If you’ve paid close attention to Woody McClain’s career over the years, chances are you’ve noticed a shift in his creative choices. One of the few comedians to make it off Vine before the advent of TikTok, McClain first tasted fame by way of virality, as he acted out Kevin Hart stand-up bits under the nickname WoodyTheGreat. Next, he charmed the small screen playing a talented yet troubled child star in BET’s The New Edition Story, before reprising the role in The Bobby Brown Story, reenacting the titular character’s real-life struggles with grief and addiction.
Since his early days as an internet funnyman, McClain’s roles have gradually gotten darker, more dynamic, and innately more dramatic. This Sunday (Sept. 6) at 9/8c, viewers will see him join the drug-dealing, money-making, back-stabbing world of Power—a place where, as he tells Complex, “nobody is safe, [and] anybody can go at any minute.”
Premiering on Starz this Sunday, Power Book II: Ghost is the first of many spinoffs following the original series created by Courtney Kemp and executive produced by 50 Cent. The beloved crime drama ended its six-season run feeling more like a murder mystery, with each member of its supporting cast suspected of killing Ghost, the show’s main character. In the series finale, it’s revealed that it was Tariq, Ghost’s often aggrieved son, who pulled the trigger.
Ghost begins days after that revelation. Tasha, Tariq’s mother, has valiantly taken the wrap for the murder. Unable to access his inheritance until he graduates college, Tariq turns to the streets in hopes of earning enough money to pay his mother’s defense attorney. This is where he meets Monet, the head of a powerful crime family played by Mary J. Blige. Another key figure in Monet’s ruthless household is Cane, her loyal son and “right-hand-man,” portrayed with some unfamiliar grit from Woody McClain.
After a day of filming, Complex recently spoke with McClain about his progression as a dramatic actor, his day-one Power fandom, the controversial ending of the original series, and his experience playing Mary J. Blige’s on-screen son in the upcoming sequel.
Tell me about your relationship with the original Power series. Were you a fan from jump?
Man, from the beginning when Power first came out, I was a fan. Just seeing somebody that looks like me running a nightclub—just a successful black man—I've never seen that before. Of course, seeing him take on the street side was super interesting as well. So, I was attached to it from Season 1.
As an OG fan, when it got down to the last season and everyone was making their “who shot Ghost” predictions, was yours correct, or did you get it wrong?
I for sure got it wrong… I thought it was Tommy.
That’s interesting. Why Tommy?
I felt Tommy was always true to his morals. [For him], it was all about the street life—and if you wasn’t for it, you got to go. And I knew he didn't want Ghost to leave that life. I just thought eventually he was going to get rid of him.
That sounds like a reasonable guess. Of all the suspects at the time, he definitely seemed the most capable of committing murder. How'd you feel when you found out it was actually Tariq who shot Ghost?
[Groans] I got mixed emotions. But while I was watching, I realized… Ghost was doing stuff like that when he was his age. I felt it was just one of those things—what goes around comes around. I really do believe in karma in real life. So, when his son did it to him, I was just like, “Okay, I can see that.”
And that brings us to the story of Power Book II: Ghost. With his character, Tariq, now being the lead in this series, what was it like working with Michael Rainey Jr.?
Oh, man. It's great. Michael's a great dude. Super focused, super hungry. And, of course, he knows his character so well. He's always prepared. That's always the best… To have the lead on the same page as everybody else.
As you step into this role of Cane, you’re coming into it fresh while working with actors who’ve been familiar with their characters for years. Has that been a challenge?
Yeah, that's been a great challenge, honestly. But Courtney Kemp did an amazing job of creating these “books” for us to really understand our characters and really dive into the people that we get a chance to portray on-screen. For me personally, without Courtney giving me that, I probably would have been lost. She knows exactly what she wants and it's always great working with people like that. We don't have to guess anything. It's all laid out. All we do is just bring them to life.
In addition to Courtney creating the franchise, 50 Cent is the executive producer. Since The New Edition Story, it feels like you’re always working with legends. And now you’re in a show with Method Man and Mary J. Blige. How amazing is that?
That was crazy. Insane. Even from our first table read, when I first [met] Mary and she was like, “Wait, you're my son? This is going to be good.” And then running into Method and him knowing my name and saying he was a huge fan. That was super next level, honestly. I had no idea these big icons even knew who I was.
Naturally, whenever a spinoff or a sequel is announced, there’s some skepticism. Some people wonder, “Will this actually be any good? Will it live up to the preexisting IP?” What would you say to people who have those concerns?
I never thought of that before. When I'm going to watch an Avengers movie, I'm never thinking, “Is this going to be better than the last one?” I'm just there to enjoy the [movie] and see a new story. So, for [Power Book II: Ghost], that never came to mind. It was, “This is going to be something fresh, something new.” I'm excited for people to have the same feeling as when I go out and watch things that are spinoffs.
It seems to me that every new project an actor takes on represents some sort of progression for them and their work. What would you say this new role represents for you at this time in your career?
This allowed me to work with new directors on a regular basis. Of course, when you're working on a movie, you're just working with one director. In this process, every episode, we're working with new directors. And everybody has their own thing. So, I'm learning different things from these that I'm adding to my thing.
That's something that I want to be able to do as I become older within the industry. I want to be able to start directing as well. I'm just a sponge right now, and I feel like this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn.
I’m glad you mentioned directors. Something I’ve often wondered about actors is who exactly they act for. I’m sure some actors act for the critics, hoping that they get good reviews. In a more sentimental way, other actors may act for the audience. As someone with aspirations on both sides, do you ever act specifically for the director?
No, I’ve never thought of it like that. I feel like that's just disrespecting your character if you're thinking about someone else within the situation. At the end of the day, you have to be true to your character. You will be doing no justice if you're not respecting the character.
And how would you sum up your respect for this latest character?
It’s certain things about the character that I relate to. When it came to Bobby Brown, it was the love that he had for performing. I could relate to that as a former dancer. When it comes to Cane, he's all about family. His thing is family first. I don't care what I'm going through, I'm going to make sure my family is good. That's something that I can relate to in real life. I don't care, I'll make sure everybody in my family has a car before I even buy myself one. I'm always putting my family first. So, that's how [I think about] every role that I take on—I make sure that I can relate to it on a personal and real level.