(AllHipHop Features) Many observers have dubbed the time we currently live in as a Golden Age of television. Critics and viewers cannot get enough of the diverse stories being presented on the small screen.
While the big four networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) dominated the arena for years, other outlets such as HBO, Showtime, AMC, USA, FX, and Netflix host celebrated shows that helped elevate TV to a highly respected art form for popular actors and award-winning directors.
Another platform has entered the race for television dominance. Crackle is looking to draw new eyes to its free on-demand streaming service with its own original programming, the latest series being the scripted drama StartUp.
Set in Miami, StartUp follows shrewd banker Nick Talman (Adam Brody), genius hacker Izzy Morales (Otmara Marrero), and Haitian gangster Ronald Dacey (Edi Gathegi) as they attempt to maneuver in the uncharted world of cryptocurrency. FBI agent Phil Rask (Martin Freeman) is out to bring down the trio’s operation.
I spoke with Gathegi about his latest turn as “Ronald” which the 37-year-old entertainer considers – despite the character’s illegal activities – the actual moral compass of StartUp. We also discussed Edi’s upcoming work in Christine Crokos’ film Pimp as well as his admiration for certain Hip Hop stars.
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What attracted you to the role in StartUp?
What attracted me to the part? The script. The script was good. And they signed on Martin Freeman. To me, he’s one of the best actors out right now. When I got to my character’s introduction, they described the scene as a “oner” – a scene shot in one take. That’s a very cinematic thing to do for TV, so I wanted to be part of something that would feel edgy, complex, real, and raw.
Did you draw inspiration from any particular people or previous characters?
I had a professor back in the day that said, “We don’t give you the same parts. You play them the same way.” That opened my eyes because it’s all about your approach. You can play a guy that’s similar to another guy that you played, but if you have a different approach it’s a different human being. So Ronald has elements of things I’ve done before, but he’s his own unique human.
Were you able to connect with the Haitian community in Miami?
We shot in Puerto Rico, so we weren’t in Miami. We had access to a Miami gang consultant who worked as a detective. She interacts with the communities we’re exploring in our TV show quite frequently. And we had an actor [Lovensky Jean-Baptiste] on our show who’s actually from the neighborhood our characters are based out of. That was helpful. He delivers a terrific performance as Jey-Jey.
Were you familiar with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin before you took on the role?
I think most people know what Bitcoin is but they don’t have a detailed understanding of how it works. I think most people just have a basic understanding of how it works. That was me. [The show’s creators] gave us a perspective that explained the history and trajectory of Bitcoin. We read that. But it’s so complex and dense that I still don’t know if I understand how it works.
From that experience, do you see cryptocurrency becoming more mainstream and usable for the average person?
You’ve heard those cases of Bitcoin getting hacked for $60 – $70 million like an online bank robbery. Our algorithm for GenCoin – which is our TV show’s version of Bitcoin – apparently that algorithm in the hands of the right coder is feasible and can do what we say it can do. So I think if somebody can crack that code, this currency can change the world.
Did you find any difference between creating for a TV show that is digitally based as opposed to programs that you’ve done on network TV and cable?
I think the bread-and-butter for a working actor is a network television show. That’s kind of like the Holy Grail. To do some streaming service that’s not widely known is a huge risk. But to take that risk is to take that risk. It could lead to a wonderful result.
Crackle started breaking new ground by getting into original programming. They hired Martin Freeman. The content was excellent and the director had a great vision for [StartUp]. The characters were fantastic. It was like, “Okay, let’s take a risk on digital because things are trending in that direction.” If you can find something that actually connects then you’re onto something.
In terms of is it a different experience working on a streaming service than being on a network – yeah, absolutely. It depends on the scale. I don’t know what it’s like working on a Netflix show, but this one felt very relaxed. We had the time to do the work we wanted to do.
Whereas with network television, I think there are so many cooks in the kitchen, there’s so much at stake, there’s a lot of money, and you have commercial breaks. So there’s a pace that you can’t avoid. Our show was loose and comfortable. But I enjoy doing both for the variety.
There’s been talk of The Blacklist spinoff with your character returning.
That’s going down. We got picked up for the first season. We’ll do eight episodes of the first season. It’s called The Blacklist: Redemption. It’s starring [the characters] “Tom Keen” and “Susan Hargrave.”
You stay busy. You have the new show on Crackle, The Blacklist spin-off, and Into The Badlands is coming back. How do you manage to do all of this at the same time?
God is good. I just finished a movie with Keke Palmer called Pimp. That will take the festival route next year. It’s directed by this wonderful young director Christine Crokos. We shot in New York and I play a pimp. It’s a dark role. It’s darker than Solomon [from The Blacklist]. On the darkness scale, we have Ronald then Mr. Solomon then you have this Kenny Wayne [from Pimp] who’s as evil as they come.
How do I do it all? I love to act. This is what I was born to do. It’s what makes me happy and fulfills me. This is exactly the kind of position that I’ve always envisioned for myself. I thrive in an environment where I’m so busy there’s no room for much else but working on the craft. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
At what point did you realize you were put on this Earth to be in this particular field?
If you ask my relatives, I think they might tell you they knew from the time I was four years old. But I never made the connection until I took an acting class by accident. I fell in love with it. I knew right then and there I was going to pursue it as a profession.
What music have you been drawn to lately? Who have you been listening to?
It’s funny. I can’t figure out if Desiigner is a genius or a scammer. I can’t help but sing his song, but it’s about absolutely nothing. I think it’s terrific for him to be able to make a sound that’s so catchy and so fun. It feels really empty, but it feels really fun. It’s like popcorn. I love it. I ain’t going to lie.
I also like Drake. He throws out some great music. I know there’s a big pro-Drake camp and a big anti-Drake camp. I’m pro-Drake. I love The Weeknd. Every now and then you have to make some sweet love. [laughs] And I’m Lil Wayne for life. I think people might say his music isn’t as good as it used to be, but I just listen to his old stuff. I think Lil Wayne is a musical genius.
I’m really sad that we don’t have 2Pac in the world. He was my hero. I think he’s the greatest rapper of all time. He had the message, he was real, and he was conflicted. He was a fully realized person and artist.
A lot of these rappers are just rappers, and that’s fine. And their music is just music, and that’s fine. I’m trying to appreciate that. I’m trying to appreciate the fact a Desiigner song can come on at a cookout, and you got seven-year-olds dancing because it’s good music and you got seventeen-year-olds dancing because they know him.
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Stream all 10 episodes of StartUp season 1 on Crackle.