“This Is Us” Star Asante Blackk Discusses Social Change, Award Nominations And Rejection

At just 18-years-old, Asante Blackk scored a role on the groundbreaking Netflix mini-series, When They See Us; plays a series regular in the NBC smash series This Is Us, and was 2019’s youngest Emmy Nominee. He’s had a busy few years since being a high school senior, but it wasn’t easy for the young actor who struggled through rejection and radio silence.

Acting came naturally to the star who shares DNA with his talented Auntie, Samira Wiley of The Handmaid’s Tale and Orange Is The New Black. In the second grade, Blackk auditioned for a role in The Jungle Book, which was part of an after-school theatre and arts program. He got the lead role of Mowgli, which immediately sparked a fire in his following career as an actor. After transferring schools in the fourth grade, Blackk took a break from acting until the eighth grade when he rediscovered his passion. Unwilling to ever let go of it again, Blackk continued in theatre, auditioning throughout his highschool years. It took four years, but through the silence, he persisted and never gave up. He landed his first role in his senior year of high school and little did he know, it was just the beginning. We sat down with Blackk to discuss his roles, how he wants to bring social change with every project and a teaser about his character Malik, and his relationship with Deja.

Photo Credit: Gilbert Sosa

HL: How did you get your first role and what was the audition process like for you?

AB: I didn’t get a callback for four years but during my senior year, I auditioned for Korey Wise (played by Jharrel Jerome) in When They See Us. I got a call to audition in New York, but it almost didn’t happen. My parents had to work and I needed someone to take me to New York. Thankfully my uncle could take me. I remember thinking it was a terrible audition, but a couple of days later I got a callback. The whole process was long. I made a self-tape, did a Skype interview and then flew to Los Angeles to do an in-person interview with the director, Ava Duvernay. A month went by of radio silence, then I got an email from my agent—they wanted me to read for Kevin Richardson. I wanted to be a part of the project so I put everything into the self-tape. I didn’t hear anything for two weeks and then one day I was sitting on the couch watching Black Mirror and a Los Angeles number popped up on my phone. As you do when an L.A. number shows up, I answered it. They asked for me by name (Asante Blackk is my stage name), congratulated me on my performance and offered me the role. The audition process took about four months, but we started filming two weeks after the call.

HL: How was it playing a part in a movement that shows Central Park Five in a new light?

AB: It was such an eye-opener for me. We recreated the lives of these five men who endured a traumatic event and it was a spiritual process. No one likes to relive their trauma, but these incredible men were willing to do this to tell their story—one that many didn’t know. When they were exonerated, it wasn’t as big of a deal as when they were convicted. As actors, we empathize and we feel what they felt. At times it was hard to step into that mentality, but there was a guiding force that helped all of us along the way. On-set, there was a brotherhood, which got us through the emotional scenes. There was always a shoulder to lean on or someone to talk to, even after the camera cut.

Photo Credit: Gilbert Sosa

HL: You were nominated for not one, but two Critic Choice Awards for your role as Kevin Richardson. How did you feel when you found out and what was it like being a part of an award season at such a young age?

AB: It was surreal. I didn’t have any inclination that I was nominated. I honestly thought Jharrel would be nominated before I would be—I didn’t expect it. People connected with my performance and that’s all I want as an artist. When you pour your heart into something, you want people to feel, relate to it and receive it well. My award nominations proved just that and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s bizarre to think that two years ago I couldn’t even get a callback and now I’m getting nominated—what an adrenaline rush. It just goes to show that everyone’s journey is different and I’m determined to live mine to the best of my ability.

Photo Credit: NBC

HL: How did you hear about the role of Malik in This is Us?

AB: I was a fan of the first three seasons and while I can’t remember how it all came together, I didn’t have an agent at the time and they approached me for the role of Malik. Eager to jump on this opportunity, I auditioned and secured the role of Malik. I was excited to play a character new to TV. If you think about it, Malik is a single teenage father, who is also black, who also has a love interest and is not bitter about the world. He’s a good father, he was forced to grow up early, but he still enjoys being a kid. How often do you see that on TV? I think there are many Malik’s in the real world, so I was thrilled to step into and bring a unique character to the screen.

HL: Do you think Malik is the new Jack?

AB: I think there are similarities between the two characters—he’s ‘Jackesque.’ Malik has similar romantic tendencies as Jack when he goes above and beyond with the girl he wants to impress. It certainly seems like the storyline is heading that way.

HL: I heard you want to bring about social change with every role. How do you plan on doing this?

AB: Art, in general, brings about social change. The roles I’ve played are important to black people because of their untold stories. People didn’t know what the Central Park five went through and with Malik, nobody has seen his character portrayed on TV before. Anyone can connect to anything. The human experience is more alike than we think so when you watch something different, it changes the way we think or perceive. Being conscious and knowing the responsibility I have as an artist and choosing a role that resonates with the real world is important to me.

Photo Credit: Gilbert Sosa

HL: Where do you see your career developing?

AB: I’m going to keep riding this wave I’m on until I can’t ride it anymore and hopefully, it takes me to far places. I will continue to work on my performance and improve, simply because I love acting. I don’t want my career to be this big thing— I just want to do what I love. I want to try to understand people because I’m generally interested in people and it makes me a more empathetic person.

HL: What is your dream role?

AB: I’ve always wanted to play a villain. I think there’s so much to unpack with villains. They’re misunderstood and they take it out in the wrong way, but they’re so interesting. Take for instance Magneto in X-Men—he just wants to protect mutants and does what he thinks is best. A more specific dream role would be a remake of Training Day, as Denzel Washington’s character, Alonzo. There’s a lot to unpack from his character and I think Denzel did it so perfectly, but I would love to put my own spin on it.

HL: What can we expect to see with the development of Malik and Deja’s relationship?

AB: Expect to see it progress in a way that is different from anything else we’ve seen. That’s all I can say.

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