Fresh off his Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role and Academy Award nomination for Moonlight, Mahershala Ali is the latest example of a Hollywood “overnight success” story that isn’t an overnight success at all. After all, though Ali is getting a lot of attention now because of Moonlight and Luke Cage, he has appeared in high-profile projects like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Predators, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Part 2, and House of Cards. In an interview with The Guardian, Ali spoke about getting into character.
As Ali has spoken out before, one way he gets into character — especially while working on multiple projects at once — is that he makes music playlists for each individual character. He points out that he makes lists based on “Music that he would respond to, music that reflects the world he’s living in, things he would have listened to growing up or whatnot. They help focus me very quickly, almost like a meditation. It especially helps if you’re working on a couple of things.”
In addition to making playlists, Ali also focused on getting to know his Moonlight character on a deeper level in order to make the most of the character’s limited screentime. He explains, “I found myself thinking of him as a spirit first, strange as that might sound, and engaging in conversations with him. Finding out what it was I needed to know about, what he needed to say… Alone in my office, walking around just talking with him, and even going for walks. I haven’t approached it in that way before, and I wasn’t sure if it was OK to do that! But then at the end of the day, I never know what I’m doing.”