Ray Fisher is giving new life to the old saying: "You've come a long way baby."
Just a few years ago, the hunky actor was performing onstage as Muhammad Ali in Will Power's off-Broadway play "Fetch Clay, Make Man," which centered on the boxing legend's relatively unknown relationship with controversial 1930s film actor Stepin' Fetchit.
Nowadays, the 30-year-old Camden, New Jersey native is stepping into a much bigger spotlight as Cyborg in DC Comics' latest addition to its juggernaut superhero franchise, "Justice League." Even though it may seem like a major career leap, playing the two roles are "one in the same" for Hollywood's new rising star.
"You go from playing Muhammad Ali, who was a superhero in and of his own, right, for all black people. People make the comparison a lot and they say, 'Well, how's it like to go from one to the other?' And I say, 'It feels phenomenal.' Even Ali, back then, he had a comic book with Muhammad Ali dressed as Superman," Fisher told NBC News.
"There's a certain mythology behind both of the characters," he added. "They're both larger than life, and I think playing Ali definitely put me in a prime position to be ready to take this character on as well, and sort of break into the forefront."
"Justice League," in theaters November 17, is Fisher's second time up to bat as Cyborg (he had a cameo appearance in last year's "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice"). This wont be his last time in the superhero costume, Warner Bros. Pictures plans to release Cyborg's standalone film in 2020.
Admittedly, he didn't collect comic books in his youth but exhibited fandom through more mainstream formats like TV and movies.
"But growing up I did have the Batman animated series, all the Michael Keaton movies, Justice League series, all of that stuff," Fisher explained. "I was literally in the car every day on my way home from school trying to hurry up and get the homework done so I could just go home and watch the cartoons and not be bothered. Like, I'd have all these crazy sort of 'who would win battles' with my friends who were big fans of other comic book characters, and I'd always find a way for Batman to win. It was deep for me man."
Even deeper was how the American Musical and Dramatic Academy alum's original career path was to be a theater actor. As a thespian, Fisher's more serious roles have taken place at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey where he starred in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he starred in productions of "King Lear" and "Cymbeline."
He was shocked he landed the role as the high tech weaponry-clad half-man/half machine.
"When I first learned I had it, I literally screamed every swear word at [director] Zack Snyder that I could possibly think of," Fisher revealed. "I thought he was lying, I kept saying, 'You're lying to me. You're lying. There's no way.' And once he calmed me and assured me, 'No this isn't a joke. We loved what you did. The studio liked what you did. We'd be happy to have you come aboard," I was really, really elated."
With Cyborg positioned to be a standout from the DC Comics universe, Fisher finds himself ensconced in a very elite (albeit small) group of black characters front-lining major live action superhero projects. The success of Marvel's "Luke Cage" series on Netflix, and all the fervor surrounding its forthcoming feature "Black Panther" through Walt Disney Studios serves as the perfect bookends for his official arrival.
Wilson Morales, a film critic for blackfilm.com, believes such projects may be signaling a real change within the industry ranks.
"The reaction to Anthony Mackie as The Falcon in The Avengers films and "Luke Cage," which shut down Netflix on its first day of its airing, as well as the massive anticipation to "Black Panther" shows producers that this is more than just a trend," he said. "I don't think this has to do with diversity, although it factors in. I do think folks are just excited about new and untold stories being brought to life as opposed to the same old narratives that have been presented in the sci-fi genre."
Fisher said it is beyond time for equality and diversity across the board.
"I think it's a privilege and an honor, but I think Hollywood is always a reflection of the world in which we live and what people at large are clamoring for. Obviously the world is yearning for more diversity," Fisher said. "The world is yearning for more inclusion, because we're not living in 1930 where we've got X amount of superheroes and X amount of representation. If you don't expand what that is, you'll quickly fall behind in whatever race you're looking for."