SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details about tonight’s Power Book II: Ghost Season 1 finale.
“I definitely want to say one of the great joys of my job is being able to hire and support young, creative people and that has been a great pleasure in this first season seeing this young cast to such fruition and be so great,” declares Power Book II: Ghost creator Courtney Kemp of the Starz series that just wrapped up its first season tonight. “Obviously Mary J Blige and Method Man are fabulous, and my adult actors are wonderful, but to see this younger generation come to the fore has been a true pleasure,” she adds.
The Rob Hardy directed and Randy Huggins and Aixsha Hiciano penned “Heart of Darkness” episode saw many of those actors new and seasoned push it to the limit, even by Power standards.
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No mater that Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr) killing his exploitive professor Jabari Reynolds (Justin Marcus McManus), and Tasha (Naturi Naughton) getting out of jail, the real shocker had to be Power’s resident trigger happy nutter Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora) coming out from the rock he’s been hiding under since the mother how ended earlier this year.
Gunning for Tasha, Tommy quickly becomes part of the bait and switch that has defined so much of Ghost’s first season. Ending up eventually in showdown with new matriarch Monet Stewart Tejada (Mary J. Blige), Tommy is figuratively driven out of town and another Kemp spinoff Force prepares to take flight.
Sheltering in place in a City of Angels going through the worst part of the Covid-19 pandemic so far, Kemp chatted with me about getting spinoff number #1 Ghost to this finish line, working with Rainey and Mary J, and what’s in store for Season 2. The executive producer also revealed a bit more about the Curtis “50 Cent’ Jackson fueled prequel Power Book III: Raising Kanan and what to expect from Power Book IV: Force
DEADLINE: So, with all the trials and tribulations of the last year, how does it feel to see Season 1 of Power Book II: Ghost finished?
KEMP: Wow. Well, let’s see. It’s so funny because the title of episode 101 of Power, the first Power, was “Not Exactly How We Planned” and that is the hallmark of this season, especially as Covid has made everything so different. So, when we were going to be having this conversation it would have been a different time of year and would have been different, and so I guess how I feel is exhausted, I feel exhausted and very grateful.
DEADLINE: There’s a lot of poignant deaths in the finale, Tommy Egan is back and then gone and Naturi’s Tasha is finally out of jail and then in a protection program as the extent of Tariq’s evolution becomes evident to her. So, are we going to see more of Tasha in Ghost or is she gone?
KEMP: What I think I can say is that Tariq was made a choice to save his mom but it’s a choice that he doesn’t have total control over because he doesn’t know where she’s going. So, I think what will come up in the next season is his lack of ability to contact his mother, to be with his mother and to have that connection. You know in trying to build the coming-of-age story, we really did have training wheels on Tariq in the first season which in the form of his mother.
So, he turns 18 and by the end of the season he’s sending his mother away. Part of the journey of Season 2 is absolutely going through and making decisions without the benefit of someone to call.
DEADLINE: So, I will take that as we have said sayonara to Naturi, at least for the time being.
KEMP: I would say that we can’t say definitively because of what they always, any character that doesn’t die on the show can come back.
DEADLINE:Are you considering doing a Tasha spin-off?
KEMP: I’m not saying anything like that.
DEADLINE: Oh, come on …
KEMP: (LAUGHS) What I would say is Tasha is firmly part of the Power Book II world, but this chapter of Tariq’s journey involves him being on the go.
DEADLINE: Speaking of chapters, this first season saw noted literary titles as the titles of each episode, with the finale being named after Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness – why was that the choice for this end of this chapter?
KEMP: The descent into madness, the inability to return. I mean, it’s pretty straightforward. I think that’s part of it. I think that book is a problematic book and I like the idea of repurposing it for our own means, right? Plus, there is a point of no return that’s really kind of nice in what we’re doing, for sure.
DEADLINE: Are you going to use the same approach for Season 2?
KEMP: Well, one thing I think I can say, and this is an exclusive to you,season two, Tariq’s class, the Canonical Studies class, moves into an ethics unit. So, next year we will be exploring ethics and I will leave it at that.
DEADLINE: So, without going further into moral conflicts galore, are we going to see the same format of seeing each episode drawing from a particular work?
KEMP: We may or may not be titling them in that way. I think it might be more about an ethical dilemma. For example, you know, is there such a thing as real greater good, right? Is there a greater good?
For instance, I’ll use on one that we’re more familiar with, like does the end justify the means? I mean, that’s a question that we’re always asking in Power but when you’re asked to write a paper about that or speak about that in class and you have committed some pretty heinous acts in order to achieve your end, I think you know, that’s one I could address and say that those are some things that are coming along for sure.
DEADLINE: But we’re not going to see episode six of Season 2 called The Fountainhead and episode seven called Thus Spoke Zarathustra?
KEMP: No, we’re not. We’re not going to see any of that. There’s not going to be episode 10, Macbeth. We’re not doing that.
This season we really wanted to talk about great books and how they affect people with Tariq entering college. You start out with kind of general unit your first year, and then as you go on your classes become a little bit more specific and I thought the idea of putting Tariq up against ethics couldn’t be more perfect.
DEADLINE: Leaping to perfect or certainly near perfect, let’s talk about Mary J. Blige. Looking back over this first season and clearly going into Season 2, you created another iconic mother figure and there’s that very last line, “the family is waiting,” and Tariq goes off with his new family and he has a new mother, he has a new matriarch…
KEMP: That character, Monet Tejada, is very special to me because Mary is so strong.
I mean, she’s an icon in and of herself, right? So, when you’re writing a part for an icon how do you differentiate the icon from the character, right? And it is in the fact that this woman is you know, she isn’t an international superstar, she’s a mother trying to make her way.
What Mary and I talked about this early was this idea of women like Monet you know, women we have known, and what it is to be a single mother. The single mother she’s known, and the single mothers I know and I am a single mother, so it’s really been about writing that character from my perspective and from her perspective and from the perspective of women who feel they have, now they’ve got adult children.
DEADLINE: How do you mean with adult children?
KEMP: Well, how do you control an adult? It’s one thing to put a toddler in his car seat in the back of a car but what happens when your toddler is 26 or 22 years old?
You saw some of that in Episode 106 where Cane (Woody McClain) knocks her down. What is she supposed to do to control a man who’s in her house? And that whole theme is really happening at deep levels, when he says to her, this isn’t your house, it isn’t your business. This is Daddy’s house, this is Daddy’s business. Everything you have is because of him, and she says, your father is in jail for 25 years and it’s only been 10, right? He’s not coming back.
When you think about what that is, I mean, that’s the hard core, that’s the real stuff that we’re writing about. That’s what I think makes these shows work is that we’re trying to write about real issues between people, and then we add the level of Power ridiculousness on top, you know? All our shenanigans for sure.
DEADLINE: On the topics of adults, there’s Michael Rainey, who has grown from a child on Power to a cold as ice man on Ghost. We’ve talked about his growth before, but by the season’s end he is clearly a leading man and with strong shoulders in which he carries it, because let’s be clear, the world of Power has only gotten more intense, more violent, and more sexual and more intriguing than it was in the first show to the world of Ghost.
KEMP: I really love the way you just said that, and thank you for that compliment.
I did have some people who told me that they didn’t believe that he could handle a show, and they were wrong and I knew it. I know Michael, I know how he is. When you know someone since they were 11 you get to get a sense of them, and his mother is an amazing woman and you know, he is an incredible actor and capable of showing a lot of layers of a very difficult part. Tariq’s not an easy part to play. You’ve got to be a lot of different people in this character.
I have to give 50 credit for the actor’s journey that Michael has been on.
They spent so much time together in some formative years you know, that story of Tariq and Kanan was a heavy amount of his work. Michael spent time with Naturi, with Omari, and with Joseph. You know, he’s had great actors to work with. Now he’s spending time obviously with Mary and with Method Man and he’s got all these great teachers around him and he’s learning from them. Rainey is a serious person. He’s a serious actor, he’s been doing this a long time, a lot longer than some other people and he’s a very serious young man
DEADLINE: To that, how far have you mapped out Ghost? Do you see it, is it a six-season show, a five-season show?
KEMP: I think I have, in my mind I have five or six seasons
The big shift that would happen in Season 5, the big shift that I’m planning for Season 5 would take the show in a direction where frankly it could go on forever. The show could go for 10 seasons or more considering that shift and it’s a big shift. But if that yeah, we could go forward for sure and do some fun stuff.
But that depends on whether we make it there. You know, I would love to make it there, but it’s all about the fans. If the fans stay interested in the story that we want to tell then we will keep going forward, but I’m very excited about the long-term storytelling.
One thing that I will mention is that we decided to take Ghost into politics because politics is a great place for liars. There are other careers that are great places for liars and there might be a really nice way to bring Tariq into the real world.
DEADLINE: Nice. Nice, and so are you saying that Tariq is going to become a producer for a television series?
KEMP: (LAUGHS), very funny. He’s going to become President. I’m just kidding. I don’t know, we’ll see. We’ll see. He’s definitely not going to produce television.
DEADLINE: Obviously one of the spin-offs that was envisioned for Ghost is about politics. You’ve got the Kanan prequel that we’ve seen some teases of, and we’ve got the Tommy spinoff, Force, which you basically launched in the Ghost finale. So, how much interconnection are we going to see between the shows as they start to all roll out and go forward?
KEMP: My hope is that much like the Marvel universe, the characters from each one will pop up as Easter eggs or additional fun for the audience.
DEADLINE: And in terms of that, obviously Raising Kanan takes a different perspective on that because it’s a prequel, but he’s gone but clearly not forgotten. I’m wondering, is there a role for Kanan in Ghost?
KEMP: I would love to see all different versions of that, to be honest with you, but I want to make sure that Raising Kanan itself has an opportunity to be its own series and not make that compete, with Ghost. But yes, it would be great to have 50 in as much as we can and make sure that there’s room for Raising Kanan to really succeed.
DEADLINE: We’ve seen glimmers, heard bits & pieces but what can you tell us about Kanan?
KEMP: It’s a very different show in terms of pacing and feel. It does feel like Power, you definitely feel the Power of that in that show, the capital P Power, but it also has its own small p power in the story that it’s telling and in its time and you want to make sure that the audience feels that as well.
DEADLINE: The West Coast-based Tommy Egan spinoff Force is also on the move. Give us a sense of where that’s at.
KEMP: We’re going to start shooting that in the new year.
DEADLINE: In LA?
KEMP: I’m not going to tell you where it’s shooting but we’re going to start shooting in the new year and we’re all really excited about it. It definitely is in terms of its violence and sexuality very old school Power.
DEADLINE: And what’s the status of your non-Power projects?
KEMP: Working on a whole bunch of different things. Definitely working on the HBO show Dirty Thirty, hopefully HBO will like that and it will go forward. I’m also working on something really small and private for myself about what it is to be my age and the responsibilities that I have.
Something that is less about style and more about grit, and that’s just something I’ve been writing for myself. It’s not something that’s attached to any studio, it’s not something that’s attached to any you know, it’s something that I’m writing for myself. But that’s just a few notes here or there. It’s been hard during COVID, during quarantine to stay creative.
Most of my time right now is focused on HBO and the Power universe and getting everything off the ground.
DEADLINE: What did you mean, for you it’s been hard during Covid and quarantine to stay creative?
KEMP: The writer’s room on Zoom is not the writer’s room, not the same thing, and the energy of the writer’s room is not the same and I miss that.
Also, the idea that you as a cast member or a crew member you know, that you could be terrified to go to work because it’s life threatening, that puts a whole new spin on you know, being a starving or frightened artist. So, it’s been difficult for everybody.
However, I really want to say this and I hope you print some piece of this, but the important thing to look at here is that we are all employed, that we have had jobs during this pandemic. That is the most important thing, so any complaint, any expression of fatigue, any expression of those things, to have still somewhere to live, to shelter in place and a place that is shelter is profound.
I definitely want to say one of the great joys of my job is being able to hire and support young, creative people and that has been a great pleasure in this first season seeing this young cast to such fruition and be so great. Obviously Mary and Method are fabulous, and my adult actors are wonderful, but to see this younger generation come to the fore has been a true pleasure.
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