Mark McKinnon chatted to Courageous Nerd about recent projects The Available Wife and The Waiting Room, working with KJ Smith, how his acting career first began and so much more.
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Mark McKinnon (MM): I’m honoured, man. Really honoured to be here, and chat it up with you.
You’ve been an actor for several years, with appearances in film and television. However, I understand that football was your first passion. What prompted the change in direction?
MM: For me, it started off when I got accepted into Howard University. That was the one football school that did not offer me a scholarship. They had a really really good Theatre Arts programme, especially for black actors. So, when I got to audition for the Theatre Arts programme, unfortunately they were like, “Well, we can’t have athletes in our programme, because the schedules don’t mix.” I said, “Well, I’m going to make it work. I want to do both, I love football but I love acting as well.”
What I decided to do was tell them that I’d put football to the side, because they would not let me audition if I was going to play football. I focused on acting and got into the programme. I also walked up to the football team. What happens when you have a 5am practice with the football team that doesn’t go well? They ask you to come back again and I already had a schedule set up, a rehearsal for the Theatre Arts programme. That’s where I really started to feel that friction. So, I had to make a tough decision and say: “You know what? I could see myself in a longer career with acting than I could football.” My gut told me to stick with acting and I’m glad I made that decision.
Some of your recurring television roles include Blue Bloods and FBI. Do you always know when you’ve landed a multi-episode arc, or is it ever a surprise that unfolds?
MM: It unfolds. Even like my role on Blue Bloods, that was supposed to be one episode and one scene. Every year, they just kept bringing me back. Every time they renewed, it was like: “Okay, we’re going to bring Mark back, as Officer Miller.” They already reached out to my team about bringing me back on for this new season they’re doing. I know things have been kind of different due to COVID, but we’re still making things happen.
You recently appeared as “Derik Dubois” in The Waiting Room, a film produced by BET Her. How did you become involved this project? How would you describe it to anyone who is unfamiliar?
MM: Absolutely. Derik Dubois in The Waiting Room, I first heard about it because I was actually in the middle of casting two other BET films. BET Her and BET teamed up together for an imitative on breast cancer awareness. I was blessed to cast two of those films on mental health. When the team got together to start casting their breast cancer one, they were looking for actors… my name came across the table. I auditioned for it, had a couple of call backs. After a while, they said; “the director loves you, the producer loves you, we want to bring you on as Derik.”
I was really excited because Sheryl Lee Ralph was the director. That’s someone who I definitely respect, her career is amazing. She did Broadway a lot, but also TV as well. To be able to work under somebody like her and learn from her, she was amazing. BET and BET Her did a phenomenal job of having this initiative to really educate the black community on breast cancer awareness and things that you should be doing to keep yourself healthy. To be a part of something like that was a lot for my career because I wanted to not only entertain, but make an impact on my community.
Another recent project is The Available Wife, directed by Jamal Hill and starring Sistas’ KJ Smith. What can you tell us about that project?
MM: I play an executive of a multi-million dollar record label, that was owned by KJ Smith’s character. I had a lot of fun playing that, because I was able to play the music game a little bit, learn about the music business. It was good to see how we brought in music artists. I worked with Terayle Hill as well, who played one of the artists. Kingston was his character’s name. These are two actors who I really look up to and to this day, we keep in touch daily. It was a really good, family-like atmosphere on that set.
The Available Wife was selected for the 2020 American Black Film Festival. What did that accomplishment mean to you and the rest of the creative team involved?
MM: I remember two years ago, now three, I had gone to the American Black Film Festival, just to support some actor friends who were in some projects there. When I got there, I was like: “It would be great to one day have a project in the American Black Film Festival.” I had a great time there, met a lot of people… fast forward to two years later, where I’m now in a supporting role of a film in the festival. Unfortunately, it had to be virtual this time so I wasn’t going to be in Miami. I wanted to, but it was great to just be a part of something that got a lot of respect like that. It actually won Best Narrative Future at the film festival.
Aside from being an actor, you also founded the McKinnon Acting Studio. How would you describe your accomplishments with this endeavour?
MM: Oh man, I’m glad I did. Number one, I’m a man of purpose. To be able to use my passion of acting to help other people and their skills… as I’m learning, they’re learning. To see these people, these actors, these clients, get onto TV shows – one of my clients just booked a series regular on a big HBO series. It’s just great to see people from my area, from the town I grew up in, making it in LA and New York. I learned a lot along the way. There’s no better feeling than knowing someone else is fulfilling their purpose and passion, because of the seed I planted years ago.
If anyone wanted to find out more about your work or you personally, where could they look?
MM: You can check out my Acting Studio at : mckinnonactingstudio.com. If you want to follow my personal journey, go to themarkmckinnon.com. I’m on Instagram, @TheMarkMcKinnon and I’m on Facebook as well.
What are you hoping to accomplish in 2021?
MM: I’m really looking forward to building my career a little bit more on TV. I had a good start in television, then got into more films. Now, I want to rebuild my career back in television again. I know it’s been tricky because of COVID, but I’m really looking forward to that. For my studio, I’m looking forward to taking it to new heights. We’re virtual now, but that doesn’t stop the progress that we’ve already been making. Those are the things I’m looking forward to the most.