‘Swan Song’ role gives Mahershala Ali a chance to soar as actor

With two Academy Awards and an impressive track record, Mahershala Ali is in the enviable position of being able to be very selective.

“Swan Song,” a sci-fi fable written and directed by Ireland’s Benjamin Cleary and co-starring Naomie Harris and Glenn Close, has Cameron Turner (Ali) diagnosed as terminally ill but offered the chance to live on as a clone.

Married to Poppy (Harris), who is expecting their child, Cameron embarks on this journey in secret so his wife will never know she’s living and loving a replacement.

Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris in a scene from “Swan Song.” (Photo Apple TV+)

“This script was so good it just separated itself from anything else that I was reading at the time,” Ali, 47, recalled. “And to be clear, Ben is just such a fantastic writer and director. The story felt fresh, new, unique. It was irresistible personally and just selfishly as an actor.

“It felt like the type of challenge or mountain you want to climb. It was the journey I wanted to go on. After sitting down, speaking with Ben and understanding his relationship to the story and some of the deeper things in the film and what he was working to accomplish, I just felt honored that he would consider me for the part.

“That’s why I had to be a part of it. I just didn’t want it to go away.”

Any actor would be thrilled to play two versions of a character, with only slight differences, a dimension most movies never imagine. Ali’s Cameron even gets to wrestle with himself.

“I’m glad they don’t allow you that often because this shouldn’t be the norm. You should always be working with other actors,” Ali reckoned.

“But this was a unique opportunity. In trying to bring this story to life and playing two versions of the same character we had a lot of help.

“We had a wonderful double by the name Shane Dean. I had to play the (wrestling) scene out in its entirety and know where things need to happen and the timing of it all that.

“Shane would try — and then I get to react off of him. Then we would switch and he would copy what I just did on the other side of the camera.

“Then I would bring to life the character he was just playing previously. So it was a joy but honestly, it was really difficult and it was challenging.

“But the joy is always at the end of the things that are challenging. The things that are most fulfilling, they’re usually difficult. So it was it was just a wonderful experiment and experience.”

“Swan Song” opens Dec. 17.

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