He has a resume that boasts almost as tall as he stands! 6'3 , #workoutgoals, Calvin Klein model, Film/TV star and everything in between. We've journeyed with him to everywhere from Wisteria Lane (Desperate Housewives) to the swamps on BonTemps (True Blood) all the while appreciating the man and being Mehcad Brooks continues to consciously expand into. His undeniable presence greeted us on a sunny day in LA as his larger than life role as JAX in the newly released 'Mortal Kombat' was readying premiere. With a humble yet electric energy in tow, here's what we [authentically] got to know about Mr. Mehcad Brooks!
As told to: Corey S. Guevarra | Photographed by: Cameron Reed
We’ve seen you in so many projects over the years, from football star to vampire slayer and everything in between; is there any one role or character that you’d consider your [personal] all time favorite?
Hmmm….My personal all-time favorite? You know, for me, it’s interesting; in hindsight, I love them all equally AND I hate them all equally! [LOL]. I think one of the main things that you learn early on as an actor, is that you cannot judge the character you're playing in the moment. -If you judge the character you're playing along the lines of your own moral values, then you're not allowing that character to live it’s OWN life! You're then just putting judgments based on your life and your experiences on a character who doesn’t even know you or that your world exists. When you do that, you don’t allow that character to live it’s own life and have its own experience. So the wonderful thing about my job is that now I’ve basically experienced playing pro football, I’ve in some ways gone through 2 different basic condensed trainings for the army. I‘ve put on 45 pounds and fought monsters. I’ve fought vampires. To prepare for True Blood, “Eggs” had experienced homelessness, so I went to downtown LA and slept on the street for two nights!
MB: I was able to live these different lives and really encompass these things. And there were parts of those lives that I LOVED and parts that I hated and would never want to [actually] live. But in the same breath, there were parts of some characters lives that left me thinking “This is awesome I’m taking this. I’m gonna appropriate THIS for Mehcad!”
26: So no one favorite. You love and hate them all. But you allow them to exist. You didn’t judge them and so that’s how you were able to truly tap into them, yeah?
MB: I accepted them, I had compassion for them, I forgave them, I gave them room to forgive themselves and finally, I loved them.
26: Boom. Is that’s the ‘Mehcad formula’?
MB: I guess so [LOL]!!!
It’s evident that a balanced life is important to you, what helps you remain grounded in mindfulness in the middle of the ‘Hollywood shuffle’?
You know for me it’s ‘nature and nurture’ right? …I was born and raised mostly in Austin Texas and even back then people would say things to me like “oh you’re so Hollywood” even when I was a kid. Hearing that, it was like “oh, well I guess I found out where I belong”! [LOL] But as I got to know Hollywood a little more, while I don’t have anything bad to say about it, I don’t have anything new to add to that either, except that I do now live in New York City! [LOL]
26: Aha! So that's a part of your being grounded and maintaining your mindfulness, is to get out of the extreme day to day “Hollywood shuffle” and just pop in when you need to?
MB: Exactly and I think the thing is with the pandemic, it became self-evident that you don’t have to live any one place, you know? We’d convinced ourselves that we have to be here or be there… But 2020 taught us that almost anything's possible on zoom! So now that the perceived necessity of physical location is gone, then it becomes, well… what makes you happy? Where are you happiest? What can you afford? And by afford I mean; where is your EMOTIONAL currency going to be invested?
We think success is money. Success is not just money. Success is: do I like where do I live? Where do I feel safe? Where do I feel aligned? Where do I feel like my goals and my dreams will come to me with grace and ease!
26: That is some VERY sound advice! If you’re in the middle of things that make you feel out of alignment, I tell people this all the time; “you’re not a tree”. You can get up and move anytime you want. So always allow GO as an option!
MB: & Even SOME trees move!!!
26: YES! We don’t ever have to stay anywhere, any one place. Especially if it's not where you’re most in alignment. -And our bodies have what I call an “emotional compass”. Your body knows where you’re supposed to be and if you’re not in the right place, you’re going to feel it.
shirt: GUCCI pant: Karl Lagerfeld Tie: Sak's 5th Avenue Shoe: Valentino
LENDING from the previous question, Beyond your public occupation as an actor, you’re a real person, you’re human, specifically you’re an African American man. There’s SO much going on in the world right now, so much in our own back yards, how do you maintain & maybe even master your own mental calm during this blatantly repeated cycle we’re witnessing and feeling. Are there any exercises or practices that help you through?
MB: One thing I highly recommend is getting a therapist who is well versed in effects of racial oppression. The same way that somebody will get a therapist who is well versed in say the effects of sexual assault and like the body consciousnesses response to that. So if you’re walking around with trauma (and historically speaking our ancestors and many POC families didn’t/don’t have access to therapy). We’d compensate or cope with going to the liquor store, or drug dealer or “the church” just to feel good. But I think now, we’re starting to understand that admitting you have trauma is not a weakness. It’s the first step to healing . And if that trauma is perpetuated by the state, if you’re basically giving your tax dollars to be terrorized, there’s a fundamental level of insecurity that you’re walking around with.
Now I don’t mean that we’re not confident people. I don’t meant that we don’t accomplish things. What I mean is, that we do it in spite of all of that. We have confidence if spite of the constant terror. We have confidence and achieve in spite of the fundamental insecurity. Insecurity being literally feeling like “the body” is not secure. So if the body itself is not secure, then what is secure? And also what else is insecure? So, we have healing that we have to do to dive into these questions.
So yes, finding a therapist who has a background in the effects of racial oppression I think is one. Breath work is another. You know, controlling your breathing. Using stress as an opportunity, as like an alert system. So, basically, if I have stress…I use my stress as an alert system like, “Okay, something within me is unaligned. Something that’s in my power is unaligned with my truth. So that means I need to observe my breathing. I need to take this moment to go to that inner place where I can be in touch with my higher self. Meditate, self work, etc., Stress is an alert system that’s letting you know “Hey STOP whatever you’re doing and handle this. Breathe!
26: Pause and listen to our emotional compass!
MB: I call that cosmic alignment. So when you’re cosmically aligned, you can notice your breath without cause. So it’s like: I'm breathing deeply because I'm alive. I'm breathing deeply because I'm happy. I'm breathing deeply because I'm aware that I’m breathing -wow! Versus I’m breathing deeply to stop the stress from happening because I gotta go to the store and I hope I don’t get ****ing shot because I have black skin.
With cosmic alignment we can always put ourselves back into alignment, but we as black people [usually, unfortunately] have to try harder to align.
26: It’s also super important that we even KNOW that we CAN try harder or that we CAN even align at all, that its even an option.
MD: Right, we have to give ourselves permission. Permission to heal, and I think the beautiful thing about healing is that to me, “trauma is pain on layaway”. It’s a really incredible device that the body does. You suffer a traumatic event, and it only comes up when you’re ready to “pay that bill”. It only comes up when you have the ability , the emotional currency, the time, the resources to pay that bill. So that’s why trauma is coming up for America, because it’s time to pay the ****ing bill [on race relations in this country]. As a collective It’s time to pay the bill!
26: It’s due. That rent’s due.
MD: Layaway is due, for each and everyone one of us in the collective.
26: That’s an amazing metaphor, amazing. So, those are the exercises and practices that help you through personally, and that you would recommend on a personal level right?
MB: Yes definitely. Self awareness, self permission and I think it works together in a formula of cosmic alignment. For me, that is: acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and then self love -in that order. And so like when you have acceptance even if your situation is something that you wouldn’t choose for yourself, accepting your situation means that you are then in a unique place to determine where you want to go from there. Compassion is needed immediately after because you’re going to have to have compassion for the person who didn’t know that five minutes ago. And then you have to have compassion for everyone else who helped put you in that place, whether it was the cop when you were 7 years old, or it was the teacher when you were 11 or it was a boyfriend or a girlfriend or whatever the case was. Not just racially, but like whatever it is that happens to human beings. You’re going to need compassion for yourself and for others. And then; forgiveness. Forgiveness comes easy when you HAVE compassion and there’s nothing left after that. It’s just love. It’s just what’s fundamentally already there WITH the cosmic alignment; it’s LOVE!
26: That part! That love part, it’s EVERYTHING!
MD: And when you strip it all away, that’s what it is. But you have to give yourself permission to even begin to strip it all down.
26: HUGE. HUGE!
Did you always want to be an actor? If you weren’t doing this, what would you be?
No, honestly, I wanted to be a cop when I was a kid. And I remember my mom repetitiously asking “are you sure?” -And I’d say “yeah”!! [I wanted to be a cop or fireman]. She’d never say “no, you can’t be something”, but she was firm on the, “are you sure”. I do remember asking her “why?” that was her response. And her reply was basically, “I think one day you’ll find out”. - And so actually when I was 7, I GOT ARRESTED and roughed up by the police: WHEN I WAS 7 YEARS OLD for playing hide-and-seek at a lodge where my parents were paying good money for us to stay. They didn’t believe that we belonged there. I remember the handcuffs they used didn’t even fit, they were huge…they kept falling off and they’d say “stop squirming” and I’m just a kid processing this experience and these things on my wrists. Needless to say, that’s when I didn’t want to be a cop anymore! That’s when I realized it wasn’t like the movies there’s no “good guys and bad guys”.
MB: Later on in life I excelled in sports and academics. By the time I was 15 I did a play and I realized one of the reasons I loved sports was because once the ball is in your hand, all eyes are on you and you’re performing. You’re expected to do something good with the ball, I liked that feeling and excelled at it.
26: You enjoyed how that [spotlight and responsibility] felt. That felt right to you!
MB: Absolutely! It also felt right just being able to affect people emotionally with intuitive communication.
How did you begin acting, what led to you manifesting this life for yourself?
I was 15 years old. My mom highly recommended..[if not forced my brother and I -LOL”] to go to this camp called “Leadership Enrichment Arts Program” the acronym was ‘LEAP’. It was an outreach program for black kids to come to UT and spend the summer there and learn theater. At first honestly, I thought I was kind of nerdy and dorky and had no desire to do theater! But I actually fell in love with it. I remember seeing an opera for the first time and the guy that was singing opera, he was from Houston! He was singing in Italian and Russian and German! After his performance we got to meet him, and he mentioned that he now lived in Switzerland… but again was originally from Houston. And all I could think was “what”?!?!
26: Wow like “That’s an option”?
MB: Precisely, I think I even said that. I think I even said that out loud like “that's an option”? -And he was like “yes it is!” He put his hand on my shoulder and said “yes it is” & it literally blew my mind.
26: The world opened up to you in that moment!!
MB: Yes! Cause' like my father played pro football. -Or I should say say my biological father played pro football. My stepfather is an attorney, a wonderful attorney like the best in the world frankly, (civil rights attorney). My mother is a multiple nominated Pulitzer Prize journalist. I came from an academic family. All I knew was sports and academia. I didn’t know that we could sing in Russian and live in Switzerland. I had no idea that success [as a creative] was possible and that moment really shifted something for me. Obviously I’m not an opera singer now [LOL]. But that was the first experience that revealed to me that “oh, there are other [life] options”!
26: Wow, that’s incredible, an entire light bulb moment that quietly started this whole life that you have now!
MB: Yes! Picture a kid, who’s watching somebody sing in a language he doesn’t understand, who’s living in a county he’s never been to, and come to find out this person is also basically from down the street!
26: Right and I'm sure you've done that numerous times unbeknownst to you. I'm sure there's been so many times when a kid has looked on their screen and saw you and also saw themselves and you lit a spark in them!!
MB: I hope so. I appreciate that.
26: I believe it, that’s what we’re REALLY here for, all 8 billion of us!
How did it feel getting the call for Mortal Kombat?
I cried!!! ….I was in the gym! ….I'm a strong believer in “doing the work” in all facets, which is like if you're going to study for the audition and you’re going to study to be an actor and you’re going to train for the physicality of a role, I also believe that you have to do “the work” in the quantum! So I was also visualizing the role everyday, everyday, everyday! I would get up the morning, visualize and go to the gym. It didn’t matter what else I was doing, I was practicing those 2 things. Eventually, I was in the gym when I got a call from my manager. After some small talk, he eventually reveals that “I got it”! Again I’m in the middle of a workout at the gym, and even though I’d visualized the moment of me getting this good news, when it actually happened, I just dropped to my knees and started crying. People of course start coming over asking if I’m okay and mid-cry I’m also smiling like “I’m great, I’m REALLY good actually” LOL.
What can you tell us about your character in Mortal Kombat? Where did you go to channel him?
I kept a journal as JAX,. For me as an actor, there’s this interesting ‘in between’ space you find yourself in where you’re giving the fans what they want, but also making the character your own. And then also, making the character big enough so that it’s believable because he’s a video game character, but also grounded in reality and grounded in believable physics as someone you could actually meet. There was this kind of interesting line that I think most of us [actors] kept in sight because it was required of us as video game characters who were now in the real world. So I had to figure out how did JAX go from being a special forces assassin to somebody who’s hunting inter-dimensional monsters? -And you and I might think well “he’s kind of an overachiever right? LOL” Like, being on the team that brought down regular villains wasn’t enough huh? You had to go & get inter-dimensional on us?! [LOL]. So keeping with the “acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, love” formula, I had to take into consideration that JAX has to have acceptance, compassion and forgiveness for himself. So I wrote down how many people he killed. And I examined the idea "does that keep him up at night"? Can he forgive himself for this kind of stuff? How does he reconcile it within his own body consciousness? And I kind of took him to therapy a little bit and I got to a place where he had to reconcile his monstrous behavior with duty because it was like “well, to catch monsters you [also] have to be a monster”.
I started with this Ernest Hemingway quote [that I always butcher so I’m going to paraphrase] but it's along the lines of “once you have hunted trained men long enough, you have very little appetite for anything else thereafter”.
So like, once you put people into 6 or 7 tours in Iraq, and you put them into these situations where they're going after high-value targets around the world and that’s all they’ve been doing their entire adult lives, they don’t have an appetite for anything else. And THAT is who Jax is!