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Creating a show that’s inspired by a true story can have its challenges. Randy Huggins was entrusted with writing and creating STARZ’s latest series BMF, based on the Flenory Brothers from Detroit and the Black Mafia Family drug empire they started in the late 1980s. Huggins felt the pressure that comes with telling a real-life story when the people who inspired it and lived it are still around and directly involved with the project. 50 Cent executive produced the series and together with Huggins they have been able to recreate a fictional world that accurately depicts the real lifestyle and the environment that birthed Demetrius Flenory and Terry Flenory, aka Big Meech and Southwest T, two of the most notorious drug lords in the country’s history. Casting those two main roles was the most crucial part of it all. Bringing on 21-year-old Demetrius “Lil Meech” Flenory Jr. to play his own father was critical to 50 when creating the series, and it added to the authenticity of the story.
They also tapped in Da’Vinchi (Grown-ish) to play Terry “Southwest T” Flenory, and both actors took on these roles for different reasons but with the same goal in mind. They wanted to tell the story of two brothers who built an empire out of nothing at a time when there weren’t many other options to succeed where they were from. The show focuses on their upbringing, their family, and why they made the choices they made, while also celebrating and paying homage to Detroit and the way it was in that era. The actors and creators worked hand in hand, with a little guidance from Big Meech himself, to tell the story accurately and to invite viewers into the lives of people who made the most out of nothing. The eight-episode series premieres Sunday, Sept. 26, and will follow the brothers as they deal with their family struggles during the financial crisis in Motor City, and how they became the leaders of a powerful criminal organization. Complex sat down with Huggins, Da’Vinchi, and Flenory Jr. ahead of the show’s premiere and they discussed what it was like to work on a show that celebrates family, brotherhood, and the unique city of Detroit.
I got to watch the show and what stood out to me was the family aspect of it and the brotherhood between Big Meech and Southwest T. Why was that important for you guys to portray on the show?
Huggins: It’s real. I think the family that they did come up in, the values that they learned were the same values that they established in their street family. Most of the time you would assume somebody who grows and becomes what they became, you would assume they came from a broken home or the daddy wasn’t there. These guys came from a two-parent household. There was spirituality and Christianity there. They were just poor. But the love was there. I grew up in Detroit. I’m from Detroit as well. I wasn’t well off either, but what’s really dope is when people around you don’t have anything, it makes the playing field very even. It’s like, “Oh cool. You ain’t got nothing either. I don’t have anything.” There’s a love and a friendship. And the laughs that you have when you are poor, it’s just dope. If anything, sometimes money eliminates some of that and then you don’t laugh no more. You have more problems.
Demetrius and Da’Vinchi, your chemistry is amazing in the scenes where you guys are together. Did you guys know each other beforehand, or how did you build that?
Flenory Jr.: The first time me and Da’Vinchi met was on Zoom, and it was just for Randy, and the directors and the producers to see if we were a good match together, if we were going to be able to really be the brothers that they were looking for. But once they seen it, they knew it was us. So once we got on set, me and Da’Vinchi actually met each other, actually talked, and got a good feeling for each other, understood who we were as a person before we became our role. I feel like that’s how we got so close and that’s how it was able to look so authentic and natural because it really was. Me and him cracking jokes off-screen, off-set, and then we’re doing it on set, so it’s the same. We had that brotherly bond, the brotherly relationship before we showed you guys on screen.
Da’Vinchi: We just gelled and I guess our spirit comes from similar places and we were just able to just organically build that chemistry. We both come from sports backgrounds. We both want this. This story means something to us on a personal level, something to us on a career level, so we really just got together and just knocked it out of the park. We have the same sense of humor. We’d be cracking on Randy all the time with his outfits and his whole way of living life. It was dope.
It was a very personal story, especially for you, Demetrius. What was it like playing your father, and what was the most challenging part of playing someone that’s so close to you?
Flenory Jr.: Well, the most challenging part was to actually do what he wants and fulfill his needs because no matter how much I know my dad and I’m his son, I can’t be him. But I could still live truthfully in imaginary circumstances. I know him the best because I’m his only son. So he’s calling me telling me different things every night, how he was, how he acted, and stuff like that, but I have to do and try my best to make it be as natural as possible. And I got Randy helping me, so it was really a crazy feeling, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m just so glad and blessed that I got to actually play the role and Randy blessed us with so much authenticity. We filmed in Detroit. We had people rebuild my grandmother’s house, too. Everything was just too authentic for us to not be able to be comfortable and not be able to fall into the role, and we have my family still living, so we talked to them and figured out anything we didn’t know.
That’s another thing that’s great about the show is the authenticity, like Kash Doll being part of the show, you Randy also being from Detroit. What was it like to bring this aspect of your city from the 1980s to life in 2021?
Huggins: I mean, listen. That’s my era. Meech and Terry are only a couple of years older than me. I really feel that our city has such a rich history, so it was just a blessing to be able to bless people with our sayings. We don’t say “What up?” We say “What up, doe?” We don’t eat hotdogs. We eat coneys. Our gym shoes of choice are Top Tens. And there’s a whole historical reason why, so to be able to bring all of that in, but really the thing that I was most happy about was to bring in techno music. Because techno music is now seen as EDM. It’s the biggest music in the world, but it started from three dudes in Detroit and we used to listen to this. They don’t listen to techno out here where I live in Los Angeles. They weren’t listening to the techno in Miami. They weren’t listening to the techno in New York. They were listening to it in Detroit. And one of the first things Big Meech told his son, he was like, “Yeah, we got this club scene.” He was like, “If they got any lyrics in the music, it’s not right.” So I absolutely put Cybotron “Clear” in there to connect anybody in that era. I absolutely put Whodini in there, Run DMC in there, because that was our thing, especially in the city of Detroit. Little Meech always talks about [how] he has a responsibility solely from his dad. I have a responsibility, too. I mean, absolutely. The Flenory clan, the whole family. But next, I got Detroit and they are going to be looking at this with a fine-tooth comb, so yeah, it’s a lot of pressure on me as well in that regard too.
You guys took such care with the wardrobe and making sure that everything looks and feels right. But part of that also is because I just learned earlier from Eric Kofi-Abrefa that Big Meech was involved in helping you guys bring that to life.
Huggins: I mean, listen, I have so many messages from him about what he was wearing and how he was wearing it. But I’ll say this. We had the best costume designer ever, Keia Bounds. We had the best of everything from my standpoint, but then what’s really interesting is he would tell me, “You know in Detroit we wear our Top Tens with the tongue out.” So I would go to Demetrius and Da’Vinchi. I used to be on Da’Vinchi hard because we used to sag, and now these people, it’s a different generation and they wear their clothes differently. So we’re in the clothes and somebody may be like, “Well, he ain’t sagging enough.” I was telling Meech, “Man, you’re wearing your shoes wrong. Your dad didn’t wear them like that.” And he was like, “Well, this is how I’m wearing them,” so that’s the interesting situation that I was put into. What’s interesting from my position is I still have to give my actors the creative liberty to personify these roles.
Right. Da’Vinchi, what is it like to be part of this 50 Cent TV world that he has created?
Da’Vinchi: This is a dream come true, honestly. I’ve been a 50 Cent fan my entire life. I remember the first song I wrote I was like 10 years old to this beat, that song “Just a Little Bit.” And I followed his flow, but I just changed the words of it, made them my own words. But I’ve really been a diehard 50 Cent fan, so to be a part of his career and help propel him to the next level? That’s what he told me out of his own mouth. It’s a dream come true and while I’m doing that, I’m telling the true story about two legends that really lived the American dream and now the reason why I’m employed on this show is literally because of it. To me, it’s like, this is one of the dopest things. It’s a story in itself.
Demetrius, what do you want people to learn about your family from this show?
Flenory Jr.: I just hope people understand the real, you know? Because everybody has their own opinion on BMF. Everybody tells what they’ve heard or what they’ve seen, but they don’t even know the origin story. They don’t really know how my dad and T grew up, how they were brought up, what choices they made to become Big Meech and Southwest T. So now people really get to see the whole story from when my dad and Terry first grew up in the house, poor, poverty, having no money to being rich. Randy just did an amazing job, I feel like, telling the story from start to finish. Because people are really going to be able to grasp, no matter what ethnicity or race you are, you can still understand and grasp the soul of the story and just the whole feeling of it without just looking at drug-dealing brothers, just the family part of the show. I hope people can understand it and really get the connection.
Huggins: That’s a dope word he just used, though. And Da’Vinchi used this earlier, but “soul” is really what I think our series is about because yes, you can watch their performances, and yes, you can say that was a cool line, but we really wanted to get into the soul of these individuals and really humanize them in a way in which people understand that. This really is a universal tale about love, kinship, brotherhood, and the city of Detroit. Let me give another shout-out to the D.
Da’Vinchi: If he shout Detroit out one more time...
BMF premieres on STARZ on Sun, Sept. 26.