In ‘Swan Song,’ Mahershala Ali takes on 2 firsts: Leading role and producing

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The new Apple TV+ movie “Swan Song” is set in the not-too-distant future. Mahershala Ali stars as Cameron, an artist, a loving husband, and a father to a young son, with another one on the way. 

When Cameron learns he has a terminal disease, he keeps the diagnosis secret. With his time ebbing away, he seeks the help of a doctor, played by Glenn Close, who offers Cameron access to a new option: creating a healthy clone of himself. The whole project is top-secret. Cameron can’t tell anyone he’s thinking about replacing himself with a newly created twin. 

For Ali, “Swan Song” represents two firsts — his first lead role in a film, and his first time as a feature producer. Ali says producing 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’s lengthy resume includes the TV shows “House of Cards,” “Luke Cage” and “True Detective.” On the film side, he won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars for “Moonlight” and “Green Book.” 

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