(Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)
Since jumping onto Hollywood’s radar with his breakout role as Mike Tyson in the 1995 TV biopic Tyson, Michael Jai White has carved out a colorful career by starring in memorable films, including Spawn, the Why Did I Get Married movies, Dark Knight and Black Dynamite, which he also wrote and produced.
Now the 44-year-old extends his unforgettable filmography with the release of his latest movie, We the Party. Directed by Mario Van Peebles, it positively chronicles a group of multiracial high school teens juggling sex, class and fitting in during the Obama era. White portrays Officer Davis, aka Supercop, the overprotective father of the high school's most popular girl (Simone Battle). And White says he had no problem fitting in with younger castmates thanks to the hottest lady in hip hop.
“I felt like the old guy on set until the Nicki Minaj video that I’m in, Your Love, aired for the first time while we were shooting. I play Nicki's love interest,” White told BET.com. “I turned into the coolest guy in the film for all the teenagers who had seen the video. I became really hip to them.”
White admits he was equally impressed by We the Party, which has drawn comparisons to the '80s teen classic The Breakfast Club. “You don’t get a chance to do projects that really matter to you as a person,” he says about the film’s overall uplifting message. “When Mario contacted me, I just wanted to be a soldier in his cause because I believe in the man. Mario’s very interested in legacy and his heart is in the right place. He and I are kindred spirits.”
This kindred spirit is also using his popular movie role past to launch new projects. The actor formerly known as Black Dynamite promises his superfly '70s-inspired leading man will return to the big screen after the animated series is successfully launched. In addition, he’s currently reprising his role as Marcus in For Better or Worse, the TV incarnation of Tyler Perry's popular Why Did I Get Married? film franchise. White admits he has a soft spot for Marcus because of who he represents in Black manhood.
“As a father and husband, I wanted to take Marcus through the steps of learning to be a real man,” he explains. “Marcus is one of those guys who has this history of dysfunction — where infidelity is praised and condoned by other men — that a lot of young Black men have growing up. Deep down they want to be good fathers and husbands but they lack the tools.”
But one role White won’t be revisiting again is that of Iron Mike Tyson, who has reinvented himself as an author, a Las Vegas stage star and even actor in recent years. So what did the former heavyweight champion think of Michael’s take on Mike? “He was very positive about my performance in the movie.” says White, “But I teased him and told him, ‘I made you look good in those close-ups.’”
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