Raising Kanan star Patina Miller on bringing to life the franchise's new powerhouse character
Premiering Sunday on Starz, the prequel series heads back to 1991 and explores how 15-year-old Kanan Stark (Mekai Curtis) went from good-hearted kid to a killer so cold-blooded that he took out his own son. Hailing from former Power writer Sascha Penn, the latest extension of the Power Universe introduces Tony winner Patina Miller as Kanan's mom, Raq, the queenpin doing the titular raising.
"Raq is that girl," Miller declares. "Everybody else orbits around her. She loves passionately — but don't cross her. I don't think we've met anyone like Raq in the universe."
EW chatted with Miller about finding a rare opportunity to show her range, being pulled in by this mother-son relationship, and preparing to "leave you on the edge of your seat."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your relationship to Power before you were cast on Kanan?
PATINA MILLER: I started out as a casual fan, and then became a fan, like everybody else in the world. Power was one of those shows that was a hit, a phenomenon, and it only got better as the seasons went on. There was never a week that Power wasn't in the news, on Twitter and Instagram, people having arguing about what happened with Ghost (Omari Hardwick). So as long as Power's been going, it's been a part of all our lives, because it was such a huge success. When the show came around for me, I didn't know what to expect, but I was really excited to read it and learn more about the spin-off.
Having looked at the world of Power as both a fan and star, why do you think it's been able to become that phenomenon?
I think what's drawn people in are the characters. Courtney Kemp did a wonderful job of creating these characters and giving them all three-dimensional lives, and there's something in all of these characters, whether they're good or bad, you find yourself relating to. And it's definitely realistic, there are people who have these lives. But at the end of the day, when I think about what people connect with, it's a very damaged, flawed human, like Ghost, who's teetering this line of good versus evil. We all kind of deal with that in some aspect. And what's really, really cool about this universe is how unique it is — and all of the things that we want to watch on TV.
You didn't know what to expect when Kanan came your way, so what was it about the series and the character of Raq that made it something you couldn't pass up?
Credit to 50 Cent, because Kanan was one of the breakout characters and you either loved him or hated him. For a person to be so damaged and so ruthless, I always wondered about that backstory and what made him the way he was. When I got the audition, I didn't know that it was Raising Kanan. I knew it was in the Power world, but they didn't say what it was for. I read the script and immediately got drawn into the story and this mother and son relationship, not knowing it was Kanan's story. This woman, this leader, she's a queenpin and cocaine distributor, and she's making all these boss moves, and, wow, she's not afraid. Raq shows so many sides of herself in just that first episode. I got really, really excited about the opportunity as an actress to be able to show that range. For me, Black women on TV don't really get to do that. Sascha Penn, the creator of our show, created a phenomenal female lead character.
You mentioned not always getting the opportunities to show this kind of range, and I remember talking to Naturi Naughton and she said something similar in explaining why she decided to continue playing Tasha when it came time for Ghost. Raq joins the growing list of these powerful, well-rounded female characters, which already included Tasha, Angela (Lela Loren), and Monet (Mary J. Blige). What do you think it is about this space that has enabled the Power writers and actresses to create these unique and memorable women in this world that can often be so male-dominated?
What I love is we're all fighting for something. With Raq, she wants to be the top cocaine distributor, but she also wants to be a good mom to Kanan. Sometimes those worlds collide and there's nothing you can do about it. Even with Tasha and Monet, we're all dealt these cards and it's how we choose to go about existing in these male-dominated worlds, and we're not cowering in corners. None of these characters are afraid of speaking their mind, like they go for it, they're hungry, they're driven. These three-dimensional women have a lot to offer, and are fighting just as hard as the men for what they want and will get it at all costs.
We just named a few of the many, many Power characters who have left their mark. In your mind, is there something that Raq brings to the table that has yet to be presented or represented in this universe?
Raq is that girl. And she started off as a 16-year-old growing up in the streets, learning how to move in this world. She's not under anyone, she's running her own stuff, she's the sole provider for her entire family. She is who Kanan wants to be like, she is who Jukebox (Hailey Kilgore) wants to be like. She's a mother figure for both of those young ones, and she's always sort of in the middle of her brothers as well. So everybody else orbits around her. She loves passionately — but don't cross her. I don't think we've met anyone like Raq in the universe.
From what I've seen so far, the heart of this show is the bond between Raq and Kanan, which makes sense since she's the one doing the titular raising of Kanan! And you said earlier that it was that relationship that you were initially intrigued by, so what do you love so much about this dynamic?
Because Raq had Kanan at such a young age, their relationship is a bit different. She raised Kanan herself, a child raising a child, so Kanan is her everything. She's always tried her best to make sure he had the life that he was supposed to have, while also showing him a life that he probably shouldn't be involved in. She has these dreams for her son and wants more for him, so the struggle there is about how her son wants to be with his mom and protect her and take care of her. But Raq is trying to push him away to go do something else. The whole season we'll see the push and pull of that relationship. At the core of it is a whole lot of love. As you've seen in the trailer, she says, "Nobody's ever going to come between my son and me," and that's what she really means.
In addition to Kanan and her niece Jukebox, Raq is also surrounded by her brothers. How would explain the entire family dynamic that we have at play on Kanan?
Lou-Lou (Malcolm Mays), her younger brother, the right-hand, her soldier, he gets it all done. He knows what he has to do. Marvin (London Brown), he's the older brother, and he may have some issues with his younger sister being on top. Marvin's the one who's a little bit more wild and has to be watched at all times. She loves them both so much, and would go to the end of the world for them, but within every family there's drama — and this family has a whole lot of drama! A lot of secrets, a lot of competition between them.
I did really enjoy the presence of London Brown, who was always good for a laugh on Ballers. And he carried that over here.
I am so proud and excited to work with a cast like this. Everyone is just so amazing and they really brought everything to their characters. From the beginning, we felt like a family. But London is so wonderful. He brings so much heart and so much character, and he's so funny. And you will get to see that relationship really play out, because there's a lot between all of the siblings, but there's the most between those two.
I thought everyone was great in the pilot, whether I'd seen them before or not. Other than a stacked cast, what would be your pitch for why Kanan will be worth checking out?
Well, first off, it's a fire show, I can go ahead and say that.
That's basically how Mekai answered that same question! Like TV mother, like TV son.
[Laughs] It's shot beautifully, it's super artistic from a cinematic standpoint, it's so beautiful. If you're looking for a drama that is wild and leaves you on the edge of your seat, but is also giving you a character study on flawed humans and how they work through their s---, then this is the show for you to see this summer. The costumes are ridiculous, the music is ridiculous, and it really is a vibe. And if you're a Power fan, this is where it all began. You don't want to miss that.