Michael Ealy may very well be the definition of a working actor.
After landing his breakout role as Ricky Nash in Barbershop in 2002, Ealy gave up waiting tables in New York City and began putting together a career in Hollywood.
Year after year he’s given solid performances in blockbuster movies and hit TV shows, playing characters that range from the action hero, to the android, to the unrepentant womanizer. But only recently has Ealy started to step out of the supporting role arena and into the spotlight, co-starring in the wildly popular comedy Think Like a Man, and, most recently, the J.J. Abrams series Almost Human.
TheGrio caught up with Ealy between shoots to discuss choosing roles, the perils of typecasting, and the release of his latest film, About Last Night.
TheGrio: You star as the android Dorian in FOX’s new sci-fi crime drama, Almost Human. After films like Barbershop and Think Like a Man this feels like a bit of an unusual role for you. Why did you want to be involved in this project?
Michael Ealy: Growing up as a kid, or even when I first started out as an actor, I never thought about playing a machine. I don’t know why, it just never entered my mind. You know, I thought about being immortal, being a super hero, being a cowboy, a cop, all of those things, but hadn’t really thought about being a machine. So the opportunity to break new ground for myself was intriguing.
Was this at all a reaction to you being cast as the “ladies man” in a number of romantic comedies lately? Do you feel like you’re starting to get pigeonholed?
The interesting thing is that Think Like a Man was actually my first romantic comedy – before that I hadn’t done one. But because it was so big, so huge, people act like I’ve been doing it ever since[.] Yes, I had filmed [About Last Night and Think Like a Man Too] before I started this project, and yes, there was a bit of me saying, “Let me go in another direction here.” Part of the appeal of Dorian was I assumed, as a machine, he would never have a love interest, so I wouldn’t have to do anything remotely like what I had just done in the last two to three years.
The mentality in Hollywood used to be that films with all-black casts were made solely for African-American audiences, while movies with white actors were for everybody. But Think Like a Man went No. 1 at the box office in 2012, pulling in almost $100 million in ticket sales worldwide. That doesn’t happen by appealing to just one demographic. Are audiences becoming more open?
That’s an interesting question. I think sometimes it boils down to subject matter. I feel like with Think Like a Man – despite its all-African-American cast – there was no real African-American theme to the movie. So it’s like it’s a movie for everybody that was just cast all-African-American… It definitely opened up the minds of people who maybe hadn’t gone to see a movie with a predominantly black cast before. Perhaps they might be more willing to go see one now that they feel like the themes are willing to represent them as well. And I think that’s something that everybody holds true. Everybody who goes to the movies wants to see themselves on the screen.
Your latest picture, About Last Night, hits theaters on Valentine’s Day. What makes this film different from other projects you’ve worked on in the past?
What made me excited about doing About Last Night was the opportunity to dig deeper into the realness of a relationship. I think with Think Like a Man, because we had such a big cast, we couldn’t really get into every relationship on a more organic level.
Who was easier for you to relate to, your character Dominic in Think Like a Man, or Danny in About Last Night?
Oftentimes women tell me that Dominic was the perfect guy, but to get to play Danny it’s like, no, I’m going to make some mistakes. He’s kind of a jerk sometimes. It’s more interesting to play because – I’ll be honest with you – he’s probably closer to me.
This is yet another film you’ll be starring in alongside Kevin Hart. How has your relationship with him developed over the years?
You know, working with Kev gets better and better every time we do it, actually. On Think we had a ball. On About Last Night we had a ball. There’s no way you’re not going to have fun working with Kev, it’s just not gonna happen. In About Last Night we had to be better friends than we were in Think Like a Man, we had to actually talk about real shit that friends talk about. It kind of made us closer friends in real life.
And do you think that real friendship brought out stronger performances on screen?
We just came to a conclusion that I have strengths that he doesn’t have, and he has strengths that I don’t have. And what we can do is help each other in those moments. That to me is the perfect collaboration, when you can actually help bring up someone else’s game with what you have already.
Follow Jackson Connor on Twitter @JacksonMConnor