The MVP of last week's episode of Atlanta was unquestionably the Prince of Tides and scammer extraordinaire Tracy, but the standout moment everyone's been talking about is the insanely catchy, bizarre-but-believable YooHoo jingle. The commercial spot featured new character Clark County, the rapper Alfred and Earn encountered at Bizarro Spotify who's presented as the anti-Paper Boi: affable and charming, with the personality and easily palatable music that makes him beloved by white executives and big corporations.
In tonight's episode, "Money Bag Shawty," Clark returns when Alfred and Darius visit him for a casual studio session but they quickly learn shit is far from consistently sweet in Clark's world. His apparent harmlessness turns out to be a grave misconception and he's got goons on deck ready to pop at a moment's notice. That engineer definitely needs medical assistance. RJ Walker is the man responsible for breathing life into the character and with two back-to-back spotlight eps under his belt, Complex caught up with him to talk portraying Clark, filming that YooHoo commercial, and the inspiration behind that menacing turn of events in the studio.
This is one of your biggest acting looks to date. How'd you land the role?
It's funny—the universe is very interesting. So I went to the Pharos concert in Joshua Tree. And this was before the first season aired. So I wasn't thinking about networking I was just there to have a good time. But one of my homegirls knew somebody who knew somebody who I guess knew Steve and Swank, two of the writers on the show. [At that time] I had just done a little guest star role on Baskets. And my homegirl goes up to Steve, takes out my phone and shows him a video of my clip with Zach Galifianakis. He likes it and he's rocking with ya boy. And then I reached out to my team like, "Yo, I'm rockin' with Atlanta." I started doing my own research on who's the casting director and how can I get in or just get my face out there so they at least remember me or know who I am. So I went to New York in the wintertime and they told me season two wasn't airing for awhile because Donald's busy. But [they] kept me in mind, time passed, and the Atlanta audition slid across my desk.
I didn't treat it as an acting project. I figured, if I'm going to be Clark County, then I have to be him. Everything that he was, all his beliefs, I embodied them then I got the callback and I heard that was going directly to Donald. And that lit a fire under my ass, the dude who I've been looking up to since I was in college is about to watch my tape. I buckled down, and they chose me.
Since your first appearance last week, a lot of people have drawn their own conclusions on which real rappers Clark is a composite of. Which rappers, if any, did you base your performance off as you were creating Clark?
Visually, there are multiple rappers that they were throwing around but for Clark County I actually just built him from the ground up in a sense. Because you know Atlanta is such an obscure world, it's its own thing. A lot of people on Instagram and stuff are saying Chance The Rapper. A lot of people are saying Kyle. And I kind of see that especially in the outfit choices, and in an aesthetic sense. [But Clark's] a wild card. He goes from nice guy to "I'll fuck you up, dude." I don't know if Chance The Rapper is that type, I don't know if Kyle is that type. But I definitely know Clark County is that type. I don't want to say he's like Chance because I haven't met the dude.
Have any rappers reached out to you?
No rappers, but the people are speaking, and they're re-posting. Lakeith actually posted the commercial, too, shouting me out. He's a real genuine dude, he raps so we can put him in that category [laughs]. I want Joe Budden to say something; if Joe says something on his podcast, then I know a nigga made it.
Clark comes off affable and harmless but as we see, there's this really off-kilter intensity to him as we see in "Money Bag Shawty." Was that something that you came up with when you were creating his backstory for the audition?
We actually didn't film [the episodes] in order. Episode 3 was my last full scene before the YooHoo commercial. When it came to him being off-kilter... the audition mostly focused on his friendliness and the branding of the character. But for that studio scene, I just went to a place and found it, the same way I found the rapping. To be real with you, I'm not a rapper, yo [laughs].
Clark goes from nice guy to "I'll f#ck you up, dude." I don't know if Chance The Rapper is that type, I don't know if Kyle is that type. But I definitely know Clark County is that type.
This is a little off-topic, but when the whole YooHoo thing came up, I didn't know I'd be rapping; I just thought I was playing a rapper. We were at the table read for episodes 9 and 11, Donald walks in while I'm eating a Chik-Fil-A biscuit and he's like, "Yo, do you rap?" I was stammering because this is Donald Glover asking me if I rap, I can't say no, but I can't say yes. So I said, "I'm not like you, but together we could do something." And he's like, "Aight cool because me and my brother came up with this song for a YooHoo rap and we want you to rap it, it's pretty simple but it's pretty fun." I just focus on what's in front of me, find the place and emotion I need to go and go there. I haven't seen the episode yet, but I guess I went there.
Is Clark having that other side to him supposed to be Donald and Steve's twist on the idea that a lot of new rappers in the game right now are nice and harmless?
For each of these scenes, I'll talk to Donald like, where are we going with this. So, he told me for this one—and he didn't go into detail—but he said, "In the rap world, I've actually experienced this. The rapper he's in the studio and he had to you know, pull something out, or have someone do something for him, but you wouldn't think he would do that." So he told me this is actually inspired by something that actually happened.
Oh, shit. What's great is that Paper Boi is supposed to be the harder-edged rapper but in a way, Clark is much more threatening.
Clark County, the way he thinks is like chess. So everyone sees him in episode two and figures he's probably gon' get robbed. I actually had people at the premiere tell me, "Oh, I can't wait to see you get hit in the face, you bout to get robbed ain't you?" I just sat back and laughed. Clark County plays the game so well that you think he's that but if you try him, he'll handle you. He has a great poker face first off. Second, he actually welcomes that. But without spoiling anything... it doesn't mean he's invincible. And I'mma just say that.
Off that then, no spoilers, but we can reasonably assume we'll see more of Clark County?
Oh, man, there's going to be some more Clark. It's on IMDB, but..yeah [laughs]. You're going to see Clark 'til the end. Not every episode, but he's not done yet, at all.
So, the commercial and the bars in the studio, that's all Donald and Stephen writing them?
Yeah, they're the masterminds. There's a version on my Instagram actually with Steve rapping it.
How fun was it filming that? It's hilarious but also insanely catchy, it's been stuck in my head since I first watched the episode.
Dude, it's stuck in my head crazy [laughs]. I'mma be 1,000 with you. The outfit, that red fur jacket? I was sweating in that and it smelled like skunk, I don't know if it was me or the jacket. It was fun as hell for me, we got a lot of shit. When I did my first take, I think they thought it was going to be goofy. But I'm a dancer first, I came in the game dancing. I did my thing and everyone was quiet. I was like shit this is terrible. Then [Atlanta director] Hiro Murai walks up and I'm like, "Did I do okay?" And he said, "No, this is actually going to be good." And I could see the wheels turning in his head. Then it was off to the races.
What's your take on what the YooHoo commercial is getting at? Is it corny when rappers do big corporate looks like that to you?
I want Joe Budden to say something; if Joe says something on his podcast, then I know a ni**a made it.
I equate it to the acting game. I passed on a gang of scripts that my team has told me would be great for my career. Artistic integrity [is important]. So I'm cool with an artist's move if they hold on to their artistic integrity. I don't know the rap game, I'm a fan though. You know when a rapper misses the mark, especially when it comes to their fans. We speak out. The thing about the newer generation is, they kind of come out with a chip on their shoulder because people are already hating on them. Tekashi69, he came out people were hating on him. I rocked with him first when I didn't know shit about him, when he had that song with Trippie Redd. But now in the social media era, we know each other's business so much and people are pocket watching commenting on everyone's deals when in reality, everyone's doing their own variation of the same thing. I believe there was a point when Jay Z released a certain album and they said he missed the mark because he tried to appeal to [the masses] a bit too much? You know what I'm talking 'bout?
Yea prob, Vol. 1.
He did that, he got backlash. Then he came back to his roots. You'll always have your fan when you have your roots. I came up in commercials. I'd rather do a commercial to eat than work at McDonald's again. That was my first job and I ain't trying to go back. But I'm not going to take like a Marlboro commercial.
What's next up for you?
I've got a supporting role in this film called Spinning Man with Alexandra Shipp. It has Pierce Brosnan, Guy Pearce, Minnie Driver. I've been writing a bunch. And you know, fingers crossed for season 3 of Atlanta.