Good news: There are brothas in the future. And some of them might be robots. At least that’s the case in the futuristic world of Almost Human, where actor Michael Ealy plays Dorian, a classic human-like android rebooted to work alongside the anti-social, difficult to get along with, robot-hating Detective Kennex, played by Karl Urban. Taking place 35 years from now, it’s a sordid world, full of mechanical prostitutes programmed to bond with a man’s sexually inspired emotional needs. But through Dorian, a bit of innocence prevails, highlighting his quest for an understanding of the humanistic side of life, while softening his partner’s hardened pessimistic idiosyncrasies.
During a break from filming an upcoming episode, Ealy discusses Almost Human, dreams of a 2048 future, and goes deep in explaining why Morgan Freeman marks a pivotal point of his past.
Raqiyah Mays – I was reading your bio on IMDB, and you have a quote talking about being an english teacher in college and wondering about your future at 40 and if you'd regret not acting. Obviously you made the right decision. But now that you actually are 40 and living that dream, is there anything in life that at this age, you regret not doing?
Michael Ealy – It’s so crazy that you pulled that out, because I remember saying that specifically. And I haven’t talked about it much since then. And you’re right, at 40, I think I made the right choice. The only thing I regret at this point in my life is not being more proficient in other languages. Having traveled the world and seeing people speak 3 or 4 languages, I just feel so…inept. Laughing I can speak Spanish a little bit. I understand it and I can function, but I’m not fluent. You need to know English, Spanish and French, at a minimum.
RM – You’ve mentioned that when you first read the script for Almost Human, that you were concerned about your character, Dorian, not having a love interest. Why was that an issue?
ME – I think what has happened is when I read the script, I’d gotten comfortable at being kind of a romantic. Even in Sleeper Cell, that was one of the most stressful roles you can take on as a character, and still, they gave me a love interest. So it’s one of those things where you just expect to keep getting them. And you get lazy and complacent and you think, ‘Uh, ok, whatever I’m signing up to do, I’m usually forced to sleep with a woman. And so that’s what it is.’ Notice how I said, ‘forced,’ right?
RM – Laughing
ME - I’m not complaining. I’ve enjoyed them all. That being the case, when I read Almost Human, I just couldn’t believe there wasn’t an opportunity for me to do a show and it not be there. I remember thinking, ‘Where else can a character go?’ And about an hour or so later, it hit me: That’s perfect. Wake up. Get out of your funk. And go do something that challenges you in another way. And that’s why it was important for me to jump on board. Because as an actor, you’re supposed to keep challenging yourself. Otherwise, you’re just bored. Honestly, people can tell when you’re bored, because they’re bored to death just watching you. And I’ve prided myself in having a diverse body of work. So in order to continue that streak, I think it’s important that I go ahead and step into the realm of not playing a human. So that was a challenge. And all of sudden, I started seeing where this character can go when I drop the typical trajectory of most television characters. That’s when I really found my rhythm in terms of embracing. And there lies the challenge, there lies the interest, and that makes it more interesting than any other character I’ve played.
RM – I think you’ve had a pretty blessed career. I remember when there was a time when the Black, Latin, and Asian guy didn’t get the love interest. And now things are changing. There’s a new age. It’s like we’re living in the future of multi-faceted characters with love. What are your outlooks on that?
ME – I think we’re right on track. I don’t think we’ve arrived at the destination. But things are definitely getting better. There was a long time where the Asian character couldn’t be anything but a doctor. That has changed. You still have to deal with Middle Eastern characters not being terrorists all the time, or doctors. And we’re trying to get away from that. So we’re starting to see that open up with different shows. And that to me, is going to make Hollywood and this TV world a much more diverse place. It’ll be more of a reflection of the audience. I think black people went through The Butler and The Help and all of that stuff. We went through that phase when we were just trying not to be the maid or the butler. And here we are playing presidents, doctors, lawyers, robots, FBI agents. Octavia Spencer is doing a reboot of Murder She Wrote. That’s progress. Doesn’t mean we’re finished. It just means we made progress. We gotta be thankful for that. Because it doesn’t have to be that way. A lot of people have worked hard getting things to this point. A lot of people put up with a lot of shit to really get to this point. So we have to do what we can while we’re here, so that our kids can eventually grow up where it’s not even a big deal. There’s no issue what so ever. We don’t even have to acknowledge the fact that there’s a black man playing a lead role on a TV show. And that’s when everything is equal.
RM – What roles are you happy to no longer be typecast as?
ME - Well, I never really got typecast in my opinion. I know I’ve done a couple romantic comedies where people see similarities, but I don’t feel like I’ve made a career out of that. I’ve tried my best to avoid being typecast. When I did Barbershop everybody and their mom wanted me to play Ricky again and again in their movies. And I had to say, ‘No, no, no, no.” And that was hard. There were times when I didn’t work for months, because I said no to projects where they wanted Ricky. 'Do you still have braids?' ‘No, I don’t. And I don’t want to play Ricky again. I’ve done that. I did it in Barbershop. I don’t need to play that guy again.’ I’ve done a string of romantic comedies in the last couple of years. And for me, Almost Human was a nice break from that. Because guess what? I don’t have a love interest. I’m not falling in love on screen again. That’s great for me as an actor to try and break that up. That’s what we’re supposed to do as artists.
RM – Almost Human takes place in 2048, 35 years in the future; add that to now, you’ll be what…75?
ME – 70 something, 75, 76 years old.
RM – Right. So what would you like to have done at 75, that won’t leave you with regrets?
ME – long pause
Hmm… Good question. I really do hope that at that age I am a good person, first and foremost. Hope to still be married. I hope that I have kids who have become productive, contributing members to society. And I hope that I don’t have to work unless I want to.
RM - That’s always beautiful.
ME - Yup. And I hope to one day see someone who can look at my past and found it helpful. I say this all the time. Sometimes when you have integrity, you cannot succeed, because we’re in a society that rewards people of little integrity, often.
RM – Right.
ME - So defining success is always a tricky one, because so many define it with fame and money. And while fame and money can be successful, if you don’t use it to help other people, then you yourself become useless and irrelevant, if you ask me. So there are people who are very famous right now. If they died tomorrow in a tragic car accident, the world would not stop. ‘Did you find the cure to cancer?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then what’s your real legacy?’ And that’s where I am right now in life. What’s gonna be my legacy? And that’s something I think about. What you leave this Earth aside from your body of work, in terms of family, that’s where your real worth lies.
RM - What’s next for you? I know there’s About Last Night…
ME – About Last Night is Valentine's Day. 2014. Think Like a Man Too is, I believe, June 2014. And I know Last Vegas came out. Shout to everyone who saw Last Vegas. Personally, that was incredible to play Morgan Freeman’s son. That came at the right time in my life.
RM – Why?
ME – My father had just passed.
RM – I’m sorry.
ME – Yeah. My father had just passed. And I literally, two days later, was on set looking at Morgan as my father.
RM – Wow.
ME – Yeah... So that was…. That happened at the right time. It was strange and weird. But at the same time, it happened at the right time. It’s just a small little role, I know. But it was very profound for me, a very pivotal moment in my life. Ya know? A huge moment in my life.
RM – Was it cathartic in a way?
ME – I can’t say that, because the wounds were still so fresh. But at the same time, one of the things that has helped me in this business is the business itself. The idea that one person doesn’t stop a show. And I remember losing my grandfather while I was working on a short. And it was viable to be at work cause it really helped me cope with the mourning and the loss, when you throw yourself into your job. The mourning and healing came later. But to be able to go and look at Morgan Freeman, someone you admire and respect, and call them, ‘Pop,’ was helpful. Cause my dad was my best friend. Really, my best friend.
RM – Wow. You know what show I do miss, though? Sleeper Cell. I really didn’t want to see that go away.
ME – Thank you. I didn’t either.
RM – Laughing
ME – I love it when fans of shows tell you, ‘Hey, I’m so mad to see that show go.’ Like, ‘Yeah, me too.’ Laughing I was doing well on that. I was in a good place when we were making that. And then they took it from me. So yeah, we all hate it when a show gets canceled. We all hate it.
RM – Laughing
ME – We do. We all hate it. But again it’s indicative of life. Nothing lasts forever.
RM – Right. We move on, learn from it, and get better. Look at you now.
ME – Yeah, the lesson is keep moving. Don’t give up. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. When one door closes, another one will open.
Almost Human airs Mondays on Fox at 8 p.m.