Malcolm Goodwin on iZombie, Rob Thomas and Working Behind the Camera

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We’d reached the 17-minute mark during our interview when Malcolm Goodwin had to finish filming a scene on the iZombie set. Apologetic over the interruption, he asked if it was okay to finish the interview later. The actor is true to his word, and returns excitedly talking about a special guest-star on set—NBA legend, Rick Fox. Goodwin describes Fox as his “favorite NBA player ever… I always liked him as an actor since HBO’s Oz and he’s so great.” When I tried to figure out if Fox will have a recurring role, Malcolm deftly blocked and refused to give a definite: “This show is one of those where you will never know. Unless you die—if you are alive, you might come back!”

The New York City-raised actor began his career trajectory under the theater lights, but a move to LA soon found him working alongside Denzel Washington in American Gangster. Acting isn’t the only way he earns his bread and butter. Malcolm Goodwin and his partner, Victor Hawks, released two projects under Vision Vehicle Productions—Pass the Light and Construction—which he found time to direct during breaks from acting.

However, it’s his stint as Detective Clive Babineaux on The CW’s iZombie which made major waves during its first season. The show is based on DC Entertainment’s Vertigo comic of the same name, and Paste caught up with the actor to discuss his early beginnings, getting behind the camera and of course, working alongside Rob Thomas for iZombie.

Paste Magazine: I know you attended a theater-based high school, Julia Richman High School. How did you find your way to theater?

Malcolm Goodwin: I grew up with a bad speech impediment. I stuttered, I stammered, I talked a trillion miles per hour. I couldn’t say my own name until I was five-years-old, believe it or not. The only time there was any clarity in terms of me communicating, was when I memorized something and recited it. In elementary school, I was Dr. Charles Drew for Black History Month. I never switched it up. I thought, “I could do it better! I can do his speech better!” From the third-grade to sixth-grade, I did the same thing, until I perfected it.

It was the first time I could communicate, speaking as Dr. Charles Drew and people understood me. They didn’t go, ‘Huh? What? Slow down!’ It turned in to people saying, ‘You’re acting! That’s acting.’ I wound up going to junior high, high school and college for theater and really, really fell in love with it. In Julia Richman, the program was called the Talent Unlimited Program, this little, tiny program—but that’s what started it. Years later, I finally heard myself and I was able to make the switch instantly. I thought I sounded the same way on stage, but apparently, I didn’t. That’s how I fell in love with theater.

Paste: Was there someone in particular who taught you that trick?
Goodwin: I would give credit to a lot of my teachers. One of my teachers really kept pushing for me to get better and to slow down. I was a super shy kid. Super shy and quiet, but I was thrown all these characters in my head and I would pick up on people’s mannerisms; and it helped my performance. My onstage personality was completely different.

I went to another theater program, probably one of the biggest, when I was thirteen. They picked 20 to 25 kids all across the country, where you’re in this house together and you’ll work on two shows. Half of the group would act, while the other half were stage-managing, handling the lights—pretty much the crew and producers of the show. That changed my life. Even in terms of the speech impediment, they were the first people there to allow me to hear myself and throw down, and make the merge from what I did on stage to how I can apply it to real life. After that program, that’s when I decided at 13, that I wanted to be an actor. That’s when I got the bug.

Paste: Was that your first time writing and producing?
Goodwin: Yeah, exactly. Actually, you know, I never realized that until this conversation.

Paste: Oh, awesome!
Goodwin: Wow. I never really sat and thought about what led me to producing, but you’re right. That was the moment that led me to say, “Oh, they taught me how to build a theater. I can build one with my own hands.” Give me any space, I can build seats, I can light. They gave us these skills and in my senior year of high school, I built a theater in a classroom and I wrote and produced my own play. The teachers supported that and allowed me to just take over, which lead to me writing more plays. Then there was an interest in TV. And from the TV work I graduated, because I was so stuck in the theater world. Everything was about theater then, one-hundred percent. No film, no TV—it wasn’t even on my radar.

One day, someone gave me a camera and while shooting I said, “I want to learn about this.” So I took an internship at a film studio. I worked there for two years and I got to learn everything—the ins-and-out of filmmaking. We did a bunch of music videos, commercials and I was an intern for two years. I got a wealth of knowledge. It felt like a full film education working two years, I got to do everything from sound to post-production editing, to gripping, to gaffing; and that was all part of the curriculum at this particular film studio in New York. That’s how that happened.

Paste: Your project, Pass the Light came out earlier this year. How did that process begin and when did you make the jump to a different genre, musical-comedy, with the film, Construction?
Goodwin: When I got to LA, I had already produced and directed dozens and dozens of projects. Some that saw the light of day, majority that will never see the light of day. A lot of trial and error. When I came to LA, I wanted to focus one-hundred percent on acting, and my first three months here, I got American Gangster. From there, things just spiraled off and it’s been non-stop since.

It gave me opportunities to meet people who wanted to get their projects done. The first one was called A True Story. Two friends of mine asked and I said, ‘I don’t got the time to do it as a play, but if we can do it as a film, I’ll shoot it for you guys.’ Next thing you know, eight months later, ‘Here’s the screenplay! We’ve raised some money. Will you do it?’ It worked out perfectly, where I had a month off and we shot it in 12 days. Then another friend of mine, who’s now my business partner [Victor Hawks], had a Broadway-musical project, Construction that he wanted to turn in to a screenplay. I said, “I like Broadway. I like musicals! Get it done and I’ll do it for you.” And he did—a romantic comedy.

These movies weren’t done for a lot of money. After Construction was screened, someone asked us to consider a family, inspirational, faith-element kind of film and Victor said, “I think I could write it.” Ten days later, he wrote one. And we shot Pass the Light in 17 days. All this was at least a year to a year-and-a-half apart. It was one of those things where we didn’t have long-planning. I’m talking about, a month planning and a month and a half later, we will film. I jumped at the opportunities because I loved it and enjoy it so much. I’m very proud of all these films, especially Pass the Light because of the reactions I’ve seen. Hopefully it’ll come out in digital soon.

Paste: One of the best things about your iZombie character, Detective Clive Babineaux, is that he’s accepting of all of Liv’s weird quirks. From her personality disorders, to visions, everything is accepted with wide-open arms. How much fun is it to work with a character whose motto is, “Yeah, fine—let’s just get the job done.”
Goodwin: (laughs) Oh, yeah. I grew up with so many people with that tunnel vision, who worry about their task at hand and don’t really deal with all the peripheral things around them like that. As long as they achieve the results! That is Clive. Some girl he meets is a zombie—who he doesn’t know is a zombie—is also a psychic, okay, who dresses goth or emo, and he just runs with it. She helps him solve his first case. It’s fun to play that, especially when he has no idea about the supernatural element or the zombie culture. It’s fun as an actor to play that, in terms of this character living in this reality.

Paste: That’s a great segue to my next question. Rob Thomas and the previous talent to his shows are a close-knit family. How is it being on a set where the talent is already so close?
Goodwin: It’s one of the best working environments that I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve been fortunate to be in some really incredible ones, like [FX’s] Breakout Kings, we’re all friends to do this day. That energy that Rob Thomas brings, it allows you to do your best and sets the tone of how everyone gets along and how they communicate. Even the stuff we do on social media—we do right in between takes. Someone will come in on their day off the pull off a sketch within 40 seconds. It creates an environment where everyone is respectful and supports one another; it starts with Rob. It starts from the top. It’s a special experience.

Paste: At the end of last season, you were suspicious of Major. Do you think he’s going to have a hard time playing bad cop, due to his friendships with the other main characters?
Goodwin: I think so. Clive went out on a limb in terms of helping Major. I think there’s so many elements to the puzzle, it’s going to be almost impossible for Clive to let Major off, especially since Lieutenant Suzuki was killed in the process. There’s more to the story. It’s an interesting dynamic.

Liv knows Clive will go after Major. That’s his tunnel vision. How will it affect Liv? I don’t know. Clive is the seeker of the truth by any means. He’ll stay consistent to his gut feelings. But maybe if he finds out the real truth about zombies, I think that would be the only thing that could sway him. Who knows? There’s so many fun things happening this season with the friendship between Clive, Ravi and Liv. You’ll get to know so much more about Clive’s personal life.

Paste: There are only two things I’m hoping for—that Clive will learn the truth about zombies sooner rather than later. Secondly, I would love a scene where Clive is playing video games—and owning everyone.
Goodwin: Yeah and he’s really good! (laughs) That’ll be great. “Wow, he’s incredible! When does he have time to do this?” And Clive says, “You don’t know my life!”

iZombie airs on Tuesdays at 9 PM EST on The CW.

Iris A. Barreto is a writer for Fangirlish, freelance writer for Paste and social media intern for Pink is the New Blog. Heavily caffeinated. Forever lost in Westchester, NY & NYC; all GPS apps hate her. You can follow on Twitter.