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The rise of Green Book acting powerhouse Mahershala Ali


Arriving in Cineworld on 1st February 2019, Golden Globe-nominated comedy-drama Green Book is set for Oscar success after being dubbed film of the year by America's National Board of Review committee (previous winners also included The Post and Manchester by the Sea).

Directed by Peter Farrelly (There's Something About Mary), the movie stars Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings), as Italian-American bodyguard/driver Tony Lip. Tony has an important task: to transport black classical pianist Dr. Shirley (Moonlight's Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour throughout the American deep South in the early 1960s.

The movie is inspired by true events, so expect a heart-warming friendship, hard-hitting drama, social commentary, and stellar acting – especially from the Oscar-winning Ali.

A few years ago, you may have known Ali as "that guy from House of Cards", but now he's fast becoming one of our most celebrated actors working today, having established a diverse range of roles in both film and television. We certainly can't wait to see him in Green Book, and the many other exciting projects he has lined up.

So how did Ali climb to the top? Here's everything you need to know.

Who is Mahershala Ali?

Born in 1974 with the name Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore (he changed his name to Ali after converting to Islam), the young Ali grew up in Haywood, California in the San Francisco Bay Area to parents Willicia, an ordained minister, and Philip Gilmore, an actor who appeared in Broadway productions of Dreamgirls and Five Games Named Moe between 1981 and 1993.

Despite having the acting blood in his veins, Mahershala originally attended St Mary's College in California with a basketball scholarship where he completed a degree in mass communication in 1996. However, Ali reportedly became disenfranchised with a career in sports because of how his basketball team was treated.

It was at this point that he gave acting a shot by performing in a stage production of a play called Spunk and he later joined the Californian Shakespeare Company following his college graduation. It was only when he was working for a publishing company that he decided to enrol at New York University to complete a Masters degree in acting.

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in Green Book

What was Mahershala Ali's first role?

After graduating from New York University in 2000, Ali began his acting career by making a name for himself in television with appearances as Dr. Trey Sanders in medical drama Crossing Jordan. He also played Jelani Harper in procedural thriller Threat Matrix and had small roles in the likes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, NYPD Blue and Haunted before striking big in the hit sci-fi series The 4400 as Richard Tyler.

You may not know that at this time, Ali was also trying his hand as a rapper under the name Prince Ali – in 2007 he released an album titled Curb Side Service. He never toured and ultimately decided to give up music to focus on his acting, and we're glad he did because his best work was yet to come.

What was Mahershala Ali's first movie appearance?

Although his first film role was in the small indie comedy Making Revolution (2003), Mahershala Ali made it to the big time after landing the part of Tizzy in David Fincher's Oscar-winning romantic tearjerker The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt.

After breaking through into Hollywood, Ali then went on to star in a range of blockbusters including Predators (2010) and The Place Beyond the Pines (2012). Likewise, he continued to enjoy a thriving TV career with roles in Lie to Me, The Wronged Man and Alphas to name just a few.

Up until now, Ali was credited under his full 18-letter long name (taken from the longest name in the Bible) but, as he revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair, he decided to shorten it to Mahershala after he was told his name wouldn't fit on the poster for The Place Beyond the Pines and he didn't want to be known as M. Ali.

What other movies and TV shows has Mahershala Ali starred in?

From there on, Ali's career and popularity continued to grow as he landed himself a starring role in the hit Netflix political drama House of Cards as former Chief of Staff Remy Danton. This wasn't his only stint starring in a smash Netflix show, as he would go on to star as super-villain 'Cottonmouth' in Marvel's Luke Cage series.

His film career also got exponentially bigger as he appeared in the likes of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures and, of course, Moonlight where he became the first ever Muslim to win an Oscar for his performance as Juan, the surrogate father figure of young protagonist Chiron.

It wasn't all plain sailing for Ali, however, as he unveiled in an interview that he missed his chance to appear in HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones after a terrible audition.

What movies is Mahershala Ali starring in next?

Ali's moving performance in Green Book has yielded critical acclaim and a Golden Globe nomination – Variety states that he's simply "a marvel to watch".

And Green Book isn't the only project Mahershala Ali has got up his sleeve. He plays a key role in animated Spider-Man movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in which he voices the uncle of central character Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). And in the new year, we can look forward to seeing him as the villain in anime-inspired action flick Alita: Battle Angel (released on 8th February), as well as the third series of critically acclaimed crime series True Detective, where he'll follow in the footsteps of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

Green Book
is released in Cineworld on 1st February 2019, so check out the trailer below and tweet us your favourite Mahershala Ali roles @Cineworld.

Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.