We first noticed Ealy as the braided-hair bad boy Ricky in Barbershop.
It’s hard not to stare at actor Michael Ealy. After all, the brother has a captivating set of blue eyes and he’s damn sexy. We first saw him playing the braided-hair bad boy Ricky in Barbershop. Then last summer he flexed his driving muscles in 2 Fast, 2 Furious. Up next is the thriller November with Courteney Cox Arquette, the comedy–drama sequel Barbershop 2 with Ice Cube, and the drug-world drama Never Die Alone with DMX. We recently caught up with Ealy, who had literary aspirations back in his college days.

An English major, huh? That must’ve made your folks proud. Did you think they’d go ballistic when you told them you wanted to act?

Michael Ealy: No. They said, “Cool, we love you and we support you.” It was 1996 and I was living in New York. I gave myself seven years to see some evidence that I would eventually work as an actor. I got my first break in 2001 in the independent film Kissing Jessica Stein.

The next year your character Ricky walked into our lives. What can we expect from him in Barbershop 2?

Michael: He’s a bit more vulnerable and secretive this time. Ricky’s dilemma is about making himself a better person.

You once said, “It’s time for a Black man to play a character who doesn’t have a criminal record.” Do those roles bother you?

Michael: Being a Black actor and taking those roles is sort of like being a Black man and getting pulled over by the police—you get used to it. What’s rewarding is when regular brothers tell me they relate to Ricky because they’ve also been caught in the system. There are guys who want to break the cycle. It starts with a desire to get out of that lifestyle.

Let’s talk about heartthrob status. Not everybody in Hollywood gets to trade on that commodity. What does it feel like?

Michael: Heavy sigh. It’s flattering, but I can’t buy into it. You have to establish some sort of substance as an actor, because if you don’t, when your looks fade, you’re done.

Have you ever taken a look at your fan Web sites?

Michael: I haven’t, but my friends get a kick out of them. In acting school they don’t prepare you for being a celebrity. They don’t tell you how to deal with screaming 14-year-olds.

So, how do you deal with starstruck fans?

Michael: I tell them to breathe and take it easy.

Okay, we’re breathing.