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Interview: Mo McRae

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We are just days away from the season two finale of TNT’s hit series Murder in the First. One of the stars of the series is Mo McRae who plays Anthony 'Suger' Cascade. Suger is an interesting character in that he’s a gangster, but he’s trying to find his way out of the game and take care of the ones he loves.

If you are a fan of movies and television, then you have definitely crossed paths with this talented actor. He had a memorable role on the FX series Sons of Anarchy and has also appeared in series such as Ray Donovan, Survivor’s Remorse and Battle Creek. On the big screen, he’s appeared in the films Gridiron Gang, Lee Daniels' The Butler and Wild with Reese Witherspoon.

We sit down with the versatile actor to talk about his character on Murder in the First, the importance of the image he portrays on screen and what it was like to film the series in San Francisco.

Pop Culture Principle - How much input did you have with your character Suger and how much of Mo McRae is in Suger?

Mo McRae – That’s an excellent question. I was actually given a great deal of creative input. I think this character has probably been one of the most collaborative efforts in my career. Eric Lodal, who is the showrunner and co-creator of the series, spent a lot of time with me discussing the character and trying to bring as much of myself to it as possible. We wanted to try and make something that felt familiar not familiar in the way we represented him. We wanted to make him as dimensional as possible and not like one of the street guys you normally see on television.

Pop Culture Principle – Suger is not your typical “gangsta.” He’s a man with a purpose and a plan. Was it important to you that came across in your performance?

Mo McRae – It was extremely important. I felt like I had a responsibility and a moral obligation at this stage in my career being an African-American actor to portray certain images because those images have power. I wanted to play him in a way that shows he truly was an intellectual. The way Suger operates and functions, if he had been raised somewhere else and had decent opportunities, he could have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or he could have worked in a non-profit space.

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What I tried to create is a guy with the amalgamation of the events that occurs in his life, he is able to take them an manipulate them in a way that was beneficial to him and the people that he cared about around him, which is part of the plan you talked about.

Pop Culture Principle – As an actor, how do you enjoy playing a character that is so layered?

Mo McRae – I love it. It’s the kind of thing actors dream of is to get to play a character that is dangerous, edgy, but is also charismatic and caring. He’s calculated and he also has a visceral response that he takes on at times as well. So, there are so many layers to Suger that you are trying to figure out which one of those colors is the prominent one in any given scene.

Pop Culture Principle – There have been hints on the show that Suger and Terry English go way back. What can you tell us about their relationship and also working with Taye Diggs?

Mo McRae – The relationship between Terry and Suger is one where we have been very aware of each other from afar. Since our networks are kind of small, whatever your occupation is and whatever thing you frequent, you still cross paths. I think we have a mutual awareness, but I don’t think Suger respects him. I think Terry is aware of me and he probably respects Suger in a way, but I don’t think that Suger necessarily respects Terry.

Pop Culture Principle – Suger also has an interesting relationship with Raffi Veracruz. What can you tell us about that relationship and how have you enjoyed working with Emmanuelle Chriqui?

Mo McRae – I love Emmanuelle. She is magic and the thing about her as an actress, she really has a desire to find the truth and pull forth the best work possible. We were on the phone the night before talking about the scene to find the nuances so when we get on set, we explore it a lot and we have a lot of options and ideas that we show to the director. She’s really motivated and driven. She doesn’t rely on her looks because obviously she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t want to lead with that, she wants to lead with her talent. So, my thing with her has always been great.

A lot of people really wanted to see that scene with us in her apartment go a little further. The great thing about that scene was that you didn’t know where it was going to go. You didn’t know if they were going to hookup or if Suger was going to kill her or if she was going to kill Suger.

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Pop Culture Principle – Do you think Suger was truly blindsided by finding out that his right-hand man Fatty B wanted to take his spot?

Mo McRae – I think you have to watch the finale and see. What I will say is that Suger is an extremely intelligent individual, so not many things catch him by surprise. I think the one thing that really threw him for a loop obviously were the events that occurred with his sister. Other than that, I think Suger is very aware of his right-hand man’s activities.

Pop Culture Principle – As an actor, do you enjoy the format of Murder in the First which works a cast over an entire series and really fleshes out the characters?

Mo McRae – Yes, one hundred percent! Even as a viewer when you look at a show like True Detective, where you follow the case throughout the course of the entire season, it feels more realistic. My biggest issue with episodic television, crime shows in particular, you know around the 45 minute mark, they are going to have to start winding it down and get into the resolution. So, that routine almost becomes mundane, but with this format , you don’t know what’s going to happen and when.

Pop Culture Principle – Murder in the First is shot in San Francisco? How have you enjoyed filming in that city?

Mo McRae – Oh man, shooting in San Francisco was such a treat. The architecture, the people and the energy is amazing, especially with everything that’s happening because of all the technology coming out of Northern California. There is sophistication there, a hipness and there’s a coolness at the same time. There is a lot of money in San Francisco, so there is a lot of access to cool things, environments and people.

Pop Culture Principle – If Suger survives the season finale, will ever truly get out of the game or is it just who he has become no matter how much he doesn’t want to admit it?

Mo McRae – You know, that’s almost like asking if a former President will never be part of a political conversation. It’s’ very hard to escape anything that’s been ingrained in you and vice versa.

We would like to thank Mo McRae for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. You can catch the season two finale of Murder in the First on Monday, August 24th at 10/9c. If you would like to keep up with all of Mo's latest news and projects, you can follow him on Twitter @therealmomcrae or on Instagram @itsmomcrae.

**Photos courtesy of Kerry James**

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