Written by | Ray Cornelius

It’s been nearly two years since actor Michael Ealy finished shooting the faith-based independent film, Unconditional.  However, the 39 year-old actor is still moved by its inspirational message of hope and redemption.

Unconditional, which opened in select theaters this past Friday, is loosely-based on the real life story of Papa Joe Bradford, a Nashville man who became a surrogate father and mentor to underprivileged youth in his economically impoverished neighborhood.  Ealy plays the lead character that’s also suffering from a kidney disorder and gets a second chance in life with the help of his childhood friend, Sam Crawford, played by actress Lynn Collins.  The film was produced by Jason Atkins and J. Wesley Legg and released by Harbinger Films, a Christian company whose films are based on inspiring moviegoers to pursue God and serve others.

During a recent promotional tour for the film, the “blue-eyed” actor talked candidly about first being attracted to the film’s script, why this role was so significant to his career and why fan appreciation is more important to him than winning an Oscar.

Ealy on first being attracted to the script…

It started with the script.  It’s kind of a well written script that just pulls at your heart and at the end of the day leaves you feeling really good and inspired.  I also felt like for the first time I had seen or read a drama with a strong lead role.  The journey of this character goes from being a regular kid to a college student that goes down the wrong path just one time and kind of set his life on fire and is able to turn it around with the love of another woman.  It just has so many layers to it and the fact that it’s based on a real person is even better.

Ealy on what keeps his career fresh and interesting…

I think for me it’s all about new challenges. For a long time I was somewhat of a dramatic actor and in the last two years I have kind of diversified things a little bit jumping into the sci-fi genre with Underworld, Think like a Man and then Common Law.  A lot of people had just not seen me the way they saw me in Common Law.  A lot of people didn’t know I could be that way.  And for me that’s what’s keeping it fresh.  That’s what keeping it interesting is doing new material, new genres and making sure that I just don’t get stuck in the same rut every time.

Ealy on why he feels his career has taken a lot longer to develop…

My journey has been one that I’m proud of. It hasn’t happened as fast as I would like it to have happened. I think when I was growing up, leading men were getting their leading roles in their early 30’s and that wasn’t the case now that the business has changed so much. I’ve got my first leading role in this film now at 39, so it’s a different system.  It’s a different business and we can’t look at the old models of how Denzel made it and Will made it.  We can’t look at that anymore. It’s different.  We just have to do it the way we have to do it and make names for ourselves.

Ealy on not waiting for recognition as validity for his career…

If you continue to wait for people to pay attention and recognize what you’re doing; if that’s what you’re really waiting for, you may die before it actually happens. You cannot focus on what other people or what you hope other people recognize and see in your work. When I meet people on the street and they tell me, “Man I loved you in Sleeper Cell.  I loved you in Barbershop, Miracle at St. Anna, For Colored Girls.”  The more projects they name and tell me about the better I feel because that means their paying attention. That means that their seeing my body of work grow.  And as an actor and an artist it just doesn’t get any better than that.  That’s all I can really ask for is that kind of respect.

Unconditional is playing now in theaters.