With an average of 10.8 million multi-platform viewers for season five of Power and 1.47 million viewers for the initial airing of the show’s season six premiere in 2019, it was a no-brainer for Starz to green-light a bevy of spin-offs of the crime drama that Courtney A. Kemp created in collaboration with 50 Cent. The first of the spin-offs, Power Book II: Ghost, will premiere Sept. 6, 2020 at 9 p.m. on the premium cable network. It focuses on one of the original series’ most controversial character — Tariq St. Patrick (Michael Rainey Jr.) — and introduces dozens more characters the audience will either love or love to hate.
Book II takes place shortly after the harrowing events of Power. James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) is dead and Tasha St. Patrick (Naturi Naughton) has been charged for his murder, the murder her son Tariq actually committed. Tariq is at the center of Book II. Not only does he have to continue his Ivy League education to earn his inheritance, but he also has to turn to the drug game in order to afford the “fame-hungry” defense attorney who is expected to get Tasha acquitted, Davis MacClean (Cliff “Method Man” Smith). (Fun fact: The university campus scenes are filmed at my alma mater Lehman College in the Bronx.) Although Tariq is familiar with hustling and realizes that he can “make a killing” at his school because all the students do is “party and study,” he still seeks out the assistance of someone who has been in the game much longer, Monet Stewart Tejeda (Mary J. Blige), whose family is known for being cutthroat. As Tariq balances his grades and love life (more on that later) with his drug operation and entanglement with Tejeda, he realizes the only way to win, i.e. not get murdered, is to become a better version of his father.
“As far as the new Power goes, it's dope because you get to see like a lot of different type of energies,” Rainey Jr. said during a mid-August interview via Zoom. “It's very similar to the original Power, but it's way different as well, because it's more youthful energy. I'm in school now, among kids my age, so it's like I get to be an actual kid.”
If there’s one thing fans and newcomers to the Power Universe know it’s that Tariq is a hated character, so much so that Rainey Jr. revealed in the past that he has received death threats online, as a result of his character’s actions. But the actor says there was no trepidation in reprising the role for Book II. “If they feel that way, then no matter if I stopped playing Tariq, they [are] still gonna feel the same way,” explained Rainey Jr. “So I didn't really mind it too much either way because … [they’re] watching the show, they get into it, and they're paying attention. So I can't really be mad at anybody.”
Along with Blige’s character, Book II will introduce two more women who will impact Tariq’s life — possibly his love life. Diana Tejeda (LaToya Tonodeo) and Lauren Baldwin (Paige Hurd) are polar opposites. As daughter to queen-pin Monet and sister to Cane Trejeda (Woody McClain) and Dru Tejeda (Lovell Adams-Gray), Diana has street smarts, whereas Lauren is all about hitting the books and attaining her life goals. However, both have to figure out how to navigate the outside forces that affect their lives as young women.
“I would say Diana is the princess of the family,” said Tonodeo, who revealed that she is a fan of the original Power, had “Starz” on her vision board, and envisioned meeting with Book II creator and showrunner Kemp one day. “[Diana] is ambitious, she's stylish, she's intelligent. She's street savvy. She definitely has her family's best interests at heart. But at the same time, she's still a young woman trying to learn how to navigate through her own side of life.”
Tonodeo continued during the phone interview, “I would say even though … she has a vulnerability and innocence about herself, she's still a strong girl. Like, don't get it twisted. I mean, she comes from a heavy-hitting family, so it's in her blood, right?”
On the other hand, Lauren’s entire focus is school until she meets Tariq, explains Hurd, who was also a fan before stepping into the Power Universe, but “couldn’t stand” Tariq until season six: “[Lauren] goes to school, and she has her life written out, planned out exactly how she wants it to go. She's pretty much like the daughter of a doctor and a lawyer, and the only child so she's super, super focused. But she ends up meeting Tariq … When girls fall in love, or not love but they fall in like, with a guy and they're a little distracted.”
UPTOWN caught up with Rainey Jr., Naughton, Tonodeo, and Hurd ahead of the Power Book II: Ghost premiere to discuss being a part of the Power Universe, their characters, what viewers can expect from the inaugural season, and what it was like working with Blige and Method Man.
UPTOWN: When did you learn there would be a spin-off? And what do you think of there being a Power Universe, or that the original series didn’t end the story?
Naturi Naughton: I think it's actually really amazing. So we're really changing the game with this formula. We've seen some shows try to do that successfully. And I think we're actually built to last and we're built to have a Power Universe because the world of Power is so fast … [and] complex, and there's so many surprises that popped up out of nowhere in our world. I think we have the writing team to do it. And also have the characters [who] people have fallen in love with … The whole process of what we built through Power has really been such a staple in the culture … So I was just so excited because I was really like, "I'm glad that Tasha lives and survives." Because that's, you know, one of the things that everyone talks about is, "Who gon' die this week?"
Michael Rainey Jr.: I first was informed when we were in the middle of filming season six. So 50 had just came to set one day and he just pulls me to the side, and we're just talking and he's like, "Yo, son, I need you to get ready real soon. And I was like, "What are you talking about?" And he's like, "You're gonna be the leader of your own show soon." I was like, "What are you talking about? Get outta here." I thought he was joking. Like, you know, 50 Cent. He's always playing around. So I was just like, "OK." And then, like two weeks after Courtney Kemp had told me, so when Courtney told me, I was like, "It's real for me."
When she told me and I got out, I was nervous -- I'm not gonna lie. So, leading up to it I was like, “Dang, this is a lot of responsibility. What am I gonna do?” But honestly, once we started filming, the first few days, we all clicked … I saw a lot of old faces from the crew as well. So automatically I felt a lot more comfortable with that. And then even the new cast, they just made me feel so good. I felt super comfortable with them and they just made it easier for me to get kind of used to being in a new position on the show, you know, a position in which I have a lot more responsibilities than just last year or the year before.
It's not too often you see a lot of shows branch off from a regular series … especially with a character like mine. And then basing [a spin-off] around a character like mine? It was just very unexpected because, you know, everybody hated Tariq! Like, “What the heck? Are y'all sure y'all want to do that?” But they believed in me, they believed in my talent. They thought I could handle the responsibility. So I was just like, “You know what, let's do it. I can't let them down. I could do it.”
UPTOWN: Do you think newcomers to the Power Universe will be able to follow the spin-off?
Naughton: I always say people should go back and binge-watch us because it will help you. But newcomers will come into growth because this is such an awesome, almost like a whole new world literally — pun intended. It's like a whole new world and, but yet at the same time, a nice segue from our old world of Power. And yes, of course, there are going to be things that some newcomers are going to say, “Wait, wait, what, Tariq killed Ghost?" So, I think, you know, naturally that's going to be something that we'll just up and adapt to. But I'm excited because I think all the fans will definitely be excited.
UPTOWN: Can you talk about the journey you personally took as your character went from getting his own storylines to being the last man standing to becoming the main character ofPower Book II: Ghost?
Rainey Jr.: It's honestly insane because, you know, my position in the show, when I first started, it was very small, a really hi and bye type of thing. So for them to really pay attention to my growth and everything, and start writing according to my growth, honestly, I couldn't be any more thankful. That's a blessing [from] Courtney and 50, they really were paying attention to me and and my progress, so that I couldn't be any more thankful for that at all.
UPTOWN: What’s Tasha’s motivation in this chapter ofPower?
Naughton: Ooh, ah, you know, I think overarching goals/motivation are to save her children, particularly her son Tariq because she's already lost one. And I think it just has become one of those things where Tasha realizes that she's already lost so many people in her life. I mean, she had to kill her best friend Lakeisha, played by La La [Anthony], which was hard ... For Tasha, she's tired of feeling like all her loved ones are falling by the wayside, and sometimes it's because of her and sometimes it's because of Ghost, and then even Ghost gets got, by his son, which I take the fall for, you know, murder. And then I lost my daughter, Raina [Donshea Hopkins]. It's just so much that Tasha had been through and I think at this point, she's just trying to save her children, and you know, Tariq is so way left. So I'm just praying that she could get him back on the right track, which is to say that's her motivation. She wants him to do different than Ghost, be different than me. Because she knows that they're going to fall into the same trap. So if I can do something now, I'm going to do my best.
UPTOWN: What do you hope viewers will learn about Tasha in the premiere season ofBook II?
Naughton: I hope that they learn Tasha is not made of steel. She is a person. She is vulnerable. She can be broken. She's always been this stoic boss, you know, ride or die wife of Ghost, who is holding it down. And sometimes people take advantage of that image of a person. They think, "Oh, well she can take anything, with her husband cheating on her with Angela [Lela Loren], with her daughter being shot and killed, and her son turning to the drug life, her best friend was about to be a snitch and she had to kill her ... You would think she's like a superhero but she's not made of steel. And this season, I hope that people really understand the plight of Tasha, which in a lot of ways [happens to] all women, particularly Black women. We are always supposed to be the people [who] hold it together and the people [who] stay strong, and sometimes we need to just be able to be vulnerable. It's OK not to be strong all the time. So I hope that people take away from Tasha that thought of being, “Wow, OK, maybe I should just start recognizing that she's just as vulnerable and just as much human as any other woman.”
UPTOWN: How is Tariq different from Ghost and do you think he can avoid the same fate as his father?
Rainey Jr.: Um, he definitely can avoid the same fate as his father. The difference between Tariq and Ghost is that Tariq noticed how in over his head his father was. Ghost never realized how much he let the power get to him. So Tariq, he knows that and he knows that your power could be your downfall, so he wants to move a little smarter ... He saw the downfall of his father beforehand so he wants to avoid that. It's his father, so he's obviously going to be very similar to him, because this is in their blood. But he doesn't want to follow the same exact footsteps as his father. He actually doesn't want to be anything like his father, but he doesn't even realize how similar he is to his father. So I think that's the dope part about him, as well … So he's gonna move smoother and he's gonna learn through the journey of growing up.
UPTOWN: Who do you think is Tariq’s greatest enemy and ally inPower Book II: Ghost?
Rainey Jr.: It's really himself to be honest with you … Like himself could be his own downfall. That's it, only he can be his downfall. He's in control of, his legacy. So, I feel like he doesn't really have a great enemy. I feel like everyone’s kind of his enemy in a way because he can't really trust anybody. So he really has to just be to himself … He's his greatest ally, because no one knows as much as he knows, because he can't really tell anybody.
UPTOWN: Do you see any similarities between you and Diana Tejeda?
LaToya Tonodeo: Um, yes, I feel like we're both still trying to find our footing because every day is a new challenge. And I think that's great because that's how you grow. In my opinion, nothing good or no progress comes from your comfort zone. So, between Diana and myself, it's like, we're both trying to find balance in life. I'm discovering so much about myself through Diana. So I get to keep constantly bringing Toya to Diana. It's like an ever-evolving process of discovery.
UPTOWN: How did you prepare to play Lauren Baldwin?
Paige Hurd: It was a very quick how it all came to me. And I didn't have much time. I'm so much more focused on the fact that this is based in New York. So I was trying to figure out New York talking and/or accents. But my mom's from New York originally, in real life, so that helps me a lot. But I kind of just put my mom into this character, if that makes any sense. So obviously not my mom, but just her personality, her little accent. And was really, really, really excited to audition for this because Power is one of my favorite shows.
UPTOWN: Do you have a favorite moment from being on-set this season? What was it like working with Method Man and Mary J. Blige?
Naughton: Oh my gosh. This season, we've had such a long journey. One of the things that I say that's always fun is being on set with Method Man. He's such a pleasure to work with and it's really fun there and laughing … We often are in a separate little area waiting for the shoot, and he'll be playing music, we'll be dancing, and just kicking it, talking about Black culture, talking about whatever it is. It becomes like a social environment of let's talk about anything. And Method's been so much fun and also an inspiration to me because I've been able to share my music with him. We're actually doing a song together, so a lot of times on set, when we're not shooting, we're listening to his music. I'm playing him some of my new music. We're sharing music, and we really just enjoy kind of where we came from, which was that entertainer/music business space. So I think we bond on that level and because we spend a lot of hours on set together, the really good news is I've gained another big brother, so much like Omari Hardwick.
Rainey Jr.: Legends. As soon as they walk in the room, you just feel that star power. Especially [because] I didn't even know Method Man was going to be part of it. Like I'm sure it was hinted to me but I don't really remember clearly. But the first time I really understood that he's gonna be in the show was the table read, episode one. And I was like, "Yo, that's Method Man!” It was crazy. It was insane. It was also dope, because we're from Staten Island … But Mary, though, it was insane meeting Mary … They told me that Mary was going to be part of it, as well, but I did not know what kind of position she would have in it. But once I learned the position she would have in it, I was like, “This is dope!” Because it fits her, you know, she has that kind of swag to herself. So it was dope seeing her make the character come to life. It’s amazing, because when I met her at the table read, she was so excited to meet me. And I was like, “Why is she so excited to meet me? She’s Mary J. Blige. Who am I?” She acknowledged me [and] she acknowledged my work in the show. So I was just humbled.
Tonodeo: I feel like during our scenes, when [Mary J. Blige] speaks to me as her daughter, her subtext hits me in a real way. It feels like she's really teaching me the game. I feel every word that she's saying underneath, whatever her lines are. That subtext is heavy.
Hurd: I mean, I think the group that we got is amazing, and I really enjoyed being around all my new cast mates. Me and Michael have had a lot of fun filming ... My favorite moments are our table reads. That's when we all get to come together to read scripts and just kind of see each other. And then you know, from there, everybody's doing their scenes with their people … Some storylines don't necessarily cross. So that would definitely be my favorite moments and my fun moments because I get to see everybody, get to hear the story. And you kind of get to hear it come to life.
UPTOWN: How do you hope diehardPowerfans will respond toPower Book II: Ghost?
Naughton: I just want all the Power fans to continue to recognize that, yes, this is new and a lot of times change is scary, but we will not disappoint you. We will continue to raise the stakes and gain a new fan base. I think with Tariq's lifestyle in college and the university life will attract a whole different group [who] can connect to that storyline. But one thing I'm excited about is just to be a part of a franchise that has really changed the game, and I will forever, you know, hopefully, go down in history as one of the baddest ride or die wifeys/mamas on TV. So #TeamTasha, I appreciate you and I love you ... So as the world grows, stick with us and I can't wait for the audience to see where we're going.
Main photo of Naturi Naughton:
Photographer: Jose Guerra - @mr_guerrra
Stylist: Brian Robinson - @bdrstyling
Make Up: Ashley Stewart - @ashley.stewart.beauty
Hair - Kalief Wolf - @Kalief_w