Mykelti Williamson brings heart to his role as Gabriel in Denzel Washington‘s Oscar-nominated Fences. But the actor admits he followed his own heart in high school when it came to sports.
Playing football and basketball, Williamson was called “hot dog” by his peers “because I would always do something fancy when I scored,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Then I got hit a little too hard and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is not what I was thinking it was.'”
For more of Williamson’s interview, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now.
While he enjoyed the nickname and being able to demonstrate his excitement, Williamson says he lost his enthusiasm for sports when his coach nixed any excessive celebrating on the field or court.
“My coach wouldn’t allow me to hotdog it,'” the actor recalls. “So I said, ‘Well then, I’ll dance with the cheerleaders.'”
The actor “loved” being a cheerleader before graduating and attending Los Angeles City College where he studied television and film. He won his first role on Starsky and Hutch in 1978 and has been acting ever since.
“Just knowing that I’m no different than the next guy has really kept me grounded,” he adds. “I keep my life very simple, I don’t drive fancy cars. Knowing how lucky and fortunate I am keeps me humble.”