Upon first glance, Michael Ealy could be easily written off as one of Hollywood's stereotypical "pretty boys." But time and time again, Ealy has proven himself to be more than a handsome gent, although the media tends to focus on his blue eyes and chiseled face, which have turned him into one of America's best known "sex symbols."
Ealy's current resume boasts a string of films that have showcased his versatile acting chops, including top billing in Miracle at St. Anna, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Barbershop, and 2 Fast 2 Furious. On December 19, 2008, Columbia Pictures released his latest film, Seven Pounds, where he stars as "Ben's Brother."
In preparation for the DVD release of Seven Pounds, Michael Ealy managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview — reflecting on life on the set, his brotherly bond with Will Smith, and the directing style of Gabriele Muccino.
When you look back on the Seven Pounds experience, what memories immediately come to mind?
Let's see. It was fun. It was actually fun. With Will Smith being the lead, he kind of dictated the tone of how things are going to get done, how people are going to behave. If he's not upset, no one else has the right to be. He just keeps it light. He keeps it playful. When you're doing long hours, that's always good. Keep it as playful as possible. Despite the fact that he had some of the heaviest stuff to do, for him to be able to keep it playful I thought was tremendously brave and at the same time comforting.
Is there a playful moment that you experienced with the cast that comes to mind when you say that?
Let me think. Even in rehearsal I remember at one point there was a really contentious scene between me and Will on the street. We were working this out in rehearsal and director Gabriele Muccino wanted me to like shove him and get physical with him. I'm like, "Gabriele, do you have an older brother?" He's like, "No." That makes sense. You don't shove your older brother around. I don't have one but I know you don't shove your older brother around especially when he's bigger than you, you know what I mean? One time I tried to give Gabriele what he wants and knocked over the TV. Will was like, "Oh, don't worry about it, man. He would like that." That's the dynamic those two have between each other. They just have a shorthand with each other. They enjoy working with each other so much it was fun to see. I felt like a fly on the wall when you're in the room with those two. You almost don't matter when you're in the room with those two. They're just like back and forth.
What professional lessons did you learn under the direction of Gabriele?
Gabriele doesn't like to spell stuff out. I think if anybody walks away from this movie, the one thing they're thinking is, "I don't know if I got it all. I don't know if I understand it all but I know I like it." That's what people were telling me after they saw it. I think that's good because he doesn't spell it out. It's like he almost inspires dialogue with his direction. He inspires conversation. When you leave that movie, you want to talk about it. What did he mean when he did this? That's good; I think that's healthy.
What did you take from the film in terms of your own acting? Did it influence your style or the way you approach other films?
No. I think with every film the key is it doesn't matter what you're doing; just bring your A-game. That's it. Bring your A-game every time and you don't really have to worry about who you're working with. I can't get caught up in the politics on set and stuff like that. I just bring my A-game and just try to keep it about the work. I think if you keep it about the work, it doesn't matter what set you're on. It's going to be all right.
What intrigued you the most about the film?
The script. When I met the writer Grant Nieporte on the set, I was like, "Come with me. What happened in your life that inspired you to write this? Did this have anything to do with you? How did you come up with this story?" I'm fascinated how writers write. He explained to me how it all came together. I was just like in awe of what he did. In all honesty, the script is one of the best scripts that not just I but a lot of people have read in years. It was great. It was a really, really good script.
What elements of the plot did you like the most?
There's nobility in the actions of the lead character. Will Smith's character is a very noble character despite being somewhat depressed and what have you. He demonstrates the most unselfish nature and commits himself to a very noble and unselfish act – almost God-like – in the end of the film. But the writing, the love story between Rosario's and Will's characters is by far one of the best love stories I've ever seen.
What life lessons did you take from the film?
Honestly, I don't take life lessons from the movies because you start living your life like a movie. I take my life lessons from my own experiences and my family. I try not to take life lessons from movies.
What about your own character that you played? What did you like most about him, especially during the initial reading of the script? Did you really care how you were cast or did you just want to be a part of it based on the script?
Man, I really did want to be a part of it. What intrigued me about the script – and we worked on this in rehearsal pretty strongly – is it's a delicate line when you're dealing with family. Because Will Smith is my older brother, as I said before, I can't just try and whoop his ass, you know what I mean? I have to be gentle with him yet firm. It was a delicate line to play where you're trying to get him to get his life together and be productive and move on. Because I don't understand his pain but I am his brother, I have to be sympathetic to his pain but at the same time tough love dictates how you got to help him move on. There were so many familial layers to this character and to the relationship between Ben and his brother that I really enjoyed playing that. I don't have a big brother; I always wanted one. To have one in the movie was cool. It's different for me but it's a strong, strong bond that you have to be very careful with. You can't just cut them all off. You can't just send him out of your life. You can't just ignore the fact that he's in pain because he has done some things in his past which dictate that he might try to check out. You have to be careful.
Was there a particular scene that you found difficult to shoot?
That scene on the street is probably the most difficult because that scene epitomizes their relationship. That scene is the only scene where you see them together. We had to have an argument and at the same time display love for each other, you know what I mean? There was a certain amount of surrender on his part and there was a certain amount of frustration on my part because if he was not my brother, I would have him arrested for what he did because he put my family in jeopardy. That's just crazy. It's selfish and very risky. He really did put my life at risk and my family's life at risk. I just don't understand what's going on. There's a certain amount of power that I have to have with him but at the same time, he's really crossed the line. It was just a delicate tightrope to walk. The other scenes that we did, we talked on the phone. Will came up with this great idea to actually talk on the phone so the scenes where he and I were on the phone, we're actually talking to each other. That helps a lot more, I think.
On screen Will Smith was your brother. Off-camera, in what ways was he like a brother to you?
I had a meeting with the director of Independence Day for his next movie. I went up to Will and said, "Talk to me, man. What's he like? How do I get the job?" And he just gave me the lowdown. You can't beat that kind of experience. I definitely feel like I can go back to Will for more advice. I definitely feel like I can. I'm glad we met. I'm glad that we know each other. I'm glad that we're cool.
For more information on Michael Ealy, visit his Internet Movie Database (IMDb) profile.