born in Oakland, California in 1974. His full name comes from a biblical prophetic-name child and originally Ali's surname was Gilmore as he was raised Christian but eventually changed to Islam. Ali attended St. Mary's College of California graduating in 1996, however, it was on a basketball scholarship because ballers are gonna' ball. Mahershala drifted from his career sights as an athlete, taking part in a stage performance of Spunk that spurred him towards receiving an apprenticeship at the California Shakespeare Theatre, following closely to his father's footsteps who appeared on Broadway. In 2000 Ali received his master's degree from New York University in graduate acting, the rest is on-screen, or is it?

Behind the Scenes

Ali's on-screen debut was in TV series Crossing Jordan, a crime/drama that followed medical and forensic examinations as a key point, Ali played the role of Dr. Trey Sanders for nineteen episodes at around 40 minutes per episode. Until 2004 Mahershala continued to appear on various crime/drama TV shows only for a handful of episodes at a time but was then offered a role on The 4400 which he held for 3 years but still not quite enough to give Ali global recognition.

Mahershala's film debut came as Mac Laslow in Making Revolution (2003), directed by Daniel Klein. Currently sitting at 8.2/10 on IMDb it wouldn't be fair to say it was an unsuccessful debut in terms of quality - the film is a mock-documentary essentially surrounding disillusioned student activists and whether the war in Iraq could bring them together to actually make a difference, a 'Woodstock without music' with a strong message at its heart.

(Image found at: http://ew.com/article/2016/10/02/luke-cage-mahershala-ali-cottonmouth-postmortem/)


Around 2010 was when Mahershala really started to burst onto mainstream TV and films and triumph in his roles. Predators ,the eventual sequel to Predator 2, was when Ali made a major film appearance and Predators ended up really not being half as bad as the second in the series. This success then spurned more favourable opportunities for Ali, like House of Cards, Hunger Games and eventually a major villain - and in my opinion a character that held the series together - in Marvel's Netflix Original series Luke Cage.

Off the Screens

Let's start this by addressing that Mahershala is most certainly a cat person and has his very own feline family member named Nas -and yes, he's named after the rap artist himself. Another lesser known fact about Ali is that he auditioned for a role on Game of Thrones a few years back and it didn't go exactly as he'd hoped. Ali had practised his lines for his role as the merchant Xaro Xhoan Daxos, otherwise known as the thirsty dude who got locked in a vault. Ali had really prepared for the role, practising power moves and really discreetly important body language for the snippet and turns out he was seated in a plain stool and it fell apart from there.

(Image found at: http://www.thegrumpyfish.com/mahershala-ali-recalls-terrible-game-thrones-audition/)

Curtain Call/Encore

It was recently revealed (at the NBA Finals) that Mahershala Ali will be featuring alongside Lupita Nyong'o and Danny Glover in a Sprint/Tidal exclusive film called 4:44. In more grander and nearer endeavours a film Ali stars in alongside the likes of Ben Afleck and his brother Casey Afleck in Triple Frontier. Another to be released in 2018 project is Alita: Battle Angel which is set in the 26th Century as a scientist discovers a female cyborg so let's hope for a sort of Ex Machina/Blade Runner-esque sci-fi beauty and smarts kind of deal.

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