Asante Blackk was brand new to television when Ava DuVernay and casting director Aisha Coley cast him in “When They See Us,” Netflix’s four-part limited series centered on the real-life young men who were falsely convicted of a horrendous assault in 1980s New York City. Plucked from his Maryland high school to play the teenage version of Kevin Richardson, Blackk went on to score an Emmy nomination for the role. Now he has joined the ensemble cast of NBC’s “This Is Us” as a single teenage father named Malik who is dating Deja (Lyric Ross).
Blackk: “I was doing school plays, and I had been auditioning for other things since maybe my freshman year of high school. It was around then when I realized that acting was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt a sense of community in the acting community, and I felt like I could freely be myself, and I loved being able to express myself in that art.
“Theater’s my first love — I always want to do theater — but I wanted to take it to that next level and Ava was gracious enough to give me the opportunity.
“With ‘This Is Us,’ they already knew who I was, so I sent in an audition tape and they asked me to come read with Lyric, and that was it. I did feel a little bit intimidated, because I watched the show with one of my friends, and we’re both actors so we’re always analyzing actors’ performances, but when she came on, we were like, ‘Yo, who is she?’ She was really, really good.
“I actually brought some of myself to Kevin [Richardson in ‘When They See Us’], but with Malik what I’m trying to do is create someone who is completely the opposite of who I am. It is trying to find that balance of the maturity where he’s able to be responsible for his daughter, but also that he’s still a kid and wants to have fun and wants to have a life of his own.
“Malik is so smooth and such a classy type person, I’m so glad I get to play him because I would never get to say those words in real life. It’s an entirely different creation in itself, and I always want my next work to be better than my last work.
“When we first did the scene where Malik meets Randall, that was my first time really being in [Sterling K. Brown’s] presence and really talking to him, and I had never worked with somebody who I had watched for such a long time. I was on set with my dad, and he asked me if my leg shaking was Malik meeting Deja’s dad for the first time or me meeting Sterling, and I said, ‘A little bit of both.’
“I was corrected by the director, who was saying, ‘Malik is a very, very cool and confident guy. It’s not his first time letting people know he has a daughter at this young age, and he knows what people’s reactions might be, but he doesn’t care, simply because he’s not ashamed and he loves his daughter.’
“That’s just me — I get nervous sometimes, but you have to get out of your head and get back into the character’s mindset. Also, even if you think you just messed up, somebody watching might just think it’s a quirk that character has. So it’s all about being vulnerable. You have to step outside yourself and give yourself room to create.”