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Mahershala Ali on Starring as His Own Clone in ‘Swan Song,’ Plus What He Can’t Say About ‘Blade’

·3 min read

Mahershala Ali’s latest film, “Swan Song,” is the first feature film to be produced by his production company, Know Wonder, and it marks his first leading role in a movie.

On this week’s Variety Awards Circuit podcast, Ali discusses what drew him as both actor and producer to the emotional sci-fi tale in which he plays dual roles and reuniting with his “Moonlight” co-star Naomie Harris. He also politely navigates questions about his role as the vampire hunter in the forthcoming MCU movie “Blade.” Listen below!

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“I mean, you’re not going to get a great answer, but I will dodge your questions as graciously as possible,” Ali jokes when the subject of “Blade” is broached. But he shares how he first became familiar with the character, via the 1998 Wesley Snipes film.

Ali can talk more freely about “Swan Song,” which premiered at AFI and will be released to theaters and on Apple TV Plus on Dec. 17. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Benjamin Cleary, who previously won an Academy Award for his short film “Stutterer.” Set in the near future, the film stars Ali as Cameron, a man diagnosed with a terminal illness. For the sake of his wife and son, Cameron chooses to secretly have himself cloned. He then spends time with his clone (called Jack), who not only looks identical to him, but possesses all the same memories.

It’s an intriguing setup and an emotional journey as the film examines humanity, grief and sacrifice. Ali is aided by a stellar ensemble that includes Glenn Close, Awkwafina and Dax Rey, the talented young actor who plays his son (and whom Ali refers to as “Dax-el Washington.”)

As Cameron’s wife, Harris gets to share a very different dynamic with Ali than in “Moonlight” – and he admits there was a moment’s hesitation about her casting.

“We were and are a part of something that really resonated for people and people have a lot of strong and fond memories of that film,” says Ali. “And it’s bigger than us. So that was my only concern, for, like, a heartbeat.” Ali says that concern quickly gave way to excitement and he was thrilled to work with Harris, who he calls “one of the best living actors.”

Ali also discusses his role as producer and the impetus behind launching Know Wonder, which is run with his wife, producer and actor Amatus Sami Karim and producer Mimi Valdes. He also discusses working with Cleary and what it was like to play opposite himself. And Ali even endorses the Robert DeNiro/Al Pacino classic “Heat.”

Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.

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