The saying goes, “don’t just let your dreams be dreams, work hard enough that they become a reality.” MeKai Curtis learned this young. Beginning his career as an actor at the age of five ranging from Chuck E. Cheese commercials to the Sex in the City movie, MeKai now stars on two Disney XD original shows, fan-favorite Kirby Buckets and the highly anticipated newcomer, Milo Murphy’s Law.
When we talk in early September, with MeKai just finished wrapping season three of Kirby Buckets, we discuss what fans can look forward to with the upcoming episodes of Kirby and Milo’s before discussing his musical talents and the power of his platform.
On Kirby Buckets, MeKai plays the role of Fish Fisher one of Kirby’s best friends who is always there to tag along for Kirby’s antics and adventures. While the season two finale aired in August, MeKai assures that the upcoming thirteen episode season is one to watch. “Season three is definitely going to be a big change for Kirby Buckets and the things that we do. There’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re definitely going to see the usual antics that you see Kirby and Eli and Fish up to, it’s going to be a lot of fun and lot of craziness happening,” he says not being able to share much but saying all he could.
Playing the role of Fish for two years now, MeKai admits on a personal level, playing such a good hearted character has helped shaped him, “I’ve learned a lot [from him]. Fish is a very loyal friend, [he] definitely has his crazy moments and sometimes he’s not really making sense of what he says, but I’ve definitely learned a lot about loyalty, I’ve learned respect, I’ve learned just being an overall good person.”
Besides Fish’s good spirit, another plus to playing the character are his “pretty dope clothes,” as MeKai describes them. While the actors don’t get to necessarily choose the style of their characters, the costume department values their input on their outer appearances. “There’s been a couple times when I’m like, ‘Yeah, Fish wouldn’t wear that, but MeKai would so if you just wanna give that to me you wouldn’t have to worry about that,'” he jokes. “But, yeah I mean, when it comes to the wardrobes that we wear there’s not really much that the cast has to do with it, it’s more on wardrobe and production side of things where they decide what the kids are going to wear.”
MeKai shares, however, that the biggest plus to working on Kirby Buckets and playing Fish comes from the cast and crew he’s been lucky enough to surround himself with. “My favorite part about being on Kirby Buckets and playing Fish is the fact that I get to work with some of the most talented and well-rounded people that I’ve ever met.” With the help of the talented cast, as an actor MeKai has incorporated more techniques towards his craft, “It’s one of those things where I’m constantly kept on my toes and where it’s completely unpredictable when it comes to these things. What I mean by that is that the scripts been outlined, we know our lines, but when you work with a group of people, like I do, you don’t always stick exactly to the script. That’s what makes it really fun about working on the show. It’s pretty much like a huge improv sometimes.”
When asked about if it’s ever hard to work with improv on the show, he says, “The first few times it happened, it was a bit of a challenge, but the more you do it and the more you know your scripts and everything and the more you develop your character, the eager, it just becomes second nature after awhile.”
Milo Murphy’s Law (created by Phineas and Ferb creators Dan Povernmire and Jeff “Swamy” Marsh) focuses on the character of Milo Murphy, a descendant of Edward A. Murphy Jr, the real-life aerospace engineer. According to Murphy Jr.’s namesake adage, Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Voiced by Weird Al Yankovic, Milo Murphy manages to stay optimistic despite the unfortunate occurrences that plague his life through his ancestor’s law.
Alongside singer/songwriter and Girl Meets World actress Sabrina Carpenter who voices Melissa Chase, MeKai voices Milo’s other friend Zack Underwood.
“I love voicing Zack, he’s kind of like the opposite, but not, of Fish,” MeKai shares about his experience. “On Milo’s Zack is the voice of reason when it comes to the stuff that Milo has him and his friends do. He’s kind of like, ‘Okay, maybe we should sit back and look at this and try to figure out a way around it without almost getting killed.'”
MeKai shares that it’s not just the character, but the background stuff that made him determined to audition and get to work on the project calling it an “extreme blessing” to learn so much working with Jeff, Dan, and everyone else involved.
“The first thing that drew me to it was that Jeff and Dan were doing the show,” he began sharing how he found out about and got the part. “And I was already a huge fan of Phineas and Ferb, which was the show that they were doing prior to Milo, but I kind of ran into them once before at an event and we kinda talked for a little while. It wasn’t any one of those times where I thought I’d run into them anytime again or soon but when I got the chance to go audition for the show, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh yeah I definitely gotta do this one.'”
As for Murphy’s Law as a statement itself, MeKai shares an epigram of his own, “In certain situations, yes I do believe that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, but then there’s a certain part of me that’s like, ‘No, it’s all just in your head it’s not really as bad as you’re making it seem.'”
MeKai also had a role in the film, Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a story based on anything that can go wrong to the title character, Alexander, going wrong. MeKai shares that he definitely had an experience like that, “There was this one day, it was before I moved to California, I was like five or six maybe. I lived in New Jersey, but I worked in New York for auditions and stuff like that. This particular day it was like 90 degrees outside and my poor little five-year-old body was not used to being in heat and working that long so I kind of passed out, woke up in a hospital, and freaked out. Then, I went home and I fell and sprained my ankle. That was just a really bad day.”
He added that adding to that series of unfortunate events, he got really sick dehydrated. “It was really bad,” he laughed.
Returning back to talking about Milo Murphy’s Law, MeKai shares his experience with working with the parody performer Weird Al himself, “The first time I went to record I got to record with Weird Al which was the greatest thing ever because it’s Weird Al. I’ve run into Kevin Michael Richardson who has also worked on the show.” He pauses before he exclaims, “Vanessa Williams plays my mother! I was so freaking out when I found out that was happening. And I had a session with her that same day and I was going to go, just to introduce myself to her because she was recording before me. I was going to go introduce myself to her and then I got caught in traffic, and I missed her, and I cried because I was sad that I missed Vanessa Williams, who is playing my mother.”
With a live tweeting session with the cast coming up later tonight from the cast, he adds that he meeting Vanessa is the number one thing on his bucket list right now.
As a humanitarian, MeKai recently attended WeDay earlier this year, “That was such a huge thing for me to go to. I really enjoyed it. And I really have to give props to a kid, his name is Ezra Pratt. I call him my little brother because he worked on Kirby with me once and just his overall vibe, he is the chillest dude ever. I really appreciate the vibe he sets. I went there and I just hung out with him and I sat there and I listened to all these different stories and it really, really touched me and made me want to do more for the community and for the world. It was a huge thing for me to go to. I can’t wait for the next one. It just, yeah I really really enjoyed that.”
Using his platform, MeKai has volunteered in child hunger programs, raising awareness and money to feed millions of children across the United States. Making the strong and conscious effort to give back to his community, he also hopes that as an artist he can create a positive influence on the acting industry.
“I want to change the world,” he begins about what he wants to accomplish as an artist. “Being an actor of color—being a black young man in Hollywood today—it is tough enough and to be put on a platform where I can use my influence to change stuff, I’m going to do it because there needs to be a change. There needs to be more of us, there needs to be more of a positive image for black people and the way we handle stuff and the way we approach different situations. What you usually see on tv, you’re getting the ‘ratchet’ version of a black person. You’re not getting the ‘graduated with a Masters Degree’ you’re not getting the ‘I have etiquette, but I can be ratchet if I need to’. You’re just getting what they want the world to see.”
Understanding the importance of inclusion in such a prominent and impressionable artform, he stresses that it’s important to show that black actors hold the capacity and duality to be diverse in the roles they play and stories they are a part of. Using his platform positively, he hopes that this will allow for making room for more opportunities not just for him as an actor, but for other black actors/actresses as well. Talking about the first time he ever felt himself being represented in this medium, MeKai goes back to the classic 1975 Blaxploitation dramedy, Cooley High, “The other day I was watching Cooley High, and it wasn’t necessarily the way we were being represented, but the way that it was an entirely black movie. Like everyone on the cast was extremely diverse and you saw a bond with friends that no matter what it reaches you know, I really, really like that movie.”
As a musician, MeKai is skilled in playing the drums. “My parents told me I’ve been playing drums since I was nine months old, which kinda makes sense, but it also doesn’t,” he responds when asked about how he first began playing. “My entire family on both sides, all music. I grew up around music my entire life. So, them saying that makes sense but then again it doesn’t because they were saying I’ve been playing like full on cadences and beats since I was nine months old, so I was like ‘What?! But nah, really though?'” he jokes.
Listing some of his favorite musicians, off the top of his head he names a number of iconic game changers responsible for shaping the music game and the culture. He gives credit to the late, Prince, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Steve Jordan, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, George Benson, Al Jarreau, and his own father. “It’s a really long list I’m going to leave it at that,” he says with a laugh. “Truth be told, I’m inspired by everybody because I learn everything from everybody. I like to call myself a sponge because I like to soak up information from anybody that I can.”
As a huge Kendrick Lamar fan, he shares that the most recent work of art that has inspired him as an artist is Kendrick’s critically acclaimed, platinum album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” “The stuff he’s saying in his songs really resonated with me and it’s not necessarily the hatred—I don’t want to say hatred—but there’s a part of what he’s doing with his songs that you can relate to. You can listen to his songs and you can hear his message and what he’s trying to relay and what he’s saying. And that is definitely one thing that I want to be able to do with the platforms and talent that God has given me.”
Born and raised in Eastern New Jersey, aside from being heavily inspired by art, MeKai turns to his roots and his family to help shape him as well. “When you come from New Jersey, you just have a swag that cannot be touched. You command respect, you take things that you want and don’t feel sorry for it,” he laughs. “But it’s one of those things where I take pride in coming from the east coast and New Jersey. That’s where it all started. I remember sitting there, going to New York for the first time and I was on a subway and my parents didn’t give me something so I threw a huge fit and that’s when I met a casting director and it all just blossomed from there.”
Living in California now, he reflects on what it is about New Jersey that he misses, “I love fall in New Jersey because in the tree behind my house, it’s a huge tree and it just rains leaves. I love fall, I love the rain, that’s one thing I miss about Jersey that I don’t get in California is the rain. It rains a lot there and I’m definitely not complaining about it because I love rain. You just meet genuine people, sweet people I’ve ever met. Jersey just has a really cool vibe to it, really cool vibe.”
And despite not residing in New Jersey currently, he still has his home with him in the people he surrounds himself with. “My parents have always shown me if you have a passion for something, it doesn’t really matter if you’re working,” he says when asked about who he has to thank for the work ethic he holds. “It’s not considered work if you have that passion and that hoverboard, you’re going to do what you need to do to get it. And that’s why I’m hungry for it and I want it. So I’m going to go after it, as much as I can to do it. That has been instilled in me since birth and everybody’s been telling me that. My parents, my grandparents, family friends, best friend. Everybody has told me and has set perfect examples for work ethic and going after what you want so it was just natural that I fell into it and love it.”
When it’s mentioned that it’s amazing how grounded his support system is, he responds, “It is, it definitely is an I’m extremely grateful to have it.”
Milo Murphy’s Law premieres tonight on Disney XD at 8/7pm c.
New episodes of Kirby Buckets return to Disney XD soon.
(Photo cred: Steven Wetherbee)