inBlack: Interview With Actor Malik Yoba

Best known for his roles in the Disney classic, “Cool Runnings” as well at the hit Fox television series “New York Undercover” and most recently the Tyler Perry film “Why Did I Get Married?”, Malik Yoba once again proves to the world that he is just more than an actor. With a background as a producer, director, musician, activist, educator, inspirational speaker, playwright, entrepreneur and author, this New York native has become a positive success story and an example to others by showing that the same inner city streets that breed hatred and violence can give birth to successful stardom. The Yoba that people know as “Gavin” is reprising his role as a devoted husband opposite Janet Jackson in Tyler Perry’s, “Why Did I Get Married 2” in theaters February 2010.

Singersroom: Can you tell us more about your philanthropic work teaching kids leadership skills?

Malik Yoba: My philanthropic work really started as a kid. Really as a kid I was raised to take care of those around you, so growing up in a family with six kids, my parents always stressed taking care of each other and beyond the family it was about taking care of the community. So I was raised with a sense of community service. So whether it was walking in the hallway of the building were we live, my father saying pick up a piece of paper we see on the ground. “[I said] I didn’t put that there, he said well you live there pick it up.” So you know to helping out neighbors, delivering newspapers to elderly people, that kind of stuff. And I believe in raising kids that way, I also think that when you selflessly serve other people then you’re really taking care of yourself. But there are many people who don’t see it that way. They are so concerned about their own well being and their own survival, that its hard to think about how you gonna take care of somebody else.

Singersroom: You’re pretty smart Malik, you became Vice President of the City Kids Foundation, a NYC based youth leadership organization, in your early twenties if I am not mistaken?

Malik Yoba: Yeah I was 23 years-old.

Singersroom: That’s kind of young to have such big responsibilities?

Malik Yoba: I thought so too when I was asked to be the Vice-President. I was actually nervous and didn’t think that I deserve it cuz I thought I was too young. But then I thought [that] if I worked at a corporation like IBM [and] they asked me to be a Vice-President, I would probably say absolutely. So I kind of allowed my insecurities to get out the way and begin to think about the fact that it was a blessing that I was asked to do that at such an early age. I am glad I did because I got a chance to do that stuff before my career as an actor took off. So I feel like, you know I actually had a few different careers at this point.

Singersroom: Did you attend college?

Malik Yoba: I never matriculated; I never was in a degree program but I did take classes at Parsons. I took classes at FIT (Fashion Institute and Technology). I took classes at BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community College) so you know the irony is that I never really wanted to go to college in a traditional sense. Especially right after high school mainly because when I was in high school I hung out with a lot of kids at NYU. I went to school in the Village near NYU and I was hanging with a lot of those kids that were hanging out too. And they were not as focus on their school work as they should have been and I felt like, had I gone to college at that age I would have flunked.

Singersroom: Your philanthropic work took you to South Africa; can you tell us more about it?

Malik Yoba: Well it actually took me to Ethiopia. I was working with a friend of mine building a school in Ethiopia, so she started something called the Ethiopian Children’s Funds. We started doing fashion shows here in the States to raise money and awareness about what she was doing in Africa. And then I [made] a trip to Ethiopia to visit the site where the school will be and to try to help her identify some other financial resources and then on that same trip I went to South Africa. Unfortunately I haven’t been back and this was in 1996 so it has been a long time. I have been invited back a few times but I haven’t had a chance to go back there. In South Africa I did more community work. I went to Johannesburg; I went to visit schools and talk to the kids. I was actually at the time writing a book and it was actually never published …so I was in Soweto, I was in Carnation, I was in Cape Town, I was in a lot of the ghettos around South Africa and talking to a lot of young people there just about what their daily life was like.

Singersroom: You played Brock Harris, on the UPN sitcom Girlfriends. How did you get that part?

Malik Yoba: The producer of the show asked me to do it. Originally I wrote a character name Malik and they asked me to be in the show [for] one season and I wasn’t able to be in that season so they then brought me back for the next season and I did it then.

Singersroom: So you were supposed to do one season and you ended up doing two, right?

Malik Yoba: I did like from 2003-2005.

Singersroom: How was like it working with Tracy Ellis Ross and the other actresses?

Malik Yoba: It was good, it was a good show. It was a lot of fun. It’s like doing theater because you have a live audience. But I knew Tracy, I had gone on a date with [her] years ago. Long before the show started, so it was like a little bit of a reunion, you know.

Malik YobaSingersroom: Currently you co-star as astronaut Ted Shaw on the futuristic ABC drama Defying Gravity. What’s so particular about that role?

Malik Yoba: I read the script and I just thought that it was really well written and I have never done anything Sci-Fi. I think most little boys at some point, probably little girls too look up at the stars at night and wonder what’s in outer space.

Singersroom: Despite the struggles of being an actor how do you keep your career alive?

Malik Yoba: To the grace of God.

Singersroom: Do you pray?

Malik Yoba: Absolutely, I think in general regardless of what your faith is, if you focus on just being an actor it can be a very frustrating journey. If you’re just an actor then you’re always waiting for the phone to ring for someone to give you a job. But if you think of yourself as an entrepreneur, as a business person, it will lead itself to producing, to writing, to directing, to ownership and hopefully you’re interested in other things too. I owned a restaurant for nine years, I have a theater company, I have produced plays…I do music; I am working on an album so I am always thinking about what else I can be doing as suppose to sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. On top of all that I really think that God got a plan for my life, so I just continue to stay humble and grateful and it keeps going my way.

Singersroom: Besides being an actor you are also a singer, when did you realize that you had a passion for music?

Malik Yoba: well I always loved music and playing instruments. I sit here and write a song and sing it. I suppose I can do that as an actor sit here and recite a monologue but it’s not the same kind of freedom. I was actually pursuing music and qcting but my acting career kind of happen when I went to an open call, then I ended up getting the role which lead to New York Undercover, which lead to me having a career.

Singersroom: You have a song entitled “Mistakes,” what’s the inspiration behind it?

Malik Yoba: Nothing, I wrote that song when I was like 20 years-old. The inspiration for that song was my friend showed me some cords on the guitar and I was playing, messing around and baby I am sorry came out of my mouth. It has nothing to do with a person.

Singersroom: Do you think that you made a lot of mistakes in your life?

Malik Yoba: Absolutely and I am all about correcting them now. Yeah we make mistakes all the time.

Singersroom: Do you have any regrets?

Malik Yoba: No, definitely certain things are harder to accept than other things but I don’t regret them. Actually that song was not called “Mistakes” it was called “Baby I am sorry,” which I guess could be the same thing. I submitted it for a play that I was doing and when I recorded it, the producer submitted it as “Mistakes.”

Singersroom: Have you ever recorded any albums?

Malik Yoba: [“Mistakes”] was actually on an album.

Singersroom: What year was that?

Malik Yoba: 2000 …definitely a couple of albums but never with any major distribution. I wrote a song on the “Cool Runnings” Soundtrack, In 2004 I executive produced an album for a musical I wrote called “Acoustic Chocolate” and I have been recording my album since January of this year.

Singersroom: Any particular producers that you’re working with on that album?

Malik Yoba: A group of producers in LA, they call themselves Basic Apes, we’re probably about halfway done. We’ve been recording music for my show called “Harlem to Hollywood,” which is a musical biography of my life. So I have been recording music for that and “Mistakes” will actually be on that album and there will be different styles.

Singersroom: Let’s talk about “Why Did I Get Married” and working with Tyler Perry?

Malik yoba; Tyler makes life pretty easy, generally it is a phone call that says do you want to work. Sometimes Hollywood people still want you to audition …one thing I like about Tyler is that he respects the experience and the pedigree of people who’ve been around. So it doesn’t require you to add a certain level, to do too much [just] to be in his movies.

Singersroom: Are there any similarities between you and Gavin?

Malik Yoba: Not really but we just finished [“Why did I Get Married”] part 2, which has even more for my character to do. But the thing that I was really interested particularly in the second one was portraying the vulnerability of black men, which you will see a lot in the film. In fact I haven’t really seen the film where you see someone who’s so vulnerable, so in love with his woman but not able to connect with her at the level, he would like to. That was very, very attractive to me because I just thing that it’s important to show that…Tyler, gives you a broad highlight, this is kind of what I want.

Singerroom: What was is like playing opposite Janet Jackson?

Malik Yoba: Well working with Janet means they [would] like for you to sign a confidentiality agreement. You know but it was a good experience.
—— By: Valerie Varasse


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