“When suddenly you go from being followed in Barneys to being fawned over, it will mess with your head,” Mahershala Ali candidly reveals in GQ’s July 2017 issue. The Oscar winner, who was named Best Supporting Actor for his role in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, remembers being on subway trains and seeing people hide their rings from him. “Those experiences that you have from age 10, when you start getting these little messages that you are something to be feared.”

Ali has used those incidents to inform his characters, from Jim Johnson in Hidden Figures to Cottonmouth in Luke Cage. “I think I identify with characters who have to make themselves smaller. Because that’s been my experience, as a large black man, to make people feel safer. Just because I always found witnessing other people’s discomfort made me uncomfortable,” Ali admits. “And at the end of the day, it’s a lot of B.S., too. Sometimes you gotta be like, ‘Eff that.'”

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