Malcolm David Kelley Discusses ‘DETROIT’ Film & Life As A Child-Turned-Adult Actor
Malcolm David Kelley Talks His Role In DETROIT, Growing Up In The Film Business, & More
At only twenty-five years old, Malcolm David Kelley already holds an impressive list of accomplishments on the entertainment surface. The Bellflower, California native is an adroit actor with over eighteen years in the game, having assembled a lengthy resumé within the TV and film industry. Lauded for his record of indelible roles, to date, such as ‘Young Antwone’ in the 2002 film, Antwone Fisher, ‘Lil’ Saint’ in You Got Served, and ‘Walt Lloyd’ in the heralded ABC drama series, Lost—to name a few, Malcolm David Kelley is definitely one to remember.
He may be skilled with the scripts and known for chronicling worthwhile characters, however, Kelley is a multifaceted man with many talents under his belt. Alongside his acting accolades, Kelley has also been letting his voice be heard through music. In 2012, he and his former Gigantic co-star, Tony Oller, formed a pop duo, MKTO. They released their self-titled debut album in 2014, hitting Billboard’s Hot 100 for their single, “Classic”.
Stepping away from the big screens and into the booth, Kelley gained and maintained a great deal of success with MKTO, as the group skyrocketed up the music charts and into the hearts of screaming fans, worldwide.
Now, after a brief stint away from the acting world, Kelley has returned, portraying the role of ‘Michael Clark’ in the forthcoming DETROIT film. The long awaited blockbuster tells the chilling story behind The Algiers Motel incident, an incident that occurred during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot. The horrendous incident resulted in three killings and nine brutal beatings by the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Army National Guard, and a private security guard.
Starring John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, and Anthony Mackie, among others, DETROIT will hit theaters on August 4th.
Check out our exclusive interview with Malcolm David Kelley as he talks about his role in DETROIT, transitioning from a child actor to an adult actor, and so much more…
Parlé Mag: You’ll be featured in the new film, DETROIT, set to hit theaters this August. As we know, the film is based on one of the most horrific events in history, The Algiers Motel incident. So, how was the experience, for you, being able to work on a film, like DETROIT, that tells a very important story and shows the injustice and emotional distress that we, as black people, had to endure during that time period?
Malcolm David Kelley: I think it’s very important. For me, it just means a lot because I know that it’ll mean so much more to so many other people. I think that it’s going to start a great conversation, just getting everybody on the same page. Knowing that this was only forty to fifty years ago, we’ve grown so much! We’ve grown a lot, but, with this movie, it’s kind of sad to see how much further we have to grow. But, I think, as people, this will just be shining a good light on Detroit, bringing the situation to the light. Just uplifting the city, a little bit. This is a story that needs to be told. Even getting this film, I honestly didn’t know too much about this incident at The Algiers Motel. So, getting to be a part of this project let me do a little bit more research and expand on my history, and just getting all of this information—being able to talk to Julie [Hysell], who was actually there when this incident happened. She was on set with us every day. Watching people like that, seeing how strong she could be, and how glad she was that the story was being told was just amazing. It’s something that people need to know.
Parlé Mag: Wow, I know that had to be an awesome experience. So, what was it like filming in the city of Detroit? Was this your first time in the area or you had been there before?
Malcolm David Kelley: Yeah, I’ve been to Detroit before, with touring and stuff like that–doing the music. But, sometimes, with touring, you’re only there for like a day and a night. So, I got to hang out in the city. We also shot in Boston, just some various locations. It was great; we all built a very, very strong chemistry. Everybody in the cast was great, from vets to a lot of great up and coming actors. It was also humbling to be a part of that cast and working with Kathryn Bigelow and the whole team. So, it was good, man. We had a lot of good times in the city; they showed us a lot of love. I couldn’t be more proud and more humbled to be a part of this movement.
Parlé Mag: Tell us about your character in DETROIT.
Malcolm David Kelley: My character’s name is Michael Clark. He’s a young, cool, smooth kid, likes to have fun. He hangs out at The Algiers Motel with his friends. Definitely, at a time where the city is doing a lot of rebelling, he can go there and clear his mind, in some way. Unfortunately, the incident takes place at The Algiers Motel, and you really see him become vulnerable and just scared for his life. That kind of hit home for me. At the time, just being young and growing up and running around, having different run-ins with the police. Guns might be drawn down on you. It’s just not something that you would ever think would be protocol for a situation that’s not really stemming from anything. So, being able to put myself, from that real life experience, into character, and knowing how it’s so similar, all of these emotions were real. I think that you’ll be able to tell that on screen. Him not knowing if he was going to make it home and the thought of, maybe, losing some friends that he’d become so close with, I think nobody really wants to deal with. That’ll kind of tear a person down, a little bit, and build them back up and make them stronger, at the same time. That’s kind of the storyline on Michael Clark and just how he dealt with this situation. You guys are really going to enjoy the movie; it’s going to be a great summer movie. It’s gold, it’s fresh, and it’s going to take you on an emotional rollercoaster, with a great message, too.
Parlé Mag: Awesome! We definitely can’t wait to see it. So, what are your thoughts on the current state of the justice system and civil rights, as we speak?
Malcolm David Kelley: I think that we’re evolving; I think that we’re doing a pretty good job. But, I also think that there’s room for improvement. Just getting our younger generation to understand that, in order to make more change, we have to get more people and work with the justice system, different legal jobs and stuff like that. Just so that we can start swaying some of the problems where we don’t have a lot of the mass and the power to do. It kind of starts there. Also, I think that it starts with the communities. Like I said, getting everybody on the same page—the community and the law enforcement, coming together and spreading love. It’s really important. Love and peace are also really important to the city and progressive movement and uplifting people. We constantly have to get our youth to understand that there is a lot more than sports and music. Getting in those positions where we can actually make some change and inspiring the youth and letting them know that anything that they want to do, if they put their minds to it, is possible. So, empowering them is the most important thing, for me, and to get them to understand how we can make change in the future.
Parlé Mag: Switching gears, you started out really young in the acting industry. What would you say were the biggest challenges when transitioning from a child actor to an adult actor?
Malcolm David Kelley: It’s really just finding myself and understanding that I’m getting a little older. But, I still do kind of have a baby face. So, I could maybe go into places as a seventeen, eighteen-year-old.
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
Malcolm David Kelley: That gets fun! [laughs] But, you know, just really finding myself and getting comfortable and knowing that I’m growing into a young man. Now, I think, with the state of the acting industry, there are starting to be a lot more projects for younger African-American men and black actors, period. Which, I think, we needed more content. So, just finding myself, growing up, getting ready to embrace these more grown-up roles–sometimes sexy or playing that young dad. It’s really just exploring that, and, also, real life experiences. The more that I go through, in life, the more that I can learn, the more that I can be able to bring to these characters that come about. Something that I could make more relatable to myself. So, I’m enjoying this little transition; it’s been great, and I can’t wait to see what else it brings. I definitely can’t wait to get into the action or like the army stuff, different things like that. I know, growing up and being a young child actor, I’ve had a lot of dramatic stuff. Those are awesome stories that I love to tell, that are meaningful, that have some power and are going to be around for a little bit. I take it day by day, and I enjoy it. I try to be mindful of the projects that are around and do my best to follow my gut and know that it’s going to make a nice little impact. It’s good! I’m enjoying it. Man, it’s life!
Parlé Mag: A lot of child stars often feel as though they missed out on a lot due to the pressures of fame. Would you say the same for you?
Malcolm David Kelley: I would, somewhat, but, also, it depends on how you make some of your decisions. I remember I made the decision to stay homeschooled, after I got done with Lost, and it was about time to go to the next grade of high school. I made the decision to continue doing homeschool, just so that I could work on my acting career. That was something that I was very passionate about and still am. I’m glad that I did it, to this day. For little things, I did get to go to some proms and grad nights. So, I didn’t miss out on things like that. I just think that’s important for a kid to be a kid, allowing them to find themselves, not have them working all the time. It just gives them a different perspective of life, and when they get to hang out with kids their age and be a kid, I think it’s very important. So, I definitely commend my parents for allowing me to give time to find myself and not pushing me too hard–you know, them kind of leaving the decision up to me, whether I wanted to keep doing this or not and not forcing me. I think that helped a lot to know that this is something that I actually want to do.
Parlé Mag: It’s wonderful that you actually have parents who stand behind you. Not many have that.
Malcolm David Kelley: Yes! It’s just been a growing process. I don’t think I’ve missed a lot, but I can understand where you’re coming from. I do feel like I’m socially awkward, sometimes, because I didn’t get that everyday interaction with kids at a regular high school. People say that I’m not, so I don’t know! It’s just something that I battle with, with myself. But, for the most part, I feel pretty good. People always say, like, “How are you so down to earth?” That’s kind of where it stems from, from being around my family and friends–people who I’ve been around, for a long time, and them not really treating me any different. Just treating me like a real person and understanding that what I’m doing is something that I love to do, and it’s working. It happens to put you in the spotlight sometimes, but that’s just something that I embrace. I know that it comes with it. I’m one of those types of people where I’ll put the weight on my shoulders if I have to, to make a statement or to make the vision clear. I know this is bigger than me. Just like with movies like [DETROIT], it’s about the opportunity; it’s about the message. I’m just glad to be a part of it.
Parlé Mag: Aside from your career as an actor, you were also a part of a music duo, called MKTO, alongside Tony Oller. Earlier this year, there was a lot of confusion about if the group was still together and if it was still a thing. So, as it stands now, what’s the status of the group?
Malcolm David Kelley: Yeah! Well, first and foremost, I just want to say to everybody who’s been asking or has been concerned, we appreciate all of the love and support that we’ve had throughout the years. Right now, we’re just in a situation where we’re trying to figure out the next step. We’ve accomplished so much and wanted to get so much more done, but, unfortunately, some things are happening right now. We’re trying to figure it out and make the best decision for the future. With the timing, it’s just kind of been a blessing because, while we’ve been in between stuff, I’ve had the time to go off and do a couple of projects. So, timing was everything, but we’re definitely trying to figure out some more music stuff because it’s something that means so much to both of us. We miss being on that stage and interacting with our fans that we’ve built, over the years, organically. You know, starting off as new artists or new people trying to jump into a whole new game–which is the music industry, and just gaining that real respect as being real artists. We don’t want to lose momentum or anything, but we’re just trying to figure things out.
Parlé Mag: So, just to be clear, you guys actually want to reunite with the group again?
Malcolm David Kelley: Things aren’t set in stone to where we have broken up; it’s been a lot of confusion. I know you guys have read about things, but, yes, we want it to continue. So, hopefully, it works out like that.
Parlé Mag: Being that you do music and you’re also an actor, is it difficult to balance doing both?
Malcolm David Kelley: I would say that it can be difficult, at times, but I think that it comes down to the right people around you and the right team who understands you and how you like to work and understands when too much is too much. But, then again, it comes with this business. Being busy, it’s something that I like to be. So, I’m never mad at having to be in six different places in one week; it’s something that I’ve been used to. I know when to get my rest. It’s something that I love to do, so, eventually, my ultimate goal is to be able to be touring and do music and stuff, while promoting a movie. I can take time off to go do some music, record, go do some shows, and then schedule it to where I’d have to be somewhere to shoot something. I’m all for it! Definitely adding more things to my resumé. Just working and watching different people, growing up, like Denzel Washington—directing, writing, and acting in movies, it’s a passion of mine as well. So, I plan on picking it up, even more, within the next couple of years, as things progress.
Parlé Mag: Nice! We can’t wait to see that.
Malcolm David Kelley: Really just trying to get as much done as possible. I’ve been away from acting a little minute, so to be able to come do this project and a couple of other projects that I have coming up, it meant a lot to me—just to be able to get my feet back in it and gain that confidence. Also, going back to that question with the transition, that was kind of hard for me. I was at a point where I doubted myself just because I’d been away for a little bit—the game had changed, like with social media and stuff like that. So, just thinking about that, but, also, remembering to be true to myself and being confident in what I do. Having that confidence, in itself, helps. When I know I can do something, I’ma try to get it done. So, I don’t think it’s too difficult; it’s just about timing. But, you definitely don’t want to tire yourself out because I know it can be a lot. It’s about having a great team around you.
Parlé Mag: So, what can we expect from you in your solo music career? Any music projects that you’re working on right now?
Malcolm David Kelley: I’m trying to get things together, but, because I don’t know the status of the group and everything, I’m just trying to figure things out. I’m always writing and producing—executive producing. I’m working with a group. I’ve kind of just been writing and working with them, doing features, here and there. Music is a hobby and, also, kind of a job to me. I love music to death; it’s something that’ll always be a part of my life. I just had the blessing to be able to take it mainstream. Growing up from Long Beach, Bellflower—Los Angeles Area—Rap and Hip-Hop and R&B have always been a first love. I’ve always loved Pop music and having the chance to be able to do Pop music, it was something that I’d never ever dreamed of. So, I definitely had to go and take that opportunity, which has been amazing. I’ve learned so much. Just taking what I’ve learned and seen, over the years, through music, and applying it to a group—helping them, knowing how to work the content and interacting with fans, it’s important. It’s about helping people grow, at the same time, because that’s what people did for me. But, I’m definitely trying to get some music; I might be putting a little mixtape together to get out to you guys. It’s a couple of features buzzing around. A couple of the guys in the DETROIT movie are also great, amazing artists and singers and stuff. So, we’ve done a little song and going to be adding more music together. Maybe, also, drop some projects. It’s time! Everything happens for a reason, I believe. So, yeah, we’re going to have some music coming soon.
Parlé Mag: What’s something that you hope to achieve within your career in the next five years?
Malcolm David Kelley: Ooooh, the next five years?! People speak so highly of this movie, [DETROIT], and it scares me. I just want it to do great. I know that Kathryn, she is an amazing person and director. She has her accolades, being one of the first female directors to win an Oscar and certain things like that. So, hearing things like that, an Oscar would definitely mean a lot, to be a part of a film like that, to win something like that. I’m pretty sure that it’s on every actor’s bucket list, whether it’s five years or ten years—whenever it happens would be amazing.
Parlé Mag: Of course.
Malcolm David Kelley: In five years, I want to have some projects that I’ve directed done. Also, I’m writing right now, getting this little mini series together—as far as something small-scale, maybe like Youtube or something like that. You know, I’m just using my time effectively and constructively where I can put it. I know that is aside from acting, but, I definitely, within five years, want to have my own project out and get back into touring. So, I plan on kicking things up a notch, in that aspect. And, I want a Billboard! I need a Billboard. That’s on my bucket list. But, yeah, it’s a lot more things coming!
Parlé Mag: Wow, your bucket list is really full! [laughs]
Malcolm David Kelley: Yeah! That was just a little of it.
Parlé Mag: So, for a person who aspires to be in the entertainment industry, what advice would you give them?
Malcolm David Kelley: Having that confidence in yourself is most important. Being in this acting industry, sometimes, you’ll hear a lot of ‘nos’ before you hear a ‘yes’. It’s very important to just take the constructive criticism and use it to your best ability because it’s only going to help you in the long run. Sometimes, you might get a hundred auditions and hear seventy-five nos before those yeses come. Some people might stop or think too much and think something is not happening, but it’s all about timing. It’s all about the work that you put in. It’s definitely going to happen. Believing in yourself and putting the work in is going to work out in your favor. I think that’s important for the young folks. Also, you have social media now, too; this is one of the best tools ever. You can build your own fan base up and start getting immediate feedback! Having it reach in different parts of the world is amazing. I love this young generation. This generation coming up under me, they are so passionate; they are willing to learn. So, just believe in yourself, and you got it!
Parlé Mag: Before we go, fill us in on what you’ll be working on in the future months that your fans could look forward to.
Malcolm David Kelley: Yeah! Well, I appreciate all of you! You guys definitely check out DETROIT, August fourth. It’s going to be the movie of the summer! It’s going to be awesome. So, go enjoy that. Check out Insecure; I have a cameo on there. Watching Issa, that speaks volumes. She started on YouTube and ended up getting her show picked up on HBO. That’s just the willingness to grind right there. That’s the American Dream. So, yeah, check out Insecure. Not even because of me, because of Issa. Also, a couple of other movies may be dropping, this year, that I might be a part of, but I’m just trying to get this music situated because I definitely miss being on the stage, chilling and interacting with the fans. That’s what I’m trying to figure out before this year is up. Yeah, man! Follow the socials, and you guys will be able to get the firsthand info. @TheRealMalcolm for Instagram and Twitter.
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