Mekai Curtis on Unique's 'Vengeful' 'Raising Kanan' Return, and the Award Show Snubs: 'Nobody's Tripping'

Complex sat down with Mekai Curtis to talk about his character's growth, the Season 3 finale and how he feels about the show being snubbed by award shows.

Cara Howe/STARZ

The Power Book III: Raising Kanan Season 3 finale had people in shock—including the show's star Mekai Curtis.

After waiting for weeks for answers about what happened to Unique, masterfully played by Joey Badass, Episode 10, "Made You Look," ended with a bang. Unique is alive and well after his brother Ronnie attempted to murder him earlier in the season. "Now that that villain arc is going to be even more vengeful, I feel like like I'm excited to see what they really do with that now," Curtis tells Complex, and that Joey returning adds a "fire" to the show. "He might come fuck some shit up. We'll see."

Curtis has been starring as Kanan Stark on Raising Kanan for three seasons now and is currently in production in New York for Season 4. Curtis is playing the younger version of the character Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson played in the original Power. He was Jamie "Ghost" St. Patrick and Tommy Eagan's most brutal adversary and as a prequel, Raising Kanan tells the origin story of what made him who he was on Power. `

It all started with his mother, Raquel Thomas, played by Patina Miller. She is a drug queen pin in the South Side of Jamaica, Queens, whose tightknit bond with her son is shattered when he finds out the secrets she had been keeping from him.

Curtis plays Kanan's transition—from an intelligent young man with a promising future in school, to an up-and-coming drug lord competing with his own family—effortlessly. 50 Cent, who is the show's executive producer, gave the actor his stamp of approval early on, and it's clear to see why. Curtis has adopted the way the rapper speaks, his accent, the way he walks, and even the way he smiles. He talks nothing like his character in real life, but on the show, it's hard to not see him as anything but a young 50 Cent.

"He trusted the kid. He saw, I guess, clearly what we were doing and what I could do, and he let us run with it," Curtis says about 50. "And here we are, three seasons, I guess four seasons shooting now, that we are still rocking."

His character is serious and determined on the show, but in person, Curtis is charismatic, energetic and captivating, and knows how to work a room—the way only former Disney Channel stars like him are able to do. The actor stopped by Complex for a conversation about his character's growth, the Season 3 finale and shared how he feels about the show being snubbed by award shows. Spoiler alert: He doesn't care one bit.  

In the past three seasons, we've seen you go from a good student in high school to now running your own drug empire. How has it been to follow that progression with Kanan in the show?
I mean, I feel like it's been the same sort of ride as everybody watching. it's a journey. It's interesting watching him go from the little scared, bright-eyed little boy that he was in the first episode to see him kind of step out on his own and puff his chest out. There's even moments that you see with some of the characters in the show where they like, he came on to say something and they look him like, “Word? This is what we doing? OK!” But no, he's fine, man. I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying it as an artist, as an actor, getting to bring that to life and stretch in and do some new things. And I'm enjoying it and to watch it and getting invested in these stories and everybody and what they got going on.

The relationship between Kanan and his mom Raquel is the heart of the story. How has it been to work with Patina Miller on this relationship? And what have you learned from working with her so far?
I could go on for days. Are you sure we got time for that? But honestly, working with Patina is a blessing. True professional, true artist, true sweetheart. So you just pick up on all of those qualities being around her all the time. And getting to shape this relationship, that's another thing. I just love getting to watch her process and I get to pick up—similar to the way that Kanan is picking up on stuff that Raq and Lou Lou and Marvin and Ronnie and everybody around him is doing—I kind of use that same sort of mindset myself as Mekai, just around all the people and artists I'm around. I'm just picking up on the tips and tricks in the processes that they have and adding them to my little bag so that way we can do the one, two. It's a blessing. And I'm taking it all in because I'm coming for it all. [Laughs.]

What's so interesting to me about the character, especially seeing you now and seeing you speak, is how you have adopted the way that 50 Cent speaks and how he spoke as Kanan on Power. You do it so well. Why did you decide to do that?
It's just honoring the work that 5 did with the character, honoring such a giant in the role, in the person that was there before me and understanding what that character has gone through and the gravitas that he holds in the original series. I wanted to just actually kind of thread that needle of like, this is who this person is. Especially seeing that when you start the show, when you start Season 1, Episode 1, Kanan is nowhere near who he is or who people know him as in the original series. It's a coming-of-age story. You get to watch him grow up. So while you're seeing a completely different person in the first episode, essentially, I still wanted to let you guys know that this is who you're going to see, “Come on this ride, because we're going from point A to point Z.”

What are some tips that 50 gave you before you took on this role? And now that you're in Season 3, are there still things that he shares with you about the character?
50 didn't give me no tips, he threw me to the wolves! No, I’m playing. [Laughs.] Anytime he's around, it's just always love. He's always going to drop knowledge and game. There's no real like, “OK, we’re going to sit down and lecture you now.” Any time he's around and just talking through his experiences about life or whatever, you're going to pick up little, little jewels and gems. You just have to be like actually in tune to catch what's going on. As far as even with the show and with the character or anything like that, man, he trusted the kid. He saw, I guess, clearly what we were doing and what I could do, and he let us run with it. And here we are three seasons, I guess four seasons shooting now, that we are still rocking. 

Kanan has a special relationship with a lot of people on the show. Who is your favorite scene partner on Raising Kanan?
I don't have a favorite scene partner because I work with so many, like, they're all dogs, they're all so dope at what they do. And you see that dynamism just in every scene. Everybody brings something different to the table, but it all comes with that same sort of intensity. So anytime I get to be across from anybody that I'm working with, I just absorb it all and I try to be there in that moment and really try to find that moment for us there, but also for everybody watching, because the energy's in the room so why would I not grab onto that shit?

We have to talk about the style and fashion on the show. It's set in the 90s and wardrobe does such a good job styling you all. Is there a specific outfit that you loved so far and is there anything that you've been able to keep from the show?
I've been able to sneak a couple pieces past wardrobe. I've also had to ask for a couple of them, and they've graciously given them. Some others they're still a little, “Nah, we need to keep that one.” I'm still fighting for them because I want them so bad. But in Season 3, I think it was Episode 2 when Raq decides to bribe Kanan with a car, he comes out of the house and like, this is like a NASCAR green Benetton colors of the world joint, that shit is so ill to me. It's so tough.

So I've been trying to get them to give me that for a minute. I've gotten to take a couple of like Polos, a couple of the jackets that we have, like an extra surplus, but a lot of the fashion is like one-offs.There's a lot of pieces that are like commissioned or like things that they just found scouring around in the off-season. So it gets a little more difficult to get a lot of the pieces that you really, really want, like the shit you have seen on TV.

The Power shows are all known for having incredibly intense season finales. How did you feel about filming the Season 3 finale and what are you hoping that fans get from it?
The last few scenes, I will say I definitely I was in I was in a different mode. I feel like personally and I was trying to pull something for real. There's a lot that's going on there. So hopefully that comes across to everybody. It was it was an intense one. I was like, “Oh, yeah, this is, this is something.” I'm hoping that everybody gets to actually feel it the way we're feeling it right now. It turned into a thing, that was a really fun one. And I'm really hoping that, you know, we kind of set Twitter ablaze that night. [Laughs.] 

Obviously, we're going to address the elephant in the room. How did you feel about Unique coming back and him not really being gone? People were upset. 
Oh, yeah, that was heart-crushing right there. I think everybody's jaw was on the floor and heart was on the floor like, “Nah, not Unique!" Shout out Joey. Joey, you doing that shit, man. He brought, or brings, such energy to the set and to the show. I was hyped. I'm like, “Yeah, we get that fire back. This is it now.” Now that that villain arc is going to be even more vengeful. I feel like like I'm excited to see what they really do with that now. Like that's going to, I don't know, he might come fuck some shit up. We'll see.

50 recently shared a video about him being upset that Raising Kanan wasn't acknowledged by the NAACP for the awards. With you being part of the show, how does that make you feel that the show and other Power shows haven't been recognized by the Emmys or other awards shows?
I think Jay-Z kind of said something about like along the lines of this at the Grammys recently. I mean, like, this shit is subjective. We put it out there and let it be what it be. And if people gravitate towards it, cool. If they don't, all right. If they feel like it holds that place to be awarded that way, it is what it is.

But I think, for us, we know what it is. It's touching the culture and is impacting it in a way that's supposed to. So the rest will come. Nobody's tripping over that. We know what it is. This has been my little phrase lately: You know what it is. So let it be what it be. Show up to work and do what you love every day and that’s it. 

Power’s 10th anniversary is coming up soon.
Damn. Wow. 

How has it been for you to be part of this Power universe and what 50 Cent has been able to create?
I was a fan of the show before, this is before I even knew it was really going to turn into a universe. But to then become a part of that, to be part of such a legacy and such a part of the culture, that's that's all you can ask for as as an artist, as an actor. To be a part of something that impacts, that people will spark conversations with, that you get to heal people from, you need to heal yourself with a lot of stuff from, so it's you know it's a blessing. And to be a part of something that has now you know started to rival the ranks of the Marvels, being around this long and being this successful, like the sky's the limit. 

I thank 50, I think Sascha [Penn], I thank Courtney [Kemp,] for seeing the fire in a young kid and handing him the baton and seeing what he does with it. We’re going to keep it rocking for that simple reason and simply because I love this shit. This is what we're here to do.

So that is also what you see come across on screen with any sort of project that I get to take on or any sort of facet, anything that I do music-wise, anything that I do on camera, off camera, you know, it's all in the name of being grateful for being a part of it, for sure.

Latest in Pop Culture