Sorry to be a killjoy, but Michael Ealy isn’t the steely, bad boy of your fantasies. In fact, the blue-eyed thespian who stole our breath as Eve’s nemesis turned lover in the “Barbershop” movies, and caught Halle Berry’s eye on and off the screen as Tea Cake in the TV adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” is a self-professed square. It’s even harder to believe when witnessing Ealy’s posture as the streetwise, gold-toothed, sly Sergeant Bishop Cummings in Spike Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna,” opening September 26. The Golden Globe-nominated actor, who’s been on a four-year hiatus from the big screen, opens up to ESSENCE.com about what food must-have he picked up in Italy, the irony of his reputation, and why he has Black women to thank for his success.
ESSENCE.COM: “Miracle at St. Anna” has so many layers with racism, war, and personality complexities. What was the scene that impacted you the most?
MICHAEL EALY: Definitely the first day of shooting. It was the first time that all the guys had on the uniforms, the guns, clips and everything. It was more than 100 buffalo soldiers all dressed up and in formation. It was beautiful. Spike pulled up and got out of the jeep and surveyed all of us. We were standing there on Italian soil— the same river where the real veterans fought—ready to film, but it felt like we were about to really go into battle. It was the fondest memory I have standing next to Omar [Benson Miller], Derek [Luke] and Laz [Alonso] like, We the chosen few, baby. This is so special.
ESSENCE.COM: You’ve played steely roles in the “Barbershop” movies and “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” And now in this film you’re a gold tooth-wearing firecracker. Are you ever concerned about getting typecast?
EALY: If I get typecast to play those types of parts, it’s ironic in itself because I didn’t grow up that way. I’m much more of a square than these guys. I’m sure there’s a little bit of it in me somewhere to pull it off.
ESSENCE.COM: In this film you are the only one who gets a love scene, so the ladies definitely want to know what’s up with your offscreen love life. Any older women in your life?
EALY: (Laughs) To be honest, I’m just really focused right now. You know, I’ve been off the big screen for four years, so to come back and do a Spike Lee movie, that’s a big return. I grew up over that time. I will say one of the things that I genuinely love about Black women is that they genuinely seem to love me. Everywhere I go, the love that I get from Black women is amazing. It’s special and I wouldn’t be where I am without it.
ESSENCE.COM: That’s what we like to hear. This film was taped half way across the world. How was it filming in Italy?
EALY: It’s hard to call it work. It was beautiful. There are so many other guys who could have been right for these roles, so it’s such a blessing. It felt like we were stealing Italy. It was absolutely stunning. I didn’t know you could put rice in soup and it would be good. Little things like that. I can’t eat soup now without rice in it. Gotta have soup with rice and bread now (laughs).
ESSENCE.COM: You started off on the stage. What’s the best advantage of film, and would you ever think about returning to the stage?
EALY: Film offers the ability to review your work and hopefully get better. If I were to look at “Barbershop” now, I’d probably do some things differently. I do think about going back to the stage all the time. I’d like to introduce a new character. I’d like to meet the next Lorraine Hansberry and play the next Walter Lee for 2008. That’s honestly the next dream. I’d like to introduce a new character that people will be talking about 50 or 60 years from now.