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Fans of 'The Game' might have grown up seeing Tia Mowry-Hardrict alongside her twin Tamera on 'Sister, Sister' or have enjoyed Wendy Raquel Robinson as the feisty Principal Regina Grier on 'The Steve Harvey Show before they were cast in the dramedy, but few knew who the man born Marion Hall, Jr., better known as Pooch Hall, was.
Just days shy of getting the news that BET broke records with their fourth season premiere of 'The Game,' BlackVoices.com sat down with the hottie who plays wide receiver Derwin Davis on the Mara Brock-Akil created sitcom. During the conversation, 34 year-old actor talked about his humble upbringing in Massachusetts, what he's learned from Spike Lee and how his daughter has changed his life.
BlackVoices.com: First, congratulations on that amazing fourth season premiere of 'The Game.' BET pulled in 7.7 million viewers. How do you feel basking in the good news?
Pooch Hall: It's overwhelming. My dad said when I was a kid, 'You better be a son of a gun.' That's kind of how I feel -- something like that. It's so interesting to see people respond to me like, 'You're the man,' and 'I watch the show and you made me cry,' to have that affect of so many people. It's really cool.
BV: What is the craziest reaction you've gotten from a fan? Has anyone tried to fight you for acting up on the show?
PH: Oh, no nothing like that. The craziest reaction was a girl fainting at the Hawks game. Just crying. You know when you see videos of Michael Jackson performing and people yelling 'Oh my God.' That's probably the biggest reaction.
BV: How do you deal with the pressure of your breakout role on 'The Game' and playing someone that fans of the show all have an opinion about?
PH: For me, it's about making sure I stay true to the character so I don't cheat the fans. I don't want to not be prepared or focused and I have to give Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil a huge 'Thank You' because they trust me to be able to do what I do on the show and have alot of range. There are people in the industry doing it for 30 years and don't get half the range that I get. I don't do this for money or fame. I do this for the fans.
BV: Give us some insight into your background. People don't really know a whole lot about your story.
PH: I grew up in a family that didn't have much but we had each other. I had a brother and a sister and a mom and my dad. My dad was the backbone of my family and gave me the weaponry and know-how to become a big man.
BV: Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
PH: Well, I used to play with my super hero figures and drawing. I loved to draw and set up my action figures and create scenes. It's like doing pre-story board in a sense. I think that connects to who I am now and certain things that I did it, it makes sense that I'm doing what I am doing now.
BV: Where'd the name "Pooch" come from?
PH: I was Pooch since I was in my mom's pooch. That wasn't a fake name that I made up. I was Poochy. My dad is from down south and the next door neighbor used to ask how Pookie is doing, but my dad would call me Poochy.
BV: When did you decide to become an actor? Was that when you were enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth?
PH: I was playing football [in college] and the wide receiver and running back. I didn't even try to go into acting. I was on the bus when we went to play other schools making people laugh. People used to say, 'You need to be on TV. You're so funny.' I always entertained. I never thought you could become an actor from Massachusetts. Let alone what I've become.
BV: So when did you get your first break?
PH: They posted flyers around school for a movie being filmed outside Providence and I went down and I actually got a role in a movie. I was one of the only ones who got a role outside of hundreds of people to show up. I always wanted to do something special, but I thought my way of getting out of Massachusetts was sports because I boxed and played football my entire life. When I went to college, I fell into the acting thing. I thought with that role here's an opportunity since Hollywood was coming to me and giving me a role.
BV: Your breakout role was definitely in the television miniseries, 'Miracle's Boys.' How was working with Spike Lee on that?
PH: That's where my career really began because Spike made me a better actor and a better person. He made me understand what it meant to put in hard work and do good work and be the best that you can be as far as having every area covered. Acting is about being and creation and Spike said that 'You have to be one with your character so that if I don't yell cut, we can keep going.' That's what was cool about working with him. Spike is so small, but has such a presence but I wasn't intimidated because he believed in me and took a chance with me.
BV: The story with 'The Game,' is that you were really close to not getting your breakout role because you and your fellow castmate Hosea Chanchez have a similar look. Is that true?
PH: People always say me and Hosea resemble each other. I knew him before i knew anyone in the cast. Me and Hosea used to go out. We didn't come from many known projects, but I used to audition for a lot of commercials and he ended up commenting on 'Miracle's Boys' and how good of a job I did at one of the auditions. After that we kept running into each other and auditioned for 'The Game.' At first I went in for Derwin and then they brought me back to audition for Malik. Then they brought me back for Derwin.
BV: Did you get the role immediately after coming back to play Derwin?
PH: Oh no. The process was so hard it got to the point where I said, ' I don't even want this job. I don't even want to play this character.' I played football for 11 years and I felt like Hollywood doesn't know what football is or the choices that the character is going to make. I felt like I didn't know what [the network] wanted when I auditioned. Then, I got a chance to have a role in 'Pepper Dennis' with Rebecca Romjin Stamos and at the same time, they said they were going to go in a different direction. I wanted to do 'Pepper Dennis' anyway. We did our run and we only did 12 episodes.
BV: So, that show was short-lived, how'd you get back to 'The Game?'
PH: After the pilot of 'The Game,' they re-cast and I got a call, and went in. I felt the same way before and didn't know what to expect. I did a screen test with Tia where they narrowed it down between me and Chaz [Lamar Shepherd] who plays Trey Wiggs. Chaz is darker than I am and him and Tia were rubbing elbows in the lobby and laughing. I thought, 'They already got the chemistry going on. They're gonna pick him.' Well, I messed up and then Tia came out and said that Chaz messed up. They said,' Tia and Pooch could you stay a few minutes to re-do the scene?' and usually in Hollywood when they say 'Stick around,' they are interested in you. I said 'Yea, what?' in my mind...not out loud. (laughs) I went back in and killed it and the next day I got a phone call saying I got the part.
BV: Did you do research when you first got the part and ask any established athletes about their stories so that you could play Derwin Davis as real as possible?
PH: When I got the role, it wasn't too long after I had been a college rookie. So, my research was my experience in college playing football. In terms of the show, I was a rookie in the NFL. Remember, I was doing rookie stuff on the show. I was being Malik's flunky in a sense or being hazed and trying to have a voice. It was more about the relationship between me and Tia. Athletes came up to me and said how good I was and how believable I was. I'd tell them it was because I played football and that was where I was pulling from. I did watch ESPN and Sports Center faithfully but I wasn't basing my performance on any one T.O. or OchoCinco or Sean Jackson. I felt Derwin Davis was his own man and own brand.
BV: In the hiatus, you booked gigs. Were you ready to let 'The Game' go?
PH: I have a great agent Marni Rosenzweig who is my friend and like a big sister. She gets me and she also gets this business. She said, 'Here's a fact, Pooch, 'The Game' will end. We are living for your career and your family. I wouldn't be doing my job unless you go beyond 'The Game' and get you out there.' I did a pilot for FOX and other great things that didn't see the light of day. I also did 'Accidentally on Purpose.'
BV: Thankfully, it all worked out with you getting back on 'The Game,' but many people don't know in real life, you're a family man with a wife and kids. How do you balance that with being a Hollywood actor?
PH: I try and keep my family life private. I don' t like to bring work home but it is coming harder the more popular 'The Game' becomes because I will be with my kids and they are wondering 'Why do people want to take a picture of my daddy?' My oldest daughter is developmentally delayed and handicap. A lot of people don't know that about her because I'm sensitive about her and protective of her and all my kids, but that really changed my life. My oldest daughter requires a lot of attention and work and that's where my wife comes in and is a strong woman. She can't be as great as she can be because she has to make sure that my daughter can be her greatest.
BV: What do you think your daughter has taught you?
PH: She is a gift and a beautiful being. A lot of people complain about stuff that is really dumb. My daughter can't walk or talk and is one of the happiest people on the planet. All she knows is love. I take a page from her book. The world would be so much better if we don't judge. I don't complain about dumb s**t. I don't complain about all red M&Ms or if my water is room temperature.
BV: You're not one of those actors that comes across as really egotistical, though. That's not you.
PH: As far as my acting, I don't know any other way to be but real. Acting for me is being. Like [on 'The Game'] when my wife is telling me it's not my son [or if] I'm being Laz Alonzo's best friend in 'Jumping the Broom' and wanting him to make the right choice [or if] I'm being Ty'ree the older brother who wants his younger brothers to be better than him [in 'Miracle's Boys']. That's what acting means to me. I never want anyone to walk away from what Pooch Hall did and say, 'He didn't put it down.'
BV: 'The Game' will get another season. I think you're popularity is going to only grow. Believe it.
PH: We're walking down the streets like 'Say something.' (laugh)
BV: What's going on with Brittany Daniel? She didn't do much press like the rest of the cast, but just did a big Vibe magazine story on her recurring role status this season and talked about her frustration with shooting 'The Game.'
PH: Brittany Daniel is one of the most underrated white actresses in Hollywood. She is my friend, she is my sister and she is a soldier with us. When I see certain things not happening the same for Brittany Daniel, I get a little upset like 'Come on. We're a team.' There is no isolated incident, but if it's promoting 'The Game,' it should be Mara Brock Akil, Salim Akil, Pooch Hall, Tia Mowry, Coby Bell, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Brittany Daniel and Hosea Chanchez and Kelsey Grammer whenever he provides us with a nice spread from craft services (laughs). If someone's going to get something, all of us should get something. People were saying, 'I hear Brittany Daniel is making the most money,' and 'The white girl is on a black show making the most money.' I'm not saying that is true, I'm just happy for Brittany. All I can say is if Derwin has a voice I can't wait to have more scenes with Kelly Pitts next season.
BV: Looking back, is this the biggest payback to The CW ever?
PH: I have no ill will towards those people. I'm going to be honest. Two of the producers put me on 'Accidentally on Purpose.' They treated me right and for three years I had a wonderful job working on 'The Game' and a wonderful paycheck. Some people give their children up for adoption not because they don't love them but because they can't give them the life that they need. As far as The CW, it could have been a combination of a few things, but they didn't hate us because they allowed us to stay on for three years. I don't think that they could give us the home that we needed. I have two great parents The CW and BET. I treat them both like family. I don't judge them. I say, 'Thank You.' Plus, Dawn Ostroff, the head of CW, sent an email to [BET chief] Debra Lee saying 'Congratulations and that she is really happy for us.' That's a class move in my opinion.
'The Game' airs on BET Tuesdays at 10 pm EST.