The following story originally appeared on the W&M Alumni Magazine website as an online exclusive. – Ed.
B.J. Minor ’13 recently rocketed into the spotlight for playing the teenage Mike Tyson in the Hulu original series “Mike.”
Minor (who uses they/them pronouns) spoke via Zoom with the W&M Alumni Magazine about acting, life advice and favorite memories from their time at William & Mary.
Though Minor sang in an a cappella group and participated in a number of stage productions at W&M — their favorite role being Herald Loomis in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” by August Wilson — they graduated with a degree in government, mostly by chance.
“I was still just trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” they explained. During Minor’s first acting class, though, it all clicked. “It was everything I didn’t know I needed. It was just amazing.”
After graduation, Minor worked as a preschool teacher for half of a school year, before realizing it was not what they wanted to do. Then, in a story that could have been scripted for TV, they packed up and moved to Los Angeles, a city they hadn’t so much as visited, citing “better weather and new opportunities.”
After two years of working and getting settled on the West Coast, they started to venture into the film industry, an admittedly daunting task that requires many hours of auditions, making self-tapes, taking classes and meeting with agents while hoping to get a foot in the door.
Minor was quick to say that the most important thing to know when pursuing acting is that you have to fall in love with auditioning.
“It’s hard. I’m not gonna lie to you. It’s really, really hard,” they explained. “[But] you’re going to do that more than anything else.”
For their own auditions, they choose to read the other character’s lines as well as the part they’re auditioning for, rather than having someone else read with them.
“It’s such a playground for me to just create and come up with my own journey and realization of the character I’m trying to portray.”
In preparing for “Mike,” they received help from both a voice coach and a boxing coach. Minor had three days to learn Tyson’s signature lisped New York accent and 10 days to learn how to box. Despite having an athletic background in football, basketball, wrestling and track, Minor had never thrown a punch before. Learning enough to portray one of the world’s most famous boxers in a little over a week seemed a daunting task, but Minor succeeded with a little extra help from their family.
Minor’s father was an undefeated amateur boxer and avid Mike Tyson fan. When he found out about the role, “he was very proud and very excited,” Minor said.
“It’s even more special because I’m the youngest of seven, and he trained my six other siblings to box, just for fun. I was the only one who didn’t get that kind of training. So him getting to see me put on the gloves just brought him so much joy.” This reaction wasn’t limited to Minor’s father. Their whole family was ecstatic, and Minor recalled how their support made the experience “surreal and exciting.”
When depicting Tyson, Minor stepped into the boxer’s shoes with empathy and respect. They credit the show’s writer, Steven Rogers, with a script that made it easy to understand Tyson, and Minor made it their goal to honor the part of Tyson’s life they were portraying as wholly as possible.
“It was so much bigger than me,” Minor explained. “Anyone who’s ever experienced bullying, poverty, racism … Some of the words in the script just held so much more meaning beyond Tyson.”
Minor identifies as nonbinary, and their experience with being able to pinpoint the language to describe that identity has been overwhelmingly positive. In 2020, when so many of us were faced with time to reflect, Minor was looking for the correct words.
“I’ve never felt comfortable with he/him pronouns,” they explained. “When I was finally able to land on nonbinary, I just had the most incredible gender euphoria.”
Since then, they’ve been experimenting with buying different clothes, trying new makeup looks and reveling in self-understanding. And despite fears that coming out could shut doors creatively, Minor has “the most work I’ve ever had in my entire life. I feel like the universe is rewarding me for my authenticity, and I’m just so overwhelmed and overjoyed by it.”
As for the role in “Mike,” Minor was open about their initial apprehension because Mike Tyson is often depicted as hypermasculine. Ultimately, Minor viewed the role as a way to demonstrate their acting abilities.
“At the end of the day, I am an actor,” Minor said. “So I love those kinds of challenges where I can prove that no matter your gender, or your sexual orientation, you’re capable of so much, because it’s the point of artists to be able to transform and be storytellers.”
Their work paid off. Minor received floods of direct messages on social media from fans of Tyson who had watched the show, all praising their performance. One even came from actor, comedian and television personality Wayne Brady.
As they talked about representation in the industry, Minor discussed about their upcoming feature film in which they play a gay lead character in a horror movie. In typical horror genre tropes, any character of color or queer character will not survive the whole movie. Minor’s perspective is that “representation is unlearning those tropes,” creating space for characters that have been otherwise ignored.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction, and I’m so excited to be part of moving that needle.”
Before Minor was a Hollywood actor, they were a student at William & Mary. Within five minutes of when their acceptance letter arrived, their mother had filled it out and was prepared to send back the enrollment form. And it worked out well. Minor shared with me some of their favorite memories, many of which were from the infamous last day of class celebrations, and we chatted about how the university environment has changed, the joys and occasional horrors of dining hall food and what clubs still exist.
Minor credits their experience at W&M with helping develop the work ethic necessary to become an actor. Balancing schoolwork and rehearsal is hardly an easy task, but the environment at W&M and a passion for acting made it manageable. Beyond that, Minor says the most important thing they learned was how to love and accept people for who they are. Minor’s experiences outside of the classroom — the day-to-day interactions in a community that seemed willing and eager to learn about other people’s experiences — became what stuck with them most.
Now, Minor is preparing to finish the aforementioned feature film and applying to more roles. More than anything, they’re excited about what the future holds. (And, hey, it just might include a trip back to W&M for their 10th reunion at this fall’s Homecoming & Reunion Weekend.)