411 Mania Interview: Malik Yoba
Malik Yoba calls New York home, so when he heard that the film Allegiance, also starring Aidan Quinn, Bow Wow and Seth Gabel, was shooting there, he knew he had to be a part of the project. He was also taken with the script and what director Michael Connors was trying to do with it. The film opened up in New York over the weekend and will be opening next weekend in LA and Austin on January 4th. Recently, I caught up with the actor to talk about his role in the military film, his thoughts on leadership, and how he’d like to work with Daniel Day Lewis in the future. Be sure to check out the film, if it’s in your area, or you can see it on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 15, 2013. There is also a You Tube clip which includes the audio of the interview as well.
TONY: You’ve been a part of many unique films in your career. With something like Allegiance, what stands out to you first: is it character or the story?
Malik Yoba: It was the story. I read the script and had seen a little short of the film, and then I read the script, and then I met the director, Michael, and I thought he was trying to do a good thing. Making films is really hard, getting funding, and actually making them, the physical act. I liked him and what he was trying to do and it was shooting in New York, which is rare for me to actually work at home. I jumped on board.
TONY: I saw a great interview with you from a few years ago back on Charlie Rose where you talked about teaching kids leadership skills …
Malik Yoba: Did you say a few years back? (laughs)
TONY: I think 2005 it might have been.
Malik Yoba: No, no, that interview on Charlie Rose is like from ‘96 or something like that.
TONY: Oh, wow.
Malik Yoba: I often laugh at that interview because I was so young when I did it.
TONY: You talked on there about teaching kids leadership skills. I would imagine that’s a big part of a film like this, too, in terms of the story. How do you define leadership and what it means to you?
Malik Yoba: That’s a good question. I think leadership is about clarity and vision. It’s about commitment and follow-through. It’s about being able to inspire others and also learning how to lead from behind, if you will sometimes. Not just always in front. I taught leadership for a long time with young people. It’s all those things to me.
TONY: Were you able to use some of those experiences on a film like this?
Malik Yoba: Yeah, it’s funny, because Bow, he’s done some film work, but there were some times when you work with younger actors particularly someone like him who came out as a rapper. We actually would have conversations about the types of roles he could play because he’s a rapper and needs to be seen a certain way and all that. There are those moments when I actually have that mentor/mentee kind of dynamic with young folks. I also seek it out as a person with older people that I work with, I’m around. There were a couple of moments where I’d pull him to the side and just say, ‘Hey, I know you may be going for this or that but try this, try that, think about this.’ As an actor, you don’t want to direct another actor, just give pointers.
TONY: What you’re talking about and what I gathered from watching the interview and talking to you now is that something like acting, which is a job, it can also give you a bigger appreciation for using that for good. How has your acting status given you a new appreciation for what you can do with that to help others?
Malik Yoba: First of all, I just want to thank you for good questions because I do a lot of interviews and I always like when someone comes at it from a different angle and you are. That’s one. This is one of the things, getting an opportunity to talk to folks. For me, it was clear as a kid what I wanted to do. I always had a sense of greatness, not from an ego standpoint, but I gave my teachers my autograph when I was thirteen and said I was going to be famous. I was a kid that other kids, in middle school, would come to with their problems and they would talk to me about everything from their parents abusing them to a question they had about a subject. I was always one of those people that folks came to and that is one of the things that lead me to want to work with young people as a young person myself.
Looking at celebrity and the access that it gives you to people’s ears, it’s an opportunity to have folks pay attention to things that really matter. Obviously, that’s all subjective, but in the spaces where people care about the same things I care about, it’s a good position to be in to use celebrity, a voice, to inspire, to empower. That’s always been the mission. For me, it was never about the money or the fame or accolades. Coming out of high school, my path didn’t quite go this way, but I wanted to study early childhood education and musical theater. That speaks to the mindset I started from.
TONY: Going back to the film, it seems like what you’re talking about and the film, what I picked up from it is it deals with trying to decide with what’s right for you, what’s right for your family, what’s right for your country. As an actor, when you’re picking projects, how do you decide what’s right for you and what you want to be a part of?
Malik Yoba: I think it’s a lot of the same kind of process. For me, I have three children, 14, 12, and 10, so I don’t like to be too far away for too long. I don’t play certain types of roles because it’s not just acting. It’s about being and if you have to be that, then some of that stays with you and you don’t want to put it out there. You take all those things into consideration, where you work. Doing a film like Allegiance, it was in New York, so that made sense to me because I was about to leave the country for four months to shoot my series Alphas. Those things are important to me, for sure.
TONY: When I talked to Josh Lucas a few months ago, he was talking about how he’s looking for films that have a good soul now that he has a kid in his life. When you’re looking at a script, do you know right away whether it’s going to be something that speaks to you and speaks to other people? Or is it more so when you’re on set and you go along with the process?
Malik Yoba: In general, it’s hard as an actor to connect with things you don’t care because you figure if you don’t care about it, then no one else is going to care about it, although you can be wrong sometimes. I’ve read scripts that I thought were a little suspect, but they do have a lot of heart in them ultimately because of the people that are cast. You look for that. I want to be connected to something. I need to be rooted and believe in something or be fascinated by something or sometimes when you get to go into a world that you don’t normally live in. What’s that like? Can I find myself in that place and play in that world?
TONY: Who are some actors that you point to and look at and say, ‘I want to work with them and I want to learn from them?’
Malik Yoba: I’d love to work with Daniel Day Lewis. I worked with David Strathairn on Alphas and David did Lincoln with him. He talked a lot about Daniel’s process. There are so many people, actor or directors. that I’d love to work with. Daniel would be one as far as an actor’s concerned. For me, it’s really about working with amazing people. Sometimes it could be someone that’s really well known or it could be someone that you discover for the first time. In general, that’s my way of looking at it. I love to work with interesting people.