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If anyone embodies Drake’s song “Started From the Bottom,” Shamier Anderson, a fellow Canadian, does. “I’ve been grinding for a minute from Toronto,” says the actor, who grew up in Scarborough, a marginalized district, with three brothers and their single mom, a Jamaican immigrant. “My mother didn’t accept the labels that we had very little hope, very little promise. She used to tell us, ‘Even though they label you as an at-risk community, we’re at risk to be extraordinary.'”
Anderson took his mother’s words to heart: He started from the bottom, and now he’s here.
At 6-foot-2, he walks into the Southgate Bar at the Essex Hotel in New York, smiling brightly even though he’s in the middle of a 48-hour sprint promoting his latest movie, Bruiser. Streaming now on Hulu, the Onyx Collective drama stars Anderson as the temperamental father of an impressionable teen boy (Jalyn Hall). The latter forms a connection to a drifter (Trevante Rhodes) who’s connected to Anderson’s character’s past. “Black fathers are usually absent, incarcerated or dead in cinema, period,” says the 31-year-old. “So I love the fact that we have not only one, but two Black men wanting to be in their child’s life. That’s a love story, and obviously, love is very complex.”
On March 20, when his next film, John Wick: Chapter 4, premieres, Anderson will pull double duty as action star and DJ for a party at the Canadian consulate in L.A. That’s right, DJ Shamgod comes out at night.
“I’ve used DJing as a way to make money when I needed to, and now I do it quietly, meaning friends’ parties, wrap parties,” he says. “When I do B.L.A.C.K. Ball, my party in Toronto, I always do a special guest set — DJ Shamgod comes on. People really like my stuff.” His giddiness over spinning is palpable. He’s already thinking of the playlist, which will likely include some Notorious B.I.G., Beyoncé, EDM and South African amapiano.
The B.L.A.C.K. Ball (the acronym stands for Building a Legacy in Acting, Cinema and Knowledge) has come a long way from being the hottest afterparty celebrating Black Canadians during the Toronto International Film Festival. Co-founders Anderson and his brother Stephan James, also an actor (If Beale Street Could Talk), went on to create the Black Academy, which aims to dismantle systemic racism through community-building. In October, they created and hosted the Legacy Awards, the first Black Canadian awards show honoring artists, performers, actors and sportscasters north of the border. Performers included Jully Black and Deborah Cox.
Anderson and James’ first foray into live television caught the attention of the Canadian Screen Awards. They received four nominations, including best host. A culturally appropriate stage moment might have secured them the nod: The brothers’ became “Jamaican Oprahs” and gifted their black-tie audience with traditional beef patties from Randy’s, a Toronto institution that closed during the pandemic. “Steph and I love that place. We grew on that place, a lot of the people did,” he says, referring to the city’s large enclave of first and second generations with Caribbean roots. However, the Legacy Awards’ real tribute was acknowledging their collective representation. “The origin came from the fact of understanding that there just isn’t enough of us being highlighted. There’s no short of talent, just opportunity. We have so many incredible Black artists coming from Canada. Too many to count, too many to name. It’s so important we have our moment.”
After John Wick 4, in which he plays a tracker trying to assassinate Keanu Reeves, Anderson will return to Simon Kinberg’s Invasion for Apple TV+. He also has upcoming roles in Mo McRae’s A Lot of Nothing and Brad Furman’s Tin Soldier.
While Anderson’s on-screen life looks very rich, he’s honest that committing to John Wick 4 came at a personal price. “It was a bit interesting time in my life where I had a lot of things happening within my family,” he shares. “Not to get too detailed, but it was something that I had to make a decision as I do with any film project. However, I have to be a man and a family member to the people who love me. So the sacrifice of time was a big thing.”
While the actor and producer paces himself for his next projects — he and his brother’s Bay Mills Studios are currently readying their first project, a limited series about Jean-Michael Basquiat — Anderson is grounded knowing the things that didn’t come his way, like an unbooked DC project, were blessings too. “Usually as actors, for me at least, the job that’s in front of you feels like the most important job of your career. But that’s never the case. Weirdly enough, that DC project that I didn’t end up getting, I think John Wick came in a couple of months after,” Anderson remembers. “As I’m learning and I deal with [loss], I accept it, I see it. But I’m getting better, if not I’m really good now of just being like water. I’m saying no a lot more. I’m being very cognizant of what I want to bring to my life creatively, time-commitment-wise. [But when I’m working,] I’m like a pit bull. When I lock jaw, my process is vicious, I go in. But when it’s time to let go, I let go and I release. It’s the Jamaican in me, my single mom in me.”
A version of this story first appeared in the March 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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