MB: I grey up Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, went to Stuyvesant High School which was the number one math and science high school in the country at the time. This kid Rufus is from the west-side of Chicago, got bullied sometimes, and is now an engineer and a physicist on one of the greatest inventions in humanity. So in terms of having a very grounded real life and growing up in adolescence and, whatever thing that came from being broke, being a broke negro from Brooklyn and being smart intelligent and being a successful actor are being very similar to what I’ve had to be in real life and in that character.
BSO: Then you can definitely appreciate the diversity of roles now being offered to black actors. Not so many pimps, players and hustlers anymore.
MB: I very much appreciate it. I’ve made my bones out of being the smart black guy or being the neighborhood kid that’s maybe a thug who’s heartfelt so you can understand where he’s coming from. I don’t believe I should be just playing smart individiuals who are upper crest or whatever all the time because I’m from a neighborhood with negroes, with n*ggas. All these people have real stories that can be told. I’m somebody who could easily be cast down and thought of one particular thing if it wasn’t for the fact tht a certain amount of white folks see me on TV.
So, I find those roles just as important. I’ve played a crack dealer. I’ve played a gay drug dealer, I’ve played all sorts of roles but my thing was always making sure they had a heart and a reason and never a villain. Look, we watched Wesley Snipes be one of the greatest drug dealers of all time, we watched Paid In Full and why those movies are classic to us is because we understand the era, we understand the indivdiuals surrounding them and the depth under which this character exists and why they made those choices. And that’s what’s interesting to me. It’s easy to write a stereotypical role but its harder to make something out of it. The difference between stereotype and realness is DEPTH. It’s understanding these individuals motivations so I don’t necessarily mind playing a stereotypical role if I can play it non-sterotypically.
BSO: Speaking of stereotypes, have there instances during filming where you’ve said a line and thought, that is not how a black man would react?
MB: As far as character and as far as race I’ve definitely talked to them about multiple things but what’s great about the writers is they’re collaborative and they’re open. Case and point, this speech that I give I’m the one most likely to change dialogue. When you see me and Connor Mason for the first time, I say, ‘I don’t know how it looks across the pond for you but over here I’m black.’ The line was [originally]: ‘I am black. There is no time in history that’s going to be awesome for me.’ They were really looking for a potential, they really wanted a HIT.
Me and Paterson, who is British, were talking about this and I said it’s not the same thing. Me, being an African-American man and him being a British man… we don’t’ relate in the same way, you don’t even look at us the same. You look at a British and a Black guy and you assume he’s more intelligent than me because of his accent. For me, that’s not even the same thing so that’s when I added the line.
There is a very noticeable difference from being an African-American man and a British man who comes to America. Or being a Nigerian man that comes to America. We are dealing in totally different lives that most individiuals don’t understand; that white individiauls don’t necessarily pick up on. Nobody asks me where I’m from because I don’t have an accent so they assume it’s just going to be slave. They don’t’ ask me Nigeria, or London or England or Jamaican. They don’t ask me because I don’t have an accent so they assume it goes back to slavery and I was poor. So even having that line of ‘I don’t know how it works across the pond’ brings so many gaps into ‘me and this black muthafu**a have completely different experiences’ and they’re [the writers] are open to that. Same thing with the jail scene. It was written a particular way that was a little stiff. When I did my audition I said something different and I thought they would cut it but they kept only what I said and cut theirs. They are very good about listening and I feel like if I don’t get my way it’s because it doesn’t feed the story. It’s not because they don’t value my opinion.
Flip the page for Part 3 with Malcolm Barrett