Malik Yoba is a pillar in the entertainment industry. From his breakout role on the ’90s FOX TV cop drama New York Undercover to his most recent role on ABC’s Designated Survivor, the Bronx native is no stranger to thought-provoking projects and provocative story lines.
The three time NAACP Image Award winner’s latest role in the upcoming psychological thriller ‘Til Death Do Us Part is will tackle something else entirely — domestic violence and how men deal with their emotions. The film follows newlyweds Michael (Stephen Bishop) and Madison Roland (Annie Ilonzeh) whose seemingly perfect marriage shatters when Michael’s behavior turns volatile. Though Madison is able to escape— even adopting a new identity, Michael refuses to let her go. In the film, Yoba stars as the couple’s friend Rob who realizes something isn’t quite right.
Ahead of the film’s release, Shadow and Act’s Aramide Tinubu sat down to chat with Yoba about his role, why he was moved to be a part of this film and his one man show which will debut at the legendary Apollo Theater in 2018.
Aramide Tinubu: You’ve worked on everything from Designated Survivor to Empire. What was it about ‘Til Death Do Us Part that prompted you to get on board?
Malik Yoba: It’s always nice when you see an email in your inbox that says “offer,” then you read the email and go, “Oh, okay. Who’s doing it, what’s it about?” So, that’s usually how it goes. I looked at the material, subject matter and saw that it was something I actually care about. I thought it was a good little script. It’s not groundbreaking in terms of subject matter—I think we’ve seen similar stories like this, but the way that it’s executed I thought was a little bit different. I also saw who was in it [and] who was doing it.
AT: With the film coming out just ahead of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, why do you think it’s so important for the Black community to see this particular type of film?
MY: I think any time you have any kind of social ill, not just domestic violence…as much as it’s about the act, the obvious theme of domestic violence, it’s also about how men deal with their emotions. It’s not just like who gets brutalized; sometimes it’s women that are abusing men, too. I think it’s just an opportunity for us to look at ourselves. How do we treat each other? Why do we treat each other that way? My character in the film is the only one that really checks Stephen Bishop’s character Michael on his behavior. That was important. It was important to be able to be that voice of reason. Michael asks [my character] Rob to find his wife when she runs away, and he’s not just gonna be complicit in this behavior. I think it was a line we just added, where he says, “Look man, you really need to go get some help.” As opposed to just agreeing to go find this woman.
AT: Why is it important for men to have these conversations with one another and to address volatile behavior?
MY: The answer to the question is, you know, I’m in the give-a-f*ck business. Recently on The Breakfast Club [Lil Duval] was on there talking about, you know, “Man, if I was dating a girl and I found out she wasn’t born, you know, female, she’s about to die.” Two of my friends who are transgender both sent that article to me. I forget what the numbers are but over the last few years, at least 30 people are murdered every year for that same reason. Men [won’t] check themselves, and other men will cosign it. We all need to be engaged and employed in the give-a-f*ck business because you just have to care about people. I think that that starts with also just caring about yourself. If you love yourself, if you truly love yourself, then you’ll see other people in yourself, and you won’t behave that way. I’ve also been doing work with Safe Horizons, which is one of the largest domestic violence support programs in the country. They started an initiative for men who have been victims of trauma especially for Black men, and men of color in general. Particularly people in impoverished communities that grow up with all kinds of trauma just walking down the street, with the dudes looking at you a certain way [and] you gotta fight your way to get to school or get home. It’s just growing up, that’s just part of it. A lot of times, we don’t seek the help. If you come from a family where you might have been abused, a lot of times, particularly with males— regardless of what the ethnic background is there’s a sense of like “Just keep it moving.”
AT: ‘Til Death Do Us Part has some very intense moments, specifically between Stephen and Annie’s characters. How were you all able to create a safe environment while still discussing and acting out issues of domestic violence?
MY: I wasn’t on the set when they were doing their scenes, but, in general, Chris [Stokes] and the whole team, the whole production team, created a very supportive environment to work in. Everybody was just there to do their best. If you had good ideas, Chris was very open. Like “Yeah, let’s try that.” That’s always good, that you can have a director that works that way. Everything isn’t so precious, that they’re open to other ideas.
AT: ‘Til Death Do Us Part premieres Sept. 29. What’s next for you?
MY: Well, I’m on my way to Korea to do an action film that is very much reflective of exactly what’s going on in the country, in the world right now. Right now the film is called Private Military Company, but I’m sure that will change. We are a private military company hired by the CIA to go into North Korea to kidnap the general and bring him over the border. We end up grabbing the president as well, and all hell breaks loose—World War III ensues. I did the Netflix show called Seven Seconds with Regina King. I’m doing The Last O.G. with Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer and Tiffany Haddish. Then there’s a film, I think they’re calling it It Was God’s Plan. It’s a film for Lifetime. Toni Braxton plays a woman who was a school teacher that thwarted a mass murder. It happened in Atlanta a couple years ago. I play the Sargent—the Lieutenant that’s the hostage negotiator. So, there’s about five or six things coming out.
AT: You’re incredibly busy then.
MY: Yes! Also on Oct. 15, 2018, my one-man show, Harlem to Hollywood will premiere at the Apollo Theater. So I’m excited about that as well.
‘Til Death Do Us Part premieres in theaters Sept. 29