Michael Rainey Jr. admits Ghost success is 'vindicating,' teases Tariq's season 2 struggles
Michael Rainey Jr. can feel the shift of Power.
The actor has gone from a young kid playing a recurring role on Starz's hit series to becoming the current face of the ever-growing Power Universe. Not bad for someone who still isn't even 21 years old.
"I'm embracing every single second of it," says Rainey, who admits the success of his Power spin-off Power Book II: Ghost has been "vindicating," considering many were skeptical of a Tariq-fronted series.
"Multiple people said it would never work and didn't believe in it," shares Power and Ghost creator Courtney Kemp. "But I knew Michael Rainey could do it, because I've known that kid since he was 11. And sometimes as a showrunner, you just got to trust your gut."
That's some kind of gut, because she was dead right. Ghost premiered last September, just months after the Power series finale ended with Tariq revealed as the person who killed his father, Ghost (Omari Hardwick). Despite the hate towards Tariq and the death threats sent on social media to Rainey, the spin-off became the highest-rated new series in Starz history.
With the premiere of the latest Power series, Power Book III: Raising Kanan, EW did a deep dive on the powerful force that is the Power Universe. As part of that, we chatted with Rainey about his eventful Power journey, the killer Ghost season 1 finale, and what's to come later this year with season 2, which EW has your first look at.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How's filming been going so far on season 2?
MICHAEL RAINEY JR.: Today was the first day of episode 6, so we're a little bit past the halfway mark. But filming's been great, we're having a lot of fun. The story's just developing and developing, getting deeper and deeper.
What's it been like seeing the overwhelming response to Ghost? It seemed like the buzz just kept getting bigger and bigger throughout season 1. After all the crap and negativity that you dealt with going back to Power, did it feel a bit vindicating?
Hell yeah, definitely vindicating. Because going into the show, before we even started, I was nervous, like, "Damn, how are we about to pull this off? Everyone really hates me, and we're about to make a show about my character?!" But shoutout to Courtney, shoutout to the writers, they made it possible. They gave me perfect material to work with, so from there, it's like, "Great writing, great story, just got to take advantage and fully embrace this role and do what I got to do." So it's definitely vindicating, seeing how everyone has had a change of heart towards Tariq as a character and they understand where his actions are coming from.
We've talked previously about the ridiculous fact that you were getting hundreds of death threats on social media during the last few seasons on Power. Is it wild to now see how people have gone from that to full-on rooting for Tariq?
Man, a freaking insane experience. Because, like I said, I was super nervous coming into the first week. So that outcome I really wasn't expecting. Obviously I was expecting good news, but I just wasn't expecting it this much.
No fan base is more passionate than the Power audience, so what do you think it is about this world that Courtney and company have created that connects so strongly with people?
It's the realness for me. Even though it's very crazy and insane and outlandish, a lot of this stuff that's happening on the show happens in real life. Someone can relate to at least one thing each of these characters are going through. Especially now, with the characters being in school now, they get to relate to what these kids are experiencing. When you can relate and you to get connected, it's easy for you to fall into the trap of the show.
When did you realize that Power had become a big deal? I'm sure you were sheltered a bit from it early on, being so young and not as involved onscreen in the earlier seasons.
Season 4 really is when I came to the realization, like, "Yo, this show is a hit. We are the culture, basically." Especially once my character started getting a little more involved, and everyone started reacting so much to what Tariq did. It was definitely surprising to me to see how popping the show became. I knew it would be something, but it kind of just caught me off guard how fast and how crazy things got.
Now eight seasons and two shows into playing Tariq, what keeps you so excited and invested in the role?
Obviously I don't relate too much to Tariq, but there's some things that resonate, just as far as him growing up and finally learning how to really become a young man. He's really tweaking himself. And I feel some of those things that he's going through, just trying to figure things out on his own. He has to really think for himself. Not even just for himself; he has to think for his family, because he has to help his little sister and his grandmother. I'm also becoming a young man. I'm about to be 21 this year, so I feel like I have a lot more responsibilities, and I just really think a bit different than how I used to think, even one or two years ago.
Do you almost feel like you've been spoiled by this experience? You're about to turn 21, and you've gotten eight years and counting with a great role, on a couple of monster shows.
I definitely feel like I've been spoiled. I never really expected this journey to become what it was. Going from a recurring role to basically having my own show, it's, "Whoa." I'm embracing every single second of it, and I just want to keep improving and keep on taking on the role of Tariq. It's been a lot of fun playing this character, and then just witnessing the character's growth and where he came from.
I was talking to Raising Kanan star Mekai Curtis a couple weeks ago, and he said he had gotten the chance to hang with you and Gianni [Paolo], and get some advice as he entered this world. He even called you the "OG" of the franchise now, which I'm sure is a crazy thing to hear.
Yeah, that was crazy. I actually just read that today. That's a lot of love coming from Mekai. That's my guy, for sure. So shoutout to Mekai for showing that love and appreciation. I appreciate him for that. We definitely chopped it up. Just me being on the show for so long, he felt like I had some gems to share with him. And we're in the same family, so whatever I can say, whatever I can do to help whoever, I'm going to do it. It's like I'm now the quarterback of the Power Universe in a way, because now it's really about the young bulls. So I definitely feel like I have that responsibility, just to keep that uplifting energy and give words of encouragement whenever needed. Other people are in that position as well, because everyone has a role on this team. And my role is just to make sure everybody's got good energy and just having fun. That's the main important thing for me, because I feel like the best stuff is made when we're having fun.
Did you have people that did that for you early in your Power run?
One hundred percent. From season 1, even when I was just recurring and my character didn't really have too much to do, they still were there, making sure that I was locked in, making sure I understood what was going on. 50 [Cent], Omari, Joseph [Sikora], Naturi [Naughton], everybody was there, helping me throughout the way. Without them, I wouldn't be in the position I am now So shoutout to the Power family, Omari, Naturi, Joseph, 50, everybody, because I wouldn't be who I am now.
Getting specifically into Ghost, the last time we chatted was before the big season 1 finale. So I have to ask, why do you think Tariq felt that he had to be the one to pull the trigger on Jabari (Justin Marcel McManus)?
Tariq had to be the one. One, because he couldn't just let his professor live after Cane (Woody McClain) did what he did. The professor just seeing him involved with Cane, even though he knew prior to that, wouldn't be a good look for him, so he definitely had to just finish the job. You can't leave those loose ends out there in the business that Tariq is in. He had to get rid of the liabilities. I feel like he didn't want to do it, but he had to do what he had to do. It always comes down to that.
Now that you're six episodes into filming season 2, how would you say having killed a civilian will affect Tariq moving forward?
It will affect Tariq, because everything Tariq does affects him. A lot of things that he does, it's more because he has to do it just to survive. It's definitely going to mess with him. Nobody really wants to kill, so he's definitely going to have to learn to live with that.
Tariq has long rejected the idea that he's like Ghost, but by the end of season 1 it seemed like he's now closer than ever to embracing that he is his father's son. Do you look at it the same way?
I look at it that way. That was one of his struggles in season 1, accepting the fact that he's like his father. Early in season 2, he's still trying to find a way to accept it. He doesn't want to, but it's inevitable — it's in his blood. That's his nature. It's hard for him, but he's coming into reality.
With the finale finding Tasha taken away and Tommy wanting nothing to do with Tariq, what state will we find him in? Is he now more alone than ever, or has he actually maybe found a family in the Tejadas that will accept him for who he's become?
Oh no, he's definitely feeling alone, because he can't trust anybody, especially not the Tejada family. They're in business with each other, so it's a different type of trust. At the beginning of season two, he's more alone than ever and he's trying to figure it out. He still has his people around him, he just doesn't have anyone that he can put all his trust in.
The Power Universe is set to expand with Power Book III: Raising Kanan and Power Book IV: Force, which explore the stories of Kanan and Tommy, who were two of the most formative people in Tariq's life. So for you both as a viewer and the man behind Tariq, are you ready to just sit back and get further insight into those two characters who have meant so much to your character?
I'm so excited for Book III and IV. I'm really waiting for that. Obviously I'm ready for our show to air, but, as of right now, I'm hyped for those.
No spoilers, but I did watch the first episode of Kanan and felt like I now better understood what Kanan saw in Tariq. It feels like there's a little bit of Tariq in young Kanan.
That's super dope. I haven't seen anything. I don't know what's going on, and that's fun to hear that there's some of Tariq in young Kanan. That's making me even more excited.