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Mahershala Ali on House of Cards

There is always a bit of push-and-pull when an iconic movie character is recast, such as the fans of Blade who pushed for Wesley Snipes to return for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s upcoming reboot of the action-horror franchise. However, when the actor chosen to breathe new life into the vampire-hunting comic book favorite turned out to be Mahershala Ali, it was a hard decision to argue against.

Born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore (yes, “Mahershala” is actually shorthand for his real 18-letter first name) in Oakland, California, the actor has been in show business since first starring on the NBC crime drama Crossing Jordan before showing up in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the third and fourth installments of The Hunger Games franchise, and a recurring role on House of Cards for Netflix.

Since his first Academy Award win as a drug dealer and father figure to a gay, black man in the 2016 coming-of-age story Moonlight, the 46-year-old Mahershala Ali is everywhere now, earning praises for his turn as an Arkansas cop in Season 3 of True Detective, a mentor to the title character of Golden Globe-winning comedy Ramy, and the villain of Alita: Battle Angel - just one of a few comic book adaptations under his belt thus far.

Yet, despite his massive spike in popularity and prowess over just the last few years, there are still several aspects of his life off screen that may have flown under the radar for even some of his biggest fans. Out of the following six fascinating facts we discovered about Mahershala Ali, see if you can spot any that you recognize, starting with this one that, once again, sheds light on how show business tends to run in the family.

Mahershala Ali recounting his father's Soul Train appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Mahershala Ali’s Father Won A Dance Competition On Soul Train

In a 2019 interview with Ellen DeGeneres following his Golden Globe win for Green Book, Mahershala Ali joined the daytime talk show’s de facto dancing hall of fame for busting a move to the Jackson 5’s “Dancing Machine.” The groovy display came after the host asked about the actor’s father, Phillip Gilmore, and his 1977 appearance in a dance contest on the long-running musical variety series Soul Train, which would earn him $2,500, a “red Starsky and Hutch-looking car,” and the chance he needed to break into the business as a professional dancer. While Ali would not follow in his father’s footsteps in that same regard, music would become the key element to his first taste of fame.

Mahershala Ali as Prince Ali in the video for his song "The Path/Honor Code"

Mahershala Ali Had A Rap Career Prior To Acting

Jimmy Fallon could not help but ask about Mahershala Ali’s birthname (a frequent occurrence for him during talk show visits) during an appearance on The Tonight Show in late 2018. Yet, it was actually the host’s subtle transition into a question about the “different name” he once went by: Prince Ali, the rap persona he released two studio albums as in the late 2000s, according to Billboard, before ultimately ditching his record deal to continue his other artistic aspirations. I think he could have had a bright future in music having listened to a few of his tracks, but would agree he made the right decision given his acting accolades.

Mahershala Ali on Ramy

Mahershala Ali Is The First Practicing Muslim To Win An Oscar For Acting

Another interesting fact about Mahershala Ali’s upbringing is that he was originally raised as a Christian before later converting to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, which his ordained minister mother initially “didn’t do backflips” over, as he revealed while accepting a Screen Actors Guild Award for playing Juan in Moonlight. That same supporting role earned him his first Academy Award in 2017, making him the first actor of Muslim faith to win such an honor (according to CNN), let alone two. He would receive the same prize in 2019 for his performance as a pianist touring the Jim Crow era south in Green Book, ultimately becoming the first black actor to win two Best Supporting Actor Oscars as well.

Mahershala Ali in Green Book

Mahershala Ali Has Been Cutting His Own Hair Since Childhood

Beyond acting and rapping, there is another career opportunity that Mahershala Ali could have prospered from if things had turned out differently for him: cosmetology. While on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2019, the comedian and host asked the Green Book star to describe his methods for cutting his own hair, which he began to do at 12 years old and even some made money by providing the service to others while in college. Later that year, comic book movie-centered website Heroic Hollywood also could not help but notice, from a post to his Instagram, that he was sporting a (presumably self-done) haircut bearing a striking resemblance to his upcoming Marvel role.

Mahershala Ali in Alita: Battle Angel

Mahershala Ali Actually Pitched The Blade Reboot To The MCU

Speaking of the half-human, half-vampire bloodsucker killer, getting cast as the new Blade for the MCU’s upcoming reinterpretation was also a feat the actor can take credit for. In an interview with Fandango, Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige said the following about how a meeting with Mahershala Ali led to a green light for highly anticipated reboot:

We have, for years, wanted to find a new way into Blade. We love that character. We love that world. Now with Dr. Strange, and the supernatural elements coming into the MCU, it felt like we could definitely start exploring that. Mahershala wanted to come in and meet with us. And when Mahershala wants to meet, you take the meeting. And I think he had just come off of his second Academy Award. And we were talking very polite and he was talking about what a fan he is, and then he just cut right to it, and was like 'Blade.’ And we were like, 'Yes.'

Rarely does an actor get the chance to play his dream superhero movie role simply by asking, but not every actor is a two-time Oscar winner like Mahershala Ali either. Of course, Blade, which still has yet to be given a confirmed release date, will be far from the his first experience playing a comic book character.

Mahershala Ali on True Detective

Mahershala Ali Was Considered For The Batman’s Jim Gordon Before Blade

Technically, Mahershala Ali is already in the MCU having played Harlem crime lord Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes on Netflix series Luke Cage, in addition to voicing Miles Morales’ uncle in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and his aforementioned role as Vector in the '90s manga adaptation Alita: Battle Angel.

Ali’s first foray into more heroic territory for a comic book adaptation almost came in the form of Commissioner James Gordon for Matt Reeves’ The Batman, whom he was reportedly a frontrunner to star as (according to Variety reporter Justin Kroll) before the Blade pitch. I would say that seeing him in the Marvel vampire hunter role and Jeffrey Wright as Batman’s GCPD ally is a pretty satisfying consolation, although teaming up with Ali for a Moon Knight movie was apparently True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto’s dream.

What do you think? Did pitching a Blade reboot ruin Mahershala Ali’s chances at two even greater comic book movie roles to add to his resume, or could nothing be cooler than Marvel’s big, bad vampire hunter? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on the multi-talented, award-winning performer, as well as even more in-depth looks into the lives of your favorite celebrities, here on CinemaBlend.

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