Mo McRae ('Destined')
'A Big Man with a Big Destiny!'
Mo McRae, an American actor, producer and director probably best known as Tyler on the FX show 'Sons Of Anarchy,' is most definitely on Hollywood's Hit List of go-to actors in the business these days.
Raised in South Los Angeles, McRae turned to acting for solace. After enrolling in a drama class at Washington Preparatory High School, McRae opted to forgo his spot on the basketball team, when he landed the lead in the school play.
After high school, McRae pursued his new found dream as an artist in the entertainment industry. After being signed by an agent, he quickly began to book national television spots for major corporations such as Visa, Nike and Reebok, which opened the doors to some primetime guest appearances on shows such as NYPD Blue, Becker, Boston Public, on through to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, ER, The Shield and Detroit 1-8-7.
After playing one of the lead roles in the hit film 'Gridiron Gang' opposite Dwayne Johnson, since 2012 he has had a recurring major role in the FX drama Sons Of Anarchy, and since 2013 one on Showtime's Ray Donovan also. McRae's latest movie is being filmed right here in Detroit, Michigan: 'Destined.'
'Destined,' directed by Qasim Basir, tells the tale of Rasheed Smith (Cory Hardrict) who in one world is a hardened criminal who has spent years building his drug empire. In another, he is an ambitious architect who has been working his way up the corporate ladder. Uniquely illustrated through parallel lives, 'Destined' explores how one mans future can be changed by a single moment.
Oh, and did I mention that I myself am also in a scene or two with the man himself, Mo McRae? I didn't, well shame on me! And so, the day after his official wrap day from the film, and the day after we had filmed our cocktail party scene the night before, I caught up with the one, the only, Mo McRae.
Taking it from the top, looking back at your TV and movie roles, everything starting taking off for you in 2012. With recurring roles in ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and then in 2013 with ‘Ray Donovan,‘ what actually changed in your life around then for that to happen? "Wow, that's an interesting question. I'm a big believer in God and I think the timing was blessed in 2012 when things just started to come together. But in terms of what I could control, I think I had been around for a while, paying my dues and putting the work in, taking the right roles at the right time."
Given the roles you have already undertaken, how do you go about choosing them? "It's a combination of things. The first thing I look at is the overall project. I look at the role itself, and see if it's a role that I can embrace and bring truth and honesty to and be proud of. But this time, as a father, one of the most important things to me is doing work that I'm proud of. I'm not saying I won't play a villain or anything like that, it just has to be to me a fully realized, multidimensional character. So, the primary thing for me is that my character always have a solid, well-rounded role."
The first time you really came onto my radar was as “Pooch” in the TV show ‘Detroit 1-8-7’ in 2010. So, some 4 years on, I’m wondering how you have changed as a person and as an actor? "Hopefully, I've changed a great deal over the course of the last four years, because I have experienced a lot more things, different types of relationships. I even have different interests in my life. I think the biggest thing between the "Pooch" role time period and now is that I'm even more focused than I was before. As you get older, you still have that window of opportunity closing. So that drives me, compels me to just study more, work harder, and be better."
Have you turned down any roles that you wish now you had actually taken? "Not anything that I passed on, but there was a movie that I really wanted to be in, that I really wanted to be a part of, called 'Selma.' The director was Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey was a producer, and David Oyelowo stars in it as Martin Luther King. He's just one of my best friends, and I really wanted to be in that movie. I knew it was going to be so powerful and I just wanted to pay homage to the legacy of the civil rights movement. I was also hoping to tap into the psyche of those brave individuals and try to apply what I would've learned now. America is in desperate need of growth still."
You are now filming ‘Destined’ here in our fair city of Detroit, Michigan, and as luck would have it, we are in a couple of scenes together. As you wrapped last night, what has been your experience working on the set? "The filming process on Destined, for me, has been a experience on multiple levels. Starting with the city itself, Detroit has been a dynamic experience and I think there's a lot of earnest, authentic, genuine people and textures here within the city. It's just like a power source you can plug into."
"As for the cast and crew, it's one of those rare times in my professional career where going into the film I had already known so many people. Like Cory Hardrict, we're like brothers, we're extremely close, and I've known the producer and other people in the cast for a long time too. So coming into the film, it already had a familiar set up and a high level of trust."
Tell us more about your character in ‘Destined,‘ and what we can expect to see from him throughout the movie? "My character, well, I play two different versions of the same guy. So that was an interesting dance and it required a whole new level of commitment, especially for the street side of him. He witnesses the murder of his best friend, and so it's the psychology of that whole ordeal that had me completely submerged in it. That's what we shot for the first week and I just really got into it. I wasn't talking to people on set. I was zoned in."
"In the one world they call him "Tay," and I don't want to give too much away about the storyline, but essentially his friend is murdered and he believes that either "Rasheed" or "Calvin" had something to do with it. So, from then on, I'm actively, passionately pursuing the truth and I'm looking to avenge the murder of my friend. And La La Anthony is in the film as my right hand person, so her and I are on that mission together. Which is an incredible thing, because La La Anthony and I are very close in real life as well. So that really lent itself to some genuine chemistry, realness in the scenes between us."
"And in the other world, 'Dontay" is played by me as well. He is a person who is one of the Mayor's advisors, the kind of guy who is very ambitious and really wants to move up. And so whatever the Mayor wants he wants to deliver. And so there's this antagonistic relationship between "Dontay" and "Calvin." Which is interesting as there's a great deal of conflict in both worlds, but the stakes are different. They are still both heavy in both life or death, although they are only literally life or death in the street world; for the most part."
Talking with the director, Qasim Basir ('MOOZ-lum') the other night, I definitely got a sense that he had his finger on the pulse of what this movie should be, and will turn out to be and represent "I really enjoyed working with Q. He's got a very promising career as a filmmaker. I think the smartest thing that he's doing right now, being a very passionate person, is that he's very open and receptive to input into the collaborative process. Which I think is the mark of a great director, that they have their own vision, but at the same time he's malleable. If you think about it, he's the captain of the ship and so he sets the tone. So if he becomes on edge, and panics, that just trickles down through the ranks."
‘Destined’ is the story of a 13 year-old boy, Rasheed Smith, who comes to an early crossroads in his life when he has to decide whether to take the path of good or pursue a life of crime. Growing up in Los Angeles, CA did you yourself ever have to make any similar choices, perhaps? "Yeah, there was a point in my life where I had to make that choice every day. I grew up in South Central, which at the time was one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. I was right in the heart of it and a lot of my friends that I grew up with are either incarcerated or dead. Those that are alive have a poor quality of life based on decisions that were made starting at 13 years-old and all through High School."
The tag line for ‘Destined’ is, One Moment Can Change Your Destiny, so I’m wondering, in reflection, which one moment changed your own destiny? "Yeah, actually there are two very specific things that have contributed to change my destiny. One was when I was in Grade School a couple of lawyers came to my school from the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], because Caltrans was working on the freeway very close to the school. They were saying it was hazardous to the students and things of that nature, so the attorneys that came out from the ACLU - one of the guys was a guy named John Preiskel - he ended up becoming like a mentor to me."
"It wasn't even part of the plan, because he was just there for the one reason, but then somehow he became one of my closest friends in life. He exposed me to so much. We'd go to so many places outside of the neighborhood that I grew up in that, for me at the time, ten miles away was like a whole other world. It was nothing that I had ever been exposed to. He showed me choices that I could make. So he is now like one of my closest friends in the universe and that relationship I formed with him is what gave me an awareness of the other opportunities that existed."
"The second one was the first time that I had ever gotten off stage in High School, because now I knew the options, the ability and I had the awareness to learn what was out there. So that first time when I got on stage that's when I knew this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I was wiling to do whatever I needed to do to make that happen, although I had no idea how I was going to make it as an actor! But my attitude definitely saved me and propelled me as I didn't know what I was up against. But I just knew that when I got off stage that something clicked. I just knew it."
Taking a moment to discuss your recurring role of "Tyler" on Sons Of Anarchy, in this final season can we expect to see more of him on our TV screens? "I think, if you keep watching, yes, you're gonna see some more Tyler," he laughs.
So, based on that, and not giving away any plot spoilers, if your character was to die, would you like him to exit in a bloody, graphically fantastic demise?! "I would imagine that within this world he would go out with a pretty graphic, fantastic demise, yeah! So, I would imagine that IF that were to happen in Sons Of Anarchy, Tyler couldn't go out in any way less than what we've already established in the world of Sons Of Anarchy. But, of course, I still can't tell you what happens," he laughs.
I've noticed that you look a lot older on SOA then you did on the 'Destined' set last night! "I think it's just facial hair, because I'm at this stage now with the facial hair and make-up that it actually ages me a little bit. So yeah, I look a little weathered on screen and they even actually enhance a scar in my eyebrow. So they purposely add that weathered feel to the "Tyler" character. Whereas in real life, I cut off my facial hair and people laugh at me and tell me I'm not aging," he laughs.
Are you sad that SOA is coming to an end? "Tremendously. Yeah, I'm definitely sad about that, but there's another side to it as I'm very thankful and full of gratitude and excitement for what's next, because of Sons Of Anarchy. But, I've developed some really great relationships with some of the guys on the show, and the crew. This environment they created for me enabled me to get up and go to work and go and make something that people have such a profound connection to. I'm definitely sad not to have that any more. You get into a routine and a lot of times you don't have that stability, that process. So to have that in this final season that was awesome. So I'll definitely be sad to see it go and come to an end, but television is forever, it's immortal and so that show will be always around. That experience cannot be duplicated, but it will always be with me."
OK, let’s talk about your upcoming movie, ‘November Rule’ starring DJ Qualls, Tatyana Ali, Rick Gonzalez and Barry Bostwick. It sounds like a fun comedy to me! "Yes, it is! It's a romantic comedy. If I could summarize the script in just one word it would be delightful! I play "Steve," and essentially Steve has two friends, played by DJ Qualls and Rick Gonzalez and their lifelong dream is to open up a high end sneaker store. They are major sneaker fanatics into the Air Jordan's, Nike and Reebok and whoever puts out all the exclusive, high end ones. So we end up opening this store. But the primary thing is why the film is called 'November Rule,' which is because every November if Steve is in a relationship or dating someone he breaks up with them! This is so he doesn't have to date during the holidays! He gets out of Christmas and New Years and keeps up this act until after Valentine's Day!"
"So he seems like he's a bit of a jerk, but really you discover throughout the course of the film it's just he doesn't have the emotional freedom to sustain that kind of vulnerable relationship based on something that happened on his life. It also stars Tatyana Ali, who plays "Leah," who was a childhood crush for me! And so to have my childhood crush now be my love interest in a film, that was definitely one of those moments where I was like, Wow, dreams do come through," he laughs.
Have you made any such dating rules like that in real life? "I can't say that I've had a November Rule in my life," he laughs, "but I will say that I've only had a couple of committed, fully-fledged girlfriends or real relationships. I'm very cautious, very hesitant when it comes to relationships," he gently laughs again.
You also have a scene in the new Reese Witherspoon film, 'Wild' "Yeah, it's directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and I think it's an Oscar contender. Reese gives the performance of her career. I have one scene in the movie with Reece and I on the side of the road. I'm incredibly proud to be part of such a powerful film. It's really a high impact film, one where you will leave having been affected by the multiple layers and levels. It's really an incredible movie."
Anything else you would like to discuss, perhaps? "There's actually a couple of things that I can't talk about just yet as they've still got to come together, but one I'm developing as a producer is a film that I actually want to bring to Detroit, called 'InsideOut.' It's about a guy called Chaz Williams who was a prolific bank robber. A career criminal turned activist turned bank robber and one of the things that was incredible about his story was that whilst incarcerated he was able to still rob banks! Physically still rob banks while technically, still being in custody of the state."
"So this guy was charming, charismatic, intelligent and was a really multifaceted individual which makes the role very interesting to me. The whole story just doesn't sound like it could be real, like none of it could actually happen, but it's totally based on a true story. So that's a project that I'm set to star in and produce."
Would you ever consider doing a Kickstarter Fundraiser Project for 'InsideOut'? "I can't rule anything out, but I do have some other financial options with companies, some actually here in Detroit. So I'm hoping that maybe some of the money comes from here and some of the money comes from L.A. and we can put it together that way. I'm so passionate about this story that if we get to a certain point financially where we need to finish the movie with Kickstarter, we'll do it. I don't have any ego about that. I just want to tell this incredible story."
So why film here in Detroit? "Because a portion of it was actually in Detroit, but also there's the tax incentives. But I've very passionate about trying to aid the city that was once the heartbeat of America. There was a time when all creation came out of the city: automobiles, the music, everything was coming out of Detroit. But things changed and everything took a turn and San Francisco and other places in the country have now become the primary export industry. Like now its technology that we're sending out."
"So, for me, bringing things to Detroit like this film means we're also bringing a lot of people here too. They'll all go to dinner, go shopping here and that's all on top of the jobs. So you definitely create an economic boost when you bring a production into the city."
Your Twitter account seems to have frozen it's tweets back on July 3rd of this year! What happened there?! "I'm just not into the Twitter thing and that account up there for me now is just like a shell of an account, really. I just found it all a little bit too involved. I'm a very private person, so the whole social networking thing is very difficult for me."
"But I do use my Instagram a little bit more. I'm a little bit more active on social media with that. Yeah, I'm fairly active on Instgram when I can be."
Finally, we here at exclusive Magazine love Penguins! Do you also perhaps? "I don't have an aversion to penguins. Penguins are fine, but yeah, I think penguins are pretty cool."
If you could name one, what would you name it? "DeVito," he gently laughs.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Mo McRae on Instagram
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