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Mahershala Ali Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Trivia (7) | Personal Quotes (99)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 16 February 1974Oakland, California, USA
Birth NameMahershalalhashbaz Gilmore
Nickname Ali
Height 6' 1½" (1.87 m)

Mini Bio (1)

MAHERSHALA ALI is fast becoming one of the freshest and most in-demand faces in Hollywood with his extraordinarily diverse skill set and wide-ranging background in film, television, and theater.

This past fall, Ali wrapped A24's Brad Pitt and Adele Romanski produced independent feature film, Moonlight, as well as reprised his role in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, the fourth and final installment in the critically and commercially acclaimed Hunger Games franchise, alongside Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, and Julianne Moore. As District 13's Head of Security, 'Boggs' (Ali) guides and protects Katniss (Lawrence) through the final stages of the district's rebellion against the Capitol. Lionsgate released the film on November 20, 2015.

Ali will next star in Gary Ross's civil war era drama The Free State of Jones opposite Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Keri Russell. STX Entertainment will release the film on May 13, 2016.

On television, Ali was recently cast in Netflix and Marvel Entertainment's Luke Cage in the role of Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes. A Harlem nightclub owner, Stokes will become an unexpected foe in Luke's life when Stokes' criminal activities threaten Luke's world. Ali stars alongside Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, and Alfre Woodard. The series will premiere on Netflix in 2016.

Ali can be seen on the award-winning Netflix original series House of Cards, where he will reprise his fan-favorite role as lobbyist and former press secretary Remy Danton for a fourth season in March 2016.

Ali's previous feature film credits include Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines opposite Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, Wayne Kramer's Crossing Over starring Harrison Ford, John Sayles' Go For Sisters, and David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

On television, he appeared opposite Julia Ormond in Lifetime's The Wronged Man for which he subsequently received a NAACP Nomination for Best Actor. Ali also had a large recurring role on Syfy's Alphas, as well as the role of Richard Tyler, a Korean War pilot, on the critically acclaimed drama The 4400 for three seasons.

On the stage, Ali appeared in productions of Blues for an Alabama Sky, The School for Scandal, A Lie of the Mind, A Doll's House, Monkey in the Middle, The Merchant of Venice, The New Place and Secret Injury, Secret Revenge. His additional stage credits include appearing in Washington, D.C. at the Arena Stage in the title role of The Great White Hope, and in The Long Walk and Jack and Jill. In February 2016, Ali will make his New York Broadway debut in Kenny Leon's Smart People, starring opposite Joshua Jackson.

Born in Oakland, California and raised in Hayward, Ali received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications at St. Mary's College. He made his professional debut performing with the California Shakespeare Festival in Orinda, California. Soon after, he earned his Master's degree in acting from New York University's prestigious graduate program.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Carolyn Govers

Trivia (7)

Received his bachelor of arts degree in mass communications from St. Mary's College in Moraga, California.
The name "Mahershalalhashbaz" is from the Book of Isaiah (chapter 8, verse 3) in the Hebrew Bible. It is the longest proper name (ordered by God to be given to the newborn prophet's son) that appears in the bible and is, in fact, a combination of four words: "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz," meaning "Hurry to the spoils!" or "He has made haste to the plunder!".
Is a respected rapper in the hip hop community, having collaborated and performed with notable artists such as Talib Kweli, Planet Asia, Keith Murray, and others.
Received his MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Ali has twice played the father to children with unusual (supernatural) aging issues: as Richard Tyler in The 4400 (2004), his character's daughter, Isabelle, goes from infancy to adulthood in a single episode, and as Tizzy in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), he plays the adoptive father of a child who is born old and ages backwards.
He is the son of Willicia (Goines) and Phillip F. Gilmore. His father has acted and his mother is a Christian minister. Raised a Christian, Ali later converted to Islam.
As of 2017, has appeared in three films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Moonlight (2016) and Hidden Figures (2016).

Personal Quotes (99)

'Mahershala' is my nickname.
At that moment in time when we feel like the other, we were not the person embraced, not one of the cool kids, not in the club - when you're that person, it makes you feel smaller, and when they persecute you as a result, that's a difficult position to be in.
Who is that person that comes around and says, 'You are OK, you are worthy, you are special?' That makes all the difference in the world for many of us. Those are the people we appreciate the most.
I have had that same experience where there are several people who have come up in my life at the right time and have made critical contributions to how I see the world and how I see myself.
Your life, your circumstances change, and you have to continue to grow as a person, and once you have means and opportunity, you have to make different choices to protect what you have.
My friends in college, several of whom are still my closest companions, would tell you that I was almost obsessed with becoming - fixated on creating - the future that I envisioned for myself: one of expanding to know my fullest self, which I have in no way achieved.
In my humble opinion, the ages 22 to about 27 are the most critical years of your adult life. It's your time to gestate in the cocoon of becoming.
Understand that we are all co-creators of our respective destinies.
I do believe that there are creative chakras or different sorts of energy centers.
Social media has colonized what was once a sacred space occupied by emptiness: the space reserved for thought and creativity.
Cottonmouth is the result of having to react to his circumstances. He had to, in some ways, take control of the situation and own his circumstances. But as a result of that, he became a person he didn't intend to become.
I found myself sort of becoming a character actor, though I don't know if that would be my natural makeup.
People are really paying attention to the comic-book genre, and there's a lot of time and attention being invested in these projects with a wonderful sense of quality control.
I haven't gotten to do the leading man thing, so I would love to do that!
I was a sports kid.
There are not enough going into production so that we can tout them. Look at 'Precious'... In order for them to stand out, they have to get made in the first place, and that's just not happening enough.
I watch a lot of home stuff; I like seeing things go from one thing to another and get fixed up.
It's about very talented writers, directors, producers, and actors being in a position for their projects to be supported, but there's just not enough black projects being made.
I owe a lot to my time on 'House of Cards' because, up until I booked that show, I had been working consistently for 12 years, but I wasn't working on anything that mattered in the way 'House of Cards' did to its audience, to casting directors, to directors and producers. The show hit this sweet spot.
You want entertainment in general, every aspect of it, to be more of a reflection of the diverse world that we live in.
It's still amazing, but when I was growing up, Harlem was the Mecca of black culture. I was so inspired by it, the aspirational feeling you'd get spending time there. Experiences that were really specific to that place.
What you see in 'Daredevil' and 'Jessica Jones' isn't the Hell's Kitchen of today; it's a version of what it was like.
I really enjoyed working with Mariah, Alfre Woodward's character, because she's a wonderful actor, and I felt we had a natural chemistry that was reflective of real family members.
I don't really compare any of the characters I play; I try to go into them being very open to what the characters can offer and what I can bring to them and then bring a being to life.
To get to play someone who was in some capacity the King of Harlem, that meant something to me. Deep within my bones. I was inspired by the energy that I knew to be a real thing.
Cultures and races are mixing in a very organic way in the world, and that should be reflected in film and television.
Marvel has such a huge slice of the pie.
I think if you have any desire to be a leading man or to really carry some of these stories, there's this relationship that has to be cultivated with an audience. People have to be able to say your name.
At a certain point in my career, I was probably having a difficult time 'holding space.' So you get a character that has to be commanding in order for him to resonate and make sense.
I wanted to take on my full name, which was sort of a crazy thing to do considering that we're in Hollywood.
The call for diversity is about recognizing that in order to be in the conversation come awards season, it goes back to the content that is being produced.
I have to say goodbye to things in order to take on bigger things that I've always wanted to do.
To really be conscious of how long the journey is, be patient, push yourself, persevere, and always be working on your craft while waiting for your break. That's what I'm still working on, having done this for 20 years now.
I believe that everything has a shelf life.
Basketball wasn't going particularly well, but in my senior year, I did a play and got a wonderful card from a professor that said, 'I don't know what your plans are after school or if acting is a part of it, but you have something special.' Hearing that from someone who I had so much respect for pointed me in that direction.
The people that I admire have a wonderful balance of self-belief and humility.
There are instances where you're in a space with someone who has been extraordinarily successful, and they don't necessarily connect with you as another person. You can be a prop for them to deliver their stuff, and you're just another element in the scene.
I always hope to be a better person tomorrow than today.
I don't have a wallet. I carry my driver's license and a couple of credit cards in my phone. That, and a money clip.
In thinking about it, the villains often have a little bit more range because their morality is different. You can have just a really good time as an actor, and there is just more there that you can explore on that side of the story.
If you're throwing someone off a roof, you're throwing them off the roof. It's there. You don't have to do anything extra with that. The audience is obviously going to react to that because it's such a heightened thing to do. But in the other moments, you really look for ways to craft those, because they're more important, honestly.
Hollywood has to be a better reflection of the world we live in.
Come on, we would be foolish to say that there's never been African-American leads in some capacity, people of color in some capacity, leading shows or what have you. But it hasn't happened enough and in a manner that is an accurate reflection of the world that we live in.
For my characters, it's important to get really specific about what they listen to. Because it affects how they move in the world.
I think #OscarsSoWhite is about there not truly being enough people of color represented.
When you have these surprise breakout films that do well, that have good performances in them, it puts a lot of pressure on the Academy to recognize those projects, so it's more of a conversation about what is greenlit.
I loved going to superhero films growing up - you come home, and you pretend to be those people, and it ends up informing much of what you aspire to be. And that's what I will say is important about the genre.
'Luke Cage' is about a reluctant superhero who lives in the shadows in Harlem. He has to decide if he's going to step up and fight for the heart of the city and defend the people against Cornell 'Cottonmouth' Stokes, my character, who kinda wants to keep everything in order and intact. I'm the criminal element in the story.
I'd always wanted to do a Marvel project, and I'd always imagined getting to play one of the superheroes because it's such a hard thing to get. It's the parts that only go to a few people. The flip side of that is the antagonists are pretty awesome.
I really wasn't into comic books growing up.
As young people, you want to see people who in some way look like you to some degree, because it makes it a little easier for you to aspire to take on the qualities of those people.
There's nothing fun about 30 people standing around watching you, like, pretend to pleasure someone. Nothing enjoyable about it, believe me.
The more you work and get known for something, sometimes things begin to narrow a bit, and your opportunities get more... specific.
I'd never been around or seen a black showrunner, and in some ways you wish that it wasn't a big deal.
I've been working almost 20 years, and I think I've worked with maybe one black director of photography in that time. Maybe two women directors or DPs. Maybe. And I've done a lot of TV. That's a lot of people I've worked with.
There are so many women who contributed in a very real way in pushing for the space program during the time in which there was a lot of competition to get into space first, and to know that there were African-American women who were integral in that success is pretty phenomenal.
I've never seen anyone - and I've had the opportunity to work with some really terrific actors in my time - but Philip Seymour Hoffman is definitely the best I ever had the opportunity to work with.
In terms of pace, I think I just have to revisit my relationship with expectations. That has a little bit to do with comparing ourselves to other people and seeing other people's journey and seeing how they had a certain success at a certain age.
Kids feel like they have to puff up or shrink. These reclusive qualities begin to develop because you feel that who you are is going to either be accepted or rejected by your family and friends.
When I was growing up, I was told you could be anything you want to be, but I didn't really believe that because you couldn't be president. Like, I knew that; we never had a black president.
'Free State of Jones' went beyond that. It got into how the South wasn't as homogenous as we thought it was - or even the North for that matter, where we like to assume everyone wanted to free the slaves and they were all abolitionists. It actually shows how complex these ideologies were on both sides.
I was supremely fortunate to do several projects that I'm really excited about. So within all that, there's a lot going on this year. I'm excited about 2016.
Now, being one who lived in the era of Obama, there are so many markers of improvement made. It's hard to be mindful of that, in the same way you're going, 'Oh everything's cool now!' and it isn't. But I try to be mindful of how much of an improvement there has been because that gives hope. You need hope. I need hope!
I always felt that Jay-Z, if he had a different upbringing, could be on Wall Street or in politics. If you really listen to Jay Z talk, he's kind of the smartest guy in the room.
People will burn through a show in two or three days, and then you're left feeling empty for 51 weeks.
Family are the people that can hurt you the most.
I saw this documentary he did years ago called 'Fade to Black.' I was always a Jay Z fan - I liked Jay Z - but after I saw that documentary, I loved Jay Z. I realized how intelligent he was.
I thought, 'I've been doing this for 16 years professionally. I have a window where I want to play leading parts.'
A lot of actors know they want to be actors a little bit earlier on. I didn't even really start studying until I was about 22.
Coming off 'House of Cards,' playing someone so straight-laced, I was getting offered a lot of F.B.I. agents.
Moonlight' is a project that resonated with me more than anything else. I wouldn't have done 'Luke Cage' if they hadn't made time for 'Moonlight.
I got out of grad school in 2000. I was about 26 years old. I've always said that I was late to acting because I didn't really start doing it in a focused way until I was in my early 20s.
You can't watch 'Daredevil' or 'Jessica Jones' or the Marvel films and not be aware that the villain has to be awesome. I've always wanted to have more space. And the scope, morally, is more broad for the villain than the hero.
I approach things from my feeling first. I have to get a feel for the character. I'll do that through music; I'll do it through what is naturally popping up for me when I read the script. My ideas or whatever the occupation of the character might be.
The things that people won't totally accept come in all shapes and sizes and forms, and I can relate to that in my own youth.
There's this Method Man album called 'Tical.' It's his first album. I would just listen to that every day, because the album feels like, if it were a film, it would be black and white. It feels like there's a war percolating throughout the album itself. It's dark, and it has a nice forward pace to it.
People do bad things, but that doesn't mean they don't have other colors or qualities.
I know someone from growing up who is in jail right now for the rest of his life, but he was one of the sweetest people I ever knew.
I grew up on a wide range of stuff. OutKast, they been around for over 20 years, and some of the L.A. cats like Defari, Dilated Peoples and Likwit Crew. I was always going to these shows and catching the KRS-One tennis ball, as he would throw those out, EPMD. I could go on and on.
Oakland, by far, is really gorgeous; it still has these pockets that are really dangerous. Certain things are kind of normal. I think kids out there can be tested in a way where his right of passage ties into a bit of violence and how that has become these markers in masculinity and you being kind of validated after having to pass through things.
It's a lot of wonderful things about the Bay area and Oakland that I absolutely love. I wouldn't change being from there by any stretch.
At an earlier age, I was kind of into a pretty large scope or range of music from Hieroglyphics and the Hobo Junction guys and all that to like a lot of stuff that was in New York like Diamond D, Nas, Brand Nubian, of course Biggie, OC, Organized Confusion, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Digable Planets, who I just saw recently, and they killed it.
The real guys that I knew were really cool people, who I played basketball with and traveled with on teams and knew their families and knew that they love their family. They just happen to do something that wasn't all the way legal, but it was a part of their life, and you knew that they hustled.
I think Don Cheadle has always done great work.
I do think that there are people who are able to connect with and empathize with anyone who is going through something difficult, just naturally. I don't think it's a world of effort for everyone.
Viola Davis is a perfect example of somebody who's so much better than the parts she has the opportunity to play.
I really love Tom Hardy. He makes really interesting choices.
I think selfishly, as an actor, we always want to do more.
I was going to try to get into the creative writing program at Berkeley; it's just that the acting thing worked out.
I'm excited about 'Luke Cage' with Michael Colter, who plays Luke Cage. I play the villain, Cottonmouth. It takes place in Harlem. It'll just be amazing for people to get to see an African-American superhero, which there weren't any when I was growing up.
If you're not careful as an actor, you can find yourself, at a certain point, a little bit bored.
I love hip hop. It's such an appendage for me. It's something that's always shaped my experience out in the world.
I think that black people, to a degree, need to have a certain level of dexterity. If we want to be at the highest level of whatever our field is, we have to be able to navigate both worlds. We all just know that you gotta be able to put that suit on and have a conversation with people that don't look like you or your family.
My dream role is Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion.
My manager called me and said, 'Hey, there's a series at Neflix.' I'm like, 'Netflix? Oh, boy.' At that time, it was just a strange thing to hear. It's like going, 'There's a series at Blockbuster.'
The work that I do with all of my characters is have some sense of where they come from. I kind of create my own story for myself. What's going on with my parents? Are they alive? Or family - do I have children? Do you see those things or not?
When I was growing up, in the '80s and '90s, I just never really saw myself reflected in the things that I had a liking for. It makes a difference.
I'm so appreciative that people have begun to recognize my work in a way where it can afford me more opportunities.
I had two jobs coming out of school: I did a play, 'The Great White Hope.' I played the boxer Jack Johnson. And I was the lead in this indie film. Then I moved to Los Angeles because New York was cold and it was really too quiet for me at that time. I was out of school; I was hungry. The auditions were trickling in, and I was antsy and ready to go.

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