Malcolm-Jamal Warner talks theater roots and and playing ‘The Raptor’ on new season of ‘The Resident’

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Photo: JSquared Photography

From the time he was young, Malcolm-Jamal Warner had his toes in the arts. His mother got him involved in their local theater group to keep an eye on him.

“Interestingly enough, when I started I was primarily doing theater, it was a way for my mom to keep her foot out of my a–,” Warner recalled with a laugh. “She wanted me to have something to do other than hanging out with my friends after school. She was always keeping me involved in things like basketball. After a friend of hers suggested community theater, she asked me if I’d be interested. 

As it turns out, Warner took to acting immediately. Warner says that his mom would use his access to acting to encourage him to keep up with his responsibilities, like keeping his grades up and doing his chores. However, it wasn’t long before an agent started to express interest in signing Warner.

“My mom had gone back to school and met with the agent. After hearing all that would go into having an agent, my mom said, ‘That sounds great but I’m in school, I can’t go on auditions,'” said Warner. “A year later, the same agent came back and said, ‘I know you just got your degree, I still want to sign your son.’ I thought it would be something fun to try. I didn’t really think of it becoming a full-fledged career until ‘The Cosby Show.'”

Many know Warner for his breakout role as Theo Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” which earned him a Primetime Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Since then, Warner has amassed a lengthy list of Hollywood credits, including starring as A.C. Cowlings on the critically acclaimed, award-winning FX series “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.” He’s also picked up roles on Amazon’s “Sneaky Pete,” TNT’s “Major Crimes,” “Suits” on USA, “Sons of Anarchy” for FX, “Community,” and “Dexter,” just to name a few.

Warner has also made his name for himself as a director, taking on episodes of a number of shows including “The Cosby Show,” All That,” “Keenan & Kel,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Sesame Street,” and the AIDS awareness video “Timeout: The Truth about HIV, AIDS, and YOU,” which starred Magic Johnson and Arsenio Hall and earned Warner the NAACP Key of Life Image Award. Warner is also an accomplished bass player and poet who has released three albums (and is working on a fourth), the third earning him a Grammy win in 2015.

There are few things within the entertainment industry that Warner would like to try, though he thinks he has way more to reach for in terms of creativity within his first loves in entertainment.

“The voiceover world is one nut that I haven’t been able to crack yet, I’m very interested in accomplishing that someday,” said Warner. “My first two loves are acting and directing, I still have yet to reach where I want to creatively.”

Currently, Warner stars as Dr. AJ Austin, AKA ‘The Raptor’, a volatile and dramatic doctor with overwhelming talent on the “The Resident.” Playing the role of the brash cardiothoracic surgeon appealed to Warner because it allows him to tap into a side of him that he doesn’t normally get to explore.

“The role was definitely intriguing. One of the top surgeons in the country who is arrogant and brash, that seemed like such a fun role for me to play,” said Warner. “I get a chance to be the person I don’t allow myself to be in real life. Being able to play someone that arrogant, confident, and genuinely does not care what people think of him, those were qualities that were very attractive.”

The fourth season of “The Resident” will debut on Fox on Jan. 12. Warner says that the new season of the medical drama takes place in a post-COVID world.

“Our first episode is dead smack in the middle of COVID, but it’s a flashback,” said Warner. “One of the considerations that the show had to take was, do we do a show in the middle of the pandemic where everyone has to be 6 feet apart and wear masks, or go post-pandemic. The network ultimately decided that the audience won’t want to go through the whole season in masks, so they took a post-pandemic creative license.”

Though the show itself has moved beyond COVID, Warner says that the set was one of the safest places for the cast and crew due to the amount of COVID-19 precautions that were put in place.

“We had a health and safety team on set, and the crew had to wear masks and face shields,” said Warner. “The cast wore masks during rehearsals — the only time the mask came off was when we were rolling. We are tested three times a week and have a crew with hand sanitizer walking around. It was definitely one of the safest places we could possibly be, though it does take some adjusting and extra time to get used to those precautions.”

As for “The Raptor” himself, Warner says he’ll be taking his own journey throughout the new season.

“It’s definitely a roller coaster ride that the audience will be taking with the Raptor, emotionally, personally, and careerwise,” said Warner. “At some point in the middle of the season, we will see yet another side of him.”

“The Resident” premieres at 8 p.m. on Jan. 12 on Fox. Stay up to date with Warner and his projects you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @malcolmjamalwar or on Facebook at Malcolm-Jamal Warner or visit www.malcolmjamalwarner.com. Warner’s albums can be streamed on Spotify.