Coby Bell tops my list of People Who Are Awesome because not only does he exemplify what this column is about, but he went from unknown to awesome in eight months.
There's so much attention given to those celebs who make headlines for all the wrong reasons, and not enough given to those who are honestly good people. I decided I wanted to devote some column space each month to recognizing those awesome individuals you might not know, and the moment I made that choice, I knew I had to start with Coby. It still blows my mind that eight months ago I had no idea who he was. In June of 2010, I was convinced that the addition of a new regular character on USA's Burn Notice was a ridiculous idea, and it didn't matter to me who was cast. It couldn't possibly work.
Then Coby had to turn up and be amazing, forcing me to eat every single cynical word I'd said.
As Jesse Porter, the counterintelligence agent whose life Michael Westen deep-sixed, he was the face of the show's daring fourth-season overhaul, for better and for worse. Jesse was a great character on paper, uniquely set in a position to force the audience to challenge everything we knew about Michael and about how the show was put together. Yet what made him - and therefore the whole plot surrounding him - work was the impressive skill set that Coby brought to the role. His immense likeability and charisma helped when he was confronting the characters we knew and loved already. His ability to deliver subtle humor with just a particular line reading or a certain look fit right into Burn Notice's more comedic moments. And I certainly won't be forgetting the scene in "Blind Spot" where Jesse confronts Fiona after discovering that Michael was responsible for his burn notice; I actually found myself crying because Coby did such an excellent job of portraying Jesse on his last nerve. The character went on a real journey over the season, and by the time it ended, I was cheering when he survived. Coby's performance had disabused me of every single misconception I had about Jesse Porter, and I couldn't have been happier.
He was far from done impressing me, however. In what can only be described as either incredibly dedicated or insane (or maybe both), Coby was also rejoining his previous series, The Game, for BET. As he was blowing things up on Burn Notice, he was also stepping back into the role of pro football player Jason Pitts. Putting aside how much hard work and effort must go into being a part of two series at the same time, playing Jason shows just how much range Coby has. The character couldn't be more removed from Jesse; Jason is a rich, sometimes arrogant, sometimes insecure guy with a daughter to raise and a marriage that's fallen apart. The Game gives Coby plenty of opportunity to show off his comedic talents, yet also to play poignant moments that tug at the heartstrings as Jason faces real issues like his divorce and the end of his football career. (Oh, yeah, and he even got to rap once.) Jason reminds me of my best friend: a lot of the time he does things that drive me crazy, but I can't stop loving him, because I know that when it matters, he's a stand-up guy. I appreciate Coby's work on The Game just as much as the work he does on Burn Notice, but for entirely different reasons. I sometimes wonder if there's anything he can't do.
After all, Coby's created four characters that I have truly enjoyed, all of them vastly different from each other. Aside from Jesse Porter and Jason Pitts, he's best known for having played Officer Tyrone "Ty" Davis, Jr. on NBC's Third Watch. Once I caught up with The Game, I went out and bought Third Watch on DVD, and I could not believe that it was his first major acting role. He might have been playing a rookie cop, but Coby was acting like he'd been around the block a few times. He was playing the kind of guy I'd take home to my mother; when Ty finally did something reprehensible in the second season, I actually couldn't comprehend it, because I was just used to him being the saint. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Coby also voiced the double agent Conway Stern in an episode of FX's hit series Archer, leading fans to ask for his return and creator Adam Reed to call him one of his favorite people to have worked with.
When he told me that recently, I completely understood where Adam Reed was coming from. You see, here's the most important part of being on my People Who Are Awesome list: that someone isn't just a talented performer, but they're also an equally great human being. In this day and age, there are lots of great actors who aren't very good people. I started this column with Coby because not only has he become one of my favorite actors, but I'd also call him one of the best people I've ever met. I'd call him a friend, and that's because he reached out to me. Over the last seven months, I had the pleasure of doing two interviews with him; not only was he happy to answer anything I asked, but he wanted to know about me. Our interactions became conversations. Earlier this month at the premiere event for The Game, we finally met in person, and it's an experience that is going to stick with me the rest of my life. Not only did he take time out on the red carpet to talk to me, he pulled me aside that night and asked me what I thought of the fourth-season premiere. In that moment, my brain imploded. How did this happen? I thought. Why does someone this cool care what I think? How did we go from people who'd never heard of each other to this in eight months? That's really something special.
I've never admitted this before, but when I got home that night, I cried a little bit as the entire thing sunk in, starting with the sense that I actually matter to someone I look up to. There aren't words for me to express what that means to me. I can count the number of real friends I have on one hand. Yet one of them is someone whom I have come to admire and deeply respect. When times get rough, and they have, I can remind myself that I've got at least one person in my corner, and he's pretty fantastic. I'm enjoying The Game, and I can't wait until Burn Notice comes back, so I can see what he does next - whatever it is, I'm sure that it's going to be awesome.
Check out Coby Bell on USA's Burn Notice (returning summer 2011) and BET's The Game (Tuesdays, 10 ET/PT).