From the get-go, MeKai Curtis was under no illusion that the job would be easy. Filling in shoes previously worn by none other than 50 Cent would be no small feat. So when he was offered to play the role of a young Kanan Stark, the same Kanan Stark played by 50 in the hit series ‘Power’, Curtis did not hesitate... but neither did he take it lightly.
Curtis, 20, known thus far for his role as Fish Fisher in Disney XD’s ‘Kirby Buckets’ and as Paul Dunphy in ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’, most recently voiced the role of Zack in ‘Milo Murphy’s Law’.
But ‘Power Book III: Raising Kanan’, now available to stream on StarzPlay in the UAE, pushes him into uncharted territory. Playing a teenager exposed to the seedy underbelly of crime while navigating the pressures oif school and family, ‘Raising Kanan’ brings Curtis into the big leagues of televised storytelling.
Following are edited excerpts from Gulf News’ Zoom chat with Curtis, as he talks about his role and the importance of family...
Q: Were you a fan of the series already, or did you watch the shows after you were cast?
A: Oh no, I was definitely a fan of the show. That’s actually funny how I got the audition … I was literally sitting there watching ‘Power’, and I just kind of said to myself, ‘You know, I’d love to be on ‘Power’, that’d be really cool’. And then a week later, my team kind of sent me the audition for this. And that was that. So, yes, I was a fan of ‘Power’.
My parents were like fans from the jump. My father has been like a day one diehard ‘Power’ fan. I honestly admittedly at first was a little asleep on the series. But I came around to it eventually. Because he was watching it so often. I kind of just you know every now and again would see it as I’m walking past the living room and one day I sat down and was like, ‘oh this is dope’. So, yeah, I kind of started watching since then.
Q: What drew you to the role of Kanan?
A: So one, just being a fan of the show and it just being so different for me from what I’ve done previously. Two, just clicking with what I felt was Kanan’s urgency and his motivation, which is his family. I’m a huge family guy, it’s my world and my centre. And I think that was one of the biggest things that kind of clicked and connected for me. You know he’s gonna do whatever he has to do or whatever he thinks is best for his family. So that was the second biggest thing that drew me to wanting to tell this story and portray this character.
Q: Obviously, it’s an exciting role to take on, but was it ever nerve-racking to step onto such an established character with such a huge fan base already? Especially when the character was previously played by 50 Cent?
A: Absolutely. Definitely a slight moment of ‘oh, wow’. I think it actually came right after I found out that I was even playing the character, which came right before my third audition. I auditioned twice for ‘Raising Kanan’. But at this point it was still you know it was a code name.
I didn’t necessarily know I was auditioning for the part of Kanan. I just knew it was ‘Power’. And they kept calling me back and I was excited. And right before my third audition, which actually was my chemistry read with Patina Miller [who plays his mother on the show], they told me that what I’ve been auditioning for is ‘Power Book III: Raising Kanan’, and you’re ‘Kanan’. And going to try to tell the story of his family and just the origins of ‘Power’ and stuff like that. And that’s kind of where the realisation of, or, I guess I had that little moment. But then there was also the excitement factor.
One thing about me is that I love challenges. I love pushing myself, I love you know just pushing the limit a lot of the times. And this is something that definitely started to push my abilities, as an actor, as a human, and as a person. I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a performer, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, and that was two of the most exciting things to happen during this.
So yeah, there was the absolute pressure of taking on this character. And also wanting to keep the essence and the continuity and the realism that they brought. And also just wanting to honour the ‘Power’ franchise and wanting to honour the ‘Power’ fans and wanting to honour the people that I’m working with. So those were definitely a lot of the pressures that came with stepping into the new role. But on the other side of that, I definitely felt ready and excited to step into this new realm — step into such uncharted territory for myself.
Q: Tell us a little bit about what went into your preparation for the role.
A: I was watching a lot of 90s movies — ‘Juice’, ‘New Jack City’, ‘Boys in the Hood’, a bunch of that stuff … It was a lot of listening to 90s music, which is a lot of stuff that I kind of did on the regular just because I was already a fan of the 90s this is stuff I was already doing but you know I started watching with a different eye, trying to just pick apart and actually study. And then there was a lot of watching of ‘Power’.
A lot of 50 Cent interviews — trying to understand his mannerisms and his temperament and movements and nuances. Stuff that I could implement in blending and building this new character that essentially is or has to grow into him. That’s where the work was.
Q: You mentioned family earlier and the importance of family in the show, and the other big character on this show is Patina Miller’s character, who plays your mom. What is your on-screen relationship like but also what is your relationship like on the set with the actress?
A: Awesome. On-screen relationship with Raq rock and Kanan … like I said, Raq is kind of Kanan’s world. He will do anything for his mother. She’s his foundation for everything. But on the other side of that, there is this side of Kanan that’s coming into his own, he’s becoming his own man.
He essentially is the man of his household. So there’s a butting of heads in that direction between mother and son. But I think one of the overall arcs and themes throughout the show is a mother’s love for her son and the son’s love for his mother. So that’s essentially where you see our on-screen relationship go, you know, just a mother and son, looking out for each other in a crazy.
And off-screen, honestly I will forever just gloat about Patina Miller, because she’s been incredible to be around from the moment I’ve met her at the chemistry read. She had the first line in one of the scenes we did for our chemistry read, and up until that point, we hadn’t said many words to each other in the room that day. But when she got into the scene, she just came with such power and force. It kind of punched me in the chest. I kind of lost my breath for a second in a way, just because you know it was so exhilarating and I just felt this energy kind of surge in me.
And that that excited me. I love to be around people like that. Especially when I’m at work, to push me and make me sweat. She definitely did that from the jump, which is something I will always love her for.
And she’s just been a sweetheart. She’s incredible. You know she’s an incredible leader. She’s an incredible artist, she’s an incredibly hard worker, she’s and incredible person with an amazing soul. You know I love getting to work with her.
Q: So the show is called ‘Power Book III: Raising Kanan’. What does the word power mean to Kanan?
A: I feel like when we catch up with the 15-year-old Kanan, power to him means control. Like I said, he’s in such a wild spot in the world, just in terms of his age and a lot of the social issues he’s dealing with at school and social issues he’s dealing with just walking down the street. So I feel like there’s this kind of almost a spiralling that’s happening around him. And power to him would mean having control of all of that — being calm within the storm of things happening around him.
Don’t miss it!
‘Power Book II: Raising Kanan’ is available to stream on StarzPlay.