Luke James stopped by Shadow and Act's Opening Act podcast with S&A Managing Editor Trey Mangum and talked about his career so far, including his pivotal role on Showtime's The Chi and much more.
James joined The Chi after what many would call a breakthrough performance in BET's The New Edition Story miniseries. This was followed up by a series regular role in Fox's Empire spinoff, Star.
Before becoming a star on The Chi, James told us that he had a connection with creator Lena Waithe and didn't even realize it.
"To my surprise, we didn't know each other, but she knew of me from my past from when I first moved to LA with my brother and we were pursuing our career as a duo," he said. "And we were signed to a production company that was in the same building as Tracey Edmonds' [production company]. If you know Lena's story, she was an intern for Tracy Edmonds. Me and my brother used to live in that building, but we used to live on that elevator because they were always having auditions and there were always plenty of beautiful women going up to the top floor [laughs]. So he and I would always scheme our way to the top floor."
By chance, Waithe remembered him from these days. "I don't remember her, but she remembers us and me," he explained. "And so she always said, "Yo, tell me that story. And yo, we will work together. We're going to work together. A year and a half later, Star got canceled and I began my quest on just auditioning, self-tapes and whatnot. And this came through [with] this particular role for this particular project.
In The Chi, James stars as Trig, the elder and estranged brother of Jake, who returns to try and get custody of him. He lives with his partner, Imani (Jasmine Davis), who actively tries to help Trig win back custody of Jake. As season 3 goes on, it is revealed that Imani is transgender. Trig and Imani's relationship serves as a powerful representation of Black love on-screen.
"I talk a lot [about it], but I'm still gathering the weight of what that is, what we've been doing and what we have done," he said when talking about the storyline. "It's an important story. It's important to show that particular type of black person. And it's important to show love in all those facets, not just all one way that we just one way that man has decided is the only way to love someone, the only way you should or could. Love comes in so many different ways and so many different colors and shapes and sizes, and love is real and love is the truest thing we can ever want in life. And so, how could we create art and say that it is art for all when you don't have everybody in it and everybody shown in their life?"
"In regards to my character, I think it's also important to show this type of person who doesn't consider themself a certain way that society says he should be or who he should be, that society is deciding who he should be," he continued. "Because there are plenty of men who struggle with their identity in that sense, because they don't know where they fit in. And in a sense, you don't have to choose. As long as happiness is within you, love is there, it doesn't matter when anyone wants to put a title on or whatever, whatever, you can put a title if you want to put a title, but ultimately you don't have to choose and you can be free, man. You can break yourself free of that bondage to be some type of thing that ultimately is killing you to be. And I'm grateful to be able to be a vessel to tell that story."
As he continues to star in The Chi, James also has a lot more on deck as well. He'll star in Broadway's Thoughts of a Colored Man this fall. The multihyphenate also says future blockbusters are on his radar.
"Man, I just want to be a part of blockbuster hits," he said. "But blockbuster hits that mean something and [that] we can look at and be proud of. And so far I've been doing things in that range and I'm grateful. And yeah, I want to have fun in that sense. I want to do some things that really lend to history and telling our history and whatnot, like Broadway. It's an all-Black cast, Black producers, Black directors, writers...that is exciting. And I am scared as s**t, [laughs], but I'm excited as hell. And I want to continue to expand my territory and do things like that. What it is? I don't know. But so far music, film, and we'll see what else happens next. I just want to keep growing and having the best time as possible and hopefully helping people to find some sense of self within what we do."
Listen to the full episode below:
Season 4 of The Chi airs weekly on Showtime.