If actor Mahdi Cocci looks hella familiar it’s because you’ve likely glimpsed him on television before. The Minneapolis born actor has popped up in guest roles in a number of shows in recent years – perhaps most notably in HBO’s television adaptation of the legendary graphic novel Watchmen (although he plays a police officer with his face entirely covered.) And this spring, Cocci can be seen as a love interest of Issa Rae’s character in the Netflix film, The Lovebirds, debuting on May 22.
This time around, Cocci is starring in his first lead role as Tom, a medical doctor who finds himself as part of the drama when playing the field at work and as one of four ride-or-die friends in Tyler Perry’s new BET+ series, BRUH.
In an interview from his home in Atlanta, where he’s practicing quarantining and self-distancing, Cocci talks to BET.com about discovering new things about himself as he works towards his goals in Hollywood, redefining Black male friendships on screen and how his character quickly realizes the pitfalls of workplace indiscretions.
BET.com: This is your first starring credit in a television program. Howm does that feel?
Mahdi Cocci: It feels great. It's sort of surreal as it's still unfolding. I’ve been grateful to have a career in which I can do shows and supporting roles, but it’s different now because I’ve always been protected under the veil of anonymity; no one's that concerned with the guy playing a security guard or a cop. I've kind of gotten comfortable in that arena. It’s exciting because I really believe in Mr. Perry, my castmates and the whole crew. It was an ideal environment for this transition, and there's a lot of learning happening at the same time. I feel like I’m where I should be now.
BET.com: Your character, Tom gets in hot water for dating a colleague. Is there ever a good time to do that?
Cocci: I mean, it depends on how risk averse you are. Before I was acting, I was an officer in the Navy and there's a strict policy against fraternization. You could get kicked out of the Navy if you're caught fraternizing with somebody junior to you, so it depends on the structure of your job. While it can work out better in other work environments, I’m generally more risk-averse than Tom is.
BET.com: Despite his workplace indiscretions, Tom seems to be the good guy among the crew. Is that you in real life?
Cocci: I’d like to think so, but my friends might give you a different opinion. There were points where I read through the script and had tears in my eyes because I was amazed at how connected I felt to Tom in terms of how I exist in my own friends group. I'm not a drinker or a smoker. I don't do drugs. I have friends who make decisions I wouldn’t make; but I also don’t police them. I’ll try to bring them back to center if I feel like they’re doing something to their detriment.
BET.com: How do you think BRUH differs from other shows with a Black male cast?
Cocci: I was talking about this with my castmates during pre-production. I think a lot of people will be able to relate and connect to these characters. We all realized how rare what we were doing is when we first read through the scripts, and we all appreciated it. It’s a group of professional Black men in their 30s, post-college, trying to figure out their lives, and it’s not based on something hood-related. While I was raised by movies like Menace II Society and love them to this day, I wasn’t raised like the characters in the film, and my boys weren’t either.
BET.com: What kinds of feedback have you received about your performance in BRUH?
Cocci: One of the best compliments that I got all season was from one of the crew members. Tom plays an instrumental role among the bruhs in trying to keep John [played by Barry Brewer] away from taking drug money. After filming a scene, a crew member came up to me and said, ‘I wish I would’ve had a friend like Tom growing up. He would’ve kept me out of prison.’ It was funny, but so raw and real at the same time.
It’s like that old Jean-Luc Godard quote: ‘The cinema is truth at 24 frames per second.’ I really feel like this show exhibits that because it's true that a lot of Black men in this country are in their 30s, still single and basically muscling through to figure things out.
The first three episodes of the 24-episode season of Tyler Perry’s BRUH are currently available to stream on BET+. Look for new episodes every week.