Hailing from the “City of Brotherly Love” the son of two visual artists… Benmio McCrea gravitated towards acting at a young age. Philadelphia was a great place to begin my artistic journey. As a proud member of the first graduating class of Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts my training took me to New York City by way of Syracuse
C: What was it like growing up in the city of ‘Brotherly Love’ Philadelphia?
Philadelphia is an amazing city with lots to explore and experience. There’s so much history… great museums, theaters, universities and architecture. You’ve got the Liberty Bell…Independence Hall, Cheesesteaks… great sports teams…
and some awesome music comes out of Philly too. As a kid growing up you get a taste of all those positives. But it also had its challenges. The demographics and economics are ever changing. I remember the neighborhoods being all pretty segregated. So that was definitely something to navigate. Black or white, there was friction around areas that were gentrifying or experiencing a change in racial balance or diversity. I got jumped and earned a hospital visit by playing in the wrong place at the wrong time – and frequently dealt with prejudice. Our family endured other hardships too during my childhood. However, things took a strong positive turn for me in 1978 when the City opened the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). Not only did it provide a great arts education, it was also a magnet school for desegregation. It was a great melting pot of students from all walks and nationalities. I’m proud to have been a member of its first graduating class.
C: As a proud member of the first graduating class of Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, what was your favorite part about going to a school surrounded by those with the same passions?
Every day was an adventure going to that school! I had a long subway ride just to get there. Philly is not quite like New York City where everyone takes the subway. But there was a bunch of us that had to take the train. Our school was in center city in an old office tower… the top floors of the former Atlantic Richfield Building. It didn’t look like a school at all. And, it didn’t have most things that come standard in your average public school – no gym, no auditorium. The converted classrooms were pretty unconventional as well. CAPA was somewhat experimental. But the grand experiment was pretty successful. I would also say it was a bit of a Utopia. I don’t think there was anywhere else in Philly where you could have an experience similar to the kids in the movie “Fame.” But that’s exactly what it was like. Except our school wasn’t just Theater, Dance and Music… we also had visual and literary arts. We all learned how to express ourselves through our art. It was inspiring being in that environment… lots of really talented kids. We all inspired each other.
C: What is your favorite role that you have played?
Honestly, I’m still looking for my favorite. I feel like it’s taken me all this time for the rubber to really start meeting the road – for my age, talent and life experience to begin to coalesce. I’ve had my hand in a number of creative pots and took some time away before coming back to acting. Since being back I really enjoyed playing PO Morgan Dotson on Amazon’s “Bosch.” Also playing baby Jack’s doctor on NBC’s “This Is Us” was great as well. It’s always rewarding when you get to work with super talented people. Oh, that reminds me… I was recently blessed to work with another great team of folks on an emotional episode of FOX’s “9-1-1.”
C: Is there someone who acts as your biggest inspiration or Role Model?
Biggest? From an acting standpoint there’s a few. Denzel Washington has talked about chasing Sidney Poitier for a good long time. I think most of us will be chasing Denzel until we leave this mortal coil. As an actor, he’s really done it all… and done it well. So, he’s a great role model. I also appreciate the work and personal arc of my Philly brother Will Smith. Denzel and Will both lead by example. And it takes a lot of integrity to show up for yourself and others with such discipline and commitment. On a personal level, growing up without a father, I’m grateful for the few positive male role models that I did have… my uncle and grandfather… and a big brother from a big brother program. I’m grateful to my mother for her example of perseverance.
C: What is something in your life you can say has impacted your life as an actor?
An early key moment as a teenager was when my big brother David Gutin took me to my first professional play and then continued to expose me to the world of theater. I think it was a major spark of inspiration that helped solidify my path. It was amazing being so young and able to experience both the local Philadelphia theater scene and Broadway in New York City. Looking back on my beginnings, acting was perhaps a counter balance or coping mechanism that helped offset some of my hardships and troubles as a kid. Whatever fears or feelings of awkwardness or inadequacy I had all seemed to vanish when I was on stage. It was nice to receive praise and recognition for my successes. My motivation is different now. I’m just focused on doing good work and contributing to the telling of a good story. It’s a wonderful privilege to make a life and earn a living doing what we do. The great acting coach Margie Haber talks about “Living the Life.” And that’s exactly what acting is – we get to live the lives of the people or characters we portray. It requires a great deal of empathy to walk in someone else’s shoes. Frankly, the whole world could use a little more empathy.
C: What can we expect next for you?
I’m really looking forward to 2022! I have roles in a few projects coming out for Amazon, Apple and Sony Pictures respectively that I can’t talk about until their release. Unfortunately, there’s no official release dates yet. But keep a look out. In the meantime, folks can keep up with me on my website at Benmio.com
Thank you for sharing this time with me. I appreciate it.