With less than two weeks to go until the Apple TV+ release of his ambitious new sci-fi drama Swan Song, Mahershala Ali—who will soon be seen as Blade in a forthcoming Phase Four MCU entry—stopped by the Breakfast Club to chop it up about getting praise from Wesley Snipes and much more.
Asked around 35 minutes into the chat how it felt when Snipes (who previously played the character in a trilogy that wrapped back in 2004) offered his support, with the actor most recently doing so in a succinct but impactful tweet, Ali explained that he felt “humbled” by the kind words.
“Man, you know, humbled and so encouraged by that,” the True Detective and House of Cards alum said in response. “Because he didn’t have to say that. Wasn’t nobody really asking him like that. So for him to come out and say that, somebody I look up to so much, I sincerely appreciated that. So thank you, brother.”
As for any multiverse-related possibilities of Snipes popping back up in the role in some form, Ali was expectedly reticent to confirm or deny any such thing. “I can’t talk about anything,” he said. “I can’t even talk. They put the hush down. Yeah, I really can’t talk about anything.”
As for the pressure of the role, which is something he previously spoke about in a recent Late Show interview, the two-time Oscar winner said he’s learning how to navigate it. “It’s a lot of pressure, it’s a lot,” he said. “But, you know, other people have done it and survived and succeeded so I’m gonna try to set myself up to do the absolute best work I can do.”
Of course, Ali’s take on Blade—which technically kicked off with a voice cameo in this year’s Eternals—doesn’t mark the first dance with Marvel for the actor. Earlier into Tuesday’s interview, around the 22-minute mark, Ali reflected on his appearance in Netflix and Marvel Studios’ Luke Cage as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes.
Leading into his explanation of why he agreed to take that part, Ali spoke on his larger artistic goals, and how important constant growth is to prevent being mired in audience familiarity.
“It was important for me to move on to keep building toward what I saw for myself. … I wanna move up. I just don’t wanna be on somebody’s show always supporting other people’s narratives,” Ali said. “So [Luke Cage creator Cheo Hodari Coker] came to me doing Luke Cage and he was like, ‘Yo, you wanna do this show? And I had just gotten off of House of Cards. He was like, ‘He’s gonna die.’ I was like, ‘Cool.’ That’s the only reason I did it, though, because they were going to kill him. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise because I had just gotten off of a show. I didn’t want to get stuck.”
As an actor, Ali added, getting “stuck” in the eyes of viewers as one character is equivalent to death. Around the 23:44 mark, Charlamagne tha God jokingly brought up the character of Blade in this context, prompting further explanation from the actor.
“I hear you and that was a real concern and for me,” he said. “It’s always been about trying to diversify and make sure that I wasn’t repeating or playing the same character or making sure that I’m always pushing myself. … If I don’t feel uncomfortable, then I know I’m not growing.”
Going even further, starting around the 24:42 mark, Ali touched on the unique challenges of taking on a character of this magnitude while also treating it with the same level of seriousness he would any other character, Marvel or not.
“There’s so much about that that is challenging in general,” he said. “I got my hands full, and even in doing it and wanting to do other stuff. I don’t wanna just be Blade. That is just one character. And honestly, as huge as that is [and] as huge as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is and all of that is amazing, all of these characters are important to me equally. You know, if you had five children, you’re trying to take care of all of them kids. … I love this work so I treat ’em all equally.”
Coverage of Ali’s aforementioned Colbert interview included a smattering of focus on the actor saying he had lost sleep over the Eternals cameo, specifically due to the unique challenges of having to debut his version of the character without being able to fully develop a visual and auditory interpretation. Charlamagne brought this up around the 25:25 mark, at which point Ali reiterated his intention behind that statement.
“It’s just something that felt a little premature because otherwise you would never do that,” Ali said. “But Marvel has their ways of approaching things and building anticipation, which I love and respect. So again, it’s just a new challenge.”
It’s not clear when, exactly, fans will get their first look at Mahershala Ali in full Blade form. In the meantime, eyes are on director Benjamin Cleary’s Swan Song, out Dec. 17.