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Creator/Showrunner Courtney A. Kemp and ‘Power’ Cast Talk Season 3, Lessons Learned & Where Series Is Headed

July 17, 2016
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This Sunday, July 17th, Starz’s critically acclaimed series “Power” returns for its third season. With Ghost officially out the game, and Tommy stepping up to reign over his collapsing drug empire, it looks like nearly everyone has gotten what they wanted. But at what cost? With Ghost and Angela’s relationship out in the open, Tasha must begin coming to terms with being on her own. Even more troubling, the rift between Ghost and Tommy is irreparable. The violate hustler must decide if he really has what it takes to put a bullet in his oldest friend’s head. After all, “Ghosts Never Die.”

Ahead of the season premiere, I sat down with actors Omari Hardwick, Lela Loren, Joseph Sikora and Power’s creator and showrunner Courtney A. Kemp to discuss how the series came together, the evolution of its characters and Kemp’s towering position as a Black female showrunner.

On Creating “Power”

Courtney A. Kemp: 50 Cent and I both are students of “The 48 Laws Of Power”. He and I wanted to both write a story that was about power, so it came together really easily. We merged sort of his story and my dad’s story into the Ghost character, and then we decided to go ahead and tell that story through a little bit of the “The 48 Laws Of Power”, and just how power works and all those things. 50 and I share a lot of similar outlook on the world, but not similar life experience. So that was the other piece of it. I took some of my life experience and some of his as well.

On Writing “Power”

CK: A lot of our storytelling is an algebraic equation so you can really pop out values and move them in. There’s part of it that’s emotional, and there’s part of it that’s a science of writing. So, when you go into my writers’ room, our index cards are on the board by color. For example, Dre is green and sometimes Dre and Kanan’s stories are on green, and sometimes Dre and Kanan’s stories split off so there’s green and a different color. Just like you can move a card for a scene, you can move a storyline. Certainly last year there was a storyline that I had planned for season two, that I could not fit into the show. We had to kill it, which totally sucked because I really wanted to so that, but I’ll do it eventually. It might be a season four thing if we get that far. For Starz, I have to do a season arc pitch. So, for the whole month of May and into June, we run through and come up with an arc for the entire season. It doesn’t really change all that much. I’m like a highly specific meticulous showrunner. I’m not one of those people who are like, “Oh this is great, we just made it up on the fly.” If we’re doing that, it means we haven’t done a thorough enough job. Sometimes I’ll get a script and I’ll realize it’s missing something, and that’ll be a couple of scenes, but I try not to do that because it’s never good. It’s never good to do something at two in the morning when you should have done it a week ago.

50 and I talk a lot at the beginning of the season, and we talk about arcs and we talk about things that we want to do, and it goes from there to the writers’ room where we talk about things. He and I have talked about so many different aspects of this show. Sometimes things that he talked to me about in 2013, I’ll put in the show and he’ll go, “Wow! You remember that?!” My first career is as a journalist so, when you think about it, I’ve been profiling him for the last four years. I’ve really been in this constant conversation about what that’s like, what the drug life is like and those little experiences, but it’s really about detail. So, he’s an inspiration, a muse and a collaborator in all of those different ways.

On Literary & Cinematic Inspirations

CK: Last year for season three, everyone in my writers’ room read “King Lear” and “Richard III”. For season two we watched, “I, Claudius”. The original reference points for the show were “Out Of Sight”, “Shame” and “French Connection”. We love anything that was filmed [in New York City] in the ‘70s because people were doing a lot of free driving so, we used that as an inspiration. “Shaft” as well, and certainly some Blaxplotation, there are a lot of references. This year for season three there’s a scene that was deeply inspired by “Dangerous Liaisons.” It just depends on what we’re watching and what we’re thinking about at the time.

On Beginning “Power” With Tasha

CK: The series begins with Tasha saying, “Tell me I’m beautiful.” I wanted to establish that relationship very quickly. Her first line I think established her immaturity, so part of the story we’re going to tell is about how she matures. You’re going to see a lot of it in season three. Even her reaction last year to the affair was about immaturity. Taking Shawn as her lover was about being immature and being able to be satisfied by someone who was nineteen or twenty. It was really about her feelings of being rejected. But, she’ll grow and she’ll grow as a character so, I wanted to highlight that. I think her journey is one of the most interesting in the series. 50 Cent in an interview that we did together, he said, “I didn’t realize she was gonna be that interesting.” And I thought well, yeah that’s because he’s not a woman, so he didn’t know how I was going to define her. He wouldn’t know what it is to go from being a girl to a woman anymore than I know what it’s like to go from a boy to a man.

On Becoming Ghost

Omari Hardwick: I grew up with a doting and an affectionate father. My mom was not affectionate. So, if you take that actor and put him in Ghost, 6.9 million people are going, “What is that thing we’re looking at? That’s different.” The character is already written narcissistic so why not bring in another element? However, I can’t bring it in if I don’t possess it. It does feel like the critics came on and people are going, I didn’t expect this to be as deep as it is.

On Becoming Tommy

Joseph Sikora: I would say Tommy more than any other character that I’ve played, but then again, I’ve lived with the character longer than any other character, is that the character really takes on a life of it’s own, and I’ve really learned to trust him. Courtney, our show’s brilliant creator/ storyteller gave me these wonderful bones to work with, and then collaborating with Omari and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson who is such an accessible executive producer; he obviously comes from those streets that we’re trying to portray. By this third season, Tommy is very lived in. However, the decisions that I made before we called action on episode one are all still applicable. The character hasn’t changed. That man who was created at that point, is still the guy that we’re seeing today. We are now just enjoying different aspects and details of this person. You become a bad guy by never thinking that you’re such a bad guy. That’s when you get into trouble by coming off false, and that’s how you twist your mustache rather than just being a human being. I think that’s a big fault that people often fall into, and that’s when I turn off my television. I definitely thought about some guys that I met and ran into in my youth, running around the streets of Chicago. It’s a pretty interesting place. I always call them, “men with death in their eyes.” They always seemed to have corny jokes, so that was an aspect with Tommy that I wanted to make sure was there. People can often fall into a two-dimensionality of it, or try to be angry or scary and that’s not really how people act in my experience. Also, there is that silly quality of Tommy; when he’s the bacon thief, or when he’s playing with the kids, or when he’s playing his video games. I think that’s one of my favorite things to explore with Tommy, the full roundedness of his humanity.

Continue reading at Shadow and Act.

Read my season one overview of “Power” here.

Image: Starz