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Marcus Scribner Was Going to Quit Acting. Then ‘Black-ish’ Happened

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Marcus Scribner, who became a household name while playing the oddball of the family, Junior, in Black-ish, drops into The Carlos Watson Show to talk about wading into Hollywood, struggling not to give up and the woke Gen Z who have the power of technology on their side. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Wading Through the Hollywood Shuffle

Carlos Watson: Hey, Marcus, what do you think you would have done if acting hadn’t jumped off? And if you hadn’t booked something like Black-ish, which obviously has become such a phenomenon, what do you think you’d be doing right now?

Marcus Scribner: I honestly don’t know. And I always kind of use this to tell people, when I have young people come up to me and ask me, “Hey, how do I get into acting? What do I do? Where do I start?” I started acting when I was around 7 years old. And it was definitely a long, hard journey. Every single week, just like hours upon hours of getting better and working on scripts and practicing for auditions and trying to stay just active in the scene at all times.

Around the time I booked Black-ish, I was actually thinking about giving up on acting and just going to high school. It was taking up a lot of my time. And I was like, all right, I need to buckle down so I can get into some colleges and get good at this. But then I booked Black-ish and then all my dreams just came true. So I always tell people, never give up on your dreams. If you just keep on pushing, then you’ll eventually achieve them. So I honestly don’t know what I would be doing right now if I wasn’t acting. Probably … I don’t know. When I was younger, I always said I was going to be a doctor of some sort. I don’t know if that would have actually panned out, but I love teeth. So maybe I’d be a dentist. I don’t know.

Watson: Did you know when you went into the audition … and maybe this is a ridiculous way to say it … but when did you know that you were going to book it? Was it literally not until they called you? Did you start to have a feeling in the early auditions that there was some fire there?

Scribner: Oh, dang. I don’t think I ever realized it. I felt like every time I went in there, I was just there. … Everybody was laughing and we were having a great time. And Anthony was in the rooms at the time, Anthony Anderson. So, I always got great feedback from him in the room. He was like, “That’s perfect. That’s it. That’s Junior.” And I was like, “OK, all right, well this is looking good. This is looking promising.”

But I don’t know. I feel like after all the experience of going to other auditions and stuff, you always get those. You don’t always, but a lot of times you get those positive feedbacks, so you go really far in the process and you just don’t end up booking the role. So I never really knew that I was going to book the role for sure. I got confident when I got the phone call from them and they were like, “You booked it.” Then I was like, “All right. I got this, let’s go.” And it’s funny, because I’d never been that far in the process. So I didn’t know how things went. I thought once you got on the television show, you were just set. It was like, all right. I’m on TV now, it’s over. But I’m fortunate enough that Black-ish went the distance, and just kept on going for years and years. 

Watson: In retrospect, was there anything special that you did that you would whisper to a younger version of you? Like, “Do this,” if it’s that audition? Or do you think it was kind of … you did the same thing, but it just happened to work this time?

Scribner: I kind of did the same thing that we learned, luckily, talking with my parents and everything. The biggest thing that is also something is to do your research on the people that you’re meeting with. And find common ground, because obviously the better your knowledge is of the situation, where you are in the room … And it’s kind of harder as a younger person, when you’re just a kid and trying to figure out how to make conversation with adults. But finding common ground through research. So, my dad always taught me that, and it really helped, and it worked. I walked in the room, and I was like … I knew that Anthony and Kenya [Barris] were from LA as well, so I walked in, I was like, “Westside.” And they were like, “That was corny. You’re Junior.” So I was just like, “OK, perfect.” So it ends up working out sometimes.

The Life of a Star

Watson: What’s the coolest thing that happens when you’re a star, that, if you went back and told 12-year-old Marcus, “Hey, here’s what’s going to happen when you blow up.” What would surprise you?

Scribner: Well, 12-year-old Marcus would probably be most hyped about the guided tours through Disneyland and getting to go through the back exits. I’ve never felt more like a celebrity. You literally get to go through the back of the rides and stuff. This was when we were filming Black-ish in Disneyworld, so we really got the good treatment. Disneyworld was like, “We’ll treat you right.” That was wild.

And 12-year-old Marcus would probably freak out. But another crazy part. … all the free stuff is kind of wild. Eventually, you just don’t even want free stuff anymore, it’ll just be piled up. You got to get it out of the house. That’s another thing that’s probably a shocker to 12-year-old Marcus, who was saving up money to buy candy at the liquor store. So, yeah.

Watson: That’s great. And now, what happens to the relationship in your family? What happens when you’re still 14, 15, 16 years old, but all of a sudden you’re bringing in real money, people recognize you, but you’ve got a mom, you’ve got a dad, you’ve got a sister. What happened to the family and friendship dynamics?

Scribner: I know that I’m fortunate and blessed to be from Los Angeles. So, all the entertainment industry stuff happens here, and so life just went on. It was just a normal thing. My mom was still on me to focus on school 100 percent. I still had chores around the house. So just, I think having good guidance, and people around you who just surround you and treat you the same. I feel like the same normal person. I just walk down the street, and I’m chilling.

I go everywhere by myself, I don’t care. I do my grocery shopping. Nothing really changed, I feel. And I think I’ve just been fortunate enough to just be surrounded by the same people who I grew up with, and have parents who really cared, and guided me and taught me. So, yeah, I think things really didn’t change, which is kind of nice.

Watson: And were either of your parents in entertainment?

Scribner: No. No. Neither of them were in entertainment. So that’s why it was a big leap. I think they told me, they were like, “Well, we’re in Los Angeles. Might as well just, I guess, put them in acting and see what happens.” So I tried it out, ended up loving it, and here we are now. So I guess just going for it is really the message of that.

Weathering the Cultural Shift

Watson: Now, talk to me a little bit, if you would, about Black Lives Matter and last summer. Were you involved with that?

Scribner: I think it was impossible not to think about it and see it, which was brilliant because I feel like we as Black people have been seeing this for years and years, and it’s amazing that people are finally waking up and realizing what’s been happening. But yeah, I definitely was involved and excited that the wave started and that we were able to get our message across, and demand freedom, and demand rights for people who have existed and helped to build this country into … to make it what it is and shape the culture. So, yeah, I was definitely involved, and very excited about the movement that we saw.

Watson: When you talk to your friends who aren’t Black, do you feel like last summer did actually change the way … not just how people think, but the way they live in the world, the way they treat other people, the way they engage?

Scribner: I think that, culturally, we’ve been going through a shift for a long time. At least my generation definitely has been changing the narrative, I think, and shifting that dynamic a lot more, which is beautiful. And I think that the recent Black Lives Matter movement really made people more conscious and want to learn more and know more and be respectful of others.

Not only Black lives, but people of all races, and sexual orientations and whatnot. So I think it definitely made people more conscious. I can’t say for sure. I can’t really get into their minds, and know, is this affecting things? But I would hope so. And I would hope that after thinking on it, and taking in all the information that we’ve presented, and things that we’ve demanded, that people really start to change.

I think the issue is it doesn’t start with people. I think we have to dismantle it systemically because systemic racism is really where it all spawns from. And I feel like a lot of people have unconscious biases and things like that, that are just … It’s just difficult. Racism isn’t something that you’re born with, it’s taught. So we really have to dismantle the way that the system works in general.

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