Mahershala Ali Just Joined the MCU — But It’s Not His First Marvel Gig

Mahershala Ali has gone from a hard-working bit actor to one of the hottest commodities in show business in just a few short years.

The Moonlight and Green Book actor has become a leading man in some of the last few years’ biggest movies.

The best portrait of this, however, might be his involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ali was already in the hit series Luke Cage, which takes place in the MCU. However, after he won his second Oscar, he leveraged it to get a more substantial role. 

Mahershala Ali’s rise to fame

Ali got his screen debut on the hit series Crossing Jordan in 2001. This was the perfect jump-off point to a star-studded career. After his arc on the series ended, he made his way to several other television series, from Threat Matrix to The 4400. His most significant break, however, came in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. From there, the roles got even more prominent. 

Ali appeared in hit films such as Predators and The Place Beyond the Pines. His name was starting to get notice thanks to his work on big screens and small ones alike. In 2013, he got the role of Remy Danton on Netflix’s tentpole series House of Cards. It was with the 2016 film Moonlight that changed everything, however.

As the mentor to the film’s protagonist, Juan, Ali only had a little bit of screen time, but he put the acting world on notice, nonetheless. 

It premiered right before his supporting role on Luke Cage and several other high-profile gigs. He followed up this success with another Oscar-winning performance in Green Book and a much-lauded season of True Detective. With more power at his disposal, Ali raised his status at Marvel by proposing a new Blade movie to Marvel, starring himself. Marvel accepted.

Ali isn’t the first actor to appear in multiple Marvel properties as different characters, but he is the highest-profile case. 

Mahershala Ali in ‘Luke Cage’

Mahershala Ali
Mahershala Ali | FilmMagic/FilmMagic for HBO

RELATED: The Scariest Villain In ‘Luke Cage’ Season 2 Isn’t Who You Think

Luke Cage played the main villain in the series Luke Cage. Filming just around the time Ali had a significant rise to prominence, the series let him shine in a smaller role. Cornell Stokes, the crime lord whose reign of terror on Harlem helped to rip apart the streets, was a different kind of villain than those typically seen in the MCU. 

Throughout the series, King allowed his greed to rip apart Harlem’s streets until his cousin, Mariah Dillard, breaks a bottle over his head and throws him out a window. Ali got critical acclaim for the series, which benefitted greatly from his rising star power.

However, with Cornell’s reign of terror over, the MCU missed out on the opportunity of utilizing an Oscar-winning actor at a greater capacity. 

Now, with Blade, they can finally get their wish. 

Mahershala Ali in ‘Blade’

Blade has precedent before the MCU. Wesley Snipes played the Marvel vampire slayer in a trilogy of films in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, while the films were hits, they were less Iron Man and more Bram Stoker meets the Matrix. Ali spoke to the Indian Express about taking inspiration from Snipes as he lobbied for the role. 

“[My desire to play Blade was] married with being so inspired by Wesley Snipes’ work and what he had done. And how much had changed since his iteration of Blade, and how that had really sort of ushered in this era of Marvel and DC, sort of like comic book stuff. Since they were having conversations about bringing it back into being, I just wanted to be considered for it because I had definitely a connection, at least in my mind, to Wesley Snipes going back to high school.”

Little is known about the direction the series will take. However, by casting Ali as the title role, Marvel could find itself in a unique opportunity to find a way to take the grit and grime of the Netflix Marvel universe and make it accessible like its theatrical side.

Whatever the case may be, they have a two-time Oscar-winner behind the role and an ample opportunity to do something different than they ever have before in the process.