The Starz drama series Power, from executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and show creator Courtney Kemp Agboh, is a crime drama set in the worlds of both the glamorous New York club scene and the brutal drug trade. James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) has the hottest up-and-coming new nightclub in New York City, but it’s really just a front for his lucrative drug network. While Ghost yearns for a legitimate life, his beautiful wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton) wants him to stay focused on what they’ve built together in the criminal underworld.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Naturi Naughton talked about how she came to be a part of this show, wanting to play a woman with complexities, her character’s background, the show’s provocative sexuality and violence, why she finds Tasha challenging, working with co-star Omari Hardwick, how inspirational 50 Cent’s success is, and how blessed she feels for the acting opportunities that she’s gotten. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
NATURI NAUGHTON: I went the normal actor’s way of auditioning. My agent sent me the script and was like, “There’s this really great project called Power. You should go in for it. You’re really right for the role of Tasha.” So, I read it and fell in love with it. I was so excited. I was actually really nervous at my very audition, in front of Courtney Kemp Agboh, our writer and showrunner, and Vicki Thomas, the casting director, and David Knoller, our producer. Going into the audition, I was a nervous wreck because I really wanted the role. It was a process. Initially, it was a struggle because they told me that I might be too young or not the right type, so it took awhile. But after that, I definitely felt like they embraced me. It was great, just to be able to be a part of this project.
When we first meet Tasha, it feels like she might just be pretty arm candy, but you learn very quickly that that’s not the case. Was it important to you that, if you were going sign on for a show that is essentially about a man’s world, this character have some direct involvement and not just be the hot wife?
NAUGHTON: Yeah, it was written that way, and that’s what I love about Courtney. She’s a female writer who wanted these characters to have some complexities. I love that Tasha is not just the naive, gorgeous wife that just sits at home with diamonds and pearls, shopping all day. I think this character is smart, and I’m so glad that the writing reflects that she’s very much some of the brains behind the empire and the operation. Tasha helped Ghost build his drug empire, and she really helped him with getting rid of evidence and avoiding getting caught and making sure the money is right. She’s really a partner in all of it. It’s very special to have that complexity. So, I’m very glad that they decided to make her so much smarter than the typical wife in the dark.
Tasha seems very much like the type of woman who isn’t going to sit around and wait for her man to get it done, but she’ll go do it herself.
NAUGHTON: She loves her husband and her family. She’s going to fight for hers. She’s not a woman who lets anything go easily. She speaks her mind. She definitely has an edgy, feisty side to her. Tasha is fierce, and she does what it takes. When you see the rest of the season, you’ll see how this character is not afraid of risking it all, not afraid of fighting, and not afraid to do what it takes to keep her life together and her security. It’s actually been a lot of fun.
What can you say about Tasha’s background, before we meet her?
NAUGHTON: What a lot of people don’t know is that my character started off with a really rough upbringing. Her mother was a single mom, growing up in Queens. She really didn’t have much security. So, when she married Ghost and they got more and more financial stability, that’s what made her feel like she’d made it. She actually doesn’t know that she can be anything without him. That’s what is also compelling about the character. Even though she comes across strong and fierce in certain moments, what you’ll see is that she’s also very vulnerable. She’s going to have to face the challenge of saying, “Okay, can I do it without him? Can I live without him? Am I someone without him?” So, I think her vulnerability is just as interesting as her strength.
This show is very full-on with the violence, language and nudity. Did you know exactly what you were signing up for, and just how fearless you’d need to be for this role?
NAUGHTON: You know, it’s New York City. It’s real, it’s gritty, it’s authentic. Starz is a network that’s going for the content that’s extremely honest and pushing the envelope and is provocative. I like Starz, and I love what they’ve been doing. I used to be obsessed with Boss. I loved it. With the nudity, the violence and all these things that people may harp on, I always remind people that it fuels the story. When you see the violence and you see some of the sexuality of these characters, keep in mind that Tasha uses her sexiness as a form of power. She uses her sexuality to make sure she has control over her circumstance or to make herself feel strong again. It’s all about how these things are utilized, throughout the season. I didn’t know how it was going to be shot, but I’m proud that we’re being very gritty and very authentic without being gratuitous, where it doesn’t serve the characters and tell you something about who they are. If you see Tasha being a little risque and doing something crazy in the backseat of a car, you’ll have a moment where, of course, it’s all shocking and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh!,” but at the end of the day, it tells you who this woman is and how hardcore she is. At the end of the day, she is a force to be reckoned with, which I think is encouraging.
That scene in the backseat of the limo with the driver, Shawn (Sinqua Walls), watching her, really says a lot about who she is and how she uses her sexuality.
NAUGHTON: Yeah. She knows how to use people and get them in the palm of her hand. She’s playing chess, not checkers. That’s important to know about Tasha. She’s planting seeds so that, in the event that she needs to go and get the harvest, she’s done what she has to do. You may not agree with all her actions. You may not always like the way she goes about things. You may think she’s crazy, at times, which she will be. When you see the rest of the season, she definitely has her moments. But at the end of the day, you can empathize and just connect with her struggle to stay in control. She needs to have some power, too, and she’s not willing to let go of it.
NAUGHTON: I don’t want to give too much away because I really can’t wait for the viewers to tune in. Without spoiling it, I think the relationship between Tasha and Shawn is going to be a very interesting, provocative relationship that makes you think and makes you see how sometimes everything is not what it seems and not how it looks. Sometimes people will get hurt, people will be used, and people will be manipulated. That’s all I can say. She’s a smart cookie, and Shawn is definitely head over heels for her.
How do you most identify with Tasha, and how do you find her to be challenging?
NAUGHTON: I was challenged by all of the different sides and complexities of the character. It wasn’t always easy to make choices because Tasha is so from the streets. She’s not the pretty girl who just sits and gets her nails done, although she has a beautiful manicure. It was challenging to be a wife who doesn’t want her husband to get out of the game. She’s a wife that supports and wants him to stay as the big time drug lord. It’s hard to be able to find a way to justify, as an actress, the character is making certain choices. So, it’s challenging, naturally. There are moments when I’m like, “Okay, how do I feel about this? Is this something that rings true?” I just have to step out of myself and really bring this character to life. It’s not Naturi. It’s not my thoughts and feelings. It’s really something that reflects some real relationships. If you look at The Sopranos, you see these powerful men and the women behind them. Even though our relationship is a little bit different, it exists. We want to show that these two people are the Bonnie and Clyde of today, in New York City. That’s something that Tasha likes. She thinks it’s hot and sexy. The criminal past that they have is something that she’s really, really excited about.
What’s it been like to work with Omari Hardwick, as an acting partner?
NAUGHTON: It’s a pleasure. I knew Omari before we shot this. We were friends in the industry. I would always see his work or see him. I was really a fan of his, honestly. Now that we’re sharing the screen together, it’s a little like, “Finally!” We’ve always said that we wanted to work together. He’s been like a big brother in the industry to me. He’s always been very supportive and had my back, and vice versa. So, now that we’re playing husband and wife, it’s very natural. I get to act with a friend and work with someone that makes me feel comfortable. We enjoy each other.
50 Cent is a force behind this show, as executive producer, as well as acting on it. Does seeing someone like him, who works in so many different aspects of the business, in front of and behind the camera, and as an actor and a musician, inspire you, as far as where you’d like your career to go?
NAUGHTON: It’s so inspiring, what 50 Cent has been able to do. I definitely want my career to continue to branch out. I’ve had the pleasure of working in different areas of entertainment, from being in the music business as a teenager in a girl group to doing Broadway for three years in Hairspray, and also doing TV and film. I can’t wait to get to that 50 Cent level where maybe, one day, I will be able to branch out into other areas, like producing. One thing I’m passionate about is directing. I’ve always wanted to direct. I want to write. It may not be the exact same areas in which he’s been a mogul, but I hope to show people that I’m multi-dimensional. You have to think like a businessman or a businesswoman, and I can’t wait to continue to grow, as an actress, but to also continue to grow as a brand and show people that I have so much more to offer. I’m really inspired by what 50 Cent has been able to do. We’re lucky to have him on our team.
At this point in your career, your transition to acting has been so successful that a segment of your fan base probably doesn’t even know that you’re also a singer. Was it initially challenging to make that transition from singer to actress?
NAUGHTON: Yeah. I’ve been really, really lucky and fortunate. For people who don’t know or didn’t know that I started off as a singer, singing requires a certain level of drama, in itself. Honestly, it really prepared me to do this, and I’ve been really blessed to be able to transition into the acting world very smoothly. When I was young, I was always telling my parents and telling everybody that I was going to be a singer and an actress when I grew up. I took classes. I was in dance lessons. I took singing lessons. I was in the plays. I took acting lessons. I did different things that continued to keep me ready for this opportunity and ready for all the things that are happening now. I never imagined that I’d be playing Lil Kim in a movie, one day. I never imagined that I’d be in a really cool Starz show called Power. I never imagined that I’d be on Broadway. All these things happened because I’ve just been blessed with the opportunity, but I definitely feel like, as a singer, I’ve been able to transition into acting because I always saw them in the same vein. It’s all about connecting and telling a story. When you’re singing, it can be looked at as a monologue, in a way. If it’s about telling a story and connecting with your audience, you can do that through song, through dialogue, or through a monologue. That’s what’s special about being an entertainer.
Power airs on Saturday nights on Starz.