Less than a year ago, Justin Hires was a virtual unknown. Then— whoosh!—March 2016 blew in, and the St. Petersburg, Florida-born-and-bred stand-up comedian and actor found himself, as he says, “being debuted to the world,” starring in the CBS reboot of the movie franchise Rush Hour. Alas—zap!—that show was canceled. But—pow!—in mere weeks, he found himself on the set of what would become the network’s Friday night insta-smash, the re-imagining of MacGyver. Playing the lovable, wacky Wilt Bozer, Mac’s BFF, roomie and fellow super-secret Phoenix Foundation agent, Hires, 31, is in heaven. “This is something that most actors can only dream about!”
Exactly. You must have Hollywood whiplash, because it looks as if you’re an overnight success who—
I’m anything but an overnight success. I tell people, “Yeah—it only took me 17 years!” [Laughs] I started acting in eighth grade doing Shakespeare in the park—I was the youngest guy and only African-American doing productions in the Tampa Bay area. While I was at Clark Atlanta University, I booked my first two films (The Gospel, Stomp the Yard). After I graduated, I moved to L.A. and started doing stand-up and—
And a mere 10 years later, you’re crushing it as Bozer. Until the eighth episode, he only—if adorably—bookended the show and didn’t even know that Lucas Till’s MacGyver was, well, MacGyver! And then—
Then he got held up at gunpoint at their house until Mac and [George Eads’] Jack came to save the day. Bozer went, like, “Wait a minute, these guys aren’t just employees at a think tank like I thought—they’re secret agents, crazy mofos with guns!” [Laughs] So Bozer, eventually, got to join the Phoenix Foundation team. He can make prosthetic masks, videos and is able to cook really well and so—
Those are some ways he can help out with all of the weekly MacGyver-ing going down! The show features actual recipe equations along the lines of, “paper clips + bubble gum = something super cool,” literally flashing onscreen when Mac is doing his jerry-rigging-to-save-the-world thing. So tell me: What’s the recipe to your heart?
Loyalty + respect + food = my heart. [Laughs]
Perfect. You’re married and have a 3-year-old daughter, Jai. Does Jai register that you’re on TV?
She does. She’ll see me on TV and start jumping up and down! I get tears in my eyes seeing how proud I make her. It makes you realize that you’re doing this not only to provide and for your own personal career, but to be an inspiration and let her know to dream big.
Your parents in St. Petersburg must be over the moon too. I know your mom is a school superintendent, but what does your dad do?
He owns his own beauty shop. He used to be a barber, but he’s been doing women’s hair for a long time now. It’s great, because my mom has every woman’s dream: a husband at home who does her hair! They’re so proud of me, but I still haven’t made them proud enough for my own personal standard. I want them to be able to say, “That’s my son and he did it to the utmost.”
And if becoming an international superstar is part of that equation, so be it?
So be it. [Laughs] If that has to come along with it, then I guess I’ll take that, too!
So how can 2017 possibly top 2016?
Wow. [Pauses] Well, I’m so grateful for being on MacGyver—I’m all about being a team player on a great show. Praise Jesus, thank you, Lord! Come hiatus, in April, I’ll definitely be back on the road doing stand-up. And it’d be nice to book a nice movie and … see, I want to be part of the conversation. I’m a huge comedy nerd. Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Martin Lawrence, the Wayans family, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, the list goes on. When people mention the Eddies and Martins and Chappelles, I want my name up there amongst them. I’m working towards being one of the greats.
By Brantley Bardin | Originally published in Watch! Magazine, February 2017.
Photo Credit: Maarten de Boer/Contour by Getty Images.
Watch MacGyver Fridays at 8/7c on CBS and CBS All Access.