Mahershala Ali Is in the Driver’s Seat Now

“It’s just always fascinating how things have a life of their own, a story of their own,” Ali added. “That was the first role I had after Moonlight. It’s like, What is due diligence? And beginning to understand, like asking questions and doing your due diligence,” he continued. “There’s a lot to appreciate about that situation. Good, bad, and in between. And I think it’s a circle. It’s a situation that led me to wanting to produce, is what I will say, because then you have a seat at the table to understand how things are being done, because whether you’re producing or not, as the face of any kind of project, you are going to be impacted by it.”

Becoming the face of projects has changed the work too. One of the first things Ali noticed about being a big-deal actor is that he now spends significantly less time acting.

“Starting out professionally, it feels like you have a significant amount of time to just sort of focus on the acting work, right? And when you do get it, you have a decent amount of time to just work on doing a good job on that. I think as you get busier, what I’ve found is that it feels like you act less,” he told me. “The best way I can think of it is, I think early on in a fighter’s career, especially if you go back years, they could be fighting once every couple of months, or something like that. And then at a certain point, it feels like a Floyd Mayweather thing, where you might fight twice in a year.… And so now I just feel like I’m fighting less, if that makes sense.”

Sweater, by Zegna. Pants, by Labrum. Shoes, $1,250, by Santoni. Ring (on left hand, throughout) his own. Ring (on right ring finger), $175, by Miansai. Ring (on right middle finger), $2,500, by David Yurman.

Ali took a few years away from the big screen for True Detective and Ramy, in which he was supposed to guest-star for a few episodes but ended up staying for the better part of a season. “His level of curiosity, and his level of care, it felt like he was making the show with me; he had as much on the line as I did,” said Ramy Youssef, the show’s co-creator and star, who told me he’s still surprised Ali was willing to take the part. “He’s coming off of two Oscars, and he’s coming to do a Hulu show.”

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