How they got their start: Mahershala Ali

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: January 22, 2019, 4:22PM

One of today's most Oscar buzzworthy actors remains Mahershala Ali. He took home the prize for Best Supporting Actor in Moonlight in 2017 and this year is up in the same category for his work in Green Book. He's never been in a bad movie, from his first bit part in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to playing second in command to the President in Hunger Games: Mockingjay.

But arguably, TV fans know the actor much better. Perhaps you caught Ali as Frank Underwood's Chief of Staff on House of Cards, or the notorious gangster Cornell Stokes in the Marvel series Luke Cage. Netflix loves the actor as much as HBO, who just debuted the actor as the new lead in True Detective. Some of Ali's best character work has been done on today's most popular shows, but it was Crossing Jordan that introduced the actor to the world less than 20 years ago, when Ali's acting career first began.

Ali was studying at a university in California on a basketball scholarship when he noticed that athletes aren't treated that great. He decided to change lanes and got cast in his first stage play. From there, he got bit by the acting bug, earning his MFA in acting from New York University in 2000. Fresh out of school, the actor was looking for work, and it was at this particular crossroads when he found Crossing Jordan.

As Ali told Interview Magazine, "I moved to Los Angeles because New York was cold and it was really too quiet for me at that time. I was out of school; I was hungry. The auditions were trickling in and I was antsy and ready to go." He continued, "And in a couple of months I ended up booking a pilot. That’s how I really found myself in television. I ended up on a show called Crossing Jordan, and I did 19 episodes in the first season. That really is the start of my journey working professionally."

On Crossing Jordan, Ali played Dr. Trey Sanders, a by-the-book medical examiner who was working on a grant and occasionally clashed with series star Jordan Cavanaugh, but mostly was eager to be part of the action. At times, the character added humor, and though the character exits the show without much fanfare, Ali's early performance is a highlight of the show's first season for fans.

Once Ali left Crossing Jordan, he appeared on other crime dramas, including NYPD Blue and CSI, then spent the mid- to late 2000s on the casts of the shows Threat Matrix and The 4400, as well as in recurring roles on Treme and Alphas. At this stage of his career, though, the actor has decidedly shifted his priorities to embrace the big screen, only agreeing to do Luke Cage if they made time for him to do Moonlight. As one of the best actors working today, we're hoping he keeps making time for both.

Watch Crossing Jordan on Start TV


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