If you’ve been paying attention to Tyler Perry’s new BET series “Sistas,” you’ve undoubtedly noticed actor Devale Ellis, who plays Zac, Karen’s on-again/off-again boyfriend. But even before hitting the small screen, Devale has maintained a digital audience for some time now. With a following of nearly a million on Instagram, Ellis, who also played professional football, has been entertaining thousands of people for year, thanks to the amusing and very real scenarios he’s shared about his family, which includes wife Khadeen and sons Jackson, Cairo and Kaz.
BOSSIP’s Sr. Director of Content Janeé Bolden caught up with Devale during a recent visit in Atlanta to talk about the Ellises moves from the digital space to TV and film as well as their recent relocation from New York to Los Angeles.
BOSSIP: We’ve been watching you on social media for some time so I know the goal was to be a working actor. What is it like to set a goal and achieve it?
Devale Ellis: My goal has been to be a working actor from the beginning. Even before football. I tell this story all the time. I was one of the few kids when I was growing up in Brooklyn to go to Morristown, TN every summer. They had a Boys & Girls camp and they had a football club, a basketball club and a performing arts club. I was one of the better athletes in football and basketball but at 1230 the performing arts room would open and I would legitimately stop in the middle of the game and go to the performing arts room and I was called all sorts of names, teased, “you’re back there singing and dancing.” But I used to love making jokes and performing for people. So from a young age I always wanted to be into TV and film. I watched the Superbowl and then I watched the Oscars. I remember watching Denzel in 2001 win the Oscar for Training Day for lead male actor and I said this is what I want to do. So it’s been my journey. Football was part of the journey, I wanted to go to school for free, which I did. Football was an opportunity to make some money, so I was like ‘I can play in the NFL? Alright.’ I played a couple years, bought a couple properties, started some businesses so I don’t have to be a starving artist then I’ll get into TV and film. When I retired I started doing commercials, did some off Broadway plays, some student films, then social media hit. So I was like here’s my opportunity to create my own narrative and since then, it’s been history. But TV/Film was always there.
BOSSIP: You seem like a natural comedian, but are you also interested in playing more dramatic roles?
Devale Ellis: I love drama. I think some of my best work has been in the work that I’ve done that hasn’t been comedy. I recently did an NCIS episode that was strictly drama and I love doing drama. Comedy to me just comes natural. I grew up watching “Martin,” “The Fresh Prince,” “The Jamie Foxx Show” and I love telling stories so it’s easier for me to tell stories through humor. So comedy just seems to come to me. My dad used to tell stories all day so it just comes natural but I want to do drama. I want to be known as a thespian.
BOSSIP: Let’s get into your character on “Sistas,” Zac — you’re naked a lot.
Devale Ellis: A LOT! It’s par for the course with Zac.
BOSSIP: And you knew that going in?
Devale Ellis: I didn’t know that going in but I’m okay with it. I tell Kay all the time. I’ll know I made it in Hollywood when I’m running down the street with a gun in my hand and my shirt off yelling, ‘Freeze!’ I want to be a sex symbol. But a goofy funny sex symbol like Will Smith. I look up to him alot.
BOSSIP: So what are some of the challenges in playing Zac, since being naked isn’t a challenge for you?
Devale Ellis: Nah I try to work out as much as I cam. I’m a bit of an exhibitionist so… One of the challenges is trying to relate to where Zac is in his life. He’s dealing with recidivism, he struggles a lot. He struggles financially, he struggles emotionally. He doesn’t have a strong family background, so finding those responses to Zac in my character I have to dig deep and I have to research. Dealing with relationships — I think I’m in a very healthy relationship with my wife but Zac is toxic and Karen is toxic. She is crazy. Being an actor you have to live truthfully in an imaginary circumstance so some of the stuff Karen says I naturally want to respond how Devale would respond but I have to respond how Zac would respond, so I have to be toxic. It’s naturally putting myself in a toxic energy when I walk on set to be that character so that’s my biggest challenge.
Have you guys been watching “Sistas”? There’s a brand new episode airing at 9pm tonight on BET.
Hit the flip for more of our feature with Devale
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