Brooklyn-born Michael Jai White survived his rough urban upbringing and entered the entertainment industry on the strength of his martial arts credentials, backing fellow black belt Steven Seagal in a soup commercial for Japanese television, making his feature debut as Alley Guy 1 in "True Identity" (1991, billed as Michael White) and playing a bit part in Roland Emmerich's "Universal Soldier" (1992), starring another martial arts maestro, Jean-Claude Van Damme. He appeared in straight-to-video fare like "Ring of Fire" (also 1992), "Full Contact" (1993) and "Lion Strike" (1994), as well as on episodes of "Living Single," "Martin" (both Fox) and ABC's "NYPD Blue," before coming to prominence as the eponymous star of the critically-lauded HBO special, "Tyson" (1995), cutting an imposing figure as boxing's former Heavyweight Champ. White, who had Tyson's mannerism's down cold, used his karate background to sell the boxing scenes while delving deep into Iron Mike's tortured psyche to deliver a top-quality acting performance that complemented his impressive athleticism.
In his first feature starring role as "Spawn" (1997), the CIA assassin-turned-superhero based on the Todd McFarlane comic book figure, White weighed in with a presence both menacing and touching, despite being hampered by his mask, makeup and costume. Murdered by double-crossing colleagues, Spawn makes a Faustian bargain with the Devil, agreeing to lead the armies of Hell against mankind in exchange for seeing his beloved wife one last time. Along the way, the good in Spawn awakens, and the story becomes a war for control of his soul. Special effects superstar Mark Dippe in his directing debut together with visual effects coordinator Steve 'Spaz' Williams pushed the envelope to create an unforgettable visual experience. Unfortunately, the flashy style did not manage to triumph over the movie's lame substance. Not wanting "to move like a man in a suit," White created a movement style for the character that was hard for the stuntmen to duplicate, necessitating he perform most of the physical action. Long days confined within Spawn's external trappings challenged the champion athlete to pace himself and preserve energy for scenes in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth hours.
Since "Spawn," White has split his time between the small and large screen. "Ringmaster" (1998), starring Jerry Springer in an art-imitates-life take on Springer's popular daytime show, gave the actor a chance to play Demond, a ladies' man whose less than discriminating tastes about where to "stick" it made him and his "project" posse perfect for the segment on "My Traitor Girlfriend." When his wandering eye lands on "trailer-trash" fleshpot Angel (Jaime Pressly) there for "I Slept with My Step Daddy," the plot thickens, resulting in, well, something right out of "The Jerry Springer Show." On a much more serious note, he starred in the NBC movie "Mutiny" (1999), a true story based on the landmark case that forced the military to fully integrate blacks into its ranks. That year White also earned some of the best reviews of his career as Pointy, the gangster-Renaissance Man of "Thick as Thieves" and reteamed with Van Damme in "Universal Soldier: The Return," this time playing supercomputer SETH and getting, in his own words, to "KICK HIS [Van Damme's] ASS."
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Feature debut as Alley Guy 1 in "True Identity", billed as Michael White; also appeared in that year's straight-to-video martial arts pic "Ring of Fire"
Appeared as a Soldier in Roland Emmerich's "Universal Soldier", starring fellow martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme
Acted in straight-to-video martial arts feature "Full Contact"
Made TV debut with guest appearances on episodes of Fox series "Living Single" and "Martin", both airing on the same date (February 20)
Appeared in straight-to-video sequel, "Lion Strike/Ring of Fire 3: Lion Strike"
Starred as Mike Tyson in HBO's "Tyson", directed by Uli Edel
Portrayed Lieutenant Fancy's hot-headed brother Reggie in two episodes of ABC's "NYPD Blue"
Played Elroi in Bruce Pittman's "Captive Heart: The James Mink Story", a CBS movie
Appeared in John Herzfeld's feature "2 Days in the Valley"
First feature starring role, "Spawn"
Played Demond, a man with a "stick-it-anywhere" policy, in "Ringmaster", starring Jerry Springer
Reteamed with Van Damme for "Universal Soldier: The Return", this time in the significant role of SETH
Offered a standout turn as Pointy, a local gangster who considers himself a Renaissance man, in "Thick as Thieves", a noirish crime movie boasting idiosyncratic humor and deftly drawn characterizations, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival
Starred as Ben Cooper in "Mutiny", an NBC movie based on the landmark case that forced the military to fully integrate blacks into its ranks; Morgan Freeman served as an executive producer
Was series regular on the ABC drama "Wonderland"