Oscar winner Mahershala Ali on ‘Swan Song’

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Director Benjamin Cleary and actor and producer Mahershala Ali work behind the scenes of “Swan Song.” Photo by Apple TV+.

Mahershala Ali has worked for 20 years, earning Oscars for “Moonlight” and “Green Book.” But the new drama “Swan Song” is his first leading film role. He’s also a producer on the project, which came naturally since he feels he’s been doing some of that work — without the credit — for years.

“Speaking for myself as a Black man, you find yourself in a position where you’re having to serve as the one who is authenticating a story, when there needs to be other voices behind the scenes, besides the actor … to point out all the things that other people are missing,” says Ali. 

Ali tells KCRW why taking the lead in “Swan Song” felt right, even though it was the director’s first feature. And he explains why he shortened his name to Mahershala from his full first name, Mahershalalhashbaz. Plus he gives a tiny peek at his process for birthing the character of Marvel’s “Blade.”



Kim Masters


Kaitlin Parker