Coby Bell: At the Top of His Game

Thursday, 10 November 2011 00:40 Written by  Tiffani Alexander

If you’re a fan of BET’s “The Game,” you were probably doing the “dip and pitts” along side Jason last season when the network brought the much-loved sitcom back to life after it’s CW cancellation. On the other hand, if you regularly tune into USA Network’s “Burn Notice,” then you’re likely used to seeing Jesse Potter blow up a thing or two –– on occasion. Who is the man behind these two very different characters? In real life, he’s Coby Bell: a husband and father of four who loves acting, and making people laugh.

And laugh is what I did throughout this interview! Keep reading to find out how this football player/counterintelligence expert (well, he plays one on TV) juggles two shows, a family, and “Hollywood.”


GlossMagazineOnline (GMO): You’re pulling double duty as Jason Pitts, a cheap, womanizing professional football player on “The Game” and Jesse Porter, a counterintelligence expert who blows things up on "Burn Notice." How crazy is it to juggle the two roles?

Coby Bell: It’s pretty crazy. It only got really crazy when there were a couple weeks where the two shows overlapped so I was doing both of them –– flying from Miami to Atlanta to LA, to Miami to Atlanta –– that was a bit much. And keeping all the Jason lines on one side of my brain and the Jesse lines on the other side of my brain. Otherwise, “Burn Notice” is just about to end when “The Game” starts up, last year and this year. It hasn’t been too bad.

The only thing is both shows are away from my family. “Burn Notice” is in Miami and “The Game” is in Atlanta, and my wife and my four kids are in LA. So,I do a lot of flying. I fly home every weekend. After a while, that can wear you down, but it is what it is.

GMO: That leads into one of my questions: How in the world do you balance everything? You have two sets of twins, right? Do they ever come out to the set?

Coby: Yeah, they came out to Miami. I’m not bringing the whole family out to Atlanta because the show doesn’t shoot as long as “Burn Notice” does. But my wife is coming out next week; I’m excited about that. My mom and her mom are going to watch the kids.

GMO: That's sweet. Which character is more like Coby –– Jason or Jesse?

Coby: I would say Jesse except for the fact that he’s a badass. [Laughs]. You know, except for the fact that he shoots people, blows things up and beats people up.

GMO: Oh, so you don't do that?

Coby: Not anymore. [Laughs] Those days are done. I can’t think of the last time I blew something up. But, that was actually what the creator Matt Nix had in mind. We already had a relationship because I came really close to getting one of the leads on another one of his show; he really wanted to work with me somehow. Then he got me onto “Burn Notice” and he told me: “Think of this as just you, but just way more badass.” And I said, “Ok, I can do that.”

With Jason, it’s weird because he’s such a jerk and I like to think of myself as a nice person. [Laughs]. But I think the writers do a really good job of getting my comedic voice in there. They write jokes for him that I would say to my friends anyway. With all the characters on “The Game” –– they’re really good with our voices so it makes it really easy for us to learn the words and just have fun. They got us down.

GMO: Fans were really upset when "The Game" went off the air and they were really involved in getting it back on TV. How did that make you feel? Were you surprised by how much people really loved the show?

Coby: Absolutely. That was amazing. It was so cool just to be a part of something like that.

GMO: You had already started a new job on “Burn Notice” when that call from BET came through. Was there any hesitation about going back to the show? What about with bringing the show back at all – were you at all worried that it would lose some of it’s “magic” on a new network, etc.?

Coby: No, I didn’t have any hesitation. I loved that job so much; we had so much fun together. It’s really a rare thing in this business to have everyone get along so well and going to work was just a blast. So the opportunity to keep doing it, I was like yeah, let’s go, I want to do this until I retire. [Laughs] This is fun; I don’t care if this is the only job I ever have!

As far as the show changing, the show has been changing since the first season. If you look at season one to season two, and then especially season two, season three. And that was all when we were on The CW. The show is evolving. I think every season has been different and I dig that. It kind of grows with the characters.

GMO: “Burn Notice” is dramatic and action-packed, while “The Game” is pure comedy. You’ve played a dramatic role on “Third Watch” and several reoccurring spots on other comedies. Do you prefer working in one genre over the other?

Coby: I love comedy. If I had to choose –– like you can only do one style of acting for the rest of your days –– it would be comedy. I have so much fun doing comedy. Just the art of making people laugh … I’ve always loved laughing and making people laugh, ever since I was a little kid. So I love the idea of having the opportunity to make millions of people laugh. Comedy is really, really cool to me. But that’s the cool thing about “Burn Notice”–– it’s got the drama, it’s got the action, it’s got the comedy; so I get to spread my wings and go for it on that show.

GMO: What has been your favorite role to date, and what role are you dying to play?

Coby: I don’t know if I can say I have a favorite role, each of them have taught me so much. On “Third Watch” I was just out of college, and I felt so lucky to have gotten onto a show like that because it was the same producer as “ER”–– people who really know how to make good TV. I was surrounded by a lot of people that I could learn from, the writers, the producers, and the actors, as well. I was just a 23-year-old kid, and I was learning a lot from these more seasoned actors. But all through the run of that show, in between takes, me and Skipp Sudduth, the guy who played my partner on that show, we were just constantly making each other laugh and trying to make the crew laugh, and just cutting up and acting stupid. And, I realized, this is what I really want to do, I want to get on a comedy.

After that, people weren’t really checking for me for comedies since I had done drama for six years on that show. And then luckily Mara, [Brock Akil, “The Game” creator] knew where I was coming from with the sense of humor and gave me a shot. “The Game” has been great because I’d done a little bit of comedy, but I never really got to fully go for it. That’s the thing that “The Game” lets me do, especially with Jason. There are no rules. The writers got him set up to where he can say anything and do anything, any inappropriate thing [Laughs] and it’s OK because it’s Jason. And that’s a blast to play, it really is.

GMO: Is there any role that you haven't yet played that you would like to play?

Coby: You know, I don’t know if my mind works that way. I just try to keep working and go with the flow. There are people who I would like to work with. I’ve always wanted to work with Don Cheadle. I really admire his acting. And early on, I got a chance to hang out with him a little bit; it was at some golf thing. And this is like my first season on “Third Watch” and he was just so cool to me. I was like wow man, ok cool –– people can be cool like that in this business. Same with George Clooney: My first job, I’m sure he doesn’t even remember this, but my first job was on “ER.” My first job ever, like my first time on TV and he was so cool, so cool. I played basketball with him; just hung out with him and I was like alright –– this is how I want to go about my business in this career. You know who I really want to work with? Will Ferrell. He’s the funniest person on earth, I really want to work with him.

GMO: Some people may not know that you’re a writer and producer, as well as an actor. What have you done in the field of entertainment that people may be surprised about? 

Coby: Growing up there were two things I always loved doing, acting and making music. And all through college, that’s what I was doing, acting and making music. Then, after I graduated, I was in a reggae band and I was also working as an actor. And the acting kind of took over and the music had to become a hobby, and it’s been that way ever since. I did some music for “The Game” which was a lot of fun. I’m kind of getting back into maybe doing something with it.

I’m constantly writing and jamming with my friends. And, I’ve been working on this project where I can get the comedy and the music to come together, so that’s something that I’m hoping to get going in the next couple of years.

GMO: You come from an arts family –– your dad is Broadway star Michael Bell. How influential was your father on your decision to go into the entertainment business?

Coby: Being around my dad, he made it seem like it was normal; it wasn’t a big deal. It’s just a job, there’s really nothing glamorous about it. I always got to see both sides of it. I got to see what’s going on on the stage and what’s going on backstage. And my dad never made a big deal of it. He was like, “This is my job. This is what I know how to do, so I’m doing it.” It doesn’t mean I’m any better than anyone else, you know what I mean? So that’s been my approach. When I was in college, at first I was doing behind the scenes stuff –– camera work; the technical side of filmmaking –– and he was the one saying: ”Dude, you need to get in front of that camera and get on that stage.” Not in like a … what are those moms who push their kids …

GMO: Stage moms?

Coby: Yeah, not in a stage mom kind of a way, but in a I’ve seen what you can do and I think you can do this, kind of way.

GMO: That's good.

Coby: Yeah, and I still call him for advice and we talk about business stuff all the time.

GMO: Will we ever see you on Broadway? Is that someplace you’d like to be?

Coby: I don’t know. Who knows where the path is going to lead.

GMO: You’re involved with Big Brothers of America. I’m a Big Sister as well –– I’ve been matched for a little over a year now and it can be challenging, but so rewarding. What made you want to get involved with the organization?

Coby: This was my first TV series. I did maybe a year and half of TV before “Third Watch” out of college. My series that I got was called “LA Doctors” and I was like a nurse. I’d just pop in and be like “Hey the guy in room two is ready.” You know, I didn’t have a lot to do. And I was dating a woman at the time that was a big sister and I said, you know what, that would be kind of cool. I want to help out in some way, but you can’t help everybody so why not try to help one person? Yeah, that was my little brother and we’ve been like family ever since.

GMO: That's great. How long have you been matched?

Coby: Since 98. Yeah, since he was 8. He’s like 21 now. [Laughs] Makes me feel old.

GMO: Wow, then you've actually been able to see your influence on him over the years.

Coby: Well you know what’s crazy is, the age he is now, I was only like a year older than that when I hooked up with him. That’s insane.

GMO: That's really cool. Speaking of working with young people: What advice do you have for young actors who want to break into the business? How should they handle the challenges that will come? How did you overcome those challenges?

Coby: That’s a big question. I would say, the real simple answer is, if you’re going to do it, do it because you love doing it. Or, I’m not mad at you if you’re doing it because you want to make money. But don’t do it because you want to be famous. If that happens, that’s fine and good, that means business is doing well. But, the actual need for fame, I don’t think is a healthy thing. You know, because fame is not a real thing. It’s a weird thing that humans do.

What was the other part, I had a two-part answer and it was going to be awesome!

GMO: [Laughs] How to overcome challenges.

Coby: There you go! I, ignore them [laughs]. That’s why I live in Long Beach; I don’t live up in Hollywood or Beverly Hills, you know, all up in the “lion’s den.” And I don’t do much extracurricular work stuff. I just pretty much work, because I love that, I love the stuff on set. I love acting; I love being on set and working. All the other stuff, I can do without. I’d say those are my two pieces of advice.

GMO: So stay away from the parties, be focused  and ignore challenges?

Coby: Yeah, I mean you just have to know that there are going to be challenges. There’s going to be rejections; just don’t take it personal. It just means maybe you weren’t the right person for that job, it doesn’t mean you’re not good. Unless, you aren’t good [Laughs] which in that case you know … [Laughs]

GMO: [Laughs] They'll figure that out too if they get enough "no's." I assume! I look forward to the new season of "The Game."

Coby: I look forward to you seeing it.


Look out for season five of “The Game” this fall on BET. “Burn Notice” airs Thursdays at 10/9C on the USA Network. Follow Coby on Twitter @ImCobyBell and find him on Facbook.

Tiffani Alexander

Tiffani Alexander

Publisher and Editor in Chief of (GMO), Tiffani Alexander came to Chicago in the fall of 2004 to pursue her Master's degree in Arts, Entertainment & Media Management at Columbia College Chicago. Tiffani earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of
 Maryland, College Park. She has worked for both Cygnus Business Media and Maher Publishing before embarking on her dream to start her own magazine. In addition to publishing GMO bi-monthly, Tiffani freelances and works as an editor on a legal journal in Washington, DC.


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