Waiting to get tattooed until later in life is like saving your virginity: Some people are scared, some don’t have the desire, and others just haven’t yet found the right one. When actor Shemar Moore, who stars on CBS’s Criminal Minds, sat down for his first tattoo at the age of 33 there was a very simple explanation as to why the time was right: It took him 30 years to think the entire thing through. Moore saw a lion as a small child and carried that experience with him, thinking about it often, so it was only natural that the big cat would end up on his arm. “Being an only child I take on similar characteristics as what I see in lions—their bravery and their loyalty,” Moore says. “I love the idea of being able to see the lion within ourselves.”
Whether it is in reference to his career or his tattoo choices, Moore is not the kind of man to go in half-cocked. Once Moore decided on the tattoo, there was no stopping him. “I was at a place in my life when I no longer wanted to be so squeaky clean—I had some shit to say,” Moore recalls. “I researched it, found the perfect picture, and took it to Mark Mahoney.”
The lion, however, isn’t the piece he’s most proud of. That would be the phrase “Carpe Diem” combined with portraits of some of his idols, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Barack Obama. After reading The Audacity of Hope, Moore realized he had something in common with the President. “His upbringing was very similar to my upbringing. Being raised overseas, being raised by a white mother, our relationships with grandparents, and the journey that he took,” Moore says. His friend Nesta Garrick, a graphic designer, helped him find a way to work the three faces into the script.
Moore, who hopes to branch out into movies, worried at first that getting tattoos would typecast him out of certain roles. But he’s since dismissed that thought. “I’m 42. I don’t think I’m going to be taking my shirt off as much in my 40s and 50s as I was in my 20s,” he jokes. As is his custom, Moore took a few extra seconds to think more before continuing: “I’m not going to let my career dictate my expression of my life. I’m proud of my tattoos.”