The two-time Oscar winner plays a pivotal role opposite Ramy Youssef, who last year won a Golden Globe for his performance.

By Derek Lawrence
April 28, 2020 at 10:54 AM EDT
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Mahershala Ali never expected to be following up his second Oscar win with a role on a sophomore Hulu series. But he also never expected Ramy.

Last summer, just days after Ali shocked Comic-Con by being revealed as the star of Marvel's upcoming Blade movie, it was announced with just slightly less fanfare that he'd be joining season 2 of Ramy. Now, ahead of its May 29 release, EW has the exclusive first look at Ali opposite Golden Globe-winner Ramy Youssef.

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"I remember seeing an ad for the show on Instagram before it came out, and it immediately caught my attention and I messaged it to my wife, just on some like, 'Oh, interesting Muslim content!'" recalls Ali, who converted to Islam in 2000. "He gets into what is problematic about taking certain actions and how as people we’re constantly having to wrestle with our choices and our desires, and at the end of the day really want to have peace and fulfillment and do strive to do what’s right."

Fast-forward and Ali was even surprised himself when he transitioned from viewer to Ramy costar. In the planning of season 2, Youssef had hoped to introduce a Sheikh by the end of the new batch of episodes and moving into a prospective third season, but he soon needed to call an audible. "I had this amazing hour-long phone call with [Ali] and he was so thoughtful about the show and the things that he really liked about it, and then it just kind of felt like he left the meeting like, 'Whatever you need me to do, I’m in,'" shares Youssef, who then wrote the role of Sheikh Ali for his famous fan. "I couldn’t have done it with anyone who wasn’t of the composure of him. It speaks to just how amazing this dude is, to meet someone who is this Academy Award winner two times over and walks onto the set of a sophomore show and says, 'What do you want me to do?' It’s really rare."

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Ali's Sheikh serves as mentor on Ramy's spiritual path, and Youssef relished the opportunity to show a different side to a man in his position. "Getting to show a Sheikh and religious leader who feels like a real human was really important to me," he says. "In one of my favorite bits of it, he says, 'As my teacher once told me, I don’t know.' Like just hearing someone in that situation and position say 'I don’t know' is so powerful to me."

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Hulu and A24's Ramy returns May 29.

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Ramy

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  • Ramy Youssef
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  • Hulu

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