One thing of which we are certain is that Dorian Missick is a curious individual. He stars in the ABC series For Life alongside Nicholas Pinnock as Aaron Wallace, based on the life of Isaac Wright Jr., who went from prisoner to lawyer, beginning with trying to overturn his own crime that he did not commit.
For our interview, we were interested in discussing For Life, as Jamal Bishop, his character, has some spotlight episodes coming up on April 28th and May 5th on the already powerful series. We spoke with Missick by phone from his home that he shares with wife Simone Missick, as we also discussed the importance of her series All Rise, but most of all he was incredible at sharing some compelling For Life observations. If you haven’t done so already, this is really a show that needs to be checked out!
The following is my really spirited chat with the vivacious Dorian Missick of For Life.
BT: You’ve described your character Jamal as a ‘guy’, someone who can help you when you need anything. Do you have a “guy” in your real life?
DM: Oh yeah, I call ’em my “brain trust”, they’re a couple of groups of best friends, but there’s one specific group of friends with whom I grew up and we’ve been through all sorts of different stages of life, from preteens to adulthood, and I bounce things off of them all the time. I even bounced taking this job off of this group of friends, just to get an idea. I’m not saying if they told me to take it or not, because even if they’d told me not to, I’d already made up my mind. I just need to know what I’m up against, like [chuckles] how I’m viewed, what can be said, is this a smart thing, and yeah, I definitely have that and I’d like to think that I’m that for them as well.
BT: You and co-star Nicholas Pinnock, who plays Aaron Wallace, have great chemistry. What helped to form that bond?
DM: Yeah, Nicholas and I, we’ve become dear friends after working on this project. We hit it off immediately, upon meeting each other, I think at the table read or something, we met a day or two before that, but yeah, we’ve become super tight over time. We both have the same love for music and we actually started working together in a band, we did a show in New York together. [chuckles] You’re talking about a really good friend of mine, and so that energy translated well onto screen. I mean literally we debate on set like friends would do about our approach to the work, we have very different techniques, which I love messing with him about [laughs] our different styles, oh my God, it’s hilarious. So it works very well for the dynamic of Jamal and Aaron because he and I have so much in common – we have the same manager and a lot of the same friends, even though he’s in England, a lot of my friends from the theatre world are also his friends and people that he’d known, so a lot of people gave me the heads up before I started working with him that I was really going to enjoy working with him. They knew that we were going to get along and they were right, long after this project we will continue to be friends. There’s no question about that. That’s one of the best things about doing certain projects is that you tend to make lifelong friends. I know a lot of my lifelong friends come from people with whom I’ve worked and I definitely feel like I’ve picked up another one with Nicholas.
BT: Who else would you deem to be a lifelong friend with whom you’ve worked?
DM: Oh man, [chuckles] because I was a child actor so much of it goes way back, like a lot of my best friends who are actors are people with whom I’ve worked. There’s an actor, Eugene Byrd, who was at my wedding and is one of my best friends – we worked together when we were younger and stayed friends for a while. Anthony Mackie is another one, but we were friends before we started working together, like a long time ago, before we started working together, but we’ve become the best of friends ever since. Omar J. Dorsey, another actor, like a lot of guys, you meet them and I’m not good at shaking people. [laughs] The director, Pete Chatmon, we did a lot of projects together but the first feature film we did was called Premium. It was my first leading role with Zoe Saldana, and it came out in 2006 or something. But Pete and I are best friends, we were in each other’s weddings, literally, guys with whom I have worked, I just won’t let them go, [laughs]
BT: Do you address your producer / co-star as Curtis Jackson or 50 Cent? And what is it like working with him?
DM: Oh yeah, man, I love him. We call him fity! I do, at least. I’m a big nickname guy so even if he introduced himself to me as Curtis, if I found out that your nickname was fity, that’s what I would call you anyway, it’s a force of habit. So you’d have to say to me, “Listen, don’t call me that. Call me Curtis”. So I don’t call him Curtis, I call him fity, like everybody else. A lot of people call him Curtis, but I don’t. [chuckles] But nah, he’s great! I mean he came in dedicated to the work and dedicated to this project. A lot of times with anything on which you are working, the energy comes from the top down, and if you have people who are invested in the success and the authenticity of a project, it trickles down to all of the other creators, all the way down to even the props department, everything. Everyone wants to make sure that this feels real and that we honour this man’s story. And 50 is the guy who is championing that, between 50 and Hank Steinberg, our showrunner and creator, it’s just like everyone is just incredible. (Producer) Doug Robinson, everyone is just awesome on this piece, but 50’s been great, man, and for him to come on board and to do what he is doing – to me, it’s his best acting work yet. He’s really grown as an artist and I’ve always been a fan of his work, but this is definitely to me like next level.
BT: How would you like an audience to come to this series and to respond to it?
DM: I like people to appreciate it however they want to. I’m not a person who can watch a show on a phone, but I know so many people who do, so…I’m glad they do. [laughs] I just want them to come through, and I’m glad there’s many different outlets for people to constantly ingest the entertainment in the way in which they’re the most comfortable. I want people to find it in all kinds of ways. I mean no longer is there so much emphasis with them having to find it on the day. There was a time when it was like: “Listen, please, you gotta show up at this time, on this day, and watch it, because if not, we’re going to get cancelled.” Thank God that’s no longer as major of an issue because they know that things are being found in different ways, and because maybe if people don’t show up on the ‘day of’, it’s not being watched, because once they get those numbers later on, they see people are watching it all over the place. I want people to see it and people to talk about it and for it to spark conversations, bigger conversations that will change the people’s views or make them question their views on the world.
I think that Simone (Missick)’s show All Rise is one that’s perfect for that as well, because so many people are seeing that, are seeing this woman, this black female judge, and she’s in a position to kind of dole out punishment or to be lenient, and you get to hear these stories and get to see a fully realized human being. Because quite often, especially in the black community particularly, when you look at a judge, you don’t see a human being, you see just that. You see the word, ‘judge’, someone who is there to judge you. Many of us, because of our experiences in the judicial system, and to have that face be on a black woman, who’s the most nurturing individual in our community, to have that face, to have her be the judge, it opens up the audience in a certain way. It also shows those who are maybe not black that, look, a black woman can be in this position and she can be beholden to the law, and not just about protecting only people who look like her, which can sometimes be a fear as well from other communities, I think it just opens up a conversation and people are being seen in a different way. I think it’s incredible, we’re in an incredible time in terms of art.
BT: What was your experience like of working with Matthew A. Cherry on 9 Rides, which you executive produced as well as starred in?
DM: Matt Cherry…or I have to start saying, his official name is Academy Award-winning director Matt Cherry [laughs] is what I have renamed him. [chuckles] Matt is a friend of mine, we’ve worked together on a couple of other projects, so when he came to me with this idea, it sounded like a really daunting task, to shoot it the way that he wanted to shoot it. So I felt like I wanted to be a part of it but I felt like I needed to have a bit more of a creative hand in it, more at stake, because I was a little concerned about how it might turn out if I just showed up as an actor. So he offered me a producing position and it gave me a little more freedom in making some creative decisions on that one. But yeah, it was great! It was a good opportunity to work with Matt on something edgy, but I don’t know if you know, but we shot that whole thing on several iPhones. It was great, and my understanding is that Apple gave us the products that had not yet hit the market, to help us to ensure that we were able to do the film on stuff that was going to come out by the time that the movie had come out, but stuff that wasn’t available to the average, everyday consumer, which helped us push the project even further, if I remember correctly.
BT: What do you enjoy most about being DJ Tailwind Turner?
DM: You know, what’s great about it is that I love music and I love DJ’ing, but I don’t love clubs. This is kind of like heaven for me. If I’m not DJ’ing, it’s really hard for me to come out and hear my friends play. It’s like a whole thing for me to get out and hear, but I need to get out and hear music more often so this is helping me to marry both of those worlds, because I DJ super regularly, I have a residency in Los Angeles, that, when I’m in L.A., most Wednesdays I play in The Room, I’m actually playing tonight on their Instagram page. But now with this, it’s a lot better for me because I can stay home, play, in a comfortable space, and play the music that I want to play without having to deal with a lot of requests in your face [chuckles], which I’ve learned how to deal with right now [chuckles] so it’s given us a little more creative freedom on the music end, which I love, without pissing people off.
BT: Talk about a bit about working with Glenn Fleshler, who we would not usually see in a series like this one?
DM: Glenn is sort of my neighbour, we live in the same neighbourhood. [chuckles] So yeah, that’s my guy, I like him a lot. I’ve been a huge fan of his work, but like him, Peter Greene, Indira (Varma), bring it onto the projects. Hasan Johnson, certain actors, when they were telling it to me about who they were looking to be a part of the project, it kind of told you the idea for the creatives of what this project needed to be, what their vision was for the project, because definitely, as you said, you don’t often see guys like Glenn Fleshler on network tv. You do see them on the grittier kind of cable shows or something like Joker, in which he’s playing this creepy guy, you do see, Peter Greene I don’t think has ever been on network television. [chuckles] I could be wrong because he’s been in the industry forever, but to see him with the ABC logo on the screen, that’s jarring in and of itself. Because his work is just what it is, incredible, and oftentimes you’ll get a script and you’ll get something, and there are certain network faces that work for the network process, and those weren’t the names that were coming up when they were talking about this project, and that further excited me about it. I mean when we were doing the pilot, I was excited to do it, but I was like: “let’s see if it hits the air, or if it does, they’re going to recast all of us and recast people who we are used to seeing in soaps in our roles. It’s just not going to happen”, and then it turned out that it did. [laughs] And it was awesome.
BT: Why do you think it’s important to tell a story about prison, especially right now?
DM: Well the more we are learning, the more the general public is learning, about the American prison system and how’s it monetized and how it’s a corporation and how many companies are using prisoners for cheap labour and things like that. I think that it’s a subject that’s a part of the zeitgeist right now. It’s something that people are talking about and it’s at the forefront of our minds and what we are thinking about, and so I think it’s important for us to honour those stories and represent them in a way that’s an honest portrayal of those human beings behind those bars, they’re not just numbers, they’re not just the crimes that they’ve committed or have been convicted of committing. They’re human beings with lives, and when you put someone behind bars, it doesn’t just affect that one person, it has a trickle down effect that it affects so many people’s lives. Sometimes you’re taking away the main income receiver of the household and you’re crippling the house financially, just by placing someone in prison, so we’re able to show that and explore that, and for that reason alone, I was like: “I gotta be a part of this”. Even though the idea of being a prisoner and being in prison, and we actually do shoot in prison, it didn’t sound like a whole hell of a lot fun, but the result outweighs the process, so I had to do this.
BT: What’s something upcoming on the series that you’re excited for viewers to see?
DM: There’s this one entire episode, that hasn’t been shown yet, but it really kind of encompasses everything that I would want to see as a viewer in a show like this about prison life and how people navigate, how the politics play into it…the whole episode is like this, this is what brought me to the table. An episode like this brought me to the table: there’s action, there’s suspense, there’s all of these things, and you walk away feeling like you know something else. You learn something, like they snuck in a little bit of a lesson, and I think that’s what’s incredible about this piece as a whole.
BT: How does this feel as the culmination of the work that you have done up to this point?
DM: It feels great. I mean one of the things for me as an artist is I let go of…I don’t know if I can really say “let go”, I never really had a tight grip on the need for being the most famous person in the room. I just want to be in a position in which I can do the work that I love. And from the day that I started making money, making a living like I didn’t have to have another job other than acting, I didn’t have to have another job. Once I got to that point, from that point on, I was successful, so anything that’s happened since then, it’s been the icing on the cake. I’m blessed to be in the business as long as I have, done great work and to not be forgotten, like not to be pushed to the side, I feel like I have so much more to offer and it’s being recognized as a result. I’m constantly given the opportunities for projects that show different sides of me as an artist, so it’s a blessing. I love it, and at the end of the day, when this is all said and done, I just would like to leave behind a body of work that is diverse and entertaining, if nothing else, and of which I can be proud, because you know, there are some things that I’ve done that I’m like: “Ah! I’m not that proud of it”. I was proud of it while I was doing it, but once it came out, I maybe wasn’t as proud of it as much. [laughs] But I’m glad that I was able to weather those storms and I was able to continue to stay in it. It feels great. I feel like we’re in a time creatively in which there’s so many different outlets that we’re not as handcuffed as artists once were to having to stick to a certain formula, for like: “this is what works in the studio and this is what works for this and what works for that”. It’s kind of like there’s so many outlets to put your work out that the playing field is being a lot more levelled out and the work is being a lot more honest because that’s what people are responding to, and that’s something I’ve always brought to my work.
For Life airs on Tuesdays at 10/9c on ABC and CTV