CHA: It’s a very complex story. And we’re dealing with being inside the heads of a lot of different characters. There are a lot of twists and turns, if you will, that happens. Part of that, I think, is engaging the audience. Like, there has to be an entertainment component to storytelling because that is what people want.
But I think, even aside from that, as a species we’re messy. Our lives are messy; and our decision making processes are messy; and our relationships are messy. People have those kinds of [wrinkles] in their lives. It’s not just something we made up to make telly be interesting. And all families have secrets. The older I get the more I understand this to be true. Some of those are small and inconsequential and some of those are ground moving for a family or group of people. And suddenly something happens and all those secrets start coming out of the woodwork and change how we feel about people and how we feel about things. And telling a story in its full complexity is not only interesting and entertaining, but also it’s not helpful when you [don’t} do that — when you simplify people — because that’s not what we’re like. I think you lose audiences when you treat them like they’re not intelligent enough to deal with those complexities.
OKP: Cities are also a kind of family. Do you think they could do a better job of integrating all their members into their patchwork of justice?
CHA: Absolutely. Make no mistake, the system here is pretty broken. And I think there are huge groups of people who feel they have been done a disservice. I do however feel that it is very dangerous to say, ‘well the city has a duty to make sure that all member of society feel integrated’. It is every single person’s responsibility to work towards that. And to take that agency and be proactive into getting this country and this society and this world as a whole to where we want it to be.
And I understand that it can be very difficult. There are lots of groups who’d say, ‘well we do take part’ or don’t feel any incentive to take part because of the way that they’re treated. But I think it becomes even harder when their agency is lost or when they don’t exercise their agency. And even people who don’t feel connected to the story in any way and feel like this isn’t my experience and I don’t know these communities, it’s also their responsibility to understand and have empathy and built tolerance and work towards something that’s better than what we have because what we have right now doesn’t work.
OKP: You worked opposite a powerful performance by Regina King. What was it like working with her?
CHA: It was great. She’s incredibly good at what she does, that’s the first thing. And working with someone who’s very good at what they do is —selfishly — good for me because it makes me better. That’s a privilege to be able to do that and have access to actors and directors and producers that are good at what they do.
Plus, on a very basic level, she’s just really nice. That sounds very basic but it’s very underrated in our industry and it’s actually not as common as it should be. She’s very approachable. And I think when you have a certain status your presence kind of sets the tone for what things are going to be like on set. She doesn’t lean into having that status at all. But at the same time being so nice and approachable makes working on set easier.
OKP: Do you think representation matters in the sense that it’s important for people to see someone like you in the position you’re in on the show?
CHA: Absolutely. On the one hand it’s important to reflect the reality of what happens. And part of the problem is that whitewashing is a problem in some of our cultural output. But also having an African-American character that doesn’t conform to stereotypes and that is complex and layered and is a real person is, I think, very important. I think that sometimes people get upset when characters don’t show up — as they would like to term it — because it can reflect badly. And I understand that people who already live in very difficult situations may not think it helps. But I actually don’t think that it’s helpful to create stereotypes or conform to stereotypes that aren’t accurate or aren’t true.
OKP: Violence against children is a particularly jarring aspect of our world. What do you think happens to a community when it has to wrestle with the death of a child?
CHA: I think that every time that happens, for whatever reason, is a time to spur people to take action or to take note of what’s happening. Because it’s so unnatural. There’s a reason why we’re so affected by young people dying. And when there are reports in war zones it’s always so devastating when it affects children and when it affects young people.
I think any society in which that happens with regularity and with which there is a pattern, as it appears to be here, something has to give and something has to be done to address that because it is so unnatural. That’s why people have such a visceral reaction when that happens.