For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed actor-producer Merrick McCartha. He is an active member of the Road Theatre Company in Los Angeles. On television, He has a recurring role as Robert Hicks, on the CW network’s All American. He also had roles on This Is Us, Scandal, Criminal Minds, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Orville, Lethal Weapon, Get Shorty, and many more. His short film, Ira Aldridge about the first black actor to play Othello in London, is currently on the film festival circuit. To learn more about it click Here
Q. What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
I did a short film called Ira Aldridge about the first black actor to perform Othello on a London stage. It’s doing well on the film festival circuit and I’m hoping it gains some interest in making it into a full feature. It’s directed by my dear friend Allan Wasserman and filmed by my wife Peggy. We shot it during the pandemic, just the three of us, around the streets of Los Angeles. I’m also currently a recurring character on the show All American on the CW Network; I play Robert Hicks. The role is that of the wealthy and kind-hearted father of Simone Hicks, who is a main character in the show who gets pregnant in high school. Robert is the loving, empathetic father who is always there to console her and be the person she can confide in about her feelings. Though his wife, her mom, can be a bit overbearing and somewhat snobby, Robert is the counter-balance to that dynamic.
Q. What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
I wanted to do this role to show what isn’t always shown in TV dramas about black families. I grew up in Detroit around a broad spectrum of families on the socio-economic scale. I was also excited to work on such a successful show that transcends race.
Q. In this current time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what do you believe your role is in this moment?
I’ve learned that being a public figure means being responsible and setting an example. Our world is changing so quickly and I always try to encourage people to stay positive and grateful, and to remember that we’re all in this together.
Q. Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
I’m so thankful to have grown up watching the greats like Cicely Tyson, Sidney Poitier, Robert Guillaume, and James Earl Jones. These days, I’m always studying acting icons like Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Viola Davis, Benedict Cumberbach, Martin Freeman, and Angela Bassett. These amazing artists are who I like to watch and learn what it means to be fully exposed as an actor. Being that fearless, as they are, is what I aspire to always bring to my work. Fearless honesty.
Q. What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
I think about my loving family, my friends, and even strangers I meet on the street. I make an effort to connect with people on a deep level. This puts me more in touch with myself, my life experience. As an artist, this keeps me motivated and excited to discover more about myself, and this gives me more to bring to my work.
Q. What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I did a fun role on the season 11 premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David and JB Smoove that airs at the end of October. There were literally no scripted lines, we just had fun. Those guys are the comedic giants! I also am in the new Rebel Wilson feature Netflix original, Senior Year, which stars other greats like Alicia Silverstone, Justin Hartley, and Angourie Rice. It’s a fun comedy about a cheerleader’s life-changing experience in high school, where I am the Principal of said high school.
Q. What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
I was on the show 9-1-1 last summer for their season finale.
My first day on set was a dramatic scene with Dawnn Lewis and Angela Bassett. It was a short scene that day, but by around the second camera angle change, I was in full awareness of how mindblowing it was to be acting with these two immensely talented goddesses of stage and screen. It was a serious struggle to not break down in tears I felt so grateful.
Q. If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
Producing films of stories centering around women and/or people of color around the world. I’m a firm believer that seeing people that look like ourselves in film and television has an empowering effect on the human mind, and perhaps well being.
Q. What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
Learning the business! As an actor, there are several ways for you to learn and grow in your craft. There are tons of acting teachers and schools in LA. There is no school called The Business of Acting. So many actors fail because they start out with such passion only to be crushed by the realities of the business. I was quite lucky to find people early on in my pursuit to help me overcome this.
Q. What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
Meditation, music, and dancing. Generally, I like to do things that bring out deep feelings that don’t usually surface during the normal course of my day.
Q. If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
Fear. It’s always been the thing to overcome when I want to achieve something.
Q. What is your favorite piece of art?
It depends on the form. If you are talking about paintings, it might be Radium 23 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. If you are talking about photography, it might be ‘Ali standing over Liston by John Rooney. If you are talking about film, it might be Ocean’s 11 by Steven Soderbergh. I have several favorites in different forms, too many to list.
Q. What person do you most admire, living or dead?
I don’t think there’s really a way for me to assign this to one person. Several people have inspired me to be better than who I was before but each in different ways. For example, James Baldwin for being an outspoken activist and civil rights leader.
Q. If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
I would be happiest to be known as a man who inspired greatness in others. Not just as actors, but as human beings. I hope to live a full enough life to have parts of it inspire as many people as possible. I guess the answer to your question is, I don’t want to be known or celebrated for just one thing.
Q. If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q. What is your guilty pleasure?
Since I was a kid growing up in Detroit, I’ve always loved those poorly dubbed, yet action-packed, kung fu movies. I still watch them sometimes when no one’s around.
Q. If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
I’d say, “Dude…stop worrying so much, be grateful for what you have, start speaking in the affirmative, focus on what you can control, and everything will be all right.”
Q. Where would you most like to live?
I actually love Los Angeles. I know it gets a bad rap, but everything I want in a home base is here. Europe, Asia, and South America are great places to visit and explore, but I’m happiest living in Los Angeles.
Q. What is your idea of success?
Professionally, being able to choose the projects I’d like to be a part of or having a body of work that is strong enough where I am offered great roles consistently and frequently. Personally, having a happy and loving relationship with my wife and family, which I already have.
Q. What is your idea of happiness?
Being happy is about being grateful and having trust in yourself and others around you. Joy and laughter are a part of happiness, yes, but it’s a bit deeper than that.
Q. Final Thoughts?
Everyone has times of struggle. Perhaps not financially, nor with relationships, but it happens to all of us at some point. I’ve come this far using one foundational principle: If ‘they’ can achieve it, so can I. Never presume that because someone has achieved something it’s because they had it easy. Never presume that because you don’t have it easy, you can’t achieve something.
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