After graduating college, Derrick A. King took a job in Pennsylvania working in Corporate America, but it wasn’t his passion. Eventually, his company transferred him to their office in LA, marking a resurgence of his love of acting. Three months after moving to Tinsel Town, King enrolled in acting classes. He made a pledge to himself that he would do whatever it took to fulfill his dream of becoming a full time actor: go back home, live in his car. Even, he says, in dramatic actor fashion, die for it. 

Thankfully, it never came to that. Now, King stars in the upcoming CW series reboot 4400 as a young reverend from Chicago. The drama is about a group of marginalized people throughout history who vanished off the face of the planet. These 4400 eventually land in modern-day Detroit with no knowledge of what happened to them. 

Ahead of the series premiere, we spoke to King about his character, Black folks in science fiction and more. 

ESSENCE: What attracted you to the role of Rev. Johnson in “4400”?

King: Honestly, it felt like a dream come true. It seems divine to me. The way I made my name in LA was through monologues. I would win monologue competitions. It’s my forte, it’s what I do. Now, I’m playing a reverend who is the leader of the 4400 by moving people with his words. It puts me in a place where I feel super comfortable playing this character, which is kind of a dream come true for a breakout artist. 

ESSENCE: You’ve said that comedy comes naturally to you. But this series is a drama. Did this role stretch you in any way?

King: I’m continuously stretched in this role. But the interesting part is that I feel like it’s in ways I didn’t expect to be stretched. Artistically, I get to allow myself to finally dive into a character the way I’ve been dreaming of doing the last five years. I’ve never gotten to create someone. I’ve created a type of speech for him. I elongate my vowels. I studied the hell out of that. I’m watching pastors, studying TD Jakes. I’ve been reading the Bible in a way that I’ve never done before.  I’m listening to the music and seeing how we evolved from the Black church that we had 70 years ago to what we have now. 

ESSENCE: With the way the show is set up, you could have come from several decades. Do you appreciate that your character is from the ‘90s?

King: I think appreciative is spot on. I’m a 90’s baby myself. I was born in the early 90’s. So, for my character to be the age I am now, but set in the early 90s, it’s like a dream come true. I’m rocking a high top fade with a part in it. He wears a gold chain and a gold ring the entire season. He has a sense of style that you had to have naturally being from that era. I showed my dad a picture of me in character and he sent me back a picture of him wearing that same high top fade. I’m like we’re nailing it right now. 

ESSENCE: In the pilot, there are themes of governmental control. There are hints of activism from the characters. Why do you think this is a show for the times?

King: I think this is one of those shows that are extremely timely because people of color and Black people in general haven’t been given the opportunity to have shows on networks. Let alone being a show where we don’t have to play pimps or drug dealers. These are just characters being characters. And then on top of that, it’s Sci-Fi, which is rare for Black people to be able to do anyway. It’s based in 2021 so we can attack things like the government, our history up to this point or COVID. We can explore those issues in a way that is safe because it’s Sci-Fi but also from a perspective we rarely get to see. 

ESSENCE: What are you excited for people to see with this project?

King: I’m excited for people to see the new faces. This show is full of new, super talented people. We’re developing ourselves as characters as we’re developing powers in the show, which I think will be really fun to see. I’m really excited for the audience to see different stories from different time periods and how we all interact with each other in the current time. And we’re all Black as well. I think people are really going to enjoy seeing that develop. 

ESSENCE: What’s next for you in your career?

King: I have vision board. I’ve always been very goal oriented. And this is a very crucial milestone in my career and I’m looking forward to taking this opportunity, learning everything I can, growing as an artist and then coming for people’s screens in a way that they can’t possibly expect. They have no idea what’s cooking right now. 

4400 premieres Monday, October 25th at 9:00pm ET/PT.

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