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Mahershala Ali looks back on 'House of Cards' success, leaving the series

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Patrick Harbron/Netflix

After four seasons as Remy Danton, Mahershala Ali literally drove off into the sunset with Molly Parker’s Jackie Sharp — two characters burned by Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), trying to finally escape D.C.

Ali says he had been wanting to leave the series, adding that his recent ubiquity in small-screen (as Cottonmouth in Luke Cage) and big-screen (Moonlight) roles is thanks to leaving the drama behind. “I do feel a marked shift in [my career], and I think in a large part, it’s because of my exit from House of Cards,” he says. “I knew going into last season, that that was going to be my last. I had conversations with [the writers and Netflix] about making an exit, because I felt like Remy had said all he has to say. They were really kind about it, and we parted ways on good terms.”

Still, Ali is clear to point out that it was House of Cards in the first place that put him on Hollywood’s radar. “I owe a lot to my time on House of Cards, because up until I booked that show, I had been working consistently for 12 years, but I wasn’t working on anything that mattered in the way House of Cards did to its audience, to casting directors, to directors and producers,” he says. “The show hit this sweet spot.”

A sweet spot that included, well, plenty of Remy fans. “After [season 1] was released, I was walking in my neighborhood in Los Angeles, and every day, several times a day, people approached me thinking of me as my character, and that had never happened to me before,” he remembers. “A lot of times people would say, ‘Man, you’re supposed to be in a suit,’ and I’d be like, ‘Yo, you know that was acting, right?’ People were calling me Remy!” Not only that, but they wanted to know about Remy’s life alongside other House of Cards characters. “They wanted to know about working with Frank Underwood,” Ali says, laughing. “They had a lot of questions about my relationship with Molly. There were guys talking to me as if we really have a relationship that goes beyond a professional one… It was clear to me that that show really spoke to people.”

It also spoke to him, as the character — a White House staffer who becomes a lobbyist and whistleblower — wasn’t all about his identity. “I had never seen a Remy before… This is not something I want to gloat on, but especially as an African-American, I loved that the driving point behind Remy’s narrative wasn’t about race. It was just, that’s who he happens to be. And I think in that way, it was something that made him so much more relatable for so many people.”

To read more on Mahershala Ali, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands now, or buy it here now — and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Marvel’s Luke Cage is streaming now on Netflix. Moonlight hits theaters Oct. 21.

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