You might not know Isaiah Mustafa's name at first, but you definitely know his face, his voice, and definitely his abs. As the face of Old Spice's hilarious, technologically amazing campaign, Mustafa is The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, the confident and shirtless face of the company that made him an instant star. Now Mustafa is taking that fame to his first major feature role in Madea's Big Happy Family, in which he plays Calvin, a guy Mustafa describes as "the nicest" guy imaginable. He's married to a woman (Shannon Kane) too focused on her career and her own anger issues to keep their marriage alive, but each of them get ready to learn lessons when the family is gathered to hear some terrible news.
I got on the phone with Mustafa earlier this week to talk about his experience working with Tyler Perry, which started when Perry announced he had a role in For Colored Girls-- a role he didn't wind up taking-- during a taping of Oprah. He also talked about how he works with Old Spice, how having five sisters helps his acting, and at the end teased some potential big news for his career that might be revealed in May, so keep an ear to the ground! Check out the interview below, and see Mustafa in Madea's Big Happy Family in theaters this weekend.
Tyler Perry brought you on after all the Old Spice stuff had happened right?
I went in and I read for For Colored Girls, and I think I did pretty good because he offered me the role on Oprah.
That's right, I remember that.
And then at some point in time he said that this role in Madea's Big Happy Family would be a little more suited for me. I said, that's fine. It's a bigger role, a lot more fun, it's a comedy.
And in this one, you get to play a nicer guy I assume.
Oh yeah, the nicest. Yeah, Calvin is a nice guy. Just a really genuinely nice guy.
There are so many colorful types in this movie, and people getting to do all this crazy comedy. Is it hard just being the nice guy amid all that?
No, not at all. I kind of like being the voice of reason.
You don't get jealous of everyone else getting to go over the top?
No, I'll just have to have that in my next film.
Tyler Perry's got his little empire making all of these movies in Atlanta, shooting in his own studio. How is that different from working in Hollywood?
It's a lot faster, and it's extremely efficient.
How does he make it so efficient?
I don't know, I guess he's got a formula. I just know that what would normally take a three-month period to shoot is done in a month. It's pretty quick.
Is it fewer takes, faster takes, what?
I think he knows exactly what he wants, down to the minor details. And I think he gets that across extremely well. He communicates it to his actors very well. When you start your scene you know exactly what you're going for, and exactly what he's trying to accomplish there.
You have a few scenes with Tyler Perry as Madea. Does it change when he's directing you in costume?
No, I mean my scene with him is at the dinner table, and also toward the end. But it doesn't change at all. By then I think everything was moving, the machine was going in such a fluid motion that we all knew what was going on. Even when he was in his Madea outfit he came across as the director.
You weren't the only person working with him for the first time on this. Do the newcomers band together?
Me and Bow [Wow] were kind of in the similar position, it was the first time we had both worked with him. We were kind of in it together.
How do you guys help each other out?
I ask a lot of questions, so if I had any I would ask Bow. The same thing to Tyler. That's the easiest way for me to learn and figure things out, just ask the question.
You've been doing a lot of different work in a lot of different places, playing a bunch of different roles. Do you think you learn more that way, just working all over the place?
Yeah, I think it's good for me to get as much exposure in different things other than Old Spice as possible. That way people can see me as something other than the Man Your Man Could Smell Like.
That's got to wrap up at some point, right? Or its it still ongoing?
I have an open door with Old Spice. If they bring me something that's hilarious and funny, I go for it. I'm under contract, but they're very kind with me, they have me take a look at the pre-viz and stuff and say, "You like it?" The writers and I, we get along, we talk all the time.
The guy you in Big Happy Family, Calvin, doesn't really seem like the Man Your Man Could Smell Like-- he's kind of meek. That seems like an interesting switch for you.
I have five sisters, so I just remembered the days when my sisters told me what to do. It seems like you have a choice at the time, but you don't.