While many fans discovered Champaign native and University of Illinois grad McKinley Freeman watching him on VH1’s “Hit the Floor,” the actor — whose first post-college job was working as a techie expert at CDW in Chicago — explains that acting “was the furthest thing from my mind when I was growing up. I was all about playing basketball and becoming a success in the business world.”
In fact, after a year working in Chicago, Freeman returned to Champaign, where he received his MBA in marketing and management systems — and then went off to work for IBM.
Ultimately, his leading-man looks caught the attention of casting agents — especially after he relocated to California, where he quickly landed roles on “All My Children,” “Bones,” “General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives,” and the feature film “End of Watch,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Chicago native Michael Pena.
Now Freeman is returning to town to promote a project very near and dear to him: “Illicit,” in which he appears with his “Hit the Floor” co-star Dean Cain, plus Vivica A. Fox and David Ramsey. Freeman is also a producer on the film, joking in a recent phone conversation that doing that goes against advice given him early in his L.A. days.
“A number of people told me, ‘Don’t ever use your own money [making a film], because you’ll lose it,'” said Freeman. “But there was something about this team of people I knew well and the confidence we all had in this project, it led me to want to roll the dice.”
In the movie, a married couple discover that beginning an extramarital affair is far simpler than ending it. Freeman describes his role as “the guy who tries to stir the pot a little bit. … This is really what I’d call an erotic thriller, following a married couple who make choices that people sometimes make in marriages — much to their regret. It raises the question: ‘How can you have everything, and then risk losing it all?’ ”
Freeman will participate in Q&A sessions at Thursday and Friday evening screenings of “Illicit” at the Studio Movie Grill Theater, 210 W. 87th St.