From the moment season 2 premiered, Fox’s STAR has put its foot on the gas, and the drama, music and sensational storylines haven’t slowed down since. This season has brought brand new goals, heartbreaks and even more obstacles for Carlotta (Queen Latifah), Star (Jude Demorest), Simone (Brittany O’Grady) and Alex (Ryan Destiny). As the second season barrels toward what will surely be a tumultuous conclusion, one character stands at the center -- orchestrating much of the chaos.
Lance Gross made his STAR debut in season 2 as the mercurial Maurice Jetter, the head of A&R at Midtown Records. Though Maurice seemed to be a stand-up guy in the beginning, his true nature began to show as his past and his temperament started to unravel. It’s a role that Gross has thoroughly enjoyed diving headfirst into. "Maurice is so ambitious —he wants to win," the Oakland native explained to me ahead of STAR’s season two finale. "When I first started with this character I didn't know that he was gonna take the turn that he took. We all were kind of trying to figure out the character. In my talks with Lee Daniels, we knew he was going to become dark, but we didn't exactly know how. As the season progressed it just started to get real interesting. It’s fun because its something that I haven't really played too much in the past, and that's been interesting as an actor. I wouldn't say (Maurice) is a bad guy, I would just say he's about winning. He wants what's best for his artists and he sees something that shines in Star, so he's going full speed ahead with breaking her out.“
For the actor/photographer, stepping into Maurice's shoes was much more involved than simply sliding into the shades of the music executive's psyche and the inner workings of his drive. The role also required Gross to do extensive research on the music industry, "I had to do a lot of research and talking with Lee," he said. "He told me who the character was based on in real life, and we created around that. I won't tell you who it is, but it got really interesting because I’ve got a lot of people that I'm friends with in the music industry, and I have a lot of people that I'm friends with that are actually A&Rs, so that made it fun. I wouldn't tell my friends that I was hanging with them to pick them apart, but that's what we do as actors — we're like detectives, and we observe. I asked a lot of questions about their roles in the industry, and I got stories from some artists in the industry who feel like they were burned bad. The research is the fun part."
Despite having a ton of fun with the research, portraying Maurice has also forced the House of Payne alum to look within himself at how different his own life and mannerisms are. "This character has been super interesting," he said. "I actually like the fact that people don't like this guy, it's kinda fun playing the bad guy just 'cause I'm personally so opposite of that. But it's fun to piss people off and have people hate you. I'm glad that I was raised how I was raised. I dunno, I gotta thank my parents more."
When it first debuted, STAR was very much positioned as a teen drama-- an almost younger sister to Lee Daniels' mega-hit, Empire. Season 2, however, proved the show had no interest in merely being in the background. Its continued maturity is what draws in audiences, making it inclusive on so many levels. "Well it's interesting because it's the life of a musician -- what they go through," Gross said. "We all love music, we have the genres that we love to listen to, but it's kinda like this inside look into what these artists' lives are like. We hear so many stories about how people's contracts aren't right, or they end up broke or finding fame and losing the fame, being on top and being on the low. So, it's just something that we're all interested in; it's like reality television-- we all want that inside look. I think the show has such a great cast; it's a little something for everyone, so I think that's why people are interested in it.”
STAR has also continued to reign because it constantly infuses fresh blood into the cast. Guest stars have included everyone from Brandy Norwood and Patti LaBelle to Meagan Goode and Quavo. For Gross, the constant influx has made going to work each day incredibly exciting. "It's been great," he said. "As an actor working on this set, it's so much fun because you go to work every day and you never know what to expect, you never know who's gonna show up, you never know who's gonna get cast. I mean, they cast Patti LaBelle, and I had done her cooking show and all this stuff and been friends with her for a while, but it was just so unexpected for me, and it was such a pleasure to have her on set. You never know who's going to show up, it keeps you guessing, it keeps you entertained, it's dope, it's one of the best sets that I've ever worked on, just having this great ensemble cast. It keeps you excited for the next day and the next day."
Gross hints that fans are in for an explosive ride for the STAR second season finale. "I’ll try not to give anything away," he said cryptically. "I think the fans are really gonna get a big payoff by the end of this season finale. It's a lot of surprises. You get to see how the girls are about to react to this diss track that Maurice released. You just don't wanna miss it. Certain things I say can give it away, so I'mma just stop right there and say you don't wanna miss it.”
Whatever goes down as the set goes dark on season 2, don’t get too comfortable with its conclusion. STAR has already been renewed for season 3, and Gross expects that when the show returns in the fall, it will do so with a vengeance. "From season 1 to season 2 it just keeps raising the stakes," he said. "Three, I think, is gonna be mind-blowing. You're gonna see what really happens to the girls. They've been on this fight for fame and really just breaking in, and this season they were introduced to the Midtown sound, but now I think it's time to see what's really gonna happen to this group. If Maurice has his say, it's just gonna be Star, but it's gonna be exciting. I'm even excited because, as an actor, we don't always know where it's gonna go. But from the talks with Lee, it's definitely gonna be on 10, it's definitely gonna surprise the audience."
The STAR season 2 finale will air at 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 23.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami.