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Malik Yoba stars in TV One’s ‘Bad Dad Rehab’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO

“I just love business. I love making stuff. At the end of the day it’s all storytelling,” said actor Malik Yoba, who was in town promoting TV One’s “Bad Dad Rehab” at INTX 2016: The Internet and Television Expo, which was held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this past May.

Yoba, who is also a producer, director and writer, stars in TV One’s original movie “Bad Dad Rehab,” which premieres this Sunday, July 3 at 7 p.m. ET/PT. Written by Keronda “Kiki” McKnight, the 2015 winner of the TV One’s screenplay competition held in conjunction with the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), “Bad Dad Rehab” centers around four men — Shawn (Wesley Jonathan from “Soul Man”), Tristan (Robert R’ichard of “Cousin Skeeter”), Jared (Robert Christopher Riley from VH1’s “Hit the Floor”) and Pierre (Rick Gonzalez “Coach Carter”) — who are in denial of their poor parenting skills. After troubles with their respective baby mamas and ex-wives, the four of them attend a rehab for deadbeat dads (led by Yoba’s character “Mr. Leon”) that uses unusual methods to show each of the guys how to become dads to their kids.

The multifaceted actor, who has been telling stories for more than 20 years on stage, in film and on television, first came to national prominence in the 1993 Disney film “Cool Runnings.” A year later he went on to star as Detective James ‘J.C.’ Williams opposite Michael DeLorenzo in FOX-TV’s smash hit series “New York Undercover.”

The South Bronx-born actor is also an activist who has worked with engaging youth creatively since he was a teen in high school, and a long-time entrepreneur. Yoba spoke with the Banner about “Bad Dad Rehab,” his entrepreneurial spirit and the lifestyle company and innovation studio he co-founded, called iconic 32.

What drew you to the project “Bad Dad Rehab”? Was it being a father?

Malik Yoba: I actually started a foundation to support fathers when my first child was born 18 years ago, so I’ve been doing work with fathers for a long time. The original title was “Deadbeat Dad Rehab,” which sounded a little crazy. I read the script and it was one of those things that you go, “Okay.” The title at first makes you go, “What?” It was actually pretty good. It reminded me of something I had written.

You’ve been acting for more than 20 years. What’s different now in the acting arena from when you first started?

MY: I know too much now. [Laughs.] I’ve been around too long. There’s a lot different now. Social media has changed the game. There’s certainly a lot more platforms for people to be seen. And, it also seems harder.

In what way?

MY: From an acting standpoint, the numbers have always been crazy. I think SAG has said something like 98 percent of actors don’t work 98 percent of the time, something crazy like that. There are more actors than there are opportunities. I think that that’s one. Maybe it’s also just me getting older. You get an appointment for a meeting or an audition, whatever, and it used to be for a 20-something year old. Now I get like 50-60, “Don’t worry, we’re going slightly younger. This is cast as a 60-year-old man.” From an acting standpoint, although there are more opportunities in some ways it still feels like less. It’s a weird thing. I’m not always aware of everything that’s going on.

Do you feel that you’ve had to create other opportunities for yourself? There are so many actors who are producing and directing. Has that just been a natural part of who you are or did you feel that you had to do that?

MY: No, I was the kid that my father said “You’ve got to focus” because I played baseball and basketball. I was on the swim team and was in a band and in the drama club and raced BMX and played hockey. I was always a multi-hyphenate when I came into the game very early on and still tried to fight for my music. I opened a restaurant and funded a designer and started a record label. I was always interested in business — not just entertainment but business period — like floating around this expo just trying to learn stuff. I’ve always been entrepreneurial. It’s just been a natural extension of creating opportunities for myself and for other people, actually. That’s part of the joy, too.

And to give back?

MY: I don’t necessarily think about it as giving back. It’s just a way I’ve always lived. You just give of yourself and create, and by doing that other people get the benefit.

Tell me about iconic32. How did it all come about?

MY: Well, the name iconic32 was actually the brainchild of my business partner Sergio Morales. He’s the creative director and worked in advertising and marketing. When we met at the end of 2013, I had been doing digital content. I started BET’s second web series, “Shop Talk,” which was based on a film that I created, and so I wrote it, produced it and directed it. That got me into the digital branding and entertainment space. I wanted to create some kind of agency and when we met he had a similar idea to create an agency — although he didn’t want to call it an agency. In essence that’s what we are, but one that lived at the intersection of pop culture and social good. That spoke to me because that’s what I’ve always been about. I’ve always used my position as an actor even before I was acting. I’ve just always believed in the power of a song, the power of art to inspire people.

We exist at that intersection and we do three things. We create content. Currently, we started a podcast called “The Making of an Icon,” which is an entrepreneurial podcast — a pathway for folks who inspire to be entrepreneurs, particularly in the pop culture/celebrity/social-impact space. We do experiential, so we have a big summit that we do. It’s the second year that we’re doing it — a pop culture summit that is an entrepreneurial summit. We’re bringing conscious creatives from the various pillars of pop culture, including tech and fashion and sports and music, art, to have a chance to not just inspire me but to be inspired by each other and create business opportunities.

Then we do branding and strategy and consulting work. In some way, shape or form I’ve done all of those things all my life. I didn’t necessarily know that that’s what I was doing. I like making stuff. I’ve spent a lot of my time with that and I’m able to sort of filter a lot of the things that I’m into, to do that.

What’s next for you?

MY: I’m directing a documentary called “Little Brother.” There’s a producer and director named Nicole Franklin who started Little Brother Film. Over the last five years she’s done five chapters but the goal is to do 10 total covering different cities in America, exploring young boys of color between 10 and 14 and their perceptions around love. She chooses the city and state and so I’m doing New York City. I’m excited about that. I’m directing a feature called “Seven Fishes” which is sort of like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” but with an Italian family based in Brooklyn. I’m producing a show called “Pledge” about a fictional HBC. I know that BET has “The Yard” coming up but I’ve been working on this for a while. Some television stuff, some other reality shows, and then of course the stuff at iconic 32 keeps me pretty exhausted.