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Exclusive Interview with “grown-ish” Star da’Vinchi

da’Vinchi might be new to the Hollywood scene, but he’s already started to make a name for himself as basketball star Cassius “Cash” Mooney on Freeform’s new comedy grown-ish. I got the chance to talk to the charming actor about why he recently changed his name, how he got started in the business, what’s coming up for his character’s relationship with Zoey, how he would answer a ‘u up?’ text and so much more. Read on to see all that he had to say!

da’Vinchi is a very unique name and I know you’ve recently changed it legally to that from Abraham. What made you want to change your name and why da’Vinchi?

Leonardo Da’Vinchi. A lot of people know him as just a painter, but he was not just a painter. He was a poly-man, which means he had many expertise; he was a mathematician, he was an architect, he was a sculptor, he was a painter, a scientist, music man, all these different things. A lot of times in the industry, when people see you as one thing they want to pigeon hole you and keep you there. I’m not just an actor. First off, I started off doing music and music segued into acting. I don’t only do those things either. There are so many other things that I do. That name is what represents me on a universal level, who I am. That’s why I got that name.

Aside from that, the name separates me from the corporate self. da’Vinchi is the corporate. He is the one who takes all the calls, does all the interviews, does photoshoots, shoots these projects and whatnot. Abraham is the one that’s under him. Behind the character Cash Mooney is da’Vinchi and behind da’Vinchi is Abraham and Abraham is more personal. People who know me on a personal level, they call me Abe or Abraham. I think it’s good to separate yourself from that facade, the industry, and your reality… I feel like if you don’t separate those two realities, it’s really going to catch up to you and it’s going to play with your head. It’s going to give you a slanted sense of reality, I think. It’s not like that for everyone, but I just think it’s good.

How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?

When I was in college, I took acting as an elective. My professor was like, “Kid, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life right now, but you should stop and pursue acting, because you’re a natural at it and you have the ability to grab the attention of a lot of people.” I was like, “Oh, wow. Thank you. I appreciate that, but I hope you’re not just saying that.” He said, “No. I have no reason to lie to you.” Then I kept getting multiple signs from the universe telling me to become an actor and join this industry. I read the book The Alchemist and there is a quote in there that says, “When something is really for you, then the entire universe conspires into helping you achieve that goal.” A lot of people were pushing me towards this direction unknowingly, like even little subliminal jokes that they made.

I decided I was going to save a certain amount of money. I’m going to go up north and I’m going to start this career and pursue music. Then from music I can find a good acting class and do both at the same time. I started performing at Gloria Carter’s [Jay-Z’s mom] restaurant. There was a business manager there who told me I was talented. He put me in this music showcase and was like, “I think you should act as well. Whichever one takes off, it will feed the other.” Then he put me in Marc John Jeffries acting class in New York. He’s a professional actor who’s been in Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Notorious B.I.G., etc. He started training me at an affordable price and I trained with him for two years.

From there, I knew I needed to look for a manager, but I didn’t know how to find one. I didn’t want to force anything, because you’re never supposed to force anything. Just let the universe take the lead and God will just order your steps. At a showcase I was in, Lil Mama was opening and she was like, “Oh my God, kid. You’re so talented.” We were cool for about two years. Then she was like, “Fly out to LA. I want you to meet my manager.” I thought she wasn’t going to want to see me, because I didn’t have enough work under my belt. I was doubting myself and she was like, “No. You should come.”

I booked a flight and flew out there. Mind you, it was my first time ever being in LA. This was a big move… I came out, I met her and it was just love at first sight. It was great. She was willing to work with me and take a chance. She gave me the rundown, told me she was going to ship me to different agencies and that I might not find a good one for six months, but that’s okay. She shipped me to CESD and she told me they might not accept me, because they’re pretty big, especially for you. They were like, “Okay, we’ll give him a shot. Let’s see a self-tape.” I did that and they were blown. They were like we want to sign him right now, fly him back. I was confused about why I couldn’t sign in LA, but they were like, “LA doesn’t want you, New York does.”

I went back and signed. Right after I signed, two weeks later, I booked Marvel’s Jessica Jones. A month after that I almost had my own show. I screen-tested for MTV Stream, but I didn’t get it. They gave it to RJ [Cyler], who played the Blue Ranger in Power Rangers. They were afraid to put the money up, because I had never delivered on a level like that before. I kept getting pinned but never getting projects. Then grown-ish took a chance on me and now I’m here.

I was just going to ask about how you got involved in grown-ish. Specifically, what was the audition process like for that?

grown-ish was interesting. I was in New York and the producers for the show flew me out to LA to do a screen test. After they flew me out, they flew me back to New York. I was telling my agent that I wanted to go back to LA, because there was just something about LA., but they were telling me, “New York has more jobs for you. LA is just really bigger names.”

Then one day, I told them I was going to go to LA for like a week. I bought my ticket, but they didn’t know I didn’t buy a return flight. I knew something was going to happen when I was in LA. This was purely intuition. A lot of people thought I was out there because of the role and I booked it in New York. No, I booked it in LA. As my flight was landing in LA, my agency sent me an email telling me I had an appointment for college-ish/grown-ish.

I was like, “What the hell is that?” I did my research and realized it was the black-ish spin-off. I studied my sides… and then I went in the next day. I got the callback. Then I got the producer session, where I met Kenya [Barris]. I left and they pinged me and asked if I was willing to change my hair and shave, because I favored Trevor Jackson [who plays Aaron] too much. I was like, “Yeah, of course.”

I booked it and I was like, “Wow. That’s crazy.” It was just crazy. It happened fast, but not fast in a way. It was surprising, because I just didn’t expect it really. After auditioning for so many roles and just hearing “no” or “the producers are going in another direction,” you just do your best to not think about it. When you get the call that you got it, it’s just like “woah.” It’s shocking.

Were you a fan of black-ish before being cast on grown-ish? Were you an avid watcher or had you at least seen a couple episodes of it?

Honestly, no. I was not an avid watcher. I had probably only watched one episode. After I got the audition, and when I got the callback, I started watching the latest just so I could get a feel for the show, the direction it was going to go, how they played their comedy and stuff like that. Now, with season four of black-ish, I watch every episode, because it’s hilarious.

For people who might have never seen grown-ish, how would you describe Cash Mooney?

Oh man, Cassius “Cash” Mooney. [laughs] This guy is your typical good-looking college athlete. He doesn’t have the brains, which is why he needs a tutor. He’s handsome and has a charming smile. He’s really skilled at what he does and is most likely to be the number one draft pick in the NBA. Because he has so much going on in his life, he’s really indecisive about anything outside of basketball. He’s been molded his whole for just basketball. He’s literally “ball is life” for him and it kind of gets in the way of him making any other changes in life. It kind of even gets in the way of focusing in school, which is why he needs the tutor.

But you learn from the character. You learn how college athletes are treated, how it’s a huge profit margin for the colleges but not the athletes. It’s interesting. The show in its entirety, it lets you know what every type of student goes through in college: from athletes to bisexual kids, to individuals that are pro-black, to the people that are drug dealers, to everything. It just wraps it all up and it educates you on the matter. Not in a preachy way, more of in an entertaining, comedy way.

Going off the college athletes part and how they’re exploited, do you think your opinion on college athletes has changed after stepping into the shoes of one?

No, I’ve always known the reality of college athletes. I was an athlete as well, but I didn’t play on a collegiate level. I did play on a practice squad, but then I stopped because of my knee and [realizing] that it wasn’t my true passion. I was always well-educated [about] what college athletes go through.

Would you say Cash is more similar or different to the person that da’Vinchi is and why?

The only similarities we have are we look alike, because I play him. [laughs] The smile and he’s charming. He’s charming and charismatic. Other than that, our thinking levels are very different. He’s very immature. I’m more mature than he is. In real life, I don’t think Cash Mooney and da’Vinchi would be friends. We would know each other, probably play around in basketball and stuff like that, but he wouldn’t be someone I would invite to my house to have a serious conversation. If I ran into him at a party I would say, “Hey,” but we wouldn’t be friends.

The other big part of Cash’s storyline is his relationship with Zoey. This last episode [1×05] ends with them finally being on the same page with how they feel. What can we expect in terms of that relationship over the next couple of episodes?

They’re definitely about to go on a journey, because they know each other more on an intimate level. Because [the last episode] ends with them kissing, you’re definitely going to see them be more intimate. That’s one hell of a roller coaster, because they’re both kids and don’t know what the hell they want so… yeah.

What has it been like working with Yara [Shahidi who plays Zoey]?

Working with Yara is great. She’s an extremely smart girl, she’s well-educated. I learn a lot from her, because she’s been doing this for a long time. A lot longer than I have. Because a lot of our scenes are together, me and her, I just get to play off of her energy. She’s really funny. She’s got a great sense of humor, different from mine, but still very funny.

One thing I will say is that she’s so good at what she does. There are times on set where the directors will be doing something, like re-positioning for shooting, and she’ll give her two cents and they’re like, “She’s right. We should actually do it like this.” I’m like, “Damn, Yara. How did you…? What?” Like she’s giving pointers and they’re taking them. It’s crazy. Yara is a boss.

I have a few quick, fun questions to start wrapping things up. Someone on Twitter wanted to know if you could put together an ultimate starting five to play alongside Cash, which 4 other players would you pick?

Oh, that’s a good question. For the point guard, I would pick Kyrie Irving. I’m a shooting guard, so we don’t want another shooting guard. At the small forward, I would pick LeBron James. For the power forward, I would pick Draymond Green.

Oooh, that’s a great choice. 

Then, for the center, there haven’t been many good centers out lately. [pauses] I wish Shaq could come back.

You could put Shaq on it, go for it. Whatever you want.

Anthony Davis is kind of soft. [pauses] Dang it. I can’t think of any good centers right now.

I mean, if you don’t like Anthony Davis, you could just put DeMarcus Cousins or… 

Oh, I want Andre Drummond. [pauses] No, no, no, no, no, no. I’m sorry, I take that back. DeAndre Jordan. I would take him. Now I’m getting into it. [laughs]

You were talking earlier a little bit about your music. Do you have any plans for fans to hear some of what you’ve been working on? Who are some of your musical inspirations?

Definitely. I think towards the spring there will be some things out. I’m a perfectionist so I want to make sure it’s going to be good if I’m going to put it out! But the artists that I look up to: I love Tupac, love Tupac. I love Biggie, I love J.Cole, Jay Z, Drake. Drake is great. Drake is so versatile. The guy is amazing, he’s a living legend right now. He’s an alchemist; any track that he touches is just a hit.

grown-ish addresses this question in episode three so I’m going to ask it to you. What’s the best way to answer a “u up” text?

[laughs] Ooh, that’s a difficult question, because do you want to text them? Is this a person that you like, or is this coming from a person that you don’t? In the scenario with Aaron sending that message to Zoey, she liked Aaron, so if it’s at a time that you don’t want to hang out, I would just not respond. If the relationship is too early, then I would just ignore it. The phase that they were in in the relationship was too early to respond back to that, so I would have just ignored it. I would just wait til the next morning and be like, “Oh, sorry. I was asleep.”

That’s the go-to thing. Everyone should just wait ’til the next morning and be like, “Oh, sorry. I was asleep.” 

Yes, yes. If you guys are as new in a relationship as Aaron and Zoey, that’s how I would answer it. But there is a lot of variables with that question on how to answer it.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and I always like to end by asking: what is something that you nerd out about?

Oh my god. Like something I talk about and I just can’t stop?

Yeah.

Spirituality.

Okay. Meaning?

Just understanding the spiritual muscle in the human being where you use that muscle to control yourself and thats what separates you from being an animal. That’s what separates animals and humans, if you develop that spiritual muscle you can do things at a higher level. There are some human beings who are still living like animals, because they didn’t sacrifice a portion of their animality for their spirituality. So when it comes to that, I’m nerdy for that stuff. I won’t shut up.

grown-ish airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on Freeform. You can follow da’Vinchi on Twitter and Instagram.

Written by Bryna Kramer

I could have followed in my father's footsteps and become a doctor. But there was just too much good television on.

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