It’s not every day that a kid is one of the most memorable and laugh-out-loud funny characters on a sitcom. But Marsai Martin is one of those kids with her character Diane on “black-ish.” Her comedic timing is impeccable, reactions fittingly expressive, and she’s the perfect foil to her character's twin, Jack, played by Miles Brown.
Standing out among comedic heavyweights like Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Jenifer Lewis is no easy task, especially for a 12-year-old.
How did you get into acting?
At a very young age, when I was a baby, I used to mimic all of these movies, like “Dreamgirls” and “Ray,” the type of movies you wouldn't think a little kid would know. But my parents thought I was great. Then, one day, we went to get holiday photos done, nothing big, but the photographer was like, “This girl is spectacular and really great. She knows her left and her right and it's amazing.” The photographer gave us a business card to an acting class with Kathy Sullivan. We went there a few times and then the rest is history. We moved to California because of my dad’s job, and it wasn’t even a year yet when I got 15 national commercials and “black-ish.”
Describe the audition process for “black-ish.”
There were more than 100 people auditioning for Diane, and it ended up at five people. I was one of them, and I was super nervous. We lived in Huntington Beach at the time and we had to drive to Burbank for every stage in the process. Two hours... that’s a nightmare. On our way to the final callback, I was hungry and tired. Of course, I spilled syrup on my pants on the way there. I was so sad and overwhelmed. It was a screen test and everyone was gonna be there and they'd see syrupy pants. It was insane.
But at the screen test, Miles was there, because he already had the twin part and they wanted to test our chemistry. We had the same colored Chucks on, same colored shirt on and, guess what, he had spilled syrup on his pants too. It was crazy. The only difference was his was from McDonald’s and mine was from Jack In The Box.
After the screen test, we were on our way back to Huntington Beach on the 405 freeway. It was dark and I was half asleep. Then the agency called and said I got the job. I was super excited and pumped, but I was super tired. When I woke up the next morning, that's when I [celebrated].
What do you like most about your character Diane?
She’s very smart. On the inside, she's very humble and sweet and kind, but on the outside, people think she’s possessed. She’s not sassy or any of that. She’s just different. That's what I like about her.
I don’t cry at meeting celebrities, but I did cry with [Beyoncé].
— Marsai Martin
Do you have any comedic inspirations?
Probably my mom, because she's very sweet and humble, but super hard to impress. If I tell her a joke or say what's on my mind that's funny and she laughs, I know I can make anybody else laugh. And she takes care of me and gets me food. [laughs]
Who’s the biggest celebrity you've met this far?
Beyoncé. She’s queen! Who would not want to meet her? She’s so down to Earth and humble. I don’t even remember what she said, because I was so geeked out. I don’t cry at meeting celebrities, but I did cry with her. I was dizzy, and it was at the White House so I met the president [Obama] and Beyoncé and the first lady on the same day.
What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?
Believe in yourself. Push to your highest limit. Be confident that you can do it. If you take that one push to do it, then God’s got the rest. Just leave it up to him.
I know it’s early, but do you have any goals for your career.
I see myself directing, writing, doing my own TV shows and movies. I see myself being a legend! [laughs] I don’t know what 30-year-old or 20-year-old Marsai would want, but there's a path for me. And I want an EGOT!