Jessie T. Usher will portray Shaft Jr. in the upcoming release of Shaft, but the actor spoke with EBONY about a prominent Black figure he would love to play.
“The one that has always stood out to me has been Arthur Ashe,” Usher said. “I read a couple of books about him. I liked who he was as a person. I liked what he stood for. I read a lot about his wife, and how she speaks about him. That’s a story that I just want to tell.”
Ashe, who won three Grand Slam titles, was the only African-American man to win Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and Australian Open. Off the court, he was known for his charitable efforts and activism, including campaigning against apartheid in South Africa. The tennis great died in 1993 of AIDS complications. He reportedly contracted HIV from a blood transfusion following heart surgery in 1983.
Usher, 27, said he has heard speculation as to why a “quality project” about Ashe has not yet been made, but it is a role he wants to play. Others have even suggested the he portray the athlete, he said.
The seasoned thespian, who has been in Hollywood for 20 years, shared advice to other aspiring Black actors.
“Stay in school, and I mean like acting class,” he said. “It’s very difficult to grow in this industry unless you’re always in it. I’ve seen so many talented people come and go in LA for pilot season or whatever. They want to come when the iron is hot, and they’re trying to strike real[ly quick and get in and out. It just doesn’t work that way.”
Watch the full interview. Shaft will be released June 14.
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Christina Santi is a news and culture writer for EBONY.com. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, she considers herself a well-read, not so traditional feminist with a heavy interest in music, fashion and pop culture. Christina currently lives in New York City, where she refers to her Cuban & Jamaican descent often while writing about her experiences as a first-generation Afro-Latinx in America. She also devotes time writing personalized reading material for her tutees and turning ideas into words for streetwear brand, PUER By Noel Bronson.