Mahershala Ali says black actors have to be “professors of cultural studies”, while a white actor “can just be an actor”.

The True Detective and Moonlight star, 44, told Esquire UK that white actors “are only asked about race if they’re doing a civil rights project”.

“(Otherwise) they talk about their process and life. But black actors are always talking about diversity, where the culture’s at, where it’s going,” he said.

The cover of Esquire UK The cover of Esquire UK (Esquire UK Cass Bird)

“We have to be professors of cultural studies where a white actor can just be an actor!”

The US actor also told how he decided not to pursue a career in basketball despite winning a scholarship in the sport.

“I found college sports exploitative. They saw players as a product. We were just there to win championships,” the former House Of Cards star added.

“So I used sports to pay for my education. I knew I had to do something creative.”

Mahershala Ali photographed for Esquire UK Mahershala Ali photographed for Esquire UK (Esquire UK/Cass Bird)

He said of landing the role of Wayne Hays in True Detective following his Oscar win for Moonlight: “It’s just a massive role, expansive. It checks so many boxes for me as an actor, that in terms of TV, it doesn’t get better.

“I just thought, coming off the Oscars, if I didn’t get that opportunity then, I don’t know how you get to that place.”

The full interview appears in Esquire UK, on sale from Thursday.