Catching up with ‘The Resident’ star Malcolm-Jamal Warner

Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Shaunette Renée Wilson in the “Doors Opening, Doors Closing” episode of "The Resident" airing April 13, 2021. Cr: Guy D'Alema/FOX
Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Shaunette Renée Wilson in the “Doors Opening, Doors Closing” episode of "The Resident" airing April 13, 2021. Cr: Guy D'Alema/FOX

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It’s hard to believe but Malcolm-Jamal Warner started his young career in drama, landing roles on “Fame,” “Call to Glory” and “Matt Houston” in the early 1980s before “The Cosby Show.”

Now at age 50, he has happily ensconced himself in the dramatic role of super smart, super confident surgeon AJ “The Raptor” Austin on Fox’s “The Resident,” shot in metro Atlanta and in its fourth season.

I caught up with Warner recently on the phone before the spring return of the show Tuesday night. The episode features his character’s relationship with Nigerian doctor Mina Okafor (Shaunette Renée Wilson) on the precipice. Okafor’s visa is up and she may end up getting deported if she doesn’t leave on her own. She had reported an ethics violation at the hospital and her boss decided this was the best way to punish her.

Their relationship, he said, can be fiery. They are strong personalities drawn to each other in a very high-pressure environment.

“They are juggling personal and work life,” he said, “and sometimes things don’t necessarily gel at work. They have to figure out how to make everything work.”

There is a cliffhanger tonight regarding his character.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner in the “Into the Unknown” episode of "The Resident" airing Tuesday, April 20, 2021.  Cr: Guy D'Alema/FOX
Malcolm-Jamal Warner in the “Into the Unknown” episode of "The Resident" airing Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Cr: Guy D'Alema/FOX

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Warner, who joined the show as a recurring character in season one and became a regular in season two, said he really enjoys the show and how it grapples with both the economics and ethics of healthcare at a hospital. The show has not yet been renewed for a fifth season, but the prognosis is good.

“I really dig this show,” he said. “I am impressed how courageous the show has been in tackling issues in the medical field, like medical malpractice and hospital cover up.”

Through his post “Cosby” years, Warner has mostly played amiable, nice guys, given people’s warm memories of Theo.

So playing a character nicknamed “The Raptor” has been a delight, he said.

“He’s a good guy but he’s arrogant and will give you the truth and not care what you think of him,” Warner said. “There’s a brashness about him that I don’t allow myself in real life. It’s a freeing place to be.”

As an artist, he said he wished he could be the same way but it’s paradoxical given that actors thrive on attention, especially positive adulation.

Warner himself was told even at a young age that his career would have peaks and valleys, that his early success with “The Cosby Show” hardly guaranteed success as an adult actor. “I had an almost maniacal obsession about what my life was going to be after ‘Cosby,’” he said. “I prepared myself for the dry spells. And to not make desperate career moves just to pay the bills.”

Indeed, “The Resident” has been his most consistent TV gig since UPN’s “Malcolm & Eddie” two decades ago.

On the show, Warner is surrounded by fellow veteran actors including Jane Leeves (“Frasier”), Morris Chestnut (“Boyz n the Hood,” “Rosewood”) and Bruce Greenwood.

He said sometimes he’ll look at Leeves, who is still recognized to this day as daffy Daphne on “Frasier,” and exclaim, “We’re still here!”

Warner admitted the pandemic break was tough but “my family unit remains very much intact.” He was thrilled to spend so much quality time with his wife and daughter but it also made him realize how much work was an escape for him.

As a bass player, he also missed playing live gigs during the lockdown. Fortunately, he has been back at it again, performing outdoors regularly at Buteco, a Brazilian coffee shop in Grant Park with Landon Anderson & his Super Friends.

Sometimes, folks are awed when they realize Warner is in the band, but he said most folks are used to his presence. “Even people who don’t know are usually with someone who does,” he said.

WHERE TO WATCH

“The Resident,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox, available the next day on Hulu, where all seasons are available.

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