If there was ever a case of successfully parlaying social media buzz into a thriving career in Tinseltown, it is actor Woody McClain.
Born in South Carolina and raised in Florida, McClain insists he never necessarily set out to work in entertainment. That all changed when he saw the Nick Cannon film Drumline as a teenager and promptly signed up for a marching band (he played the tuba). For those not so well versed in the world of America’s unique collegiate traditions, marching band combines music with the precision of a military parade and the rah-rah of the big game. The marching band also became Woody’s ticket to college when he got a full ride to Florida A&M. College was ultimately short-lived however after early viral success on Vine, the precursor to TikTok, led to a move to LA and work as a backup dancer for the likes of Chris Brown.
Woody pivoted to acting soon after in a role that combined his music and dance background as R&B bad boy Bobby Brown in BET’s The New Edition Story and later The Bobby Brown Story. The experience was a baptism of fire into acting as Woody inhabited one of the famous and notorious performers of the late 20th century. Perhaps the ultimate validation of his portrayal was the warm encouragement of Brown himself. “He became an uncle to me!” McClain revealed.
Currently starring in the Starz series Power Book II: Ghost, Woody has found a fictional role that is no less chaotic and burns up the screen doing so. In Ghost, Woody plays Cane Tejada, a drug dealer managing familial feuds and turf wars opposite the likes of industry greats like Method Man and Mary J. Blige.
Having just come off the third season of Ghost, Woody found time to catch up with Schon! and talk career advice, the legendary Mary J. Blige and why playing a gangster is a bit like playing chess.
Hi Woody! You got your start in the industry as a backup dancer, what inspired you to pursue acting?
It was social media. I was doing a lot of social media videos at the time, having fun with my friends. From there I just kind of jumped into acting classes and started taking it seriously not knowing what I was heading towards. I just did it.
Your breakout role was playing Bobby Brown, who is this larger-than-life personality that people already have a perception of. Is that daunting for you as an actor or does it give you something to work with?
The beauty of it is that Bobby Brown is still here. I was privileged enough to have the real person and we were able to spend time together. Playing a real person requires an extensive amount of research. Bobby made it good and he became an uncle to me.
Speaking of titans of the industry, on Power Book II: Ghost you star alongside the legendary Mary J. Blige, what was it like working with Mary?
Working with Mary is like working with LeToya or Lovell [Woody’s other co-stars]. She’s human and she gets that point across and she’s here to work. So it’s been a great experience and we’ve become a family.
You have described Cane this season as trying to play chess even though this is his first year playing chess. What drives him in season 3?
It’s like a cliche to say but everybody just wants power. Somebody like Cane grew up in the streets so this is all he knows. Deep down inside he just wants to make his parents proud and show them all the things he’s learned and he can do that as a man now. That is what is driving Cane throughout this entire process: he can take over the empire (and) he can be the leader.
Ghost is such a juggernaut in terms of streaming globally. What’s it like being part of a show that has an audience in America but is also seen around the world?
It’s beautiful. I always like to give a shout-out to the original Power – Omari Hardwick, 50 Cent, and Courtney A. Kemp – they set the bar extremely high and they passed the baton on to us. We’re just trying to stay consistent and merely touch the greatness they had. I’d love to get those flowers soon, thank y’all so much.
One thing that fascinates me about actors is how you guys work intensively on shoots for weeks or months at a time then it ends and you go back to your normal life. How do you come back down to earth after wrapping up a show like Ghost?
It can be a mixed experience. There’s a sense of relief and accomplishment. For me personally, I take the time off to decompress – or simply go on vacation to recharge. Once you’ve worked on this process for so long you miss the family you grew.
And where do you like to go on vacation?
I would either go to South Carolina where my grandparents and all my cousins are or go to Jacksonville, Florida where my mom and dad are and my sister would fly in. I just want to be around my family and friends.
Right! You also went to college in Florida and did the marching band. How would you describe the marching band to someone who’s never heard of it before?
It’s high-level intensity. It’s like the military – it taught me so much discipline. It got me to be the professional that I am now. I give it all to the marching band.
I read that you were inspired to join a marching band after seeing Drumline with Nick Cannon. Is this true?
Absolutely. I went to see Drumline in the theatres and I think I ended up seeing it five times in one week. At that point, I didn’t want to go to college. I just wanted to stay working at Steak ‘n Shake. My goal was to be the crew leader, my friend became a crew leader before me and used to tease me. My goal was to be the manager and take over until I saw Drumline. Maybe if my friend had come to see Drumline we’d be here together, that would have been dope.
Is there a piece of career advice that has stuck with you?
At my first job, I remember a mentor on set, she pulled me to the side and said “Hey Woody, whenever you get out of your wardrobe don’t just throw it around the trailer. Actually hang it up and put it up nicely. Wardrobe would appreciate that from you.” I do that to this day so I think that’s probably why I have the best wardrobe on Ghost. But that’s just between us. It’s because I’m probably the only person who hangs everything up.
That’s very practical advice. When you’re doing wardrobe fittings for Cane do you have any influence?
I have zero input. I leave that up to Frank, he does an amazing job of setting these characters up. The only thing I came into this project with is the durag. I was like, “Please, Frank, can I wear this durag?” That was the only thing I brought to this character was the durag!
And do you take that with you – does Cane influence your style?
I leave Cane on set. Once we cut, I take off the skin of Cane and only put him back on when I get back to work.
So how would you describe your style?
I would describe my style as more laid back. I’m super chill but I love thinking and stepping outside of the box. That’s why I love working with stylists – I would never have ever worn white fur in all white. Woody McClain would never have done that. But my stylist thought it would be a great idea. And it worked. It was a great look and a great moment. I’m always open to trying new things but stay close to Woody.
POWER BOOK II: GHOST is available on STARZ and LIONSGATE+ in the UK.