Chris Chalk has been making his mark in the entertainment industry, landing roles ranging from HBO’s "The Newsroom," to Showtime’s award-winning drama, "Homeland," to playing a free black man taken captive in the Oscar winning film "12 Years a Slave."
His latest character, Darius, on USA’s edgy new drama "Complications," has him commanding the streets of Atlanta as a part of a gang called Vine City Crew. Created by Matt Nix, the writer and producer known for the acclaimed series "Burn Notice," the series follows Dr. John Ellison (Jason O’Mara) after he makes the life-changing decision to save a young boy injured in a drive-by shooting, who just happens to be the son of incarcerated gang leader named EZ Tyler. While EZ is calling the shots from behind bars, Darius is making sure Dr. Ellison keeps the young boy alive at all costs.
NBCBLK caught up with Chalk before his debut on the new series to talk about the sensitivities of portraying gang life on TV, why he plays complicated characters and staying grateful.
When you learned about USA’s idea for the series "Complications," what about the show appealed to you? What made you want to take the role of Darius?
Chris: First watching the pilot made me very interested, because it’s like not a typical USA show. It’s not a traditional sunshine, blue skies show. Then I met with Matt Nix and we talked about the character Darius. We both talked about him as a human being, and not as a Black person, not as a gang member, just as a guy.
In the show, Darius is the guy in charge in his neighborhood, yet his methods as a leader might not be completely orthodox. What do you think of his leadership style?
Chris: Similar to the doctor, when you have to protect your family, you’ll do anything, and Darius’s “family” is the kid and his “boss” is EZ. It’s not from a place of fear, it’s from a place of loyalty that he protects the kid, protects the gang, protects his family, and he’ll go to any lengths. He doesn’t necessarily have the same vocabulary or weaponry as the doctor, but he uses what he has—his boys, his gang, and his intellect—to get the job done. He’ll do anything… absolutely anything.
The role of Darius is not like the roles of Gary Cooper ("The Newsroom") or Tom Walker ("Homeland"). What was it like to prepare for this role?
Chris: I know a lot of people who are surrounded by gang life and that’s why it’s very important to me to make sure that when they’re on television that they’re portrayed as people, because they are just people. They’re people who just took a left instead of a right on whatever day and took whatever opportunities they were afforded because of life’s circumstance.
Darius to me is a guy who loves who he loves, needs what he needs, and he’s just limited by his circumstance. All of us love something and need something and once we figure that out, it’s just about being a human.
What you are you most excited about to have viewers see with the character of Darius or with the series as a whole?
Chris: What I take away from it and what I hope people take away from it, is that despite our many, many differences—black, white, yellow, green, orange, rich, poor—we all kind of want the same thing, and are trying to achieve the same thing. I don’t think that’s the major intention of the show, but that’s my experience of the show, because when I walk away from it I see Darius and Dr. John Ellison as the same person. One’s a doctor, one’s a gang leader, but they’re both fighting for their family to keep their family alive.
When you reflect on your acting career, what do you think of where you are now?
Chris: I feel like I’m on a path that I’m very appreciative of. I also have ideas of where I’d like to continue to go. I’m open to suggestions and opportunities and I just remain grateful. I don’t know, I think it’s really fun, and I think it’s great to get to do this. It’s my favorite thing to do, and so I just remain appreciative of the opportunity and I look forward to the abundance of opportunities to come.
"Complications" airs on Thursdays at 9/8c on USA.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]