These days, Malik Yoba is keeping busy on both the big and small screens. The Alphas actor talked to BET.com about co-starring in the military film Allegiance, which also stars 106 & Park host Bow Wow. Yoba also discussed getting the opportunity to portray Martin Luther King Jr. in an upcoming TV movie. Plus, he shared his thoughts on Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker and Katt Williams.
Allegiance is an entertaining, suspenseful drama. What drew you to the movie?
Because it was shooting in Brooklyn and it was convenient. No [laughs], but that was definitely a part of it, because I live in New York. Also, I read and liked the script. I met and liked the director and what he was trying to do. So I told him, “Is there any role that you would like to me to play? Just let me know and I’ll do it.”
The film has a great plot twist, which involves Bow Wow’s character wanting to go absent without leave (AWOL). Could you personally relate to that at all?
I absolutely related to the dilemma. I have children. The thought of having to leave your sick child, to go care for other people who are wounded in a war, who you may not actually believe in — that’s pretty heavy stuff. The film reminded me of a guy I met on vacation with his family during our first invasion of Iraq. We were all in the Bahamas and he had this couple of weeks window with his wife and three kids. So I asked him, “Why would you go back?” He described what it was like to be under shell attacks and almost losing his life and he said, “I would go back for all those guys who need me and need my leadership.” For me, that was a profound statement for him to say while he’s standing there with his wife and kids. I’m not that guy. That’s why I became an actor, to play in a world where you can explore what that would actually feel like.
You play Martin Luther King Jr. in the upcoming TV movie, Betty and Coretta. What was it like preparing to portray such an iconic figure in history?
Playing Martin Luther King Jr. was an honor for me on so many levels. It was the most I’ve ever prepared for a role. I spent a lot of my time immersing myself in not just his speeches, but listening to him talking. There are some great interviews of him going all the way back to 1957, when he was 28 years old. It was fascinating to go down that road and learn about all the different people in King’s life — like his mentors and people who went to Morehouse with his dad. It was amazing getting that deep into his life and his point of view of the world. As an actor, I want more of that kind of experience. Even though the film is about the women, just to play Martin for a few minutes in the film was an incredible honor.
Legendary actor Paul Winfield and Jeffrey Wright both played Dr. King in two very memorable, classic TV films — King and Boycott. Did you have any trepidation about portraying the civil rights leader?
I didn’t have any fears about playing the role because that’s what I live for — I see myself as a Daniel Day Lewis-type of actor. It's very rare that Black actors get an opportunity to do period pieces and to have a breadth of characters to choose from in their work. I live for that. I love to see actors disappear in roles, like Heath Ledger as the Joker or Daniel in any of the films that he’s acted in or Gary Oldman and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in any of the roles they’ve appeared in. No matter how many movies Denzel Washington does, he’s still Denzel in every movie — except for the times he played Malcolm X and Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Those were the roles where he got a chance to stretch a little more. I want to be more like Forest Whitaker in Last King of Scotland. I want to stretch a little more, that’s what I want to do. So playing Martin, I had no fear. It was like here’s a real opportunity to do something. I’m still thrilled about it and I can’t wait to see the finished film.
Last we spoke, you had some insightful thoughts about the Chris Brown and Drake feud. Do you have any opinions about the current ongoing police sagas of comedian Katt Williams?
I met the dude a couple of times. I don’t know what he’s going through, but fame is a beast. Also, living your dream and making money without strong roots can always wash you away. It’s about having strong roots and knowing what your purpose is. Is it just about fame, money or women? What’s really going on for you? For myself, the reason why I haven’t got caught up in a lot of nonsense is that I always refer back to the questions, “Why am I really doing this? What do I stand for?” I don’t think people out here are having that conversation with themselves on a really deep level.
Allegiance is currently available on VOD. It arrives in theaters in limited release December 28.
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(Photo: Donna Ward/Getty Images)