For many, Benjamin Bratt has always been the spitting image of the man you’d always dreamed you’d take home for a family dinner. He’ll make your sister jealous as he calmly asks your uncle to pass the mashed potatoes, effortlessly enunciating each syllable, and smiling the whole time.
Just in time for the holidays, Bratt returns to our television screens in the new Fox series, STAR, but his character is unlike the wholesome heart-throb about whom we’ve come to build vivid vacation scenarios.
Bratt recently spoke with reporters about this new character, Jahil Rivera, and his excitement to be playing a role more morally nuanced than we’ve seen before.
With powerful voices, catchy lyrics, and drool-worthy choreography, Star, Simone, and Alexandra are looking for a fame that will lift them out of the poverty and emotional abuse they’ve known their whole lives.
These young ladies catch the attention of Jahil Rivera, a has-been Atlanta talent manager looking to find his way back into the spotlight and whose skeeviness drips off him more than Viola Davis’ nose in a dramatic scene.
From his introduction—his first scene takes place within a strip club—we’re made to believe that this scuzzy scout is going to spell trouble for the heroines of the show.
“Jahil is obsessed with Star,” Bratt said.
“He recognizes immediately that she is unique and that she is someone that can quickly ascend to the fame and fortune that he always aspired to have for himself. There’s clearly a sexual attraction between them, which, given their age differences isn’t necessarily ‘on’ as they say.”
As much of a classic soap villain as Rivera is, Bratt says that Jahil’s characterization is actually based on Daniels himself.
“When [Lee] called me to talk about the world he wanted to create, it all sounded fascinating to me,” Bratt recalled. “But the number one thing that pulled me in was that on some level he designed Jahil Rivera as a reflection of himself of when he was a younger man and working in Los Angeles as an account manager to actors.”
Though Daniels eventually went on to be an award-winning director, having helmed masterpieces like Precious and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the road to that prestige wasn’t exactly a straight line.
“Lee is nothing if not provocative in both personality and in the subject matter he likes to explore,” Bratt explained. “He’s also someone who obviously on record has had his various issues with substance abuse and personal behavior that has maybe at times derailed his personal plan for himself.”
For Bratt, playing such a nuanced role on one of Daniels’ shows is something of a dream come true—a “gift” as he puts it—especially as an actor of color.
“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “I think that the industry is finally catching up with the reality of the diversity that exists within our country. I have always cited early pioneers of blind casting, folks like Dick Wolf who gave me one of my first jobs, to Shonda Rhimes, and now of course, Lee Daniels, who populate the worlds of their programming as they see the world itself and as a reflection for what it really is.”
In addition to Bratt, STAR also boasts a collection of other renowned veterans of the music entertainment industry, including Tyrese, Lenny Kravitz, and the incomparable Queen Latifah, with whom Bratt says it is an honor to work.
“She’s the type, I call her ‘Midas’ to her face because anything she’s ever touched, she turns to gold,” he said.
“She approaches everything with integrity and with a sensibility of bringing artistic truth to it. Part of that is brought to bear by her natural charisma and charm, and of course, talent. I feel completely protected in her presence, and artist to artist you need that sense of safety when you’re working, especially when you’re doing scenes like we’re doing, where we’re antagonistic towards one another.”
Bratt also offered high praise for his younger STAR cast mates, Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny, and Brittany O’Grady who play Star, Alex, and Simone, respectively.
“We’re now eight episodes [into filming], and they’re like solid veterans,” Bratt explained. “Not only do they put in their 12-hour shooting days, they are then moving on to the dance studio and working on the choreography for the various dance numbers that occur in every episode.”
He then added, “Whatever spare time they have left, they actually go into the studio to learn and record the songs that they’re required to sing. They’re a remarkably talented group of girls.”
“If you compare Empire, which was also, of course, a Lee Daniels show, that show on some level is a reflection of the fabulous life he leads now in the lap of real fame and fortune,” Bratt said.
“STAR, on the other hand, is more of a reflection of the struggle that he emerged from and the aspirations and hopes you have for yourself, whatever your flaws are, whatever’s holding you back in trying to get there.”
As for whether we’ll ever hear him have a song-and-dance number all to himself, Bratt laughed that, like the idea that he’ll be joining us for egg nog, wed have to keep dreaming.
“I don’t know if it’s going to take some auto-tune or what, but I’m hoping [Daniels] is going to give me a shot to embarrass myself, because therein lies the challenge,” he laughed. “At least let me get a dance number.”
Be sure to catch Benjamin Bratt on STAR, premiering January 4th at 9/8c on FOX.