Michael Jai White Talks 'For Better or Worse' and Directorial Hopes
The star of Tyler Perry's newest television show, opens up about his polarizing role as Marcus
It’s hard for Michael Jai White to pay attention to the Global Positioning System in his car. Although he’s headed to encourage students at a school in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he’s also the star of Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse, which just premiered on TBS raking in over 3 million viewers, and has scheduled telephone interviews with press throughout the day.
The 44-year-old actor, known for roles in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? franchise and Spawn, where he was the first African American to play a major superhero, grew up in the Northeast where he became hooked to martial arts at 8-years-old. The Hollywood stunt man now holds seven black belts along with a flourishing acting career. He has five projects coming out next year; a notable faet considering complaints from Hollywood’s small pool of black actors.
White, like his boss Tyler Perry, has the combination of talents needed to stay ahead of the game in Tinsel Town. “He’s such a hybrid of performer and business man and director and entrepreneur,” White says of Perry. Still, those words could easily reflect himself.
Loop 21 caught up with White while driving through his hometown to talk his role as Marcus in TBS’ For Better or Worse, his onscreen and off screen romance with co-star Tasha Smith and his directorial hopes for the future.
Loop 21: You have a an outrageous filming schedule on For Better or Worse, shooting one episode per day. How did you fall into character without much rehearsal?
White: We do a rehearsal and then we do a rehearse-shoot type of thing. I’m careful to say that anything is really hard. It’s all a matter of perspective. If you look at the normal half-hour episode, you [film] one per week. You have a lot of rehearsal time. I consider that super easy, you know? It’s a little bit more demanding than the others, but it’s actually kind of fun. It keeps things really fresh.
Loop 21: How is Marcus different in For Better or Worse than “Why Did I Get Married?”
White: The character Marcus is more more evolved. He’s become a successful businessman. Now he’s learned a lot as far as what it is to really be an alpha male. Marcus, like a lot of black men these days from the inner city who are revered for sports and his prowess with women, he’s shedding that whole role and learning it’s really about being a husband and father. He’s lied and cheated in the past, but he’s learning. He continues to learn how to navigate through a relationship. Marcus speaks to a lot of black men out there who want to do right, but unfortunately have inherited a lot of dysfunctional behavior.
Loop 21: Do you see any parallels between your marriage on the show and your marriage in real life?
White: There are not many parallels, but there is a parallel to the younger Michael Jai White and Marcus. Like what I was telling you, your own friends will condone infidelity and not only will they condone it, they’ll encourage it, which is a very destructive thing in our community. I think it’s a good platform to be able to speak this out. It’s something that people don’t really talk about very much, but it’s not a shock for a black man to be a cheater because it’s left over from that “black buck syndrome” when black men were revered for populating fields with free labor, you know? My character is shedding that persona.
Loop 21: On Twitter, you respond to fans concerns. You told one fan, “the show will soon prove itself as a force.” What did you mean by that? What can viewers expect?
White: In the coming episodes, we have a platform to deal with a lot of social issues. One of the reasons why I joined onto this, in this “dramedy” type of format, you can deal with real things. And it can be really poignant as is life. In a comedy you can’t, you know? The fact that we don’t have a laugh track and we can build these issues, we’ll deal with infidelity and trust issues straight on like you’ve never seen on television; things that really apply to the black family more than anything else you’ve seen on television. When I said the show will prove itself, it will prove itself as something very unique.
Loop 21: You have a special relationship with Tasha Smith, you used to date. How is working with someone you used to date? Some people would hate it.
White: Tasha and I have never had an argument in our lives. It’s been nothing but positives. We love each other for the people who are are. We dated in the past and there was time where she needed to move on as an individual; and it was necessary to do that without the shackles of dating. She wanted to get closer to her faith and I applauded that. She was at one time thinking about becoming a minister and if you truly love someone you want their happiness even if it has nothing to do with you. So of course, I was going to step aside [while she] ventured down the road that she's intended to go.
Loop 21: You have your own family now, but you’re also working on so many projects: We The Party, El Gringo, Never Back Down. How do you balance family, film and television?
White: I balance it out and look at things all relatively. Yes, I have a lot of business with my career, but it affords me an opportunity to spend chunks of time with my family that most guys would never do. The average husband and father usually spends time at the end of the day; maybe a few hours if they’re lucky. I spend months. When I travel my family gets to travel with me. We’ve gone to so many different countries and benefited from so many situations, we get red carpet treatment to some of the greatest museums and great cultural things in that country. I’ve been to Romania, I’ve been to China several times, Japan, Bulgaria; all of these different counties and each time, in my contract, I have tickets for my family.
Loop 21: You also made your directorial debut in Never Back Down. Would you be interested in directing episodes of For Better or Worse?
White: Well sure, I would be interested in directing For Better or Worse, maybe down the line. I think it’d be fun, but definitely there are other projects. There’s a romantic comedy that I plan on directing and a few action films as well. I really enjoy directing, I think it’s something that comprises several of my talents into one. I found that it’s very taxing, but very very rewarding.
TBS' For Better or Worse airs every Friday at 10/9C.