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8 Quick Questions for Russell Hornsby

The former ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star is burning up the small screen on Starz’ ‘Black Mafia Family’

spinner image Russell Hornsby poses wearing a white T-shirt with dogs tags on a necklace.
Benjo Arwas

You may know Russell Hornsby from Grey’s Anatomy (yes, Season 1) or the fantasy series, Grimm. But he has a lot more going on these days. His impressive credits have grown to include movies like The Hate U Give and Fences, and complex TV series such as Black Mafia Family, The Affair and In Treatment

Your list of acting credits is lengthy. Any favorites?

The first series I ever did, Gideon’s Crossing. I had an opportunity to work with [actor] Andre Braugher and [writer] Paul Attanasio; an opportunity to be 26 years old and have a role with real integrity and play a little bit older than my station. [It was] a foreshadowing because I was never cast to play the sexy young kid, the young cat. I used to get a little frustrated until a mentor told me, ‘It’s not really going to start working for you until you pass 40.’ I was about 29 when he told me this. I was like, ‘You’re crazy, that’s forever.’ But he wasn’t wrong.

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spinner image "Black Family Mafia" star, Russell Hornsby, plays a pedal steel guitar in "See It…Touch It...Obtain It," episode, (Season 1, ep. 101, aired Sept. 26, 2021).
Russell Hornsby, stars in the 2021 TV series, "Black Family Maifa."
Jessica Miglio/Starz/Courtesy Everett Collection

Soon, you’ll play Don King (in Hulu’s Iron Mike). That’s some big shoes and hair to fill. Do tell. 

That was scary. I got the role at the last minute. The hair, the little paunch that they create for me, all of those things help. We didn’t do any sort of age makeup, I just had to embody a man when I’m 10 years his junior.

The odds are against making it in acting. What was your Plan B?

I didn’t have one. People told me to have a backup plan. I wasn’t purposely saying ‘I’m going to make it so I don’t need one.’ I was too lazy to think of one. People were taking a class to be substitute teachers. I could barely read; I could barely write. All I could do was act. I would just put everything I had into the acting.

Who were your acting inspirations?

I grew up watching Denzel Washington. I remember watching Glory in high school. I remember watching A Soldier’s Story with my mom. There were inspirations like Howard Rollins, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and there was Sidney Poitier — who inspired me because when you juxtaposed [films like] A Soldier’s Story or a Glory with, let’s say, a Shaft or [TV series] What’s Happening!! and you see the regality, you see the presence, the gravitas. Subconsciously you say to yourself, ‘That’s what I want to emulate.’ 

Where would we find you on your day off? 

I’m early to the gym. I’ve discovered the joys of infrared sauna. It’s almost an addiction now. When I’m on location, I like to be outside as much as possible, whether it’s just to take a walk or I might rent a bike. When I’m home, it’s my family [wife Denise Walker; two sons, ages 6 and 4]. I’m on call.

What’s the hardest thing about being a dad?

I’m an older father. I’m in good shape and healthy but that youthful energy to keep up is so challenging, but I love being older and having maturity in that whole, ‘I can walk with purpose.’ I have a lot more patience.

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You manage to stay in good shape, but do you have any food splurges?

When I was in New Orleans shooting Iron Mike, oh man, the gumbo was killer! A woman brought a King Cake to set: I’d say, ‘I’m only going to have a slice.’ Then I’d eat half of it. I justified it because I was Don King. Don King’s supposed to be a little jowly so I can get away with it. The only way to stop [eating] in New Orleans is to leave.

What do you watch with your kids?

I gave my kids a Schoolhouse Rock! box set. I’m thinking I’m doing them a favor. But when I started watching what they have now for kids, I was like, ‘This kicks Schoolhouse Rock! in the butt.’ This stuff is so advanced. I was so behind. I was being so nostalgic, thinking, ‘I’m going to get them ahead.’ It was a valiant effort.

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