Pop-Culturalist Chats with Malcolm David Kelley
Malcolm David Kelley has been an actor for a long time. He began his career as a child actor in film and television shows like Antwone Fisher and Malcolm in the Middle. One of his most memorable roles is probably as Walt on the super-hit show, Lost. Not only is Malcolm David Kelley is actor, but he’s also a performer. He is half of the duo, MKTO, which has had incredibly catchy hits, like “Classic.” Now, you can see him in Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, Detroit, about the Algiers Motel incident during the riots of 1967. We were able to chat with him about being a part of the film and his career.
P-C: How did you get involved with Detroit?
Malcolm David Kelley: I got involved with Detroit through my agents and managers. They got me this audition just in time while I was in between music shows. Perfect timing. Shout out to Vickie Thomas and her team [the casting team]! At our last audition, we had chemistry testing at a house in the Hills; some of the cast got together, and Kathryn had us improving a scene. At first we didn’t know what was going on. She threw us in a room and had a scene take place so our reactions would be real. Then we left, and I get a call saying that I have a fitting, and we’re going to shoot this movie that’s “Untitled.” [They said that] I’ll get the script when I land. It turned out great. I loved every moment—from working with the cast to watching Kathryn and her team work.
P-C: Can you tell us a little bit about your character?
MDK: My character’s name is Michael Clark. He is a cool, smooth, young guy who practically lives at the Algiers Motel, especially with all the rioting taking place. He hangs with his friends Liegh, Carl, and Aubrey. He meets some new people that he gets thrown into a situation with where everybody fears for their lives. He feels helpless, hopeless, and not sure if he will make it home. You will see him laughing, hanging out, crying, and outraged. He is furious with how our justice system sometimes handles matters with a bias.
P-C: Since this is based on true events, did that make it easier or harder to prepare for? Did you do anything special to prepare?
MDK: It definitely took some time to prepare just to get in the mind set of a young guy growing up in these times. As I was understanding Michael Clark, my character, I was finding some of the same similarities we share. He is a loyal guy, warm-hearted, and hates feeling like someone is trying to control him which he can’t do anything about it. So, I understood those things. [I also did] my history homework on this incident that I didn’t know much about. I just knew of rioting in Detroit and other cities after the Watts Riot. I think the special thing [in preparing was that] we would come together to learn about each other’s characters, practice the slang from that time, and really try to understand the message we wanted to get across through the film.
P-C: What was your favorite part of working on the film?
MDK: My favorite part working on this film was the whole experience! From the unorthodox audition process—meaning we didn’t have lines from the script so we had lines from something else at first—to eventually getting more information for filming. That kept us close, and the reactions very real. I think one of the most memorable [moments] is when we were in a scene in the hallway. We had to shoot that so many times because there are so many angles and coverages to get of the actors in a small hallway. So we got pretty close while filming that. Also, the scene of shooting the gun in the bedrooms was very suspenseful.
P-C: What was the most challenging part of getting back into acting after being involved in the music industry for a while?
MDK: The most challenging part was just regaining that confidence. Growing as a person and watching the industry grow into this social media phase, I had to figure that out a little bit. I had to understand how that is birthing new stars. Always believing in myself in acting class that I can get to the next level. Taking on new roles since I’m entering manhood. I have been away from the screen for a little so I definitely have to show my chops to get my full respect. I think Tony and I solidified ourselves as artists after three or four years of hard work, but that also took my momentum from acting away a little bit—especially at a pivotal time of me growing up. So, it feels good to have some projects come out and be able to be back on the big screen. Getting that rush of nerves, pushing myself, and getting through it.
P-C: Do you have a dream collaborator for both music and film/tv?
MDK: My dream collaboration in music would be a song with Michael Jackson, 2 PAC, Drake, Kendrick, Lauryn Hill and Kanye with Pharrell producing the song. I know that would be crazy [laughs]. For film, I mean, I’ve gotten the chance to have worked with some great people already. There are definitely more people I look up too. My dream collaborations in the film industry would be working with Martin Scorsese and directors of that stature. I’d also work with Leonardo DiCaprio or Samuel Jackson.
P-C: You’ve basically grown up in the industry. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
MDK: To believe in yourself and stay persistent. Perfect your craft, and learn how to use constructive criticism to your advantage.
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
Your guilty pleasure TV show?
Family guy or Narcos or Wild ‘n Out with Nick Cannon
Right now, Get Out until Detroit drops [laughs]; Friday is a classic and Scarface; I love Man of Fire.
The 48 Laws of Power
Go-to karaoke song (or shower song)?
Future, “March Madness,” or “In Da Club,” 50 Cent
I can swim like Michael Phelps [laughs].