A GoPride Interview

McKinley Belcher III

McKinley Belcher III serves and protects on Netflix's Eric

Mon. May 20, 2024  by Jerry Nunn

I find it very charming and a reminder to lead with love.
McKinley Belcher III

mckinley belcher iii

photo credit // netflix

Actor McKinley Belcher III serves out and proud

McKinley Belcher III is a powerhouse out and proud actor who has a new Netflix series called Eric under his belt. The talented actor was born in Georgia and eventually graduated from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee with a Communication Studies and Political Science degree. After that, he completed an MFA in Acting at the USC School of Dramatic Artis in Los Angeles.

His theater career took off with a series of Off-Broadway roles that led to Broadway and A Soldier’s Play. His cast made history on Broadway as the first Black Loman Family in the classic play Death of a Salesman. His wedding to artist Blake Fox was officiated by his Death of a Salesman co-star Andre de Shields.

His television work continues to grow and he played Samuel Diggs in PBS’s Mercy Street and HBO’s We Own This City.

Eric is his second project with Netflix One Piece. While Eric may have an unassuming title the six-episode miniseries packs a punch. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Vincent a father who loses his son Edgar in New York. Set in the ‘80s, Vincent works on a children’s puppet show similar to Sesame Street and is influenced by Edgar’s seven-foot-tall creation named Eric.

Belcher portrays Detective Michael Ledroit, a gay man who is battling his own demons while searching for Edgar.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) First off, I grew up in Nashville and know Belmont University where you went to school. It’s very conservative, so how was it for you?

MB: (McKinley Belcher III) I grew up in a very conservative Christian household. My parents wanted me to go to Cedarville University in Ohio, which is even more conservative.

When I visited Belmont it was the one place that had a commercial music program. I in love with the city of Nashville quite quickly, so I had a beautiful experience there.

I have that place to thank for being an actor because I did my first play there. I joined the speech and debate team at the school as well.

JN: Did you ever consider being in the closet for your career?

MB: That’s a good question. Early on I was still trying to figure out where I landed on the spectrum of my identity. I didn’t even tell my parents because I wasn’t sure if I would end up with a man or a woman. Once I was sure of where I was then no.

For me, hiding is not a useful way of expending energy in a job that is so much about the revelation of self. If I used energy in that way I don’t think I could do my job at full capacity if I was doing that.

JN: In what ways are similar or different from detective Michael Ledroit?

MB: Related to your first question I am not closeted so I am not compartmentalizing in the way that Ledroit has to.

In his heart, Ledroit is an empath and that is something we have in common. He is good at his job and that is a thing that I strive for constantly, so we are similar in that too.

JN: How was working with the hair for Eric?

MB: It was fun! It made me a little nervous when we started because I wasn’t

sure what it would look like. I didn’t want to walk around like a dude with a cotton ball on my head.

Having the fittings early on helped with it feeling more natural. I am very happy with the look and it looks essentially ‘80s.

JN: What research did you do to become Michael?

MB: When this project came to me I was doing a play on Broadway. I closed the play on a Sunday, got married on that Tuesday and flew to Budapest that Wednesday to start shooting.

There was almost no time to do very much research, but the beauty of life is I am Black and queer so I didn’t have to research that. I have lived in New York for over a decade, so I understand what New York is. I have played a bunch of cops, marshals and detectives in other projects. A year before I had done a job where I did ride-alongs with Baltimore and New York police officers.

All of that information and knowledge came into play for this show.

JN: I started a new job in a recovery center where I help patients with HIV meds so my real life ties into Eric even though it’s a tale set in the past.

MB: I am proud that we are telling an interesting story that is queer and beautiful, but it also capturing what it was like to go through the AIDS epidemic in a very honest way.

I thank you for the work you are doing. I think it is very important and needed.

JN: I appreciate that. What did you take away from the experience of being in Eric?

MB: Ledroit’s story, at its heart, is about a man stepping into his power and understanding over time that he has to accept himself in order to be the change that he wants to see in the world. That is something not only for queer people, but everyone can identify with and relate to accepting themselves. I hope others find it helpful to them when watching the show.

JN: Who in Eric’s cast did you enjoy working with?

MB: About seven years ago I did a play called The Royale at Lincoln Center Theater with Clarke Peters. When I showed up on the set I saw one of my favorite people there playing George Lovett. It’s always exciting to build trust with someone in a different medium and then get to play on camera together.

Other than Clarke I hadn’t worked with anyone else before so I met a lot of new people. Because of Ledroit’s journey on the show, there were two very special people, Wade Allain-Marcus and Mark Gillis, whom I worked closely with. They could not have been more generous to me and interested in exploring what these characters were experiencing.

Of course, working with Benedict Cumberbatch and Gaby Hoffman was amazing. I was able to step into their worlds which were vibrating at a very high level. I was able to see their work up close and personal. I got to know them through their art and collaborated with them.

JN: The music used in Eric resonated with me.

MB: That was something that surprised me as I watched the episodes back. The music plays a large role in the show. The soundtrack pulls viewers back to that time period and creates a vibe. It sets up a rhythm to the show and the ‘80s in New York.

JN: Did it feel very immersive during the filming of it?

MB: We shot the first few months in Budapest and then the last bit in New York in New Jersey. One day in Budapest we were shooting outside and they had built a New York City block that we could drive through and there were cars and buildings. It felt like I was stepping into a time portal. That did not feel like a set at all. It felt like I was stepping back in time.

The interiors we had in Budapest felt like home in a way because we spent so much time in them.

JN: Did you like puppets growing up?

MB: I did watch Sesame Street as a kid. There is something otherworldly and creepy about puppets as an adult. I loved the use of them in this show because it is both whimsical and a way to connect to children. It also employs the imagination.

At the end of the day when telling a story with The Muppets or Sesame Street it’s dealing with simple human things where either a child or an adult can understand it. I find it very charming and a reminder to lead with love.

JN: For Benedict’s character Vincent the puppet represents his addictions.

MB: Yes, it is his internal turmoil manifested into a puppet.

JN: Is there a play you would still like to perform that you haven’t already?

MB: There are several Shakespeare works I would like to do. I hope to rope Benedict into playing Iago in a production of me playing Othello.

Hamlet was run by me a few years ago and I was unable to do it. I would love to be in Hamlet while I still can.

There are several plays by August Wilson that I would like to do. I am a big fan of Tarell Alvin McCraney and I would love to do his Brother/Sister Plays.

JN: I just spoke with him last Saturday night at the Steppenwolf gala. He remembered our past interview for Moonlight. I love Tarell!

MB: I love what he is doing in the world.

JN: When are you coming to Chicago?

MB: I have been to Chicago a couple of times. That's where I auditioned for grad school with the University of Southern California and I did a few episodes of Chicago P.D. We also shot a piece of Ozark in Chicago. I would love to come back because I had a good time there.

JN: What are your upcoming projects?

MB: I just finished shooting another Netflix series called Zero Day. It’s a political conspiracy thriller and I got to act with Robert De Niro so that was cool.

A festival circuit with Alan Brown’s next film called Other People’s Bodies is being planned and I have a play coming out soon that I can’t talk about at the moment.

JN: By the way, I just saw Eddie Izzard do a one-woman show of Hamlet at Navy Pier.

MB: At Chicago Shakes?

JN: Yes. Eddie was just incredible. While watching Eric, it meant a lot to me that you are out both onscreen and in real life. Keep up the good work!

MB: Thank you. I appreciate that!

Eric begins his journey on netflix.com beginning May 30, 2024.


Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.