With Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War movie releasing in theaters worldwide today on April 27th we are experiencing something that truly is an original. Never before has a studio, company, brand, comic or any synonym you can contrive come up with a plan as ambitious as this movie hopes to execute.
And I do mean ambitious. Imagine having to fit 76 characters into a film where any one of their perspectives could be the one that changes the narrative, or universe, moving forward. Honestly, it could almost be too much. Yet given Marvel’s track record, this could be the beginning of another shift in cinematic history.
None of the hysteria that has built over the past 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have been able to happen without the quality of people they have working on both sides of the camera. Yet again, Marvel is attempting to outdo themselves by assembling the biggest and most badass crew of villains the world has ever seen.
One of those villains and the focus of this R.LEGACY feature happens to be Howard University and Juilliard alum Michael James Shaw. Shaw is no stranger to the spotlight, having performed on stages and in front of cameras across the world he is someone who has worked relentlessly on his craft to build a foundation to not just be worthy of this moment but to truly shine within it.
His character in Infinity War goes by the name of Corvus Glaive and, for those who may not know, he is one of the scariest beings in the universe. However, Michael couldn’t be further from him. Being a gentle giant of sorts (even though this man eats weights y’all, like have you seen his IG?), having the family support that encouraged and propelled him to pursue this career, and now being on the cusp of starting a new chapter in his life journey Michael sat down with Melvin Taylor II, Host and Founder of TV Show, Making Manhattan and discussed his start in the arts, why his dad thought he was Chris Rock, being in DC and Marvel history, and how he did make his way to Wakanda.
What Was Your First Introduction To The Arts?
So, I think it was maybe my first or second year of high school I went to the Florida Festival in Tampa. There was a high school from Miami that did a production of The Wiz and I had never seen black folks on stage, or that many black folks on stage. There was something about that, I was sitting in the front row, mesmerized the entire time and it was like from that moment I was like okay, I don’t know what this is but I kind of want to go there and I want to do that. That was the beginning of it.
How Was Howard University?
In a way coming to Howard was a magnification of that feeling I felt when I saw that black cast of The Wiz. I did a lot of community theater when I was in high school and they always thought I was talented and I would be in the chorus or just doing something because they didn’t have a place for me. But, when I got to Howard, immediately I understood the power that I had as a male actor.
From day one I was in shows every semester and that was something that you can’t really trade off. It helped build me. Also, the tough love that the professors gave us and the strong brotherhood and sisterhood that we built in that department still carries on. Like this Monday I went to see another friend’s cabaret and she’s doing awesome in the city but it was nice to see everybody from our years come and support her here in New York and everybody’s doing their thing individually and we’re still strong as a unit. Like it was 2009 and it’s almost 10 years later.
Where There Any Lessons From Howard You Still Carry With You Today?
Well, when I got to Howard I was only doing musical theater but they introduced me to, while I was there, I did Oedipus Rex, August Wilson, that was a profound experience to play Harold Loomis in Joe Turner’s here and gone. Also one of our professors always pushed for us to attend the summer program and go study abroad in Bata and she was kind of like hounding me “did you apply yet”, Mama Edmonds God rest her heart, and she just pushed. And I went on the journey and from that summer abroad I got to study with…
I Was Going To Ask Did You Go And Do It?
Of course I had to.
Good Job Mama Edmonds God Rest Your Heart
Hahaha…So I got to study with original members of RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) John Barton who founded RSC and actually taking in all that knowledge coupled with the experience of learning myself and seeing all these cats from like NYU and Yale and other grad schools really putting all of the pieces together in terms of process. I was like, I need to get that. So from there, I pursued grad school. Originally I wanted to go to Yale but the Lord had a different story for me.
What Did You Take Away From That Abroad Experience?
You go through…I was at Howard for 4 years…and it’s like any process you go through you think by the end of it you know everything. And it’s nice to be humbled by an experience and actually be able to re-adjust and not let it destroy you but re-energize you because there’s another goal. That’s what that did for me. I came back the next year and pursued grad school and landed at Julliard.
So Since We’re Here Tell Us About Juilliard.
The Yard. Well, you have to prepare two contrasting monologues, it can be classical or contemporary, whichever, and you have to do a song as well. It’s pretty much like every other school application, until you audition. You get there around 9 am on any given day and you do a warm up with everyone who is in that group and perform your pieces in front of like two or three faculties. And then you wait. You wait until about 2 or 3 o’clock and all of sudden they announce and post the callback list so everyone bum rushes the hallway and the lady places the list on the board and out of the 100 or 150 that auditioned they call back about 20. And that’s just the first day.
Man, That’s So Crazy!
After that callback list is posted you go and do games and you kind of like explore the group of people that are there and then you read your monologues again for the entire faculty. So, it’s about 20 people standing on the line and you’re standing up there trying to get it together you know? So that ends, the first day, and maybe like a month later they send you an email or maybe a letter and tell you they want you for the final callback. The final callback is two days of classes as if you’re a student there. By the end of that the 40 that they called back they narrow down to 18 and that’s your class.
So What Was Your Thought Process While Going Through That?
I didn’t believe it when I saw [my name] up there. You know you prep for it man and I maybe spent about three or four months working on those pieces. And talking to people who had gone and just figuring out which, cause I auditioned for multiple schools trying to figure out which school was right for me. Each one has a different angle or point of view and it kind of reveals itself to you without you trying to steer the wheel, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, so it was a humbling moment because you prepare for those things but you don’t believe it’s possible right away.
Take Me To That Day You Got Accepted.
They call you when you get in. I was in DC, at Howard, finishing up my last semester and I went back to DC and I was in line at Key Foods, and Kathy Hood calls me and said you got in. I started screaming in that line, did a little dance down the aisle. Everybody was like what in the world is going on? It was a joyous moment so I had to share it with all the strangers around me.
That’s Amazing So How Was The School Overall? How Was The Yard?
It was an incubator. A place to put together all the skills and really just throw paint against the wall and not really feel any judgment for it and also learn how to mold and shape yourself and learn how to work with other people in very close quarters and not lose yourself but also be able to add into the pot. Yeah, it was tough, it’s hard. It’s not for the meek, but, because our group was strong we made it through.
At this point your family, I’m sure, recognized that you were excelling. What was it like, going back and telling them about your experiences?
Some of the stuff they’d get but most of it they wouldn’t. I feel like the moment where, especially my pops, the moment where he got it was my last year and we did a play called Topdog Underdog and I was with one of my good friends Jeremy. That was the first time my dad understood what I was trying to do. Because, you know, I go home for Christmas break and he’s like “oh you trying to be like Chris Rock” and I’m like no dad I’m not a comedian and that was the first time he put it all together in terms of what I was striving for and it was a beautiful thing for my dad to actually see me.
What Was That Conversation Like When He Finally Understood?
It was a very vulnerable moment for him, my dad was in the military so he has a very hard exterior. For him to really accept that and congratulate me on the success of it, it’s a very difficult play. Two men on stage for two and a half hours, there’s no hiding.
Yeah You Have To Show Up At That Point
It was easy to do because I had a great scene partner. Jeremy Tardy is a phenomenal actor but it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I think he saw that and that it prevailed it’s pretty impressive. It’s like going back to my first day into YFL and me not wanting to go and him coming to the first day of practice and doing the whole day of practice with me.
Wait, How’d We Miss This? He Did The Entire Practice With You? Pops Was Out There?
Yeah because I didn’t want to play football. My brother played and, you know I liked to draw and I liked music. He did the entire day, he was right by my side going through the shutes, going through the line and just championing me on. I’ll never forget that man. He’s had my back in multiple ways but it’s different when he actually saw what I was trying to do and stood behind that you know?
That’s Amazing Shoutout To Pops!
Yeah, John Henry!
There You Go Mr. Henry You Raised A Good One! Good Job Sir!
Which is Your Most Favorite; the Big Screen, the Small Screen, or the Stage?
I love all three and I don’t think it’s about the medium, it’s about the material for me. If it’s something I can get behind and put myself into that’s what makes a difference. But I do enjoy TV because you get multiple takes that are fun. And you get to try different things each time. But ultimately, I would like to try more film and do more film. It’s just on a grander scale and it’s a bigger point in the character’s life and you know I think it reaches more people.
So You Were In Constantine! How Was That Experience?
It was a great time. It was one of those moments where I was coming to an end of a cycle and you start to lose hope! Constantine was my first TV job.
Yeah man. I had been out of school for maybe a year and some change and that happened like that. I went in on a Thursday, and I was on a plane that next Friday like boom in Atlanta shooting. I didn’t know Papa Midnight. I knew him for the Keanu Reeves movie adaptation, but immediately they sent me a whole bunch of comic books and I read up on them and was working on the dialect with a coach but it was fun just to jump into something so rich. He’s larger than life character, and it’s fun working with Matt Ryan and we had a nice tussle back and forth, and I don’t know it was great jumping into the TV world.
Did You Know A Lot About Papa Midnight At That Point? Did You Read Comics?
I did but not read Constantine when I was a kid I used to read more Image, you know Witchblade and Phantom that was more my speed.
So You’re One of The Few People Who Have Been In Both DC & Marvel universes.
I didn’t really put that together until just now.
Ayyyyyyyy there we go!
But no, I like try to stay humble but it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful to be a part of both universes.
It’s Alright Flaunt A Little You Can Let Your Hair Down Here!
Haha, both universes you know. I’d never imagined that. You know I just hope for the best and keep moving forward and try to build the best that I can and to have those two notches under my belt ain’t too bad you know. And, maybe a couple more characters between both universe we’ll see what’s coming.
What Were Your Thoughts on Black Panther?
I thought it was profound and necessary for this time. It’s kind of like the beginnings of repairing the scars of our nation in a way. But it’s funny that it’s through a Marvel film but the beauty of seeing, like all my brothers and sisters posting on Instagram when they go and see the film and re-connecting to their African heritage or the heritage they may have had. That’s kind of what Wakanda represents, the possibility of what we could’ve created and what we can create you know if things were different. But yeah it’s a profound moment and it’s the beginning of a new cycle for us.
What About Michael B. Jordan’s Iteration of Killmonger?
That’s the beautiful thing about that film. In relation to my experience coming to Howard, it was the reflection of many experiences and no one’s wrong or right. It’s just the given circumstances that have created or brought you to this place of understanding, and I thought it was played well because he was in the juxtaposition of this world that he felt had ostracized him and yeah it’s that the thing of no one’s wrong or right, but, they want. They want retribution, or they want to maintain their society. Also Danai [Gurira] and Lupita [Nyong’o]’s perspective and Danai saying no, I serve the king. That was mind blower you know because it was just about perspective.
So Let’s Jump Into It. What Can You Tell Us About Infinity War? Let’s Start At The Top. How’d it happened?
I went in for Black Panther initially, I think I can say this now, M’Baku, and it was a good audition and I didn’t get that and, the next day, they sent me the sides from Infinity. I went in for Corvus and I had no idea who he was, so I went online and started researching Corvus [which] means crow and some of his fighting stances and from there I came up with a stab at it. I went in and the next day, they called me and said I got it. That was a crazy week because that Monday I had booked another job and by Friday I had two on the plate and, the next Monday I had three on the plate. It always happens like that.
One was a show for Amazon called Oasis, in Cape Town, and another one was this AMC show that was shooting in Ireland. And I was like, I don’t know what to do. I was on the phone with my mama and every mentor I have under my belt and yeah, that ain’t have no good advice for me at the time and I chose to do Oasis. So when I finished the workshop, I was on a plane going to South Africa, the motherland, and we shot out there for a month and a half. I came back….so I ended up coming back to New York and did a play at The Public, which was a great experience, a rock musical by David Byrne.
Somewhere in tech rehearsal, I get a call from my agent saying they want you.
Tell Me About The Research You Had To Do For Corvus Glaive
They did send us a packet with information about the Dark Order and some storyline for him. That was really helpful because it was a jump-off for what kind of person he is. A lot of times in the script it’s not really clear but you can garner more from what you read in the books and what they’ve done in the past.
At that point when I got it and right before I went to go shoot, I got that he was a physical guy and so much of his life comes from the physicality. I went back to Julliard and started taking a class with one of our mime teachers.
Well The Glaive Can Split Atoms And I Believe One Time It Even Cut The Hulk
I don’t know where you read that and I don’t know if that happens in the film. You’ll have to tune in to find that out.
I guess we’ll see
Some people’s tickets get punched, but I’m not going to say anything more than that.
What should Marvel fans expect overall?
It’s a culmination of 10 years of films and storylines. Thanos is no joke and he’s going to bring down the house. It’s really a war, it literally is. War for freedom, war for existence, for love….
Is there any comic character you would like to play?
I would love to do a reiteration of Blade…it’d be fun. Or Bishop would be.
What should we expect from you in the future?
Well, I have a project coming up this summer we’re shooting for CBS called “Blood and Treasure”. We’re shooting in Montreal and parts of Europe. So it’s coming out in the following year.