The talented young actor talks about his new film, working with Will Smith, Sleeper Cell and other future projects

Michael Ealy is on quite a meteoric rise through the Hollywood system. After a handful of guest-starring TV roles and smaller roles in films like Kissing Jessica Stein and Bad Company, Ealy made a huge breakthrough with his performance as Ricky Nash in Barbershop, which was followed with the sequel Barbershop 2: Back In Business and his starring role back on the small screen in the phenomenal Showtime mini-series Sleeper Cell, which he was honored with a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Darwin Al-Sayeed. Ealy's latest film puts him alongside the most bankable star in Hollywood, Will Smith, in Seven Pounds, which hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on March 31. I had the chance to speak with Ealy over the phone and here's what he had to say.

So what was your first impression when you first read the Seven Pounds script?

Michael Ealy: Oh, great script. Great love story. A really great love story.

I read that Will Smith hand-picked you to play his brother in this, so that had to be a huge confidence-booster. What was it like working with him and what kinds of things did you learn from him on the set?

Michael Ealy: Yeah, he is awesome. You could go in expecting him to have an ego and expect him to be a nightmare because he is such a big star, but none of that is there. It's about the work, he's very collaborative. In rehearsals, we just had a ball, man. We just had so much fun, trying to figure out the dynamic between these two brothers and what does it mean and how does it work. I don't care who I'm working with, as long as they're serious about the work, we'll get along, and that's how I felt with Will. He loves to do this. He loves to make movies and he likes to make them good (Laughs). That's helpful, so it was just a joy to work with him.

You're a fairly young and up and coming actor, so did he give you any kind of career advice when you were on the set, or anything like that?

Michael Ealy: No, it's interesting. Will is not like preachy. He's more like lead by example. There's two ways to approach Will. You can follow or you can watch and learn, and I just kind of watched him and learned how he dealt with people, how he dealt with life and how he approaches his own work. I was just highly impressed.

This is quite a unique film and one that's kind of difficult to market. I remember one of our guys was talking to Will at the theatrical junket and they were talking about how no one really knew what this film was about. Was a drama like this something you had been looking to take on for awhile?

Michael Ealy: Well, yes and no. I wasn't necessarily looking for this particular type of story. What I was looking for was something intricate and interesting and something we haven't seen before, something original. To me, this was a very original script and original story that kind of appealed to me. I don't have a big brother, so that was a simple choice for me. 'Oh, good. I get to play a younger brother, but he's acting like the big brother because the older brother is f*&%ing up' (Laughs). You know what I mean? It was good for me and at the end of the day, I got to work with Will. You just kind of can't say no.

You have a stellar supporting cast around you with Woody Harrelson, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper. What was your impression of working with those guys and what did they bring to the table?

Michael Ealy: When I signed on, I think Woody might have been the only one that was on. Rosario and Barry weren't on and when they got those two, I mean, come on. Rosario completely kicks ass in this movie. She is just the most endearing and likeable and sweet girls I've ever seen on camera, on screen. In my opinion, this was her Pretty Woman. Barry Pepper, I met Barry at the premiere and I actually sat behind him, and I was just like, 'You, are just one of the coldest actors out there. I just love what you do.' Barry Pepper does some amazing work. He does some amazing work, from The 25th Hour to Saving Private Ryan, this guy is underrated beyond measure. I love what Woody did. In terms of playing a blind guy and just how Will's character insults him and how he deals with that, listen, I think Woody Harrelson has a lot more range than a lot of people can ever imagine. He has so much range. Listen, to have my name on this screen with these kinds of actors, it was my honor. I mean, really. I'm honored to be on the screen with these people. These are good actors.

Gabrielle Muccino has chosen some rather interesting stories to tell in his career. So how what was his style like on the set and how would you compare him to other directors you've worked with?

Michael Ealy: Gabrielle and Will have worked together before, so in rehearsals, it felt like they were speaking another language. I felt like that guy who didn't understand their language and it took me awhile to play catch-up. I liked Gabrielle a lot. He doesn't believe in spelling things out for the audience and I respect that as an actor. To work with him was like, how do I explain it, it was almost like he and Will were like brothers, and I was the friend that wasn't there last night when they were watching TV last night and didn't get the inside joke (Laughs). I was kind of an outcast, for a minute, and they did their best to make me feel comfortable, but they just had such a history. But, if Will Smith and I did another movie together, I'm sure someone else will feel like that.

Do you have a favorite scene from the film or maybe a favorite memory from the set?

Michael Ealy: Yeah. My favorite memory was the scene between me and Will in the street where I confront him about what was going on. Whenever I go at somebody in a scene, and it's confrontational, I have to warm up for the scene, physically. I have to warm up doing my best Sugar Ray Leonard impersonation. So I'm standing there on set and I'm just there throwing hands, like I'm a boxer, right? (Laughs) It turns out, Will does the same thing. Now, Will has trained to play Muhammad Ali, so this guy comes out and he does the same thing, but he looks, like, official. My Sugar Ray Leonard impersonation is nothing like his Muhammad Ali. He was so technically sound as Muhammad Ali, that I was like, 'Damn. He looked like Muhammad Ali.' This guy comes out and he's throwing hands and he's just in his own zone and I'm across the set watching him and I start to freeze up. I was just like, 'OK, let me just be mad' (Laughs). I don't look like that when I throw hands. He just looked like a tactician in the ring and I was like, 'Yeah, I should just go listen to my iPod now and I'm going to go get mad.' This is like a serious scene and it kind of jacked me up. I don't know why, but I thought I was the only one who kind of warmed up that way.

Wow. That's a great story. So, I talked to Melissa Sagemiller last summer and she said she heard a rumor of the possibility of another Sleeper Cell installment, which I absolutely loved by the way.

Michael Ealy: Oh, thanks, man.

I'm a huge fan of that, so I was wondering if you have heard anything like that, if there are any new episodes in the pipeline?

Michael Ealy: There is a rumor. I don't know how real it is. I would like to believe it is very real, but I don't want to promise or say anything I can't back up, because the fans of Sleeper Cell have been wonderful! Absolutely wonderful. I go places, I go around the world and people have seen it around the world, so I want to give them one more season. I just don't want to say it until I can.

Yeah. I'm a huge fan of that so that'd be awesome to see another one.

Michael Ealy: Oh, thanks man. I appreciate that, man.

So is there anything you can tell us about Bone Deep or anything that you're eyeing up that you can discuss?

Michael Ealy:Bone Deep, I'm not sure when that's coming out. The end of this year, top of next year, maybe. That one is a thrill ride. There is a lot of really cool action and it's kind of like a heist flick but the real undertone is brotherhood. It's like how tight are you with your brothers, really? It's on two fronts too, there's the cops and then there's us, so I don't know. I really liked the way that movie kind of came out and I can't wait for people to see that one. In terms of what I'm doing next, I have no clue. I'm trying to figure that out. I'm just kind of sifting through material and trying to develop projects for myself these days. One of the things I learned from Will was, produce, produce, produce.

So, finally, the film did fairly well at the box office, but what would you like to say to those who might not have caught in the theaters to give it a shot on DVD?

Michael Ealy: I think, one, there were a lot of people who came up to me and said, 'What's this movie about?' They couldn't tell from the trailer. Then the movie came out when the economy and the country were in a bit of a depression, so I think people wanted to see something that was going to make them laugh, and they didn't feel like this was the movie that would make them laugh. Who knows. Timing is everything, but I just can't help but think that Paul Blart: Mall Cop did really well, you know what I mean? I love that movie. It was funny. We just need to laugh these days. Whatever happens at the box office, happens at the box office. The box office is not a reflection of whether the movie was good or not. No one saw Rendition. That was a good movie. A lot of people haven't seen The Wrestler. That was a good movie. There are people that haven't seen Seven Pounds. That was a good movie. People haven't seen Miracle at St. Anna. That was a good movie. People haven't seen Sleeper Cell. That was a good show (Laughs). I think, over time, people will see certain movies. I mean, I didn't see Ed Zwick's Glory until I was, I don't know, 23 maybe? 24? So, it was like 10 years later and that movie became like a calling card to me. That movie is amazing. I think, eventually, down the line, and with technology being the way that it is, people are going to start watching movies and just see a body of work and just go from there.

Awesome. Well, that's about all I have for you. Thanks a lot for your time and hopefully we get some more Sleeper Cell out of you.

Michael Ealy: (Laughs) All right, Brian. Appreciate it, man. Bye.

You can watch the awesome Michael Ealy alongside Will Smith and the rest of this wonderful cast when Seven Pounds hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on March 31.