Oh, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Michael Ealy’s eyes. They’re … mesmerizing.
He jokes that if he had a dollar for every time someone has made mention of them, he’d be, well, you know the rest. But once you get past his praise-worthy peepers, you discover that Ealy is a brilliant actor who brings his impressive background in live theater to feature films and television. Next month, a feel-good indie film he shot two years ago – Unconditional – finally hits theaters; and really good news came earlier this month: he inked his first leading man role ever. The 39-year-old will star in a remake of 1986 film About Last Night (the original starred Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins; the remake will star Ealy, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart and Regina King). EBONY.com chats with Ealy about his films, his female fanbase and why he’s not interested in being the next Denzel Washington.
EBONY: Your picker’s pretty good. What’s your process like?
Michael Ealy: Me and my manager, we’ll debate nonstop about certain roles. I think you just have to have someone in your camp who you can bounce those kind of ideas off of, because I think if I had picked every movie that I wanted to do, I don’t know if you would say the same thing. So I can’t take all the credit. But at the same time, there’s times when you have to trust your instincts and just say no to a project, despite the fact that it’s looking good and it’s going to actually go and it’s going to actually shoot and you’re going to get a check. You still have to say no, because it’s not going to land the way you want it to land, it’s not going to push your career even further, it’s not going to add to your body of work.
EBONY: How difficult is it for you to say no?
ME: It’s easier now because you’ve learned to trust your instincts. You’d start to feel your integrity being compromised or something just felt like you were compromising just a tad bit, and that’s your gut telling you, ‘yea or nay,’ man. You have to either roll with it or not. Listen, you have to take some risks. For Colored Girls was definitely a risk. I’m aware that I have a strong female following and that was risky, and I, to this day, love my female following because they stood by me through that. They understood that that wasn’t the Ike in me. You know what I mean? I was sick … the character was sick, and they thought it was good. I’m not afraid to go dark again because I know my audience will understand that. So that’s how you learn to trust your instinct.
EBONY: If they haven’t forgiven you yet, I think they will for this role in Unconditional, because it’s so compelling and heartwarming and there are so many layers to it …
ME: It’s funny you say that, because this came after For Colored Girls and I think there was an element of, ‘OK, we need to atone for what happened.’ Like, in one movie you’re throwing kids out of the window because you’re sick, and in the next movie you’re trying to save children, because they don’t have fathers. So that to me was a great journey to go through as an actor. And they were only four months apart. I jumped into being Papa Joe, and it’s like, ‘Ah, perfect. Thank you God!’
EBONY: So doing this film was therapy for For Colored Girls?
ME: It was helpful. It just resonated in my spirit, in my soul.
EBONY: You’ve been acting for a while now, and you’re just now about to get your first leading man role at 39 for the About Last Night remake. What does that say to you?
ME: Sign of the times. You know, the way that it worked for Denzel won’t work now. It just won’t. It won’t work for anybody that way. The business is different. And if you look at it like, ‘OK, if I pattern my career in the way in which Denzel did his,’ you’re sculpting your career based on an antiquated system that doesn’t exist anymore. You know, it’s not the same. It’s rare to find an actor now who doesn’t have some sort of social media site. But, you know, he didn’t have to worry about that stuff. It’s a different time. I read an interview with Idris not too long ago where he said he doesn’t even consider himself a leading man, he considers himself a character actor who plays leading man roles from time to time. And I get what he’s saying, because as an artist, oftentimes the leading man roles aren’t that interesting! As an