Interview: Malik Yoba Challenges His Range In ‘Paradox’

Actor of stage and screen Malik Yoba is back in a new sci-fi drama film, Paradox. In the Michael Hurst-directed effort, a group of young scientists work on a project that could allow them to travel through time. However, after one member of the group travels ahead one hour, he unlocks a scary inevitability—everyone will be dead within an hour if the operation is not shut down.

Yoba, who has appeared in New York Undercover and Empire, portrays Mr. Landau, a scientist from across the pond whose demeanor is suspiciously off-putting to the rest of the crew. Is he the person who is behind the deadly time paradox, or is he being wrongly accused? VIBE got the chance to chat with Yoba about what drew him to the interesting role, using a British accent and also got the skinny on his one-man show, Harlem to Hollywood, in which he exercises his versatile talents to share his personal journey.

VIBE: What was it like working with such a diverse cast?
Well, at this point in my career, I definitely want to do all kind of films, so I didn’t even see it as a diverse cast in fact. I didn’t even think about that. We had Zoë (Bell), she’s from New Zealand, and the rest of us were American, but it was a cool cast. The director was very focused, because he also wrote it. He kind of always wanted to keep us on track, depending on where we were in that point of the story, so he was so specific with his vision.

About how long did it take to make the film?
I think we shot for about a month last year, this time.

You played a character that was not completely evil, but very mysterious, is there a particular mindset you need to get into when you’re filming those kind of scenes?
No, not really, you just kind of know. Since he’s manipulating people to reach his objective,  and I would never do that in real life (laughs). But no, it doesn’t take a whole lot, it’s kind of all on the page. For me, it was more about being able to give him another layer with the accent and kind of to come off as a very upper-class man from England, who’s here to do a good thing, and just the whole term. He acts like he’s in control, but he’s really not.

Is there anyone who you tend to base a character off of? Someone you’ve met along the walks of life, or you just put your own take on a character every time?
That’s a good question. Sometimes, it just depends on the role—in this particular case, no, no one in particular. But yeah, it depends on the role. I definitely try to draw some inspiration sometimes. Sometimes it could be another actor, sometimes it could be someone I know.

What was it like to use a British accent for that long? I know you’re from New York City, so it must have been pretty fun to use a completely different accent.                                        
For me, there’s definitely a lot of my gift [acting] that I haven’t been able to share on film and on the work that keeps coming. But at this point in my career, I want to continue to add layers to what I’m able to do. I’m a very funny person that doesn’t get the chance to do a lot of comedy, and the same thing with my accents. When I read it [the script] and I read the name, “Mr. Landau,” I thought it should be an Englishman. But accents are what I do! There’s a show that I’m doing, Harlem To Hollywood. It’s my life’s story, and I’ve come across a whole bunch of folks so I’m doing a lot of accents. Accents are definitely one of my strong suits, and a lot of folks don’t know that. We had an English director, so he loved it. It wasn’t a lot of work for me.

READ: Vixen Chat: Malik Yoba Talks ‘Empire’ His Company Iconic 32 & More

Was it challenging to keep it up for as long as you did?
Not at all, not at all. One of the reasons why I started creating my solo show is so that I have a place to put all of the accents that I do. I’m not one that likes to wait around for an opportunity. And this may sound crazy to some people, but when I was in my late-30s, I realized that I would fall into accent all the time in every day life, and that’s always been normal to me for no other reason than it’s just something that I do. Some people bite their nails (laughs). But because I happen to be an actor, people would always say “why are you always acting all the time?” I realized that most people just tend speak in their normal voice. I’m a fan of solo stars like Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg, and I knew I gonna have my own show- they’re very early inspirations. But as an actor, deep down, everyone can do accents, just more people have the ear for them. So, as far as keeping it on, not a problem. And it was very specific, not a Cockney or anything, but I had to maintain a level of class the entire time through the accent.

How is acting in film different from acting in television and stage, because you’ve scratched every part of the surface.
Generally, it’s not that different. Film and television, one is generally faster. Television generally moves faster in terms of directing, schedules and getting things done. Film, you’re on a pretty tight schedule, so the process is the dame. Theater, that’s where you have to put in a lot more work. You have more time to rehearse, and you’re putting on the same show every day. In film, I have my own private rehearsal, shoot my scenes and then it’s done. You don’t get those moments again. Theater, you can definitely keep going back. And theater, the thing that I love the most is the discovery when you’re done. I’ve been stage productions hundreds of times, and you finish and you go, “man…” You learn so much more about the character and the piece through the repetition. You can’t really discover that in film because you’re not repeating the same thing over and over again.

‘Paradox’ is in select theaters now, and ‘Harlem To Hollywood’ will be performed on Apr. 28 at El Barrio’s Artspace in New York City.