Michael Beasley knows career change well. A former professional basketball player (not the top NBA draft pick of the same name, but he played overseas) turned actor, Beasley has spent the last five years of his life rubbing elbows with Hollywood royalty. Recently, he landed a regular spot on Eastbound and Down as sportscaster Jimmy Clay and he plays a bouncer in the upcoming film Last Vegas, which stars a few of guys you might have heard of, namely Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline.
In a phone interview with Den of Geek, Beasley spoke about his own parallels to the final season of Eastbound, lessons from the Last Vegas set and how he was gifted one of our new favorite nicknames in show business.
Rumor has it Denzel Washington coined your nickname, “The King of Hollywood South.” What’s the story behind that?
Michael Beasley: I met [Denzel] during my very first movie, which was The Great Debaters, and he directed me in that as well. A few years later I worked with him in the movie Flight in Atlanta and a couple months after that I worked with him in this movie called 2 Guns and so when we were on the set, Denzel said “hey you’re like the King of Hollywood South!” I said I’m trying to be the king of the nation and I’m waiting for you to take me under your wing. It was cool of him to say that.
So on some of your first projects as an actor you not only had the chance to work with a Hollywood legend, but he also gave you a great nickname to work with. What did that mean to you as someone who was just starting out in the industry?
Denzel is Hollywood royalty. It made me confident in what I was doing and to keep pushing harder just to get to that level. Every time I was on the set with him I got the chance to pull from him and learn from him. It’s amazing to say the least.
As a former professional basketball player, you know what it’s like to have to hang up your sneakers for the final time. In the current season of Eastbound and Down, Kenny Powers is retired and ready to make the transition to the next phrase of his career. Do you see any parallels with your own career choices?
You want to stay in that limelight in some capacity. Once you have that it’s hard to lose that. You have to reinvent yourself and that’s one of the things I did after basketball ended, I reinvented myself as an actor. You use some of the same drive and work ethic to be a successful actor. I think the show runs perfectly along with what happens once an athlete transitions to the next life.
Were you a fan of Eastbound and Down before you got the part?
I was. In fact, I auditioned for several roles before that. When I got it I was excited because I got a chance to work with these guys. Jody Hill and Danny McBride are comedic geniuses to me, the way they push the envelope and the way their minds think. It was amazing just to be on the set and work with these guys. It was a dream job for me.
You play Jimmy Clay, an ex-NFL player turned analyst. Did you try to model your character after a particular broadcast personality?
Nah, I mean I admire a lot of them. For me, because I played professional sports, I admire the guys who have played the sport before because they know what it takes to be at that level, like Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley and people like that.
What’s life like on the Eastbound set?
These guys let us just perform. Sometimes I had lines in the script but they’d let me say whatever I wanted to say as long as it was funny. I was able to watch Danny and how quick him and Jody’s minds worked. It was so much fun to be on the set with those guys. They’re like family now.
HBO isn’t exactly like any other network. What sets HBO apart from other networks in the way they handle scripted TV shows?
They really let their TV shows push the bar. That’s the beauty of HBO. They’ve been around so much with such great programing. They really let an artist be an artist. Some other networks say you can’t do this or you can’t do that but on Eastbound and Down they just go for it.
Your excitement level must have been through the roof when you were cast alongside Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline in Last Vegas.
It was crazy because I auditioned for it and they called me the week I was supposed to shoot and said ‘do you want to come in Wednesday to work?’ And I was like of course. So I’m working my scene with Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Michael Douglas. We had so much fun with the scene that the director John Turteltaub and production called me the next day and said they wanted to put me in another scene. They did this like several times. I was only supposed to have one scene in the movie and it ended up being like six or seven scenes in the movie. To be on the set for that long with those guys and to be able to learn from them was amazing.
Could you share with us some of the knowledge those guys gave you on set?
Morgan would say just keep working and Hollywood is going to find you when it’s going to find you. Outside of that, just watching them working and they pay attention to every detail, that’s why they are where they are.
You’ve made this transition to being an actor and done it all out of Atlanta. Did you expect your acting career to pick up as fast as it did?
I have a different view of life in general. I focus on what I want to see and not what everyone else tells me. I did all that out of the southeast region and everyone was telling me that I had to be in Los Angeles or New York to be successful. To work with those kinds of actors that quickly, no I didn’t expect that. It’s been a great blessing so far to work with these guys.