Audiences were first introduced to Khalil Kane in the 1992 classic Juice, where he and Tupac played teenagers caught up in a tragic web of violence. The New York native later portrayed heartthrob Darnell Wilkes on the hit UPN sitcom, Girlfriends. But Kain is pretty much over the typical "nice guy" roles L.A. has offered him. Next up: his new role as Scag in a remake of the classic 1970s Negro Ensemble Company play, The Great MacDaddy. Kain chats with EBONY.com as he explains the importance of Black actors finding dynamic work and the lack of "culture" in young African-American life.
EBONY: Congratulations on your new role in The Great MacDaddy.
Khalil Kain: Thanks so much. I actually love doing live theater. Part of the reason why I moved back to New York is so I can be on stage more often. When talking about the difference from doing a play from a movie or TV show, we’re talking about three separate disciplines. I think theater is the base, the root. If you don’t have that, then you’re not going to be as strong as you could be.
EBONY: Do you find theater a little more challenging?
KK: It depends on the play. Honestly, that’s a part of why I chose to do that, because I needed to be challenged. The things that are required of me as an actor out in L.A., for big film and television, is pretty limited in scope. A lot of the things I was being asked to do were simple. Imagine being asked: “So how did you prepare for the role of Darnell on Girlfriends?” Like, really?
EBONY: But Darnell was a very dynamic character in his own way. Especially toward the end, when Darnell and Maya were breaking up, because it showed a completely different aspect of African-American men that we didn’t see a lot of: vulnerability.
KK: You know and I know Black men are very emotional. The only reason it was wonderful is because we haven’t seen it. If you’re getting fed hamburger every single day and one night you finally get a steak, you’re like, “oh my God, what’s that?” So again, it’s not something that’s all that interesting. I already know Darnell very well. He is a blue-collar, hard working Black man that is taking care of his family. I got that! Let’s go! I’m ready! We are not getting those opportunities to do those things that are extraordinary and interesting. Something like this, like The Great MacDaddy, playing six different manifestations of one character, is interesting.
EBONY: What is it like playing Scag?
KK: I think it’s interesting that lately I’ve been called upon to play these sorts of dark role characters. My reputation in L.A. and what I’ve being pulled into a lot—well, I guess that place they were trying to put me in—was that “nice guy.” But you’ve got to also deal with what’s going on inside you. So I think me personally, I’m having that battle because there is a lot in me that’s angry and frustrated, and that feels suppressed. So it’s wonderful as an artist to have that opportunity to get that out in your work as opposed to having to deal with it out in the world.
EBONY: I want to touch back on your struggles or hurtles as an African-American male actor. Do you hope that this character you’re playing will actually broaden your opportunities to play something completely different in film and television?
KK: No, I doubt that highly for me. You have to do what’s right for yourself; you’ve got to work on you. This is just my personal view. Be with your own backyard, better yourself, help yourself to grow. I think if you do that effectively, the opportunities will present themselves. I’m not going to bet overnight that all of a sudden there are going to be all these interesting roles for Black folks to play. We have to create them and we have to be ready to do them. I am just enjoying myself while all of this is going on.
EBONY: What’s the biggest misconception about being an actor?
KK: That is such a difficult question. There was this woman I was really interested in, something initially about meeting her. She just struck me, and I was like, “wow, she’s beautiful and really cool, I like this woman." I think it was on our second date, she said, “But you know that you’re an actor. I don’t know if I can believe everything you say because you lie for a living.” And I was like, “wow!” It really struck me; it hurt my feelings. And I told her, “Look sweetheart, it’s actually the complete opposite. What I do for a living is tell the truth.” When I’m most effective in what I do, I’m telling the most truth I can possibly come up with inside my body. When I do that, whoever is watching, they understand that to be the truth, they live it. So I think she was a little mistaken on that front. And that was the end of that.
EBONY: How do you feel about Black theater and Black film right now? Do you feel like it’s growing?
KK: What African-American film? What African-American theater? I just watched Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway and Daphne Rubin-Vega, Nicole Ari Parker, Wood Harris, these are people that I know personally, ripped it, it was all good. I love the production, but it’s still Tennessee Williams. It’s still not ours. So now, as opposed to Blackface, it’s Black folks up there doing White work. And I love the opportunity to kind of do a classic piece like that, but at the same time there is a whole bunch of stuff that we already have. Can we do some of that? Paul Carter Harrison is the man. He’s one of those old heads that we have to tap into, because he has so much knowledge. That’s one of the reasons I took the job; the chance to sit next to the man and get up in his head for a little bit and see what I can take away. That’s how it use to go down. We use to learn from our elders, and we don’t do that anymore. I think it’s a huge mistake.
EBONY: Why do you think everybody should go see The Great MacDaddy?
KK: The play is hugely relevant and its part of African-American history. I don’t want to even get into culture because, really, what is our culture as African-Americans? This young man I met in the street, probably in his late 20s, asked me, “So you’re doing plays? Why you doing plays?” And I’m like, “You need to come check it out.” He’s like, “Why would I go?” And I was like, “To get some culture up in you! What does culture mean to you?” He was like, “Culture is annoying.” I was like, “Wow, how do you define where you come from?” He was like, “I know who I am.” I didn’t want to ask. I was just like, “alright bro.” That’s where we’re at now.
EBONY: What’s next for you? And what other projects do you have your sights on?
KK: I’m excited about being back in New York City again. This is where my family is. We came out here to shoot [director Tyler Perry's] For Colored Girls, and that summer I was like “I need to come back home.” I couldn’t believe how much love I was getting in the streets. But I actually started teaching classes at City College in Harlem last semester. I am going to direct a play that is this coming summer. I have a short film called Sweep that’s about gentrification in the city that I will be directing sometime this year. We’re just trying to raise money for that right now. I just signed on with a new agent, so I’m going to be doing a book, too. That’s going to be hot, the title of that is going to be So Much About Raheem: Contamination of the Urban Martyr in America. It’s going to be a nice little exploration for me.