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Mehcad Brooks on football show's gay storyline, Charlize Theron
TELEVISION Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Note: On Wednesday, Feb 20, USA Network's 'Necessary Roughness' at 9pm, the team tackles their quarter's coming out.

On Feb. 13 and 20, the USA Network show Necessary Roughness (which centers on a football team) deals with the issue of a professional player coming out of the closet.

Windy City Times talked with Mehcad Brooks, who plays wide receiver Terrence "TK" King, about playing his role as well as dealing with a teammate who's coming out and his own character's problems (which involve recovering from drug addiction). We also discussed Charlize Theron

Windy City Times: I actually wanted to start by asking you about your name.

Mehcad Brooks: It's actually from an Ethiopian word meaning "prophet" or "wise person." You'd go see the mehcad if you needed advice. So it's a family name; little did my mother know that I'd profit off of being a wise-ass. [Laughs]

WCT: The strangest thing happened the other day. After seeing the screeners for the upcoming episodes of Necessary Roughness, I watched a movie. It was In the Valley of Elah [which stars Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron]—and I had no idea you were in it.

Mehcad Brooks: Sometimes I forget, too. [Interviewer laughs.] It's very flattering. It was an incredible chance to act with Charlize Theron and [director] Paul Haggis and Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon. It was an amazing piece.

WCT: I'm not sure I'd get anything done. I'd just be staring at them all day.

Mehcad Brooks: Yes. I was in a scene with Charlize. Half of me was being a [professional] actor; the other half of me, as a human, was like, "That's Charlize Theron!" [Both laugh.] But she's actually one of the most down-to-earth person you'd ever meet. She's happy to be where she is.

WCT: Regarding Necessary Roughness, is your character modeled after [real-life players] Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or anyone like that?

Mehcad Brooks: Not anybody in particular. The actual character is based on Keyshawn Johnson [who retired from the NFL in 2006], but a lot of it is taking stories from headlines—whether currently, or five or six years ago. Whatever the case, there's no shortage of wide receivers who are [behaving] badly. Take T.O., take Randy Moss, take Andre Rison, Michael Irvin—plus my dad was a wide receiver in the NFL, and some of that's based on him.

I was a much different person in my 20s, and hung out with different types of people. I also take a little stuff from who I used to be. In your 20s, you think you're original and you have a little bit more of an ego that you do in your 30s.

WCT: TK is dealing with drug problems and a teammate who's coming out, among other things. Regarding the drug [subplot], did you do any research—go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, for example?

Mehcad Brooks: I've actually been around addiction most of my life, with my family. I know the issue first-hand, and it hits very close to home. In a way it was difficult to portray but it was also helpful for me to show what addicts go through, respectfully. [Addiction] is a disease; it's in the midbrain. It's something people can't control; [for example,] I can have three or four drinks, and someone else can't. It kinda hurts my heart my little bit, but I wanted to tell my story realistically—but with a little "TK" flair.

WCT: And TK has plenty of flair, and that same flair is apparent in the teammate's coming-out storyline. Was there anything that surprised you about it, such as how TK handled it?

Mehcad Brooks: The writers and I had a lot of discussion about it. Once you start to care about a character like you're supposed to care about a character after playing him for years, I didn't like how TK has handing his teammate coming out. They had to remind me, "Mehcad, this is not you; this is TK. He's not as accepting as you are. He's not as open." I couldn't wrap my head around not supporting someone who is struggling with [coming out] on a national stage. I was sorta fighting what I had to do. [Laughs] A job's a job—but it worked out well.

WCT: Do you actually see this happening [a professional athlete coming out] in, say, the next five years?

Mehcad Brooks: I think it's going to happen sooner. I think, as this country evolves, we become more and more liberal. The demographics are changing. Women are where they should be in the workplace. Minorities are being successful in the workplace, and education is changing. The country is starting to conduct itself in a very 21st-century way.

I think we're going to see a few things we haven't seen before. We have a Black president who was re-elected to a second term. So I think a watershed moment in sports is going to happen—if not this year, then next. I happen to know quite a few NFL players, and they are pretty open in the locker room about the guys who are gay. They're out to their teammates, but not publicly.

WCT: What they call an "open secret"...

Mehcad Brooks: Yeah. [Laughs] But I think that stigma is going away. Let me put it this way, man: It 10 times worse to be homophobic than gay, it's 10 times worse to be racist than a minority, it's 10 times worse to be sexist than it is to be a woman. Eventually, those of us who are living our truth have to be brave and speak up, and the people who would try to diminish that need to be ostracized. It's not OK to be homophobic, racist or sexist. We're past that. You want to live like that? Go somewhere else.

WCT: Even looking at the worlds of R&B and hip-hop, you have someone like Frank Ocean coming out last year.

Mehcad Brooks: And it was received very well. In fact, I don't think it hurt—I think it helped, although I don't think that's why he did it.

WCT: It's interesting. Some people are now wondering if certain musicians might come out as a way to boost album sales—which shows how far we've come.

Mehcad Brooks: Right. Now it's cool to be gay. I think there's a lot more support for living your truth. Women don't have to hide how smart they are, for example.

WCT: I have a very general question for you: If you could change one thing about Hollywood, what would it be?

Mehcad Brooks: That's a very interesting question. You know what? I'm going to be honest: I think Hollywood needs diversity. I want to see an Asian guy play the lead in a movie and not have to karate-kick somebody. I want to see something I haven't seen before. When it comes to [reflecting] what the world looks like, in some ways Hollywood is 10 years behind.

When I was a kid, I didn't have many examples of people to look up to. I want today's kids to say, "Oh, I can be a superhero!" Superman's from Krypton but he has to look like Mitt Romney, for some reason.

WCT: That's one of the reasons I like the TV show Scandal, which stars Kerry Washington.

Mehcad Brooks: Yes—and that's based on a real person. I saw an interview with Kerry Washington—and this goes to show how deeply embedded this is in our culture—but someone asked, "Isn't it amazing that someone created this role for a Black woman?" And [Washington] said, "No, this is based on a real person who happens to be a Black woman." The interviewer was, like, "Oh."

Necessary Roughness airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. CT on the USA Network.

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