Brooklyn-born actor Michael Jai White knows what it means to fight for what he wants in life. The martial-arts trained performer did just that back in 1995 with his breakout performance in the HBO film Tyson. Following that, MJW broke records by becoming the first African-American actor to portray a major comic book hero in his 1997 performance as Spawn. While he’s been battling it out on screen for over 15 years, it’s not always with super heroes or athletes. Sometimes, it’s with his on-screen wife! Most recently, White charmed audiences with his humor and good looks as Marcus in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married and Why Did I Get Married Too? films. Now with a title role in the small screen spinoff For Better or Worse, Michael Jai White sits down with UPTOWN for a look at how his upbringing and off-screen relationships have helped prepare him for this role…
How does it feel being given the opportunity to take your character from big to small screen?
I feel great about it. Now we have a platform to talk about a lot of social issues. And [Marcus and Angela] are characters that people already have knowledge of. We wanted to show what else could be done with these characters, so we’re happy to finally have that opportunity.
Do you think there are any parallels between Marcus, the character, and Michael Jai White?
I think when I was much younger there were some similarities. But Marcus as a character is evolving. He’s now a business man. He, like myself, came up in a culture that honored dysfunctional behavior and pretty much glorified the “player” mentality. Black men are revered for their sexual prowess when it comes to women. And so Marcus is learning that that’s some leftover syndrome from ages ago that still resonates today. His learning about that is very much like mine. We’ve come to acknowledge what’s been done, and the right road to becoming a husband and father, and not a “player” or a boy.
Do you think this role will help change the way things are going in the community as a whole?
Well, I hope so. I hope other guys can see themselves in it. Some of the most die hard “players”, when you get them to admit it, they really want to be good husbands and fathers. They want to be upstanding and look at their mate in the eyes and look at themselves in the mirror. What is the measure of a man if not his word? So you can tell yourself all these things, but if you are lying and shuffling and cheating, you know you’re not a true man. A true man is going to be honest. If you’re going to be a “several woman man” then own up to it. You can’t hide from yourself.