The show was a major hit and gave Ali the opportunity to shine. Then he quit. “I think it surprised them,” Ali says, looking back. “Most actors aren’t going, ‘I want to be off your hit show’.”
But Ali was sure his future lay elsewhere. “I said to my manager, ‘I believe I’m a leading man.’ Forgive me if that sounds arrogant. That’s not my intention. It’s where my vision for my career, my experience, was at. I never let go of that in my mind.”
The first step on his path was Moonlight, which won Ali an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and eventually took Best Film after the notorious mix up when La La Land was incorrectly announced. Just four days before he stood on stage with his award, Ali’s wife, the artist Amatus Sami-Karim had given birth to their first child, a daughter named Bari.
He quipped of the frantic lead-up to the Oscars: “My wife was pregnant with a baby. And I was pregnant with an Oscar.”
Ali scooped a string of awards for his powerful performance, including a SAG Award, which arrived days after President Trump’s controversial travel ban. Movingly, Ali accepted his award and used his speech to tell the world he was Muslim.
Since Moonlight, Ali has been busy with fatherhood, shooting Green Book and spending seven months shooting season three of HBO’s True Detective, on TV now.
“It was intense,” he says of the show in which he plays detective Wayne Hays. “But I’d do it again, just because of how stretched I felt as an actor.”