New Orleans’ own Marcel Spears is breaking out, both on stage in classic and cutting edge plays, and on small screens across the country in a prime time role on a major network. He has drawn upon his New Orleans roots throughout his career.
Currently starring in ABC’s The Mayor as T.K. Clifton, Spears is able to use his comedic skills alongside some very well known names (Lea Michele, Brandon Michael Hall and Yvette Nicole Brown). For Spears, inspiration and acting are all about family, citing the support of his own family back home and the family he has found on stage and on set.
First, the basic New Orleans questions: what neighborhood did you grow up in and where did you go to high school? I grew up mainly in the East, I’m an “East Beast.” My family stayed in the same house right off Chef Mentur highway from 4th grade until (Hurricane) Katrina. For high school I split my time between McDonogh 35 and The New Orleans Center for Science and Math High School on Delgado’s campus. After the storm, my family moved to Texas where I finished junior and senior year.
Did growing up in New Orleans contribute to your artistic talents, both your acting and your music? Most definitely. New Orleans has always been in my opinion, a hot bed of art and artists in this country. From the time I was little I have been singing, acting, playing music, dancing, and writing. I was always in a church play, or in a Black History Month production at school, playing in the band, or jumping into somebody’s second line. I wasn’t doing anything different I was doing what everyone else in the city was doing. It’s just built into the DNA of the city.
We often say: Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans. Is there anything you miss about living in New Orleans? I miss New Orleans all the time. New Orleans is a city that knows me to my bones. New Orleans knows my family. It knows the history of me. I literally don’t feel right if I don’t get back to the city a few times a year. Something inside me has to go back.
When did you start acting? I’ve been acting since I was little; it’s always been something I did. My mama put me in a school play in 1st grade, and it’s always been something I gravitated to ever since. I started to take it seriously in high school, after the hurricane, expressing myself that way became a kind of therapy.
Who were your mentors growing up? Well it starts at home, the first people I ever looked up too were my parents and grandparents. When I got to college though (Prairie View A&M) I had a professor that literally changed my life. Dr. Cristal C. Truscott pushed me in class and on stage (even when I didn’t want to be pushed) encouraged me to go to grad school and get my MFA, and gave me the confidence to really trust my talent. After I got to New York City for grad school, I met Brandon Dirden and he has been my mentor ever since, He is an actor that inspires me every time he steps on stage, and the fact that he takes the time to show me the ropes and give me advice on the business and open his home to me speaks to his character even more.
Do you prefer acting on stage or in front of the camera? Both, I can’t choose at this point, I love telling stories, and both offer me that opportunity. On Stage it’s live every night, you see the audience and they see you; whatever happens in that room between the actors and the audience can never be repeated, and that is incredible. I’m still new to camera but I love it, the audience is internalized, you don’t get the immediate response you get from a live audience, you have to trust your instincts.
With such an incredible cast and production team, what has your experience been like working on The Mayor? Working on this show feels like working with family. We have all gotten to know each other so well over the past few months of filming that’s what it feels like. It’s a short amount of time but I get to come to work every day and tell a story I believe in and make people I care about laugh. This is the most supportive cast and crew ever, and it really goes back to something Yvette [Nicole Brown] said to me before we started filming, she said, “You have to create the kind of environment you want to work in, you have to set the standard on set, treat everyone with respect, and I mean everyone.” And that is something I would do naturally (my mama raised me with good Godly sense) but having her say it out loud and really empowered me and my cast-mates to internalize those words, I think it really made a difference. When you watch this show you can tell we actually like each other, when you laugh during our show I can guarantee you it took us about three tries before we could get it on camera without someone busting in to laughter. That’s how we do on The Mayor.
AT A GLANCE
Age: 28 and 11 months Occupation: Multi-hyphenated-artist (lol) Born: December 13, 1988 in Houma, La. Education: Undergrad, Prairie View A&M University, Grad School, Columbia University Favorite Book: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and all of Harry Potter Favorite Movie: The Last Dragon (Bruce Lee is a black dude named ‘Bruce Leeroy’ enough said) Favorite TV Show: Besides the Mayor…. Insecure Favorite Food: Anything with seafood in it! Favorite Restaurant: Now that I’m in L.A. my favorite is this little diner in Burbank called Paty’s
True Confession: I’m deathly afraid of heights, and I absolutely still freak out on planes, so before every flight I say this prayer, “Lord let this plane take me safely to my destination, and if for some reason it will not get there safely, get me outta here before it takes off.” EVERYTIME.