Though born in Oakland, CA, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali grew up in the neighboring city of Hayward. Ali gravitated to athletics as a university student -- playing basketball for St. Mary's College in nearby Morgana, CA -- but began taking acting classes during his junior year that pointed him in a much different direction by introducing him to one of his life's great passions. Following a memorable summer that found him apprenticing with the California Shakespeare Festival, Ali applied and was accepted to the graduate program in drama at New York University, where he earned his master's in drama; subsequent stage work included prominent appearances in productions of such plays as School for Scandal, Blues for an Alabama Sky, and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. In terms of filmed work, Ali took most of his early assignments on television in series programs including CSI, Crossing Jordan, and NYPD Blue, and enjoyed a multiseason turn, from 2004 through 2008, as Richard Tyler on The 4400. David Fincher's elaborate fantasy The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), opposite Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, represented the thespian's first major feature assignment.