We talked EXCLUSIVELY with ‘The Chi’ star Tiffany Boone about what’s ahead for Jerrika, why this show is so important for the ‘changing’ TV landscape, and more.
The Chi is a coming-of-age drama that taking you to the heart of the South Side of Chicago. Two shocking events lead to life-changing consequences for a group of characters. Even though most of these characters don’t know each others, their lives are forever connected. The show, created by writer and actress Lena Waithe, is both gritty and beautiful. Even in the midst of tough circumstances, these characters are striving to move forward and make sense of what’s happening in their lives.
The Chi features a superb cast of young black actors, including Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell, Moonlight’s Alex Hibbert, Detroit’s Jacob Latimore, and The Following’s Tiffany Boone. HollywoodLife.com chatted with Tiffany ahead of the show’s premiere to talk about her character’s evolution over the course of the season. Tiffany plays Jerrika, the girlfriend of Jason’s character, Brandon. In the premiere, Brandon’s brother, Coogie (Jahking Guillory), was killed by Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) in a devastating misunderstanding. Coogie’s death will have a massive impact on Brandon and Jerrika’s relationship. Check out our Q&A about all things season 1 below!
Will we learn more of Jerrika’s backstory over the course of the season?
Tiffany Boone: Yes, a little bit. You learn a little more about where she comes from and what her goals are. With Jerrika, you’re really going to see her relationship with Brandon, and how they’re both trying to fight for the relationship as it gets more and more difficult, and you see them going in separate directions but fighting to come back together. When you lose someone so close to you, or really any bad situation you go through, you kind of take it out on the person closest to you. A lot of times they get it the roughest. They see you at your lowest, and when you’re mad, you take it out them. They get the worst of it, and I think that’s what you see with Jerrika and Brandon. She’s getting the brunt of everything he’s going through.
Through Kevin, Brandon finds out who killed his brother. Will that knowledge and what he’s going to do with that information be a source of tension between Jerrika and Brandon?
Tiffany Boone: Yes, absolutely. Jerrika comes from a completely different background as Brandon. Where he comes from, there’s a thing about revenge and making sure you avenge the people who have been taken away from you. That’s kind of the vicious cycle that happens on the South Side of Chicago and in a lot these communities across the U.S. But that’s not who she wants him to be, and that’s not where she comes from. The knowledge that he has, you’re going to see her trying to push him to go in the opposite direction of what his natural instinct is. What he’s going to do with that information deeply affects their relationship.
In the premiere, there is definitely tension with Brandon’s mom and Jerrika. Is that going to continue?
Tiffany Boone: Yes! The character of Laverne, she’s difficult with all of the characters. She’s not an easy person to get along with. You see in the first episode, she’s particularly hard on Jerrika. Brandon is her first-born son, and it’s not easy for her to let go of control over his life and let another woman in. You see that continue through the season, but also as Jerrika and Brandon try to figure out what to do next in their relationship, Jerrika’s relationship with Laverne changes. Laverne actually grows a lot through this process of grief. At the end of the season, all of these characters are so transformed by what has happened, so all of their relationships are different. Laverne and Jerrika’s relationship goes through quite a transformation.
Will the characters continue to find themselves in each other’s lives more as the season goes on?
Tiffany Boone: Yes, absolutely. What’s so interesting is that the first event of Jason being murdered weaves these stories between all of these characters, so just about every character you meet you’ll eventually be able to draw a line between them all. Even though not every character is going to meet, you’ll see the effects of their actions on other characters on this show, which I think is super powerful. It shows how every decision we make impacts so many other people. More and more characters are going to be introduced as the season goes on, and it’s going to take a while before you see how they’re connected, but at the end they’re all so attached even if don’t know each other.
How close is Jerrika to the real you?
Tiffany Boone: I think Jerrika is the closest character to me that I have ever played. On the other shows that I’ve been on I’ve usually been playing far-off characters — murderers or drug addicts. I love playing different characters, but what I loved when I read the pilot for The Chi was that I felt so connected to Jerrika. I will say that our backgrounds aren’t super similar. She comes from a well-off family, and her parents are still together. My father passed away when I was three, and my mom raised me by herself. I wouldn’t say our upbringings are super similar, but I think that we’re similar because of our drive, creating a successful career, our focus on our personal relationships. I’m in a relationship that means the world to me just like Jerrika. I think wearing my hair naturally was important to me and our director for the pilot and Lena, because there’s just not enough representation on TV of young, successful, beautiful black women with natural hair. I started this journey a few years ago going natural, and I believe every woman should be able to do whatever with their hair. That’s our prerogative. Something that [director] Rick Famuyiwa said to me when we were trying to decide what to do with Jerrika’s hair was, “I have two girls at home who wear their hair naturally and they said to me, ‘Dad, I don’t see any girls on TV who look like me.’” I thought that was so important for girls to see themselves in this girl who is clearly educated, who is strong, who is trying to create this career, who is independent, who is sexy, and loves her man, and she walks around with an afro in heels and a tight skirt and goes to work and gets stuff done. That’s what connects me to Jerrika. I hope young black women like me see themselves in Jerrika and appreciate the choices that we made.
There are so many young and talented black actors on this show. People are going to see themselves in these characters and know they’re being represented, so what does that mean to you as an actress and as woman of color?
Tiffany Boone: It means the world to me. I stopped acting for a while because I didn’t feel motivated or inspired by the work I was auditioning for, and even in the work I was actually doing. I was excited when I got a job, and I liked the material, but I wasn’t sure that I was really reaching people the way I wanted to. Luckily, the landscape of TV has changed so much since I did The Following. There’s so many great black creative television and television that is showing nuanced black characters like Dear White People, Insecure, and This Is Us. This Is Us, to me, they have the blackest couple on television, even though it’s not a black creative TV show. Because the landscape is changing, there’s the opportunity for a show like The Chi to be here. I think we are taking our spot in this new landscape, and we are showing a grittier side.
The Chi takes place on the South Side of Chicago and another Showtime show, Shameless, also takes place there. What are your thoughts on a crossover?
Tiffany Boone: I mean, that’s not up to me. That’s up to the people in charge. I’m not even sure how that would work. I feel like we live in such different realms. The feeling of Shameless is just so different than the feeling of The Chi. Even though they’re in the same city, it feels like they’re in a different universe. Obviously, I don’t make those decisions. Obviously, if someone wanted to do it, I’m in, but it would have to be right.
The Chi airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.