Netflix's On My Block has taken the internet by storm, garnering a dedicated fanbase that is excited to see if the streaming giant will renew the series for a second season.
One of the stars of the hit show is Brett Gray, who plays the affable and slightly neurotic Jamal. On the show, which follows a group of friends juggling high school and real life in South Central Los Angeles, fans see Jamal hunting for treasure, lying to his parents about playing football, and dealing with the changing dynamic between his friends.
ESSENCE spoke to Brett about his character, what he hopes to see happen to Jamal, and season one's shocking finale. Be warned, there are a few spoilers ahead.
ESSENCE: On My Block has been a major success, how does it feel to see everyone's reaction to the show?
Brett: It's kinda crazy. I mean, I knew the show was good and I knew that we all were gonna do our best to make sure it got in front of everyone that we wanted to get. I've kinda been overwhelmed because everything is so positive and everybody loves the show so much. We have this email thread going on right now with everyone sending these emails about what On My Block means to them and it's crazy. It's awesome.
ESSENCE: How did you get the role of Jamal?
Brett: My agent sent me the audition info, like "Hey, this could be super cool. It's everything you've asked for, but it's a comedy." I was like, "Oh no. I've never done comedy before." At first, I was nervous. I got with one of my mentors and she helped talk me through it and bring more of myself to Jamal. At the chemistry read, I was for sure I didn't get it. I was just like, well, on to the next thing. And, about a week later they called me and were like, "Hey, you're Jamal." It was awesome. It was very fast. All of that happened within two and a half weeks.
ESSENCE: Do you have anything in common with your character?
Brett: Yeah, we are both super obsessed with our friends. We both sort of go the extra mile for other people and keep things to ourselves. I think we sort of have a balance. He's a lot bigger than I am in life. I tend to take the path of least resistance and I think he often adds resistance. Sometimes I'm like, "Okay, this is super creative and this is gonna work." And then I'll read another script and be like, "Um, Jamal, are you there all the way?"
ESSENCE: Have you seen all the episodes? I need your reaction to how the season ends because everyone in the office is at the point we're about to fight somebody.
Brett: I've seen every episode at least 20 million times at this point. It was kinda de-mystified because I knew about it for so long. I wasn't on set that day but it was the last day of filming, so I came anyway to watch the whole process. At first, I was like, I get the ending. It was fine. After actually seeing it with the music and looking at my friends, who are on the show, and being able to see them as their characters and not on set as Jason and Sierra and Ronnie, it's so powerful. I was like, whoa. I was getting a little misty. I thought, if I feel like this, I can only imagine what people who don't know us and knew nothing about the show are feeling.
ESSENCE: I went through a roller coaster of emotions. I was in my apartment just crying.
Brett: The writers are so smart because they gave us so much to root for, even in the despair of that moment. It was like, you don't know if you're happy for Jamal for finding that money, you don't know if you're sad for Ruby, you don't know if you're sad for Olivia, you don't know what's going on with [Olivia's] parents, who are FaceTiming her. You don't know anything. It's like they just play with you.
ESSENCE: I felt so vindicated for you, though, when you found the RollerWorld money.
Brett: Jamal successfully secured the bank and that's what it's about.
ESSENCE: What was the craziest scene for you to film?
Brett: Probably the last, not the final scene, but the scene with me digging. It was crazy. It was about three o'clock in the morning at this football field at the high school and they have all these dirt mounds. They covered me up with coffee beans. It was so cold. And I had to pretend to dig and there was snot and I'm just screaming at the top of my lungs to the sky.
ESSENCE: What's the bond like on set? In the show you guys call yourselves a family, but what's it like behind the scenes?
Brett: It's actually kind of worse. On the show, I would give us a level eight. In real life, we would be a 10 in family. I mean, we argue with each other. We yell at each other. We have fun. We go out. It's crazy. We actually love each other so much. We all have a group message. We talk every day. It's crazy. I think that actually goes hand in hand with us being all so up and coming because it's all so new to us. We're all getting to talk about our experiences and becoming, sort of, being the platform. I think it actually helps us that we are all so close. And, we live with each other, too, so we have no choice.
ESSENCE: Oh, wait, you guys live together?
Brett: Yes, during filming, the whole three months, Jason, Sierra, and myself all lived together in an Airbnb, so we had no choice but to find a way to get along with each other because we were on set for 14 hours a day and we lived with each other. It's kinda crazy. Hopefully, we do get another season, Jason and Sierra are sending me houses now for Airbnb.
ESSENCE: How does it feel to be a part of a show that's so diverse?
Brett: It's a dream come true. I think that you can count the number of white people in our show on your hand. I've never been able to do that before. It's almost like the show is a complete culture shock, because for the first time you're seeing a neighborhood that you've never seen before. You're seeing children going through situations that you've never gotten to see before, then, even in episode ten, you're seeing a situation that you never really see happen put in a normal, sort of, [setting] in a backyard party at someone's house. I feel on a TV show when things like that happen it's always some sort of high concept idea, but this is just kids in their backyard one night, this could happen to any of us that live in this neighborhood. It's a dream come true being able to show our side of the tracks. There are so many people out there that are saying, "Oh my gosh, this is what happens to us. One day we're playing around and the next day something gets real." Or, "Thank you for making this show about us that doesn't show us as always sad because on Halloween we are just trying to figure out the best way to get candy."
ESSENCE: If the show gets picked up for a second season, what do you think Jamal is gonna do with that money?
Brett: I don't know what he's gonna do. As an actor, I hope that he goes off the deep end. I hope that he's upset with them and they have to help him find himself again and share the money. But I think Jamal's sweeter than I am. I just think next season could be even crazier in terms of the scenarios that they go through because of the aftermath of what's happening in the last episode of season one. I hope that Jamal can get it together in any way that's best for him.
ESSENCE: How would you like to see your character progress?
Brett: You know, it's funny because as much as we've all played these characters, we don't really know them as well as the writers do. They've been working on this show for two and a half years before we even joined the process, so over season one, Jamal sorta found more confidence in himself. Especially when everyone left him, he went and did the whole RollerWorld hunt by himself. So, I hope that Jamal in season two can find his confidence and ease off on the neuroticism and come more into his own as a young black man traversing the world. Also, side note, Jamal is fly.
ESSENCE: Jamal is fly. He's not getting enough credit.
Brett: He is fly. So my dream for Jamal is that by his senior year he's confident, he can stick up for himself, he's fly, and he is fully formed as himself on the dark end and the light end of life. I hope season two he's just more himself. I hope he sticks up for himself more. I hope he empowers his friends. I hope he takes the money and does good things with it. But, we'll see. Flaws are what make a character.
ESSENCE: So, what's on your bucket list for 2018? What other things do you want to accomplish this year?
Brett: I really wanna go somewhere I've never been before. I don't know why. I just feel like I wanna go somewhere super serene and peaceful and beautiful. Like, I wanna go to Montana and hike through the wilderness. Well, you know what? I don't know about that now that I think about it. So, I'm still editing that one. My EP is coming out in August. I've never done music before so that'll be something I'm trying in 2018.
ESSENCE: Do you have a title for your EP yet?
Brett: Yes, it's called Easy Days. It's like a sonic retelling of a childhood story of mine, and it just uses the sounds from the early 2000s and late 90s. Things I heard growing up and how I was influenced by music, but sort of refreshed for 2018, all told in a seamless story through the songs. It's gonna be seven songs. I'm excited.
Also, hopefully, I get to use the platform that we've been given to start some sort of hopeful campaign for the fans of On My Block.
Stream On My Block on Netflix.