How Philly helped build Benmio McCrea

Photo courtesy of David Zaugh

Throughout a career in show business that has lasted over four decades, Benmio McCrea still never forgets his roots.

After studying film at NYU and theatre at Syracuse University, the Philly native has acted in, produced and directed a variety of movies and television projects over the years. His most notable roles include parts in Bosch, Criminal Minds, This Is Us and most recently in an episode of Fox’s 9-1-1. He’s also directed two short films, titled Aquarium and Retribution, with more projects set to be released this year.

Yet no matter where his career takes him, McCrea always credits his hometown of Philly as being the place that fostered his passion for the arts.

“It’s where it all started,” McCrea said.

Originally born in South Philly before growing up in Oak Lane, McCrea grew up in an artistic and multicultural home. Both of his parents were visual artists, with his mother, who is Jewish, being a painter and sculptor while his father, who was of African-American descent, made a living as a sign painter. 

It didn’t take long for McCrea to get involved in the arts himself. He performed in Purim-inspired plays at the synagogue his family attended, taking songs from Broadway plays and musicals and reimagining them to tell the story of Purim. McCrea and his sister would even go door to door and perform small shows for their neighbors for pocket change.

But a major turning point for McCrea was when a big brother from the local big brother program he was a part of took him to see a production of The Miser at the Walnut Street Theatre. That experience in particular struck a chord with McCrea, citing it as one of the things that inspired him to be an actor. 

“My mind was kind of blown by it,” McCrea said. “It was so fun. I just got drawn into that world and I think that was the first seed to be planted.”

To further his ambitions in show business, McCrea enrolled at the recently established High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He was a member of the school’s first graduating class in 1980, something McCrea takes great pride in. 

“It was a little utopia,” McCrea said. “You had kids from all different walks of the city with all these different talents coming together.”

Through CAPA, McCrea and his classmates were able to perform in numerous productions throughout both the Philly and surrounding tri-state area while also receiving training in their chosen fields, with McCrea’s being both theater and dance. 

“I always had a pretty clear focus on what I wanted to do, and CAPA really cemented that direction,” McCrea said.

Even as McCrea’s aspirations eventually took him to the bright lights of Broadway in New York, he still thinks that the burgeoning Philly art scene is on par with New York’s.

“I always thought of Philadelphia as kind of just a smaller version of New York,” McCrea said. “We have great theater, and we have great museums and art institutions. We really got to experience some world-class things growing up.” 

Now based on the west coast, McCrea hopes that he can one day return to the city that steered him down his career path.

“I’d love to come back to Philly to do a play or even do a movie at some point,” McCrea said. “That would be a real full-circle moment for me.”