Shiek Mahmud-Bey isn’t yet a household name, but has been hailed as one of Hollywood’s most talented actors.
The Brooklyn-born thespian, best known for 1996’s “Night Falls on Manhattan” and starring in NBC detective drama “The Profiler,” is now tackling a new challenge.
Mahmud-Bey has created, written, directed, produced and stars in the television psychological drama “The Inner Circle,” a gritty look at how substance abuse reaches across ethnicity, class, gender and age groups.
The hourlong drama, currently being shopped to HBO, Netflix and others, is set in hardscrabble Detroit and offers a fresh perspective of how drug and alcohol abuse is costly for society and, if left untreated, places a burden on the workplace and health care system.
The drama is co-written by Steven Williams, the screenwriter who helped to establish a solid foundation for the storyline.
Mahmud-Bey said he and creative partner Paris Jones aimed to shoot the entire pilot in only four days, after casting the show in just two.
“We were very specific,” Mahmud-Bey said of the casting. “I needed actors who could take notes and were committed. The chosen actors were given scripts and had two weeks to prepare. During the actor’s preparation period, Paris and I were introduced to Mr. Andre Johnson, CEO of Detroit Recovery Center — an introduction made possible by actress Whitney Johnson. Mr. Johnson, being a huge support to us, arranged for the cast to go to group meetings and talk to people who are in recovery.
The creators enlisted Craig Harmer as director of photography and David Fienup was chosen for sound.
Mahmud-Bey said each episode depicts the suffering of patients and their loved ones and brings audiences closer to understanding the pain and circumstances that led them to rock-bottom.
While the title symbolizes the patients in the group, it also represents the inner circle of deep, debilitating pain that addicts cover up with layers of denial, lies and self-loathing.
The resulting compulsive — and at times uncontrollable — behaviors often lead them to rehab, voluntarily or otherwise.
“Many people assume that drug abusers lack moral principles or will power and that they could stop using drugs if they wanted to,” he said. “Several contributing factors may be the cause of substance abuse, such as environment and genetics, which makes quitting difficult. This makes spreading information about the biological, environmental and developmental complexities of drug addiction, along with prevention and treatment initiatives, an imperative.”
Mahmud-Bey is also working on a new talk show that he created, “Psychological Perspectives with Doc B,” featuring Dr. LaSonia Barlow, a Detroit psychologist who has done extensive work with the substance abuse and mental health population.
Barlow, who was also a psychological consultant for “The Inner Circle,” will delve into such topics as the use of the controversial AIDS drug Truvada and children of incarcerated parents.
The talk show and the new drama about addiction fit neatly in what’s already shaping up to be a busy year for the actor. •
“It’s going to be my year,” he said. “I’ve got a lot going on but these are important projects, and if I don’t help people to evolve and grow, then I’ve failed as an artist.”