Mahershala Ali: 5 things to know about the Oscar winner

His past roles, his faith and more.

ByABC News
February 26, 2017, 8:57 PM

— -- Mahershala Ali was the first winner at tonight's Academy Awards, taking home the best supporting actor Oscar for his role in "Moonlight."

After thanking his professors and the cast of "Moonlight," he paid tribute to a special lady in his life, his wife Amatus Sami-Karim.

"We just had a baby four days ago," he said. "I just want to thank her for being such a soldier through all of this."

Here are five things to know about the Oscar winner!

1. He's a Proud Muslim

"My mother is an ordained minister. I'm a Muslim. She didn't do backflips when I told her I converted 17 years ago," he said while accepting his SAG Award earlier this year. But, he added, "I'm able to see her. She's able to see me. We love each other ... and that stuff is minutiae."

2. His Character in "Moonlight"

Ali plays Juan, a drug dealer in Miami who mentors a troubled young man in "Moonlight."

In his winning speech, he said, "One thing they consistently told me .. it wasn’t about you, it’s about these characters, you’re a servant to these stories," he said about his role.

3. He Really Connected With His 'Moonlight' Character

"A lot of actors wish they were having a visceral response to the scripts that they're reading. And the first time I read it, I think everyone involved will tell you they got really choked up and just really connected to this story and these characters," he told "Good Morning America" earlier this year.

He added that he "misses" his character but has moved on to other roles.

"Because of this sort of awards tour and us getting to share the film so much with people, he's back with me, so I get to think about him," he said.

PHOTO: Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in film, "Moonlight," 2016.
Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in film, "Moonlight," 2016.

4. You've Seen Him Before in Acclaimed Roles

"Moonlight" is not Ali's first role to garner buzz from critics. He's been acting since 2000, in shows like "Crossing Jordan," "Alphas," "House of Cards" and most recently on Netflix's "Luke Cage" as main villain Cottonmouth.

He is also featured in another nominated film this year, "Hidden Figures," as Col. Jim Johnson.

He's currently filming the James Cameron movie "Alita: Battle Angel," which co-stars Christoph Waltz.

5. All About the Woman he Thanked!

Ali married his artist wife in 2013 and gushed about his wife on WNYC's "Death, Sex and Money" podcast last March.

He said they were friends while students at New York University and reconnected years later after she lost her brother to gun violence.

“She's very much an individual ... She's about the right things, spiritually grounded, a beautiful person," he said, adding that he initially had a hard time approaching her because of his shyness.

He even wrote a poem for his wife, which he carried around in his backpack for a month before giving it to her.

Sami-Karim had similar sentiments about her husband, saying on the podcast that he was the most attractive guy on their campus. After she suffered numerous tragedies, Ali reached out.

"I never really thought I would get married, to be honest," she said. "It was just something that clicked, and yeah, now I know why people get married."

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