We were introduced Malik Yoba as a Jamaican with a dream in the 1993 film, Cool Runnings and his roles have always challenged the norm, diversifying the face of television, like his ground-breaking role, J.C. Williams on New York Undercover (1994-1998). Yoba says, “We can’t keep talking about the opportunities we don’t have if we don’t work really hard to create our own luck,” and for the past 20 years he’s been carving his own path, as an actor, director and singer. Yoba has followed the excellent advice given to him by his father,”Build your own generator so when they turn off the power you still have light.”
Most recently, we’ve been watching Yoba in Syfy’s Alphas as Bill Harken, a former FBI agent turned Department of Defense field leader with hyper-adrenal powers. Last season Harken spent much of the season butting heads with Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn) to try and legitimize the team and move it beyond a grass roots operation. This season, Harken has his own set of issues with Rosen going public about the existence of alphas and has begun tapping the potential of his power going to underground fight clubs and experimenting with newest Alpha member, Cat (Erin Way).
We caught up with Yoba who is working on his own film, What’s on the Hearts of Men and is working towards directing Alphas should the series make it to a third season.
Will there be an evolution of powers, or new abilities for Bill this season?
Malik Yoba: Definitely an evolution, I think the idea that it’s an evolution–It’s an interesting thing when you do a show with these abilities because I think that careful consideration has to be given to like how we actually treat it so that we can be consistent. And so you talk about evolution or a different ability, that’s an interesting concept that we play with, “How does this evolve?”
In Season 1, we work with Dr. Rosen who helps us understand who we are and how we are and why we have these abilities. And so if there’s a downside to them, how do we manage that? I think in working to manage the downside, the ability shifts a bit, and so you’ll definitely see that in Season 2, yes.
Bill has this buddy or paternal relationship with Gary (Ryan Cartwright) and you’ve said that Bill and the new character, Cat has a similar relationship that pays off by the end of this season. He’s like the father of the group. What about the subplot of Bill and his wife wanting to have children; does that come up again?
MY: She has an affair with another alpha woman. You heard it here first.
MY: Oh is that a spoiler, I hate when I do that. No we just actually shot a scene the other day. So the baby issue definitely continues and is dealt with in an interesting way. I’ll say that.
One last question then about the diversity of the cast, it’s not only refreshing to see the Alphas cast comprised the way that it is, but they’re not necessarily limited by just what makes them different.
MY: That’s right.
Was that important for you coming onto this project, that Bill wasn’t going to be a token character or something like that?
MY: Well the irony is Bill was (originally) written as a white dude with an Asian wife. So when we did the pilot, there were still stage directions that talked about a white guy with his cheeks reddened and I told them to leave it because I thought it was kind of funny. [Laughs]
But I think that’s important. I think that that’s definitely something that I’ve talked about. I actually just wrote an email to (showrunner) Bruce Miller this morning about how we use music, using diverse kind of music, for instance (Beanie Man) as a huge reggae artist who is also a huge fan of the show. So how we can use music to expand the audience? the diverse audiences that will come to a show like this, that I think people who aren’t necessarily sci-fi fans would enjoy.
It’s important in the casting. I was very happy to see that by the like fourth or fifth episode of this season we have more diversity in casting than we did the entire last season. And those are things that everybody, you know, from Bruce on down, obviously is giving consideration to.
So the thing I also love is that we never deal with race; it’s Alphas or non-Alphas, good Alphas, bad. You know, that’s very refreshing to work in television and not have to deal with that. We don’t even discuss it as a group; it just never comes up.
I am often the only black dude on set, but I don’t think about it, I don’t feel it, we don’t talk – you know it’s – and not out of like no one’s aware but – we are but, what I like is that were professionals and people who care about a particular product and project. And so we work really well collaboratively to make the best show possible where that really never comes up, so that’s interesting in and of itself.
If anyone brings it up it’s me, and only to the extent that, like the wife, I thought she should have remained Asian. Every time I’ve actually had an opportunity to have an Asian woman as a character in a movie or a TV show there’s some reason why they couldn’t find one. I’m like, “That’s ridiculous.”
Not that I’m trying to not have black women work, but I just think that in general. I’m directing a film right now, and I’m very conscious of showing the world I live in – that’s important to me, that we live in a diverse society. I think that television and mass media definitely has a great responsibility in presenting the whole story, which we don’t always do.
It’s very noticeable with you, Mahershallalhashbaz Ali and Azita Ghanizada in the main cast, it is refreshing to see a show not needing to throw the race issue always out there.
MY: Yes man, definitely, and I think science fiction in general tends to do that, but thanks for noticing.
Thank you, Malik!
Catch the second season of Alphas Monday nights on Syfy at 8PM and 10PM.