Exclusive: ‘The Neighborhood’ star Marcel Spears on finding just the right role model

Marcel Spears and Cedric the Entertainer on the set of The Neighborhood
Marcel Spears and Cedric the Entertainer in The Neighborhood. Pic credit: CBS.

Marcel Spears is grateful for the opportunities he has received and appreciates being called an “overnight sensation.”

Since graduating from Columbia University with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, Spears made a name for himself in many stage productions, followed by his television debut in the comedy, The Mayor.

Now, he is starring alongside Cedric the Entertainer as family man Calvin Butler in the CBS comedy, The Neighborhood.

The show is all about what happens when the friendliest guy in the Midwest moves his family to an L.A. neighborhood where not everyone looks like him or appreciates his outgoing demeanor.

Spears plays his chipper younger son, Marty, who lives next door to his parents with his unemployed older brother Malcolm (Sheaun McKinney).

The cast is rounded out by their mom, Tina (Tichina Arnold), and neighbors Gemma Johnson (Beth Behrs), and her husband Dave (Max Greenfield).

We were lucky to have Spears sit down with us for a chat all about the show and his career to date.

Beth Behrs, Sheaun McKinney, and Marcel Spears on the set
Beth Behrs, Sheaun McKinney, and Marcel Spears. Pic Credit: CBS.

Monsters & Critics: Marcel, what do you love most about your show The Neighborhood?

Marcel Spears:  I am always grateful to have this opportunity and what I love most is the cast. You hear Hollywood horror stories that begrudgingly, people are working together, but after four years, there is literally none of that on our show. This cast is always willing to come in, have fun and make good TV. It is not something that I take for granted.

M&C: What do you appreciate about the friendly-family content?

Marcel Spears: To me, it feels like one of these shows that 10 or 20 years from now will still be relevant. It will still matter. I feel that the show is that timeless, and after four years, that is really cool.

M&C: Cedric the Entertainer portrays your father on the show and has a father figure demeanor, so is he like the patriarch of the cast?

Marcel Spears: Oh yes, 100 percent. Cedric is the head of the cast. The head of the group. The lead actor and executive producer of The Neighborhood. You can see it in the way he carries himself, and the values on the set come from the top down. He tolerates no egos and no Hollywood BS.

If you have a problem or an issue, he’s definitely going to hear you. Cedric prays before every show and before every table read. He is the father or uncle figure and a major caretaker.

M&C: Tell me about your love of hats, something else you share with Cedric.

Marcel Spears: Yes, we do. Right now, I am really into my black and gold pork pie hat. I thought that hat is dope.

M&C: What kind of role model are you for the younger actors and the fans?

Marcel Spears: I have been lucky in my life to have good mentors and to have Cedric help me understand the business side of this career and what I represent when I walk into the world. He helped me be able to identify those hurdles and challenges early in my career.

M&C: What are you most proud of – both personally and career-wise?

Marcel Spears: I am personally proud and grateful for being a working artist. I loved working off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway. I never take it for granted. There were times I thought, ‘Maybe, I should go into teaching.’ You feel that way after hearing no so many times. That you are not quite right – not quite in shape or not quite whatever.

I am proud that I kept the promise to myself to not give up. I loved playing T.K. Clifton on The Mayor because he was such a warm, loving representation of young black men. Now I get to play Marty Butler, an aerospace engineer, a guy who is an intelligent black man; this is an opportunity for some nerdy black kids can see themselves as Marty.

M&C: What are the fans of The Neighborhood like?

Marcel Spears: They are funny, especially because of the make-up of our cast. We get a very diverse fan base. Cedric brings his movie and TV fans. Beth brings fans from Two Broke Girls. There are fans of Tichina’s from Everybody Hates Chris.

That mix is on Twitter and Instagram. Our fans are as colorful as our characters. Recently, one lady invited me to her church. This lovely lady told me she has been following my career and would love me to come to her church in Arkansas.

Sheaun McKinney and Marcel Spears on the set of The Neighborhood
Sheaun McKinney and Marcel Spears. Pic Credit: CBS.

M&C: Take me behind the scenes of The Neighborhood.

Marcel Spears: If people aren’t not running to get snacks. You will find Beth getting into fantasy football and talking to others about it. The healthier members of the cast work out to stay fit and in shape and head out to get their nasty green smoothies.

Tichina’s dressing room is called Club T, where she makes Margaritas for the cast. There is music blasting and some drinks after rehearsal. And Cedric is hanging out talking to everyone with a cigar in his mouth. We are very close friends, and we truly enjoy one another’s company.

M&C: If I gave you a free weekend (cell phone turned off the entire time), how would you spend it?

Marcel Spears: I would 100 percent go back to New Orleans. It is one of the best cities in the world. I am going to eat scrumptious food and sit back to listen to random jazz musicians.

M&C: How do you advise someone on dealing with all the ‘no’s this career involves?

Marcel Spears: I would say to surround yourself with people who are doing the thing that you want to do. So, actively pursue that work. The best teacher is experience. Keep writing, acting, or whatever your passion is. Always keep trying because that will build up the muscle you need to go to the audition rooms until you get to that yes that you are waiting for.

One of the things I tell actors coming up behind me is that you have to make sure you love it enough to pursue everything that it takes. For example, in my graduating class at Columbia University, only four or five of us who got an MFA kept looking for this kind of work in the arts. Many of my classmates lost their stamina, their confidence or got called to do something else. If you want it, you’ve got to stay with it!

For more about The Neighborhood, check out: Cast of The Neighborhood deals with stolen sneakers, Amir O’Neil guest stars as Jamaal.

The Neighborhood airs Mondays at 8/7c on CBS.

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