With his powerful performance in Netflix’s “Mudbound”, his turn as Eazy E in “Straight Outta Compton” and now with his starring role in Showtime’s “The Chi”, Jason Mitchell is on a role. He took time after the panel for “The Chi” at the TCA Showtime Press Day to talk to Inside Reel about his ambition and process.
You been doing a diversity of projects from “Compton” to “Mudbound” to “The Chi”. Can you talk about keeping it fresh?
Jason Mitchell: Absolutely. I didn’t feel strange about not getting a certain sort of recognition for “Straight Outta Compton”. I didn’t feel like I deserved more than what I’ve got. But I did feel the amount of effort that I put into that character was sort of overlooked. People [were] like, “Oh, you’re from California, right?” No, actually, I’ve never been to California before I shot that movie. “Oh, you’re Easy’s kid, right?” No. They were so convinced that they just totally overlooked it. So in my mind, I was afraid that I was going to be pigeonholed. I was afraid I was going to be typecast in all these different things. So I was like, “You know what? Every role that I get, I’m going to try to change and morph as much as I can to just really show people.
Having just worked on a recent project with Kathryn Bigelow as well as Dee Rees [on “Mudbound”] and Lena [Waithe] here on “The Chi”, can you talk about them as directors and creators?
JM: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think women are the most sure creatures, you know what I mean. They have very little words, and they won’t go back and forth with you unless they feel that they can win it. And a lot of times, they won’t even go back and forth with you because they already won. Which brings me to say that they just have finesse. Like Dee Rees, I tell people all the time, [one of the] most sure black woman I’ve ever met in my life. We had 29 days, and we still finished early on some of those days. That was incredible to me. Kathryn Bigelow, I call her the big cat because she is super chill. And she’s very locked in. She knows exactly what she wants, and it’s the same thing with Lena. She told me, “Just support me. This is my friend’s TV show. I’m not the showrunner. I won’t be on set every day. But trust me, trust me, and let me know that I can trust you. And we can make a great show.” And I think that’s what’s happening.
With “Mudbound”, Dee had a sure hand but you had the role. I could not see you. And then here, same thing, it’s just because you disappear. Could you talk about that because that’s as much of a physical transformation as it is emotional.
JM: When people come to me with a really heavy material, I always respect the fact that that I was even thought of. For Dee to tell me, “You were the top of my wish list,” I was like…[and then Lena] “If we get Jason Mitchell, we can do the show.” When Showtime approached me, they were really, really like, “If Jason Mitchell’s down, we’re down.” Like, “What is what? What is my life? What are you saying?” You know what I mean? I feel an obligation to come in and I don’t think swing for the fences. Think swing for the parking lot. I’m trying to break a window in the parking lot, And I have to feel like that every time because these people are putting their star in my hands. It’s important for me to try to go out there and kill it every day.
But you can get so quiet, then you get so big. You can modulate the energy really well.
JM: I’m such a people watcher and I pride myself in being able to watch somebody so close, to be able to feel what they’re thinking before they think, you know what I mean? I grew up in service in New Orleans. And working at The Ritz-Carlton, they always just told us, “Anticipate the service. Anticipate the service.” And I feel now, that’s working for me in my career, because I can anticipate how somebody may feel in this situation.
By Tim Wassberg