Exclusive: Mahershala Ali Talks The Hungers Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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Exclusive: Mahershala Ali Talks The Hungers Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Posted by Wilson Morales

November 18, 2014

The Hunger Games Mockingjay - Part 1 Final Poster

Coming out this week is Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, which stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Mahershala Ali, Elden Henson, Evan Ross, Patina Miller, and Natalie Dormer.

The worldwide phenomenon of “The Hunger Games” continues to set the world on fire with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage.

Mahershala Ali

For Ali, who plays Commander Boggs, the last few years has heightened his profile in a major way. Although he starred for three seasons on USA’s sci-fi drama The 4400 and had a featured role on David Fincher’s 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the Oakland native has been impressive and gaining more visibility in the role of Remy Danton in the Netflix series House of Cards.

With Boogs expected to return in the final installment, Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Ali about getting the role, working with the cast, the journey his career has taken in the last few years.

How did the role come about for you?

Mahershala Ali: I got the call that I had the opportunity to go in for the next installment in The Hunger Games franchise and I put myself here in New York at one of the casting offices. I really excited that I got the call. I was asked to audition so I did a little bit of homework and research. I had already seen the first The Hunger Games film so I was obviously familiar with the franchise and ‘Catching Fire’ hadn’t come out yet. I did my homework, got some help, and got the part.

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 poster Mahershala AliHave you since read the books?

MA: I have now and once I found out I was up for it, it took a little bit of time with the back and forth, but I felt good about the my chances of getting the part. I started reading the books and burned through them and I knew what I was doing on day 1.

How different is Commander Boggs from the book and screen?

MA: I wouldn’t say that he’s necessarily different from book. I think there’s things that the book can give you in terms of how a character is thought of. You can say, from reading the book, that Katniss thinks of Boggs as a father figure. Unless she were to say that in the movie then it would different in that way. The books can give you background information on a character that a script won’t necessarily give you because of time. The main difference is that he’s mainly written as a white guy in the book and I’m obviously not that. Other than that, I think they were really able to pull from the essence of what Boggs is in the book and carry that into the film.

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 Mahershala Ali

How would you then describe Boggs?

MA: Commander Boggs is a lifelong military man. He was born on the ground and raised on the ground. In some way, shape or form, he expects to die in this fight, this rebellion. When he is a commanding officer in the military of the militarized district and is basically tasked with protecting Katniss, it’s looked as a babysitting job. He’s been born to fight and we’re in that moment in time where the revolution is happening and is active and alive; so to be commissioned with protecting her on this propaganda tour, it’s a little disappointing at first because this is what he’s prepared for all his life. He soon grows and respects Katniss’ presence in all of it and how she’s the galvanizing force behind the whole revolt. He now looks at it as an honor to be given that task and they become allies.

Mockingjay Part 1 LA Premiere - Mahershala Ali

How does it feel to come into a franchise as a newcomer but yet have a substantial role in the film?

MA: Really humbling. I’m working with all these people that I grew up admiring. I saw Jeffrey Wright on stage in the first play I saw, which was ‘Angels in America.’ That was like in ’91 or ’92 and then I saw him again in ‘Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.’ I was this kid living in California visiting my dad and seen remarkable theater and here it is now where I have gotten to work with him. Being around Jeffrey and Julianne and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and of course, Jennifer. You can go down the list and it’s a little surreal. Showing up for work, I took a picture of the call sheet where it had my name alongside with all of them and I still couldn’t believe that here I am amongst so many people that I respect.

You’re also working with Evan Ross and the two of you appear in Deon Taylor’s Supremacy.

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 Group Shot

MA: It’s so funny. I met him in the elevator a few months after we had shot the film and I was like, “We’re in a movie together,” and we talked about it really quick. Then later on, we hung out while we’re shooting ‘Mockngjay.’

You’ve been working for a period of time but what’s the last three years been like after ‘House of Cards,’ ‘The Place Behind The Pines,’ and now these films?

MA: My whole journey has been a beautiful struggle. I feel like I’m always learning and I’ve been able to have these really wonderful moments of growth and opportunity and you find yourself wanting to break out and do more. Everybody feels that way relative to their own story and you want to deepen your own experience in some way shape or form, but I feel really blessed. I’m an a point where people can point to certain and say, “I know him from that project and that piece as a whole is great and he did solid work in it.” I feel good at where I’m at in the last three years.

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 Liam Hemsworth Jeffrey Wright Mahershala Ali

Do you believe ‘House of Cards’ has had a big effect to your recognition?

MA: You always want to be involved in something that is relevant and is speaking to a larger public. If people are connecting with something and if can be something that is really great and well written, it’s like you’re getting the best of both worlds. That’s part of what excited me about ‘Mockingjay.’ It’s a huge project but it’s also really good. You don’t get both of those things all the time in this industry. You often get something that is great, but you might make 50 cents off of it or you might get something where you get paid really well but it’s terrible. To have something where it brings both of those things to the table is really exciting. ‘House of Cards’ is one project where both aspects have been great.


Where do see Remy going in the next season?

MA: It’s definitely a different season and I can’t reveal too much. Remy is in a different place. He’s in a different place in his life and his job title is different. I feel as you will see him land somewhere but he will need a new job. He’s also a transitional phase in life, spiritually and emotionally. It’s a different character from what we have seen thus far. There are some things I appreciate where the character is this season where he’s three dimensional and flushed out. I’m excited about that.

Mockingjay - Mahershala Ali, Evan Ross, Natalie Dormer, Wes Chatham, and Elden Henson

Did you get into shape for the role, physically?

MA: I couldn’t change my look, in terms of growing hair, because we started filming while I was finishing ‘House of Cards.’ What I did do was sneak off and starting lifting some weights just so I felt different in my body. It’s important to feel right for that character. We were shooting some tactical scenes and they were going great unit I got back home in LA and I woke up in the middle of the night and I turned on my pillow and I heard a pop in my neck. I couldn’t move my head for a week. It wasn’t physically demanding on the set, but when you do something for 12 hours a few days in a row with 20 extra pounds on you, it can wear on you.

Mockingjay Part 1 NY Press Conference Official Cast Pic

How have you grown as an actor?

MA: I know I can do a lot of things quicker than what I used to do where I would need more time to figure things out. What I find myself challenged by now is I have to be careful of taking things for granted because you want to surprise yourself. The blessing is that I have improved quite a bit.

What’s next?

MA: There’s a film I did called ‘Kicks’ that I squeezed in as I finished the third season of ‘House of Cards.’ It’s about a kid who gets beat up for his Jordans in Oakland and he goes on a mission, by any means necessary, to get them back. I play his crazy uncle who was recently released from prison. It’s a wonderful small film which I’m excited about.

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