“Power Book II: Ghost” – Showrunner Brett Mahoney Teases Seasons 3 & 4
Power Book: Ghost Season 3 pulled in 5.3 million viewers for its first episode. The show, which is part of 50 Cent/Curtis Jackson III’s ‘Power Universe’ on Starz, serves up entertainment with a slice of education and provocation but done in a way that you don’t realize your brain is expanding. You’re expecting The Wire, but you get discussions about life philosophy through literary works like Great Expectations, King Lear and Frankenstein – and then see the themes of the great classics play out in the episode.
In the vein of Game of Thrones, characters you begin to love, die. Like The Sopranos, there is a ruthlessness that can leave you gasping – but it’s served by a woman, Mary J. Blige in designer wear, instead of a man in sweats.
No doubt we are following ‘Gangster’ power plays. However, this season we enter the world of high finance where the moves are as cut-throat but dished out with a sense of Ivy League ‘civility’ – Succession anyone?
goldenglobes.com got an exclusive with the executive producer and showrunner Brett Mahoney via Zoom on what to expect for Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.) and his extended family in Seasons 3 & 4, and how empowerment behind the camera creates a representative and authentic world.
In the classroom discussions, I’ve never heard such brutal honesty from all races represented in a soundbite. It comes in really fast. It’s really pertinent. You were a writer, so talk about the choice of dialogue. Do you have to fight to include it? How do you balance being provocative without pushing people away?
The discussions happen in an academic classroom at a very prestigious university where different points of view, politics and racial politics are debated. That’s what happens in college. We hear it from different perspectives. We hear Tariq and we hear the ‘right leaning’ voice. It’s echoing the conversations that are being had in America. What we’re also saying is that you can have these different points of view, but still not kill each other. You leave the classroom and go to a party. It’s aspirational. We want to be able to have different points of view without having to tear each other apart.
You break a lot of stereotypes. One character is in a same-sex relationship. In some cultures, same-sex relationships have to be hidden. You have this very strong man who loves another man. You see them having sex and a normal relationship. You’re discussing big topics. Talk about the choice to include that aspect.
We want to show the true authenticity of our community. No one is one-dimensional. There are people like this in this world. I like the way we’ve approached it. The family is accepting of who he is and so is he. It’s telling that story in a contemporary way. Not going back to where he is hidden and not dealing with it.
You took over as the showrunner this season and are now focused on Season 4. How do you sustain the popularity and develop the characters?
Courtney A. Kemp created and ran the Power Universe coming off Empire. She invited me to join her. We’d come up as writers, having worked together on Eli Stone. We approach story in a similar way. I came aboard on Season 2, but due to the pandemic, they were wrapping Season 1. Being with Courtney for all of Season 2 allowed me to know what the show was. I knew the cast and crew, how Courtney had worked it. Season 3, I became the showrunner, but I already had that history with the show.
It’s a tremendous responsibility. The fans love it. I didn’t want to disappoint them. I wanted to keep giving them the stuff they love, but more of it.
UCLA just came out with a study that the HFPA helped to fund on DEI. They found that people of color have slid backward in terms of representation. The numbers are down this year. You have a show that’s very representative in front of and behind the camera. For many years, it was whispered in Hollywood that shows with people of color were less successful. You are living proof of the opposite of that. Since the show is called Power, talk about empowering people behind the camera and the images you’re able to discuss in front of the camera.
Asking that question that way is exactly right. If you empower people, putting people in place behind the camera, both in the writers’ room, the crew, in the director’s seat, in the director of photography’s seat, then you have the power to tell authentic stories that reflect America and reflect the diversity of America in front of the camera.
When I first started, there were a handful of people of color who were writers. I remember being in rooms where I was the only person of color or one of two. Even as a lower-level writer, you have to voice your opinion but might be drowned out in the sea of majority.
It was an interesting transition going from a majority white show to a show like Ghost where it is truly representative. Previously, when I was trying to explain a story to a majority white room of how it impacts people of color, it’s an argument. I’m a lawyer, so I’d present my case: this is the problem, and this is what we’re going to do. Hopefully, you have a showrunner that’s going to listen and respect that. It can make a difference.
On Ghost, we have a writers’ room that is majority diverse. I can say something and the room automatically understands. We’re not spending time explaining. Rather, we’re investing in telling a better story. That empowers all to tell really authentic stories that resonate with an audience.
A diverse cast doesn’t necessarily have to speak only to African-Americans or an ethnic audience. If telling authentic stories, I would hope it would reach a broader audience. Regardless of who you are, you should be able to respond, enjoy, understand and learn from it. Empire didn’t just appeal to ethnicities. Everybody watched it. That was a lesson for studios and networks across-the-board.
You showcase strong women capable of good and bad in various categories from young aspirational girls, to finance, to undercover agents, women dealing drugs, and, of course, Mary J. Blige as Monet.
There are strong women in every walk of life running households, taking care of business, and living fully in terms of relationships and love. We wanted to depict the audience. We know there’s this incredible group of black women and women watching this show. If we didn’t tell their story, they would sense the falsity.
The audience loves Monet because we are telling the truth, and Mary J Blige is an icon. She is the embodiment of a strong, Black woman. In Seasons 3 and 4, we’ll show her vulnerability, where she came from, and how she became the woman she is.
How involved is 50 Cent?
He can and does weigh in at any point. He wants to make this as authentic as possible. If I have any questions, I follow his North Star by reaching out to him. He will call with a question or concern or idea.
Let’s talk Tariq. I know he’s in love with Effie Morales (Alix Lapri) right now, but is there ultimately going to be a romance between Tariq and Diana Tejada (LaToya Tonodeo)? And, Diana seems as though she may get corrupted.
They have a simpatico between them that draws them together. Whether it’s romantic or a brother and sister connection, that’s to be explored. There’s definitely something that draws those characters together.
You have characters that appear in multiple shows. How do you keep it straight?
We have our own separate universe ‘meets’ on Fridays – cast and crew. Executives see all the stories. They will flag something like, ‘You’re going into this territory. You might want to talk to another person about that.’ The executives have a global view and put us together when we need to have a conversation.
Are you afraid of making the lifestyle glamorous?
You’d never aspire to live Tariq’s life because there are such harsh consequences. They’ve lost so many loved ones. It’s not aspirational.
What are the character arcs this season, and heading into Season 4?
Monet is going to be more vulnerable. Tariq is going to have new role models.
He already has the skills required from his dad. Will that play out in a more sophisticated/legal way?
The theme of the season is betrayal. Tariq, Effie, Rachel and Hayden created their own family, but in the Tejada family, there are so many secrets they are keeping from one another, and we’re waiting for those to explode and to see how things fall afterwards.