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April 24, 2018 at 02:34 PM EDT

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We almost didn’t get to see Trevor Jackson in Superfly, Director X’s modernized remake of the classic 1972 blaxploitation film. Three years ago, Jackson considered giving up acting entirely to focus on his music career instead. “Doing both got a little frustrating,” says the 21-year-old musician-actor-dancer, who currently stars on Freeform’s grown-ish and, in March, released his new R&B album, Rough Drafts, Pt. 1, via Empire Records. His mother persuaded him to go on one last audition in 2015 — for season 2 of ABC’s American Crime — before he officially gave it up. He got the gig, which ended up luring him back in, and the series “refueled my love of acting.”

By then, Jackson had already put in many years of work as a performer. At age 8, he landed his first professional acting job as young Simba in the national tour of The Lion King, a role he’d play for three years. “It never really felt like work,” he says. “I remember there was [one] show…. I looked at the front row and everybody’s faces were lit up smiling, watching me dancing. I was like, ‘Wow, this is an awesome feeling. I want to do this forever.’ “

Eventually he departed Pride Rock in 2008 for Los Angeles and landed his first TV role on Cold Case in 2010; he also signed with Atlantic Records in 2012. When one passion wasn’t working, he felt he could always shift focus to the other. “I do so many things because I love so many things,” he says. His boundless ambition hasn’t gone unnoticed by his Superfly costar and good friend Jason Mitchell. “He’s such a bigger-than-life character,” Mitchell tells EW. “He wants to do music that means something to him; he wants to do movies that mean something to him.”

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And Jackson’s definitely getting that chance with Superfly, in which he plays Youngblood Priest, an Atlanta drug dealer who wants one more payday before leaving the cocaine business for good. Priest is cool, confident, and intimidating — basically, the complete opposite of the campus activist Jackson plays on grown-ish. The sleek (and expensive) wardrobe helped him get into character. “Everybody on set said I walked differently when I was in [Priest’s] clothes,” Jackson says. Director X thinks it comes naturally. “Trevor just has a star power to him, a swag, the It Factor. It’s just something special about him.”

The multihyphenate walked away from Superfly with a lot — a new friend in Mitchell, a new skill set (he did all of his own stunts) — but most important, he also figured out a potential next step in his career: “I’m really falling in love with directing. I really, really want to do that.”

Superfly hits theaters June 15.

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