Silver Spring native Michael Ealy was online Friday, March 4, at 2 p.m. ET to talk about his acting career ("Kissing Jessica Stein," "Bad Company," "Barbershop," "2 Fast 2 Furious"), including his co-starring role with Halle Berry in the "Oprah Winfrey Presents" ABC tele-pic, "Their Eyes Were Watching God," a story of a young woman of color in the 1920s and her search for love, sensual excitement and spiritual fulfillment.
A transcript follows.
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Michael Ealy is running a little late. He will be with us momentarily. Please stay with us.
Michael Ealy, thanks for being with us today. Glad to have you with us. You're a local, from Silver Spring. You're done TV and movies and now a TV movie produced by Oprah Winfrey. To what do you attribute your success so far in a tough business?
Michael Ealy: A great deal of prayer, family support and honestly, persistence.
Silver Spring, Md.:
What's the hardest part about being an actor: getting the good roles/roles you want or getting the recognition for being good at what you do?
Michael Ealy: The hardest part would be getting the roles. It's always hard because there are hundreds of people who audition and then there's people who just offered a certain role so it's very competitive to get the roles. Recognition either comes or it doesn't.
What keeps you grounded, and how do you not fall into the superficial hype of Hollywood?
Michael Ealy: I'd say my background. My family and stuff, maintaining relationships with them. The life that I live out here is not necessarily the only life there is. People in Hollywood tend to think that their lives are representative of everybody and that's not the case. I think as long as you're aware that most of the country doesn't live like this, you can stay grounded.
Do you miss it back home?
Michael Ealy: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I did spend a lot of years there. I like to move around a little bit. Between New York, L.A. and home, I get my fill of each place.
Can you tell us about the movie Sunday night? What's it about and what part do you play? What was it like starring with Halle Berry?
Michael Ealy: It's an adaptation of a novel by Zora Neale Hurston and it is a story about a woman who redefines love for herself despite the social constraints of that time period (1920s/'30s).
I play the role of Tea Cake and he is the one man that comes along and finally helps Janie (played by Halle Berry) find true love for herself. The kind of love she's been looking for her whole life.
Working with Halle was great. She's very professional, very passionate about her work and very gracious. She speaks to everybody. She doesn't play the role of diva.
I learned a lot from her. She's a really good actress. It was the perfect experience for me at this point in my career.
"Barber Shop" and "Their Eyes" are two completely different kinds of films -- one comedy, their other dramatic. Which do you prefer?
Michael Ealy: I prefer drama. Comedy is much more difficult.
Are you and Halle Berry an item?
Michael Ealy: I'm going to answer this question one time. We're good friends and that's it.
I remember back to where Halle Berry was prior to her Dorothy Dandridge project, and I believe you are in a similar place.
You are a talented actor, and I believe your best roles are ahead of you. What would be your dream project, and how are you going about getting that project accomplished?
Michael Ealy: First, I'd like to say thank you for putting me in that position.
You actually have to be very careful about what your dream project will be because as soon as you say it, somebody will steal it so I like to keep my dream projects to myself for security reasons. But alternately, my dream projects would definitely be the kind of epic projects that define one's career and have some sort of social impact that transcends the entertainment value of movies.
Will there be a Barbershop 3?
Michael Ealy: (LAUGHS) I honestly do not know. I think the Barbershop franchise is over. I'm sure that in a couple of years, if Cedric's career continues to take off and Cube and myself and everybody in the cast -- if all of our careers continue to grow, then I'm sure that there will be a studio that will find some money to make Barbershop 3, but as of now there is nothing in the works.
How involved was Oprah in the production of the movie?
Michael Ealy: Simply put, Oprah got the movie made. She wasn't there every day but she was very much on top of all the daily activities and was watching the movie as it was being shot. And she was responsible for some of the casting. She looked at tapes of most of the principal characters and she was very involved in picking those actors. I'm just very grateful that she found me.
How does someone in your position feel about the surge of press/media interest in your personal life? Did you plan for it? Prepare your family and friends?
Michael Ealy: The media interest is a machine of its own. There simply is no way to prepare for it. When you to to acting school, they teach you how to act -- not how to be a celebrity. This is hands-on training that there's really no way to prepare for it. You pretty much just have to roll with the punches.
I've done my best to prepare my family for it but again, if there's no way for me to prepare for it, then ultimately there's no way for them either.
Hi Michael! What was your "big break" and did it take moving to NYC or LA to first land a gig?
Michael Ealy: There were two. My first big break was a play "Whoa-Jack," directed by a gentleman by the name of Jeff Cohen in New York back in 1998 and the reason why I say it was a big break is because I got good reviews from The New York Times and other papers and it enabled me to find representation that could get me to my next big break which was Barbershop. That was my biggest break.
Silver Spring, Md.:
What high school did you go to?
Michael Ealy: I went to Springbrook High School.
I think that it's great that you and Halle Berry are doing a movie based on an awesome book. "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is one of my favorite Zora Neale Hurston novels. Do you think that making books into movies deters or encourages young people to read the novel?
Michael Ealy: Good question. I would say both. I remember being young and watching A Raisin in the Sun with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee as a movie and that made me want to read the play. I think it can work. It's up to the individual. I think ultimately books and plays are often better than the movies but it doesn't hurt to have both.
How hard or difficult is it as a black, male, actor to seek positive roles in movies that are geared toward mainstream America?
Michael Ealy: It is very difficult but not impossible. And ultimately, you have to develop roles for yourself.
Mr. Ealy --
I first read "There Eyes Were Watching God" when I was in 9th grade. It quickly became one of my ALL TIME favorite books.
I wish you and the entire cast and crew all the success in the world with this movie.
While working on the set of the movie, what was the most important lesson you learned and who provided the guidance?
Thanks so much. Look forward to you response.
Michael Ealy: Thanks for the well wishes. I hope we make you proud on Sunday night. The most important lesson I learned on the set was from Halle Berry and that was how to be a star and still be gracious. She worked every day, every scene and never complained. Now, that can't be said for everybody but I try my best to not complain based on her model. I figured if she had more work to do and wasn't complaining, what right did I have to complain? And she was a great lead actress. She anchored this movie in a phenomenal and gracious way. And that was a really good lesson for me and I thank her for it and I hope to incorporate it into any lead roles that I may take on.
Michael, what CDs are in your changer right now?
Michael Ealy: Wow. Sade, John Legend, Meshell Ndegeocello, hometown girl from Southest D.C., an artist by the name of Kalyn, hometown as well (from Silver Spring), an independent artist, some Jill Scott and the Best of Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth.
Hi Michael! I love you, and I love Tea Cake. I am so excited to see you play this role. Had you read "Their Eyes Were Watching God" prior auditioning for the movie?
Michael Ealy: Thanks for the love. I did read the novel prior to auditioning but the first time I read the novel was 10 years ago and I liked it so much that I bought copies for the women in my family. So please go out and encourage people to read this book. By all means.
Capitol Heights, Md.:
Are you working on any other movies at the present time?
Michael Ealy: No. Right now I am in pre-production for my own television series on Showtime entitled "The Cell" and that will be out in late summer. It's going to be really gritty and controversial. It's my opportunity to take that leading man role and show what I can do.
I play a black Muslim FBI agent who infiltrates a terrorist cell in L.A. I think it's very contemporary and very much character-driven. There are not a lot of special effects. This is a character-driven, well-written show.
Michael Ealy: I'd like to thank everybody for logging on. Thank you for your questions. Thank you for the love and respect. This particular project ("Their Eyes Were Watching God") was kind of a dream come true for me. When I first read the novel I thought Tea Cake was one of the greatest literary characters I had read and to get the chance to actually portray this character on screen and to be chosen by Oprah and Halle and the director, Darnell Martin, was an exceptional accomplishment that I'm very proud of and will definitely hold on to for the rest of my life.
So sit back on Sunday night and enjoy "Their Eyes Were Watching God." (9 p.m. on ABC)