The Pearson clan on “This Is Us” was already one of the most unusual families on TV when Asante Blackk, who plays teenage dad Malik, joined the show to add yet another dimension.
The character has swiftly become a centerpiece on the NBC drama and Blackk’s portrayal of him has fans wondering where exactly his blossoming relationship with Deja is headed. For Blackk, Malik represents something entirely new for audiences.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character like Malik before,” Blackk, 18, told TODAY. “Many people watching ‘This Is Us’ haven’t seen him before. He’s a young black father who’s there for his daughter and he’s not ashamed of his daughter. He loves her. He’s happy he has her. She’s his world. It’s a level of responsibility you don’t see in most 16-year-olds.”
Blackk also praised the drama for its refusal to paint Malik as one-dimensional.
“The writers didn’t stop at 'He’s a teen father.' He’s just a complex character. He really feels like a really live human being. It makes it easier to bring it to life. I think that’s why people are people are drawn to Mailk,” he said.
People have indeed been drawn to him. Blackk says while some viewers were skeptical of Malik when they first saw him, they’ve definitely come around.
“It’s just such a good feeling when people kind of tell you about how much your character shined a light on things they’re going through because they haven’t seen it a lot," he said. "It shows we’re making strides and making the entertainment industry show how nuanced things are more than Hollywood shows sometimes.”
And what does Blackk want to take away about his storyline about teenage fathers?
“Not to put that stereotype on them," he said. "They made a mistake. There’s more than meets the eye. You have to get to know a person. When you put a person in a box it’s hard to take them out. You want to show them who they really are.”
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The dynamic and bonds of family are placed squarely at the center of “This Is Us.” Whether it’s Malik raising a daughter, Deja expressing a desire to meet her birth mother again or Kevin doing his best to look after Uncle Nicky, the show is unflinching in its portrayal of all sides of family. Blackk says that’s the point.
“I think that the show does such a good job making audiences remember what family truly is," he said. "Everybody gets into it with their family sometimes. It’s just natural. But sometimes we need those reminders that family is the best thing we got, even if it’s not a biological family. We all need those people in our lives. It’s good to make sure you stay connected with your family. Family is the roots how you become who you become. It’s so important to be able to show that on TV so it can translate to real life.”
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One of the highlights of the current season came in the episode where Malik’s family met Deja’s family during a very tense dinner. Both sets of adult parents couldn’t shake their preconceived notions about each other, which led to an explosive showdown.
“It’s very interesting because it seems both of these families are doing what they’re reprimanding the other for doing,” Blackk said. “That episode was so well done.”
Blackk, who says he’s been a fan of “This Is Us” since the first season, also pointed out how the show made sure not to focus on color when those families reluctantly came together.
“It really tested those socioeconomic differences they have," he said. "I’m glad that it showed two black families who aren’t just black. They’re real people who have real problems and barriers and worries for their kids. Truly, it’s coming down to wanting the best for their kids.”
While Blackk is plenty happy to talk about the series, one thing he remains mum about is the Malik-Deja romance. He wouldn’t reveal any hints about what viewers can expect to see the rest of the season, although he did say fans will see the relationship grow.
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“Young budding love, so beautiful to see,” he said. “They get to see where it started and where it’s going to go.”
Blackk is a rising star in Hollywood. He already has an Emmy nomination under his belt for the miniseries “When They See Us” and his aunt is Samira Wiley, who won an Emmy for her role on "The Handmaid's Tale." Genetics and talent may have already shown what Blackk is capable of, but he says he is still in awe of “This Is Us” co-stars Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson, better known as Deja's parents, Randall and Beth.
“They’re so amazing. I consider them masters of what they do because they’re just so detailed and good at their craft,” he said. “They both really inspire me to continue studying my craft to get better.”
There’s a certain irony that Blackk has wound up on a show so focused on family.
“It was just pure bliss,” he said about how he felt after learning he got the role. “I’m still very new and people treat me like family.”
On a show like “This Is Us,” that makes perfect sense.