The career evolution of retired emcee turned A-list actor Mahershala Ali has been nothing short of phenomenal to watch in real-time. Hiding in plain sight amongst the Hollywood elite, it’s easy to forget the Oakland-native is the first Black actor to win two Academy Awards in the same Best Supporting Actor category, as well as the first Muslim to grab an Oscar.

Even crazier to imagine is the fact that despite appearing in blockbuster films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Hunger Games, Alita: Battle Angel, Moonlight, Green Book and a host of others, alongside television roles in The 4400, House of Cards, and True Detective, Ali has yet to lead a feature-length film.

Though the Eternals-post credit scene introduced him as half-breed vampire hunter Blade for his eventual standalone MCU film, his first leading role will be Apple TV+’s upcoming sci-fi drama Swan Song. Set for release on Dec. 17, the film stars Ali as Cameron, a visual artist and father faced with a terminal illness who is presented with the opportunity to have a carbon copy clone replace him when his eventual death occurs. Written and directed by Benjamin Cleary in his first feature-length film, Swan Song also features A-list acting from Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, and Glenn Close.

Speaking with Ali, the actor discusses his reasons behind choosing Swan Song as his first leading film in spite of working with an unproven director, his thoughts on human cloning, a future music project and his current taste in hip-hop.