On Season 2 of the Starz original series Boss, Tip “T.I.” Harris plays Trey Rogers, a former gangbanger with designs on a career in City Hall. He is the cousin that Darius (Rotimi) turns to when struggling with his love for Emma (Hannah Ware), Mayor Tom Kane’s (Kelsey Grammer) daughter, and he is the conduit between a local Alderman and the gang that is powerful enough to function as a grassroots organization in the projects.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, rapper T.I. talked about the opportunity to be a part of this acclaimed show, how his character will fit into the story, being able to understand who Trey Rogers is, working with Rotimi who also aspires to get into music, what it was like to do a scene with Kelsey Grammer, and how different acting has been from what he expected. He also talked about working in TV versus film, breaking the stereotypes of his rapper persona, having just done his first comedy (Identity Thief with Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman), becoming an entrepreneur, and his eighth album, Trouble Man, which he hopes to release by the end of the year. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this show? Did they pursue you to do it, or were you looking to do more acting?
TIP “T.I.” HARRIS: I wouldn’t say that they pursued me. The opportunity was introduced to me by my manager. He let me know that there may be a role available, or becoming available, that I may or may not be considered for. When he said that, I was like, “Yeah, right.” I watched the first season because I was familiar with Kelsey [Grammer]. When I heard Kelsey Grammer and this type of character, I was interested. I’m working with Kelsey Grammer on this show where he plays a demented mayor of Chicago. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed when I saw the show, so when they made mention of it, I shrugged at it, but then they asked me to sit with the writers and producers. About a week later, they were serious about offering me the opportunity.
Did they ask you for any input into the character, or was it already developed?
HARRIS: On set, I may say that certain dialogue would be different to maintain a level of authenticity for that lifestyle. But, not during the writing process.
Since you’re new to the show, what can you say about your character and how he fits into the story?
HARRIS: His attitude and his ability and willingness to do whatever it takes is perfect. He fits right in. He comes from a different world, but the world he comes from is a world that is very useful to the people in politics. His neighborhood is the focal point of this season’s elections, and he recognizes that. He recognizes that his influence in this community could be used to carve himself out a position in a better world and create a better stage for himself. So, he takes advantage of that opportunity.
Is it important for you to be able to identify with a character like Trey Rogers?
HARRIS: Well, it’s important to understand what the writer intents to convey. Whether I identify with it or agree with it, is completely irrelevant, as long as I understand it. If I understand it, then I can convey it myself.
Was there a key to understanding this guy, for you?
HARRIS: Yeah. He’s ambitious. He’s conquered this world and it’s not enough for him anymore, so now he has to use it to get somewhere else. That’s pretty much it.
What’s it like to play out the relationship between Trey and his cousin, Darius (Rotimi)?
HARRIS: Well, I created a backstory in my head. In my own mind, I said that Trey was the cousin that no one wanted Darius to hang around. Everyone considered Trey to be bad news. Everyone wanted Darius to stay away from him, and Darius listened. So, now that Trey is in a better and more prestigious position and Darius feels that he needs his help, and Darius is the one who’s being drug through the mud, Trey is basking in that glory. That’s just my own mental conception.
How has it been to work with Rotimi? Even though you are the new guy on set, are you also somewhat of a mentor to him?
HARRIS: Rotimi is an outstanding guy. He’s just an all-around great person. He has ambitions of entering into the music area. He’s very, very, very talented. He’s a singer, writer and so on, and he’s very good at it. I just speak to him on how he can best apply his talents to execute what he would like to execute, in the future. I guess, in that groove, we have a very natural relationship.
Do you have scenes with Kelsey Grammer this season?
HARRIS: Yeah, I have one.
What was it like to work so closely with him? Does that make you want to rise to the occasion?
HARRIS: Sure, it does. You most definitely have to rise to the occasion, but you also have to remember to do what you do. You can’t get caught trying to do what they do. As long as you focus on your strengths and remain natural, then you come off natural.
How has acting been easier than you expected, and how has it been more challenging?
HARRIS: I won’t say that it’s been easier than I expected. I will say that the challenges that have come my way, I have accepted, and I feel that I have answered them appropriately. I’ve also been blessed with certain opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined, any other way. I couldn’t have painted this picture more perfectly, in some ways. Who would have thought that, for my first series, I’d be with Kelsey Grammer on a Golden Globe award-winning show, and by my second movie, I’d be working with Ridley Scott and Denzel Washington (on American Gangster). So, I’m just enjoying it and looking forward to the next opportunity, and hoping that the ride continues to go as magnificently as it has, so far.
Do you enjoy the opportunity to develop a character over a longer period of time on a TV show, instead of just telling a finite story in a film?
HARRIS: Everything in life has pros and cons. I do appreciate a series versus a movie. If I think of something, half-way into it, I can throw it in there and it won’t be so far down the line that it would be insignificant. However, I also like to completely focus on something for a certain period of time, and then be able to move on to something else. So, there are peaks and valleys, pros and cons.
Obviously, people know your persona as a rapper, but does that factor into the type of acting roles that you choose?
HARRIS: No, it doesn’t. I want to do things that shock people. I think that persona attributes more to the roles that other people may consider me for, rather than the ones I consider for myself. I look forward to playing a lawyer and a policeman, and doing a romance and doing more comedy. I did my first comedy this summer, with Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, called Identity Thief. I had a blast! I look forward to doing that again. I don’t think there’s anything that I would shy away from, that interests me. If I shied away from it, it’s because I wasn’t interested. But, if it interests me, I’m gonna do it.
Did comedy come easily for you? Did you have fun doing comedy?
HARRIS: Sure, I did. I’m not as serious of a person as people make me out to be. Due to that persona you spoke of, most people would think that I would be less successful in comedy, but I can crack a joke as well as anyone else. I think, in comedy, timing is everything. You and I could tell the same joke, but if one of our timing is off, it won’t be as funny. You’ve gotta know when to deliver your punch-lines.
Have you always thought about the bigger picture, when it comes to your career, or was there a moment along the way when you realized that you could branch out and do other stuff?
HARRIS: That’s a good question. I always knew that there were huge opportunities for me, and that I had a lot of potential to do a lot of different things, but I also knew it was about my execution and my application of skills. So, I always tried to work hard and stay focused, and just use one opportunity to contribute to the next.
Does it feel like, in order to stay relevant now, you have to be an entrepreneur and not just an artist?
HARRIS: Nobody is gonna love you like you. You’re gonna be your best salesman. If you don’t sell yourself, nobody else is gonna have a better time with it than you. You’ve gotta get up for it, every day. No matter what it is you’re trying to do, you’ve gotta get up for it and sell yourself, every day. When you do it right, then you find yourself in a better position than others.
What’s going on with your music right now? Are you always working on it?
HARRIS: Yeah, I’m working on it right now. I’m finishing up an album that’s called Trouble Man, and I hope to have it out by the end of the year.
Does the music come easier for you, the longer you do it, or is it always a challenge?
HARRIS: It’s more challenging to me now. Eight albums in, it becomes a thing where you’ve already set expectations for yourself. Certain levels of success are not accepted from you, more so than they would be from a new guy. You have to surpass the levels of success that you have already achieved, and that’s the challenge. But, it’s a welcome challenge. I appreciate it because it brings the best out of me.
With all the stuff that you’ve been through, do those experiences lead you to re-evaluate yourself, and does it make you better and stronger?
HARRIS: Sure, absolutely! Of course! You can’t go through the kinds of things I’ve gone through, as much as I have, without re-evaluating yourself and making adjustments. And you can’t endure these horrendous circumstances without developing a certain level of strength and wisdom. With that, you have life experience, and life experience makes the best music. That’s the thing that nobody else out there can offer. Nobody else out there can offer my life. I have a life that is fit for movies, music, and so forth. Nobody else can give that.
Is it important to you to give back to your community and to young people, so that they see that people can go through those things and come out on the positive side of it?
HARRIS: Absolutely! That’s a huge part of it.
Boss airs on Friday nights on Starz.