By Tyler Aquilina
November 21, 2020 at 01:02 PM EST
2018 Toronto International Film Festival - In Conversation With...Mahershala Ali
Credit: Jeremy Chan/Getty Images

Long before he became a two-time Oscar winner, Mahershala Ali's first major film role came in 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — but he almost had to turn it down.

On an episode of Common's podcast Mind Power Mixtape, Ali revealed that he refused to perform a planned sex scene with his costar Taraji P. Henson in the David Fincher film due to his religious beliefs. Ali, a practicing Ahmadi Muslim, said he told his agent at the time, “I don’t do simulated sex.”

“My old agent called me and said, ‘Mahershala, you got the part.’ And I said, ‘There’s just one thing… There is that one sex scene where they kiss… If there’s a sex scene, I can’t do it,’ ” the actor recalled.

Fortunately, Fincher was accommodating, and the scene as filmed did not include simulated sex. In the completed movie, "Taraji and I begin to kiss, and we fall out of the frame," Ali explained. "It wasn’t clear if [Fincher] was trying to have, like, some bumping and grinding… which I doubt he was... At that time, 15 years ago, I was still like, ‘OK, I can only go up to this point,’ just because of — just trying to hold a space of respect for my religion."

Ali, who converted to Islam in 2000, recently played a Muslim religious leader on season 2 of Hulu's Ramy. "Getting to show a Sheikh and religious leader who feels like a real human was really important to me," Ali told EW of the experience.

The actor is next set to reunite with his Moonlight costar Naomie Harris for the Apple TV+ film Swan Song, and has been cast as the vampire-hunting superhero Blade in an upcoming Marvel film.

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