Ali at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival
February 16, 1974
Hayward, California, U.S.
|Other names||Mahershala Karim-Ali|
|Education||Saint Mary's College, California (BA)|
New York University (MFA)
Amatus Sami-Karim (m. 2013)
Mahershala Ali (//; born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore; February 16, 1974) is an American actor and rapper. He is the recipient of several accolades, including two Academy Awards and a Golden Globe Award. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019.
After pursuing an MFA degree from New York University, Ali began his career as a regular on television series, such as Crossing Jordan (2001–2002) and Threat Matrix (2003–2004), before his breakthrough role as Richard Tyler in the science fiction series The 4400 (2004–2007). His first major film release was in the David Fincher-directed fantasy The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). He gained wider attention for his supporting role in the Netflix political thriller series House of Cards (2013–2016), as Boggs in the final two films of The Hunger Games film series, and as Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes in the Luke Cage series.
Ali won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Juan in Barry Jenkins' drama film Moonlight. He won a second Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Don Shirley in the drama film Green Book (2018). This made him the first black actor to win two Academy Awards in the same category. In 2019, he played the lead role of a troubled police officer in the third season of the HBO anthology crime series True Detective.
Ali was born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore in 1974, in Hayward, California, the son of Phillip Gilmore (1956–1994) and Willicia Goines (born 1957). He was raised a Christian in Hayward, California by his mother, an ordained Baptist minister. His father was an actor who appeared on Broadway. Maher-shalal-hash-baz is the name of a prophetic child in chapter 8 of the Biblical Book of Isaiah.
He attended St. Mary's College of California (SMC) in Moraga, California, where he graduated in 1996 with a degree in mass communication. He entered SMC with a basketball scholarship and went by the name "Hershal Gilmore" when playing for the SMC Gaels. He became disenchanted with the idea of a sports career because of the treatment given to the team's athletes, and developed an interest in acting, particularly after taking part in a staging of Spunk. This later landed him an apprenticeship at the California Shakespeare Theater following graduation. After a sabbatical year working for Gavin Report, he enrolled in New York University's graduate acting program at Tisch School of the Arts, earning his master's degree in 2000.
In 2000, he converted to Islam, changed his surname from Gilmore to Ali, and joined the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In interviews, he has recounted numerous problems he has encountered at airports, with banks and otherwise in everyday life as an American Muslim since the September 11 attacks.
Ali was known professionally by his full name, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, from 2001 until 2010, when he began to be credited as Mahershala Ali. Ali had considered shortening his name for a while, saying that using his full first name was "a crazy thing to do considering that we're in Hollywood", although he had never been pressured by managers or agents to change it. He decided to use a shorter version of his first name after being told that his full name was too long to fit on the poster for the film The Place Beyond the Pines. He did not want the alternative of "M. Ali" to represent himself on the poster, so he chose to adopt the shorter version of his name.
He elaborated in an interview to Vanity Fair in October 2016:
|“||I think if you have any desire to be a leading man or to really carry some of these stories, there's this relationship that has to be cultivated with an audience. People have to be able to say your name. I didn't want a couple of syllables to get in the way of me having the fullest experience as an actor."||”|
He is known for his portrayal of Remy Danton in the Netflix series House of Cards, Cornell Stokes in Marvel's Luke Cage, Colonel Boggs in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, and Tizzy in the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
His first major film role was that of Tizzy Weathers in the 2008 David Fincher-directed romantic fantasy drama film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Other notable films include Predators, The Place Beyond the Pines, Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, and as Boggs in The Hunger Games series.
For his performance as mentor and drug dealer Juan in the drama film Moonlight (2016), Ali received universal acclaim from critics and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the SAG Award and the Critics' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor, and received a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award nomination. His win at the 89th Academy Awards made him the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar.
In 2017 Ali joined the video game Madden NFL 18's story mode Longshot, in which he played Cutter Wade, the father of protagonist Devin. He played Don Shirley in the 2018 film Green Book, receiving his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He won Golden Globe award in 2019 for best supporting actor for his role, as well as a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Ali starred as Arkansas State Police detective Wayne Hays in the third season of the HBO series True Detective, which premiered on January 13, 2019, in the United States. On Rotten Tomatoes, the site's critical consensus reads, "Driven by Mahershala Ali's mesmerizing performance, True Detective's third season finds fresh perspective by exploring real world events – though it loses some of the series' intriguing strangeness along the way."
At the annual San Diego Comic-Con in July 2019, Ali was announced as being cast to play the supernatural superhero Blade in a future Marvel Cinematic Universe adaptation of the character, which was previously played by Wesley Snipes.
Ali was signed to Bay Area recording label Hieroglyphics Imperium during the late 2000s and recorded rap music as Prince Ali. He released his album, Curb Side Service, in 2007, but did not tour to promote the album, choosing instead to focus on his acting career.
|2003||Making Revolution||Mac Laslow|
|2008||Umi's Heart||Ezra||Short film|
|The Curious Case of Benjamin Button||Tizzy Weathers|
|2009||Crossing Over||Detective Strickland|
|2012||The Place Beyond the Pines||Kofi Kancam|
|2013||Go for Sisters||Dez|
|The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1||Boggs|
|2015||The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2|
|Gubagude Ko||Ochoro||Short film|
|Free State of Jones||Moses Washington|
|Hidden Figures||Jim Johnson|
|2018||Green Book||Don Shirley|
|Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse||Aaron Davis / The Prowler (voice)|
|2019||Alita: Battle Angel||Vector|
|2001–2002||Crossing Jordan||Dr. Trey Sanders||19 episodes|
|2002||Haunted||Alex Dalcour||Episode: "Abby"|
|NYPD Blue||Rashard Coleman||Episode: "Das Boots"|
|2003||CSI: Crime Scene Investigation||Tombs' Security Guard||Episode: "Lucky Strike"|
|The Handler||N/A||Episode: "Big Stones"|
|2003–2004||Threat Matrix||Jelani Harper||15 episodes|
|2004–2007||The 4400||Richard Tyler||28 episodes|
|2009||Lie to Me||Det. Don Hughes||Episode: "Do No Harm"|
|Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Mark Foster||Episode: "Unstable"|
|2010||The Wronged Man||Calvin Willis||Television film|
|All Signs of Death||Gabe||Unsold TV pilot|
|2011||Lights Out||Death Row Reynolds||Episode: "Unaired Pilot"|
|2011–2012||Treme||Anthony King||6 episodes|
|Alphas||Nathan Clay||12 episodes|
|2012||Alcatraz||Clarence Montgomery||Episode: "Clarence Montgomery"|
|2013–2016||House of Cards||Remy Danton||33 episodes|
|2016||Luke Cage||Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes||6 episodes|
|Episode: "Two Films for One Ticket"|
|2018||Room 104||Franco||Episode: "Shark"|
|2019||True Detective||Wayne Hays||8 episodes|
|2020||Race for the White House||Narrator|