Mahershala Ali Says His Role In Roxanne Shanté Biopic Is His Toughest Yet (Audio)
Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, best known for his iconic roles in Moonlight and Netflix’s Luke Cage series, started his career as a Hieroglyphics affiliate named Prince Ali and has definitely been outspoken about his love for Hip-Hop music. Starring in the highly-anticipated, critically-acclaimed 2017 Roxanne Shanté biopic alongside Chanté Adams and Nia Long, it would seem his worlds have finally collided. Ali recently sat down with DJ Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia for the second episode of their new NPR series, What’s Good, and shared some cryptic details about his role as Shanté’s abusive partner in the film.
“The character I play in [Roxanne Roxanne] has little to no redeeming qualities,” he claimed. “It was the toughest role of my life. I literally had nightmares the last week working on it, ’cause he’s really physically violent. I couldn’t sleep. I felt horrible. It felt toxic, but to tell the hero’s journey, you gotta sign up to play the devil.”
Ali went on to detail his unconventional acting technique of creating music playlists for his characters to help him capture their vibe when transitioning from role to role, citing Mobb Deep’s The Infamous as the album that made him recognize the power of music in influencing his mindset. As a Muslim, he also touched on the significance of acts like Brand Nubian, Wu-Tang Clan, KMD and Chuck D using Islamic terminology had on him, growing up. “Hip-Hop is demonized so much, but people don’t necessarily recognize that there’s a real spiritual vein [or] current that runs in Hip-Hop, and how much these young men and women have contributed to people finding their path with their spirituality,” Ali said.
Roxanne Roxanne premiered at Sundance in January, sparking a studio bidding war. Produced in part by Pharrell Williams, Ralph McDaniels, VIBE’s Mimi Valdes, featuring acting by Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys, scored by the RZA and executive produced by Shanté, herself, Hip-Hop has definitely come together to tell the story of an all-to-often overlooked legend.