“I was blown away, absolutely blown away. It’s the best thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of,” says Mahershala Ali about what it was like watching his film “Moonlight” after it was completed. Ali keeps racking up awards for his performance: as of this writing he has won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor and is nominated at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Watch our complete interview with the Oscar contender above.
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Ali plays Juan, a Miami drug dealer who becomes a father figure to young Chiron (Alex Hibbert), whose mother (Naomie Harris) is an addict. But Juan is tender, even after finding out Chiron is questioning his sexuality. “Playing someone like that who is that layered is something that I definitely welcomed,” says Ali. “He’s a man I feel like I’ve seen more times in my life than on screen: people who were in some ways involved in some sort of criminal activity but were also people that I knew to be good people who had good hearts … To have the opportunity to play somebody that in many ways reflected people I knew growing up was something I really embraced.”
Now “Moonlight” has been embraced by just about everyone. It has won critics awards across the country and is a top contender for Best Picture at the Oscars. The recognition has come as a surprise to Ali, who knew from the beginning that they were making something special, but “I don’t think I’m used to seeing films that look like this with these people here in this position, and it’s incredible that people are embracing it in this way.”
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Ali was also taken by surprise last summer when he picked up his first Emmy nomination, Best Drama Guest Actor, after four seasons of playing Remy Danton in Netflix’s “House of Cards.” The week the Emmy nominations were announced he was scheduled to appear in a segment on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” and he remembers his publicist calling him a few days earlier to congratulate him, “and I was thinking, ‘Wow, she’s really excited about John Oliver.'”
Ali credits “House of Cards” with opening doors for him to have such a great year — in addition to “Moonlight” he co-starred in “Free State of Jones,” “Hidden Figures” and Marvel’s “Luke Cage” in 2016 — but “it’s a chain-link from the day you start acting,” he explains, “and all these experiences connect together.” If an Academy Award becomes the next link in his chain, who knows where that may lead?
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Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. How do you think “Moonlight” will do with academy voters? Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how this film is faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before nominations are announced on January 24 at 5:00 am PT/8:00 am ET. Be sure to read our contest rules. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.