Power Book II: Ghost BFFs Michael Rainey Jr. and Gianni Paolo on their chemistry, 'crazy' season 2
TV's most Powerful friendship is back.
Sunday marks the season 2 premiere of Power Book II: Ghost, the first spin-off in the ever-expanding Power universe and Starz's biggest active hit. Like his onscreen father Omari Hardwick was on Power, Michael Rainey Jr. is the star of Ghost. And every lead needs a ride-or-die partner. For Hardwick it was Joseph Sikora, who's getting his own series with the upcoming Power Book IV: Force (Feb. 6). For Rainey, it's Gianni Paolo.
Rainey and Paolo were initially brought together in Power season 5, when Tariq (Rainey) went to the prestigious school Choate and met fellow student Brayden (Paolo). The one-episode interaction turned into four more episodes in the final season, which eventually led to Ghost — and a close friendship off screen.
"Man, I was super-hype because we got great chemistry," Rainey tells EW of learning he'd be paired with Paolo. "Getting the opportunity for us to showcase that more now is dope."
"That's why I love working with Mike so much," Paolo adds, "because I've never had that with any other actor."
Ahead of Ghost's return, EW hopped on Zoom with the dynamic duo to discuss how their relationship has evolved, what to expect in season 2, and why they're still the kings of the Power universe.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There he is.
MICHAEL RAINEY JR.: Yo, what's up, all?
GIANNI PAOLO: What's good? You're looking fire as always.
RAINEY: You know how we do, baby. I was literally about to come on this s--- with a black T-shirt like you, and I was like, nah, I'm a going to spice it up a little.
It had to be done. It's already clear the kind of relationship you guys have in real life. Was it like this from the jump when Gianni showed up briefly on season 5 of Power? Or did it take being paired on Ghost?
PAOLO: I think we vibed season 5 on camera, but as actors we didn't really know each other's vibes. Because you know how people are a lot in this town, you don't really know what they're like, and so we didn't really talk at all.
RAINEY: The only words we said to each other was like, "You want to run the scene?"
PAOLO: That's it. And then season 6, I forget what the first icebreaker was.
RAINEY: It was definitely something about girls.
PAOLO: We were talking about Instagram girls or cars, and then we did a little look like, "Maybe I do like this dude." [Laughs] And then by episode 2 in season 6, we were like…
RAINEY: We were dudes.
PAOLO: And then now, forget it.
RAINEY: Now it's over.
Michael, you've previously told us how 50 Cent kind of first gave you word about the idea of Ghost during the final season of Power. Gianni, when did you hear that you might be coming back in a big way?
PAOLO: What's so funny is that when we were filming season 6, I remember Michael and I sitting in our chairs where the dorm room was at Choate, and 50 came up to us and was like, "You guys take over." I didn't know what Michael already knew. I just thought that meant I was going to be in all the episodes in season 6 with Mike. And then I think I did 1, 2, 3, 4, and that was it. I was like, "Damn, 50 lied to us!" And then cut to four or five months later, we got the call, "You guys are going to be doing the spin-off together," and I was like, "Oh, that's what he meant. He didn't lie to me!" I think Mike had heard rumblings, because they knew he was going to be No. 1 and it's really his thing.
RAINEY: At first when I got the news, I thought it was nonsense. I looked at 50 like, whatever.
PAOLO: Because he does be saying some crazy stuff sometimes! "Call me when I have to be there, okay, 50?"
RAINEY: I'm like, "My own show? We still filming season 6. What are you talking about?" It was crazy.
Michael, it's one thing to be told you're getting your own show and everything that comes with that, but what it was like then to hear that Gianni, who is now your boy, would be joining you on the ride?
RAINEY: Man, I was super-hype because we got great chemistry. So getting the opportunity for us to showcase that more now is dope. I was excited, like, "Word? Me and G, we got more screen time together now? Bet."
PAOLO: We have amazing writers, but so much of what you see Mike and I will be like, "Okay, this isn't working," and we'll pitch jokes between scenes and add so much that isn't already there. And then we get into this sweet spot where everything is firing and we'll go up to each other like, "We're there."
RAINEY: I love that s---.
PAOLO: That's why I love working with Mike so much, because I've never had that with any other actor.
RAINEY: I always love twisting up everything, adding whatever, just spicing it up, making it our own thing.
PAOLO: That's where the language is so on point too. The way people speak changes every six months. We'll literally change it in the moment. Even like when "bet" started becoming a thing, we just add in all those little things and that's why people are like, "Oh, they're with it."
RAINEY: Especially being in New York. We're six months filming the show, so we're outside and we just feed off of the New York lingo.
PAOLO: As much as I throw shade to New York, the show wouldn't be what it is without New York and the New York vibe. It's almost its own character in the show.
From your perspective, what do you think it is about these characters that draws them to each other? Not all roommates end up becoming this close!
RAINEY: They both have the same ambition and the same hunger. Yes, they both came from money, but they both have that factor in them where they want to make their own money and to be the reason that they're doing well. I feel like they recognize that inside each other, so it just works.
PAOLO: I totally agree with that. They are very similar. Also, I think that they want… not want to be like each other, but Tariq wants Brayden's family life and Brayden wants Tariq's family life, to be like, "Ah, no one f---ng bothers me!" He doesn't realize all the stress that he has. He's like, "Dude, I've never seen your family one time." And Tariq's like, "Oh, your family's giving you cars and stuff like that." So I think they definitely want a little bit of each other in them. I know for a fact that Brayden wants to be like Tariq. He loves Black culture, he loves the clothes. And also, Tariq doesn't have any fun in his life, so I think Brayden gives Tariq a lot of laughs. And then Tariq brings me into the streets and shows Brayden that life.
RAINEY: You literally never see Tariq laugh unless he's with Brayden.
PAOLO: I say this all the time to [creator] Courtney [Kemp]: If you just wrote this show and pitched it to a network and were like, "Okay, it's going to be about two kids with money at prep school that are selling drugs. One of them is a white rich kid. Another one is a Black kid, but he did come from money," the network would be like, "What are you pitching us? This makes no sense." But then they see it and they're like, "Oh, this works."
It's almost too easy to make the Ghost and Tommy comparison when it comes to Tariq and Brayden. Is that something you talk about, and what do you think the major difference is between those relationships and characters?
PAOLO: Tariq is definitely more like Ghost than Brayden is like Tommy. Obviously it's his dad. Sometimes I see myself doing stuff that my dad does and I'm like, "s---." So it's obviously built in. I'd say Tariq is very similar to Ghost in the fact that he's smarter than everyone on the show and he's always 10 steps ahead of everyone, which is a St. Patrick thing. But yeah, we just come from different backgrounds and we're different characters. Brayden's a lot more bright and fun, and Tommy's a little bit of a darker character. But who's to say where Brayden will go? We got time.
RAINEY: Brayden's going to get into some situations and change people, so who knows what path he's going to go down?
The most important question: The handshake, scripted or something you guys came up with on your own?
RAINEY: We came up with it.
PAOLO: I think it was on Ghost. That was my handshake with one of my friends growing up, and I remember reading in the script, "Tariq and Brayden do a handshake," but no one ever told us anything. So right before the scene, Mike and I said, "Let's figure something out." And I was like, "Well, I used to do this," and he goes, "That's fire. I like that." But Ghost and Tommy had a fire one, too.
RAINEY: Yeah, that handshake was fire. Some big shoes to fill.
Going into season 2, what would you say the state of the Tariq and Brayden relationship is? Are they closer than ever, or do you see room for some divide?
RAINEY: It gets tricky between them two because there's so much that goes on. There's so much that Tariq can't tell Brayden, and sometimes there's so much that Brayden can't tell Tariq. But they just find the middle ground through everything. So it's definitely a lot of ups and downs, but the brotherhood is always there.
PAOLO: I feel like they're closer than ever, but in ways they're also further. We saw Ghost and Tommy eventually were not friends anymore towards the end. With Brayden and Tariq, I don't think that'll ever happen because I just feel like no matter who does what, they're always going to have each other's back. You see towards [episodes] 8, 9, 10, down the line, their relationship is getting tested, but it's always there. Every time they go through some s--- together, it gets stronger in the end. But sometimes we'll be in the fourth or fifth fight in two or three weeks of filming and I'm like, "Can we not fight anymore?"
RAINEY: Can we go on the block and make some money together?
PAOLO: Yeah, can we just hop in the Mercedes and pick up girls?
Was there something specifically you were most excited to further explore with your characters this season?
RAINEY: For me, every episode is just him growing and growing and getting more mature and making more crazy decisions. So I would say just that whole road of Tariq finding himself and maybe finally coming to realization that he's Ghost 2.0.
PAOLO: I feel like once Tariq finally admits that he is like Ghost is when the show is going to get so interesting, because that's when he's going to really be able to go, "Okay, I'm committed to this, let's see where it can go." Because obviously we didn't see Ghost at that age when he was hustling and really beginning, so that's what I'm excited to see. For Brayden, as we saw in seasons 5 and 6 of Power, he's super-fun, and I like to see the other end of that, where he's getting dark and doing the stuff that he never thought he would. It's so weird because every time you're doing something on a show, you want the opposite. Like, "Oh, I'm doing a lot of funny stuff — why am I always the funny guy? I want to be the dark, cool guy." And then I'll talk to Woody [McClain] and he'll be like, "Man, I'm too dark." No one's ever happy.
That's a tough balance, right? Because it's so easy for a character like Brayden to just be the comic relief guy and there not really be anything else beyond that. But going dark is when you get to fully form him.
PAOLO: Exactly. Sometimes I'll even ask Mike, because when we'll get the scene I'll see the lines and go, "This could be funny and I could pitch him jokes, or this could be serious." I have to make a choice: Am I going to make this funny, or am I going to make this serious? Luckily I have Mike there with me and he'll be like, "Oh, okay, this is the situation. This is what's going on with the business, so maybe this is a little more serious." And then other times it's like, "Well, this episode's really dark, people die, so maybe this is where the comedy is." So that's why we work off each other to see what the episode itself needs or what the scene needs.
RAINEY: That's why I love our directors and writers, because they just let us test the water. They let us do whatever.
PAOLO: See, here's the thing, if it was a season 1 of a show that wasn't a thing already, they'd have been like, "Well, this is what it is." But since it's technically season 7 and 8 for Mike, they're like, "Just do your thing." And I'm like, "Wait, me too?!" [Laughs]
We've dug into some of it, but what would be your overall tease of what the fans should expect throughout season 2?
PAOLO: Season 1, it's a new show. We already had a fan base, but it's a lot of new characters that we had to introduce. We had to show what they care about, why they care about it, which is not always the most interesting stuff to watch. So the fans held on for the setup, and I think season 2 is a lot of payoff. A lot of decisions people made in season 1, you get to see what the repercussions were in season 2. There's so much action this season, I'm like, yes, here we go, this is Power.
RAINEY: Yep, exactly what he said. Season 1, we laid the groundwork to just get everything ready. Now season 2, it's in motion. Everything is hitting. It's fast-paced, action-packed, emotional. It's a lot.
PAOLO: What the fans love. This is the No. 1 show on Starz, baby!
RAINEY: C'mon, baby!
That leads me to my last question: With Ghost back, what's the state of the Power universe rivalry? I talked to MeKai Curtis for the Kanan finale and he said, "I'm ready to see what those boys over at Ghost is doing. I know they see us coming with the fire, so they better have their weight up!" And you also know Joe Sikora is coming with Force!
RAINEY: Yeah, Joe's coming for us.
PAOLO: Listen, listen, they had their time, now they know when Ghost comes back on for 10 weeks they're going to be a little quiet on social media.
RAINEY: [Laughs] They're going to be like, "Maybe I shouldn't have said that."
PAOLO: We're going to be fighting for our spot back? Nah, we're going to ease in that bitch.
RAINEY: It's a little like reversing into the parking spot. Nothing too crazy.
No work at all. It's been a fun back-and-forth to follow, and I know you guys have shown MeKai some love, kind of welcoming him into the world before Kanan started.
PAOLO: It is a lot of good fun, but smart on 50's part because he's literally just against himself. That's like owning seven NBA teams and you guys are all in the playoffs and you're like, "Who's going to win?" It's like you win everything!
RAINEY: You win regardless, bro! That's the best explanation for that.
PAOLO: MeKai's a good dude, though. We were kicking it with him in New York and we'll probably see him at the premiere. I love the universe, it's fun. We're all connected.
RAINEY: But there can only be one No. 1.
PAOLO: And that's Ghost!
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