Mo McRae making bad cop moves in ‘Den of Thieves’

LAPACAZO SANDOVAL | 1/18/2018, 2:37 p.m.
Mo McRae has appeared in more than 30 film and television projects over the past decade. To put it bluntly, ...
Mo Mcrae

Mo McRae has appeared in more than 30 film and television projects over the past decade. To put it bluntly, acting is his jam, and the actor/writer/producer wanted me to share it with you just that way. On television he is currently appearing as a series regular on TNT’s “Murder in the First” and on FOX’s “Empire,” playing J-Poppa, the love interest of Becky (Gabourey Sidibe).

Born in 1982 and raised in South Central L.A., McRae turned to acting for solace. It was a wise move. On Jan. 19 you will have an opportunity to see the gifted actor in action in the upcoming “Den of Thieves” playing Gus, a questionable police officer. Based on true events, the explosive action thriller follows an elite crew of bank robbers who set out to pull off the ultimate heist and get to the money first, right under the noses of Los Angeles’ most feared division of law enforcement.

Here is an edited interview with actor/producer/ and, now, director McRae.

AmNews: What was it like working on the set of “Den of Thieves?”

McRae: (laughing) I expected it to be just really intense the entire time because of the nature of the film with a lot of testosterone and big, strong guys talking “stuff” to each other, but it actually ended up the biggest bro-fest ever. There was great camaraderie on the set and lots of fun led by Gerard Butler. He kept that atmosphere loose; even though we were doing such intense stuff, he always found a way to keep it light. I was pretty surprised by that.

AmNews: I was surprised that during the screening of “Den of Thieves” people laughed, a lot.

McRae: Yeah, right! To be able to find such levity in such an intense and big movie was important to our director Christian Gudegast.

AmNews: There must have been a lot of pressure to stay on schedule. Was it?

McRae: Correct. Also, when you are portraying something that’s been portrayed so much and so often, and often times incorrectly about law enforcement, it was important for us to get it correct. We were meticulous with the details in terms of vernacular, the manipulations of the weapons. Even with the outlaws because they had a military background so the technical training aspect, although fun, was challenging. We had to learn to stay on point while remembering lines, and running and hitting the mark and remembering something very,

very important.

AmNews: Which was?

McRae: That you can’t put your finger on a trigger [of a gun] unless you’re going to shoot. All these little, small details which indicate that we knew the proper etiquette in law enforcement even though we were renegade cops, in a lot of ways.

AmNews: What do you love about being an actor? Just from this brief conversation, I can tell that this is your jam.

McRae: (laughing) You are correct, 100 percent this is my jam. You can quote me on that, it can be the article headline: ‘Acting is 100 percent my jam!’ The thing that I love the most about acting at this point is that it always feels fresh, new and it’s always challenging. It’s also very rewarding because of the collaborative nature of it. I am in love with the collaborative process.

AmNews: What else do you do creatively? I am getting a writer’s vibe from you, dear Mo.

McRae: Yes, I do write and produce. Actually, it’s so funny, I am in Chicago right now filming “Empire” and the last night that I was in L.A., I was rehearsing a short film with Mekhi Phifer that I wrote and will direct. Paul Hunter is producing this with me.

I can’t believe that Mekhi said yes when I sent him the script. When I first started acting, people would always tell me that I look like a young Mekhi and that was a huge compliment to me. And now to have him working on something that I wrote and that he’s trusting me to direct, this is very meaningful to me. The name of the short is “A Lot of Nothing,” and it’s an examination of where we are at this time, a look at our collective apathy.