The entertainment industry can bring out the best and worst of the people involved from singers and dancers to actors and athletes and everyone in between. The “church” has a way of demonizing anyone who isn’t specifically working for a Christian organization, but let’s face the reality of it all. We are not of this world, but we do live in it. While we are being realistic, let’s keep it 100 and admit that our televisions and stereos tune in to plenty of sitcoms, movies, reality shows, and musical recordings that aren’t produced by a Christian company for a Christian audience. Whether you’re a fan or not, by now you have at least heard of the hit show on FOX network, Empire. The show has casted a catalog of actors, from Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson to Nia Long and Phylicia Rashad. Antoine McKay was blessed with the opportunity to play the role of Bunkie Williams on Empire and yes, he is a Christian.
Mr. McKay is a native from the Detroit, Michigan area. Did he always want to be an actor from childhood? No. Mr. McKay attened Eastern Michigan University and started out studying Forensic Science. For a moment, he considered studying Political Science to become a politician but, with humor, stated he didn’t want to be assassinated. He was bitten by the acting bug when he witnessed his brother perform in New York for the musical Oklahoma and the audience gave a standing ovation. Mr. McKay jokingly admitted he wanted to act to get the same reaction. He joined the Theatre program and studied under Uta Hagen. Uta Hagen had an intense program that Mr. McKay called “crazy hard,” but he appreciated the training that helped him prepare for his now 27 year acting career. That’s right, 27 years.
Mr. McKay has lived the typical life of an actor working several jobs at a time including waiting tables as he auditioned for opportunities to share his craft. He was eventually accepted as a part of Second City, a satellite theatre, in Detroit. He was invited to Chicago for their shows as well. He accepted the offer thinking he would become a famous actor in Chicago and eventually earn an Oscar. That’s the dream…right?
– Rising Action –
His acting career began to take off the way he hoped. He landed a role on Prison Break, but while his professional career was approaching the runway for takeoff his personal life was experiencing turbulence. You see, Mr. McKay wasn’t saved at the time. It wasn’t that he was ignorant of God or even “un-churched.” He attended church for 17 years during his youth but he didn’t know that Jesus was God.
He recalls getting drunk all the time. It was at this point in his life when his wife, Rebecca, gave him an ultimatum. She and the children were attending church on a regular basis and she was becoming strong in her faith walk. He had to choose the life he was living without her or get his life together, stop the drinking, attend church as a complete family and be present for the children. It was then that he promised God, “If you get me out of this I will serve you.” How many of us have prayed that prayer?
It was shortly after that that he made the decision to turn his life over to God and change his habits and actions and he became the youth pastor at his church. He served for 5 years with his church in this role of leadership and he considers that time one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. Talk about restoration!
– The Climax –
10 years ago, when Mr. McKay and his family moved to Chicago he hoped that his career would fly off like a rocket and he would be up for Oscar nominations. While he has had some diversions to his dream his film career is really taking off. Many may recognize him as Bunkie on Empire, but since that time he landed a role on the Amazon series, Patriot, as Gregory Gordon. He has also acted on the movie He Sends Rain as Arthur Sims, which can be viewed on Pure Flix or Amazon.
Mr. McKay has taken in as much as he can from all the experiences he has had while working with different actors. He mentioned, “People can get star struck and fold and mess up but you realize when you’re working with them that they are human.” He makes it a practice to remind himself of the saying in the bible to fear no man but to fear God.
When he does this, he can shake off the nerves to focus on working. He recalls an instance when he was doing lines for Empire and was standing in a circle with Taraji, Terrence, Lee and Gabby and while he was struck knowing that everyone in the circle but himself had Oscar nominations he still spoke up and gave his opinion on things that were being discussed to make the scene performance as amazing as possible. Mr. McKay stated, “You have to be focused, they are great. They can carry a whole show.”
Mr. McKay credits every opportunity he has had to God. He exclaimed, “Jesus is real man!” He feels that there isn’t a reason in the world why he, a person from Michigan should be presented with the opportunities he has been aside from anyone else. He believes that God put an individual in places and they can grow.
– What’s Next? –
“Theatre is my first love, obviously, but T.V. pays more,” said Mr. McKay. He and his wife, also an actor, began teaching an acting group, McKay Art, in their home six years ago. They simply chose a room in their home, painted all the walls black and went for it. He finds it to be an amazing form of ministry. Mr. McKay believes that acting can teach an individual a lot about their likes, dislikes, areas they are willing to compromise on or not and more. They offer classes for children up to adults.
Through McKay are they put on sketch comedy and plays. Currently they are working on an original play titled The Unspeakable Gift and written by Veronica Stoffa. Mr. McKay shared that the play shows the characters experiencing real and transparent struggles on their faith walk. It will be opening in October 2017. They will also have a comedy sketch, Hot Lava, coming in October 2017. Be sure to mark your calendars and catch a show if you are in the Chicago area.
– The Dilemma –
When an actor lands a role, they are hoping that the ratings do well for the project and that their performance is so great that it will help them land the next job. But wait, if it’s a Christian actor they are thinking about how this role may affect their family and their witness as a believer. Mr. McKay has been presented with decisions like this time after time.
During his acting career, he has developed a couple of rules that he will not bend for the sake of having an income. He and his wife, of 12 years, agreed years ago that there would not be any roles where he would do kissing or intimate scenes. He also takes into consideration what performances his six children can observe him doing. While Empire has been a bit racy, he has recorded the show and they watch his scenes and then turn the show off. There have also been times where he has had to simply turn a job down. An example is the sequel to the Harold and Kumar movie. While the opportunity could have proven to have a huge impact on his acting resume, the film was a bit egregious and he did not want to be a part of the cast. There has even been an instance where the script had a last minute proposed change that Mr. McKay wasn’t comfortable with doing. Thankfully, he was asked about his comfort level with the changes and when he spoke up that he was uncomfortable, the changes were not made to the script. Whew! God is faithful. Mr. McKay admitted that he “understands that the time will come where I will toe the line one of these days,” as his screen acting career progresses. But never the less he will continue to remain true to his ethics and choices for his craft.