With all the shenanigans going down each week on Showtime's "Shameless" — artificial insemination with a turkey baster, anyone? — it's easy to see how a newcomer might not easily stand out among that scene-stealing cast of characters. Sheldon Bailey doesn't have to worry about that.
Standing tall at 6-foot-6, Bailey, who plays Kenyatta, is a former pro basketball player. As he's been building his acting résumé, he's also served as a body double for various NBA stars, including LeBron James, in more than 40 national commercials. He's been Shaquille O'Neal, Dwayne Wade, and Kobe Bryant, too.
Sheldon, who's a single dad to a "lovely, awesome" 7-year-old son, Solomon ("Solo"), will appear in eight episodes of Season 4 of the cable show (he debuted in the season premiere), so he talks to Yahoo TV about making the jump from playing King James to surviving the royal chaos of the Gallagher and Milkovich clans.
You're on "Shameless" now, but you have an interesting background in basketball, playing in college (at Winthrop University and Florida International University) and then professionally mostly overseas. How did you then take the leap to acting?
I was always interested in acting in high school and college. But at that point, I started doing commercials — basketball commercials mainly — and extra work in Miami. My first two commercials I was a stand-in for Dwyane Wade. Then I was Shaq's body double — I was the back model — in his Icy Hot commercial. I was the guy rubbing the Icy Hot on the back and putting the patch on the back and stuff like that. So, I kind of got started with stand-ins.
You've worked even more with — or should I say as — LeBron James.
I've been a stand-in for LeBron four or five years now. I've probably worked on 15 various projects, including 10 national commercials. I just stood in for LeBron like two days ago.
Explain what this entails though. I read that you one time had to sit for nine hours getting fake tattoos to look like LeBron in a commercial.
That was before they got smart and started using stencils. On top of the nine hours of tattoos, I've been through some of the longest, most painstaking fittings as LeBron when he's not available. One time, I had a 10-hour fitting. I don't know how many clothes I tried on. It was ridiculous.
And I just don't stand there for him; I'm also a body double in the commercials. They use my likeness on camera as LeBron quite a bit. It's hard to find someone his size with the athletic ability to do it, so I've been doing it for a while. The last big commercial I did was the NBA 2K14 commercial. And they fly me to whenever they're preparing production. I've flown to New York to be LeBron, San Francisco, Miami. I've probably been LeBron more than anybody else except LeBron.
Watch Bailey being LeBron:
So are you guys buddies at this point?
Honestly, we're OK [laughs]. I'll leave it at that. We're all right. But one thing about being a double for LeBron, I've logged a lot of hours on set and in front of the camera. I feel like that has helped usher me to where I am now.
LeBron isn't your only big NBA connection, you were on the same high school basketball team with Amar'e Stoudemire (New York Knicks) and Jarrett Jack (Cleveland Cavaliers).
My senior year, I transferred to a school in Durham, North Carolina, called Mount Zion. It's a prestigious basketball academy and that's where I met Amar'e. I was a senior; he was a junior. The whole basketball team stayed in a house with our coach. So Amar'e was my teammate and [house]mate. So was Jarrett Jack — we actually shared a room.
So, back to your role on Shameless. Your character, Kenyatta, strikes up a romance with Mandy (Emma Greenwell). What does he think of Mandy's nutty family?
I actually think he's found a home there. As dysfunctional as it is, he has feelings for Mandy and he's trying to make it work with her. He's really kind of blended in.
That's some cast of characters to blend in with.
Yeah — the things they're into! Like Mickey and this Russian prostitute wife. Then his gay love life, which he's in denial that he's actually gay. And, on top of that, he's like a gay Polish gangster. So, it's pretty unique [laughs]. Mandy's character is pretty unique, too, but she not a crazy as her brother and father. Though certainly she has that potential to do some crazy things.
Like run over Karen with a car — let's not forget that one.
Exactly [laughs]. When pushed to the limit, she can do that. You'll see though, throughout the season, Mandy and Kenyatta have a pretty good love life, I guess you can say.
What about Mandy's dad, Terry? He has a complicated relationship with his daughter, to say the least. She was pregnant with his child.
That doesn’t come up. You can tell that he dislikes Kenyatta but it's probably more because I'm black than because I'm sleeping with his daughter. We have some dialogue back and forth — little racial things later in the season. Racial banter, if you will. But Mandy is really into Kenyatta, so she's supportive and on my side.
Has your character had scenes with Lip yet? There has to be a love triangle coming.
Yes, a little later in the season, Lip and I are introduced and, well, it's very entertaining.
Were muscles flexed?
Yeah, a little bit.
What's Kenyatta's interaction with the rest of the Gallaghers?
I'm being introduced to more and more people. The last episode, I met Ian [Cameron Monaghan], and Debbie [Emma Kenney] and Mandy are friends, so I've interacted with her. Debbie's cool. For now, I'm really more with the Milkovich side of the family, but I'm being introduced to the Gallaghers as the season progresses.
Who have you bonded with on the set?
Emma and Jeremy [Allen White, Lip] — we talk a bit, chat. I think Noel [Fisher, Mickey] is cool. We always seem to be in scenes together, so our downtime winds up with us sitting next to each other and talking. And I think the kids on the show are awesome. Emma is cute as a button and I think she has a really good future ahead of her. She's supermature — sometimes I forget that she's, like, 15. Ethan [Cutkosky, Carl] is cool as well. We vibe on the hip-hop thing. He's a young kid and he's really into Kendrick Lamar and the hip-hop scene. I rap myself, so we talk about that.
You must need custom clothing. Any funny wardrobe stories?
No, not too much custom clothes because we shoot at Warner Bros. and these people got wardrobe going back 90 years. So they dig in the crates for me. Every once in a while they pull out a shirt or something and I'm like: Are you serious?! The sleeves don't reach my wrists. But for the most part, wardrobe does a good job for me.
Any funny moments taping because you're obviously larger than everyone else?
Not really — it's all about the lighting. They're trying to get me lit correctly at different camera angles, but it's nowhere near as difficult as people led me to believe or I thought it would be. I like to think I'm helping break the ceiling for, if you will, tall actors like myself. There's a lot of short people in this business [laughs].
"Shameless" airs Sunday on Showtime at 9 p.m.
Not caught up on "Shameless"? Get a sneak peek of Season 4 here with the entire first episode: