The second season of Donald Glover’s award-winning FX sitcom Atlanta returned earlier this month with a bang. Earn (Glover), Al/Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) and Van (Zazie Beetz) are back with another round of shenanigans, this time for Robbin Season.
One of the other standout stars so far of this go-round is RJ Walker, who plays an up-and-coming rapper named Clark County, who is also a contemporary of Paper Boi.
Charming, radio-friendly, personable and probably eerily similar to one of your favorite rappers, Clark County seems to be the antithesis of Paper Boi. But, as viewers have begun to discover, there is more than meets the eye to Clark County.
This is a breakout role for Walker, a former Dancing with the Stars transcriber with recent guest spots over the past year or so on shows like Major Crimes and Castle. After his standout performance here, you’re sure to see a lot more of him.
Photo: Denisha Anderson
In a recent interview with Shadow and Act, Walker spoke about his character in Atlanta, the social media chatter about who his character is inspired by, working with Donald Glover and much more.
“They (his team) called me about an audition for Atlanta, I saw the character and he seemed like a cool guy because, at first glance he’s just this cool guy, but as people have seen, he’s got a lot more layers than that. I got the callback, and had to do a couple of more scenes and my agent told me that Donald Glover had to choose who was Clark County. I did the callback and they chose me. The rest is history,” he said.
When asked to how it was working with the multi-hyphenate Glover, Walker couldn’t put it into words. “I can’t even….It’s hard to describe that feeling,” he said. “I’ve been following Donald Glover since he was doing online skits on YouTube. To go from watching him on that to watching his ascension, to going to his concerts out in Joshua Tree, to actually working with him...it’s nuts.”
Walker went on to describe Glover as a genius. “He’s a genius without trying too hard. That’s what Donald is. When I first met him, we were sitting down at like 6 or 7 in the morning and we were talking about stuff like college...pasta...just random things. It was chill.
But when it came to doing the work and fanning out, it was a process for the actor. “I was trying to toe the line of not being too much for a fan on set, because yes I’m a fan, but I came here to work and he hired me to work and he’s counting on me to work. So at the same time I was like okay, I’ve got to stay focused. I was trying to not embarrass myself, but sometimes I would get too self-conscious about what I say. But that went all out the window when we went to work and we came up with some great stuff.”
As for the persona and style of Clark County, many on social media think that the rapper is the Atlanta cinematic universe’s Chancellor Bennett, aka Chance the Rapper. Walker finds all of the theories hilarious. “It’s funny. I was on Instagram and someone was like. ‘Oh snap, it’s Evil Chance!’ Some people even thought it was Kyle. As far as wardrobe, I can get why people would think Chance, just because Donald Glover is cool with Chance and I was wearing overalls. Also, you can’t name too many rappers who dress like that. But I don’t know Chance or Kyle personally, so I can’t speak on the similarities. When it came to Clark County and his persona, i was just like OK, he’s smart and he has an image, but he also has a little temper and a devious side to him. I just wanted to make Clark his own thing as far as personality because I’d be wrong to say he’s a Chance parody because I don’t know him.”
“I talked to my father about the character...because the most anxious thing is what your parents think about what you’re doing (laughs). And my dad was like ‘your character kind of reminds me of his own version of ‘The Godfather.’ It was very interesting that he said that, because ‘The Godfather’ doesn’t do too much to get his hands dirty. He has that image -- people come to him and love him, but if something needs to get done he has people who will do it. And with Clark County, has his right hand man and other homies who will get the job done. And in that studio scene...I loved doing that scene. I get to be like ‘It’s all love, but I got my guy right there and if we have an issue, it can be handled.”
One scene featuring Walker’s Clark County is arguably one of the biggest moments of Atlanta so far this season. It is a Yoohoo commercial, in which the rapper performs a jingle, similar to the recent, real-life commercials with Lil Yachty for Sprite, or Chance with Kit-Kat.
A few days after the episode’s airing, a repost on Instagram from Lakeith Stanfield further solidified the segment’s virality. Walker says he figured that the parody commercial would be a hit.
“Honestly I did know. Before we shot it, I was like, this is going to go viral. I spoke it,” he said.
Walker described how the jingle came about. “I was at one of the table reads in Atlanta and Donald comes up to me he’s like like, ‘Do you rap?’ And I’m like, ‘A little bit, I’m not a rapper like you. But I can do something (laughs). He was like, ‘Yeah me and my brother came up with this song about YooHoo. It’s like a jingle and we want to incorporate it. I was like, ‘Let’s get it, let’s do it.’ He sent it to me and all the while Donald was saying it’s simple, I was like, it’s kind of hot though! Its catchy, it’s simple and it’s fun. I got to love it. He was downplaying it, so I studied, it studied, It studied it. So when we got on set, I just let loose. I wanted to make this dope. I was taking it so serious. When they yelled cut everyone was quiet. I thought I did something bad, but everyone was like this is going to be good! All credit goes to Donald and Steve (Glover). I had to breathe life into Clark County but they are the musical geniuses behind that jingle.”
As far Clark County’s stay in Atlanta, Walker says this is an extended trip. “Clark County is not done yet. We’re going to see more of him. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but trust me, we’ve got some more to go. It’s going to be really dope.”
Walker has a lot of new projects he’s working on too, including a supporting role in the thriller film Spinning Man which stars Guy Pearce, Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver.
He also has a lot of projects up his sleeve which he can’t speak on right now, wrestling with what he can and can’t reveal during our conversation. But he did say, “I’m working on a Netflix project and It’s a fun role where I’ll play an artist and a dancer. It’s cool because I came in the game dancing. I’ve been grinding for a minute now and people are seeing me now as Clark County, but I’m exciting for this project, it is a comedy project with amazing female comedians and writers. I can show another side of RJ Walker and I can add to my repertoire of content and I’m excited for you guys to see it.”
He’s also down for Atlanta Season 3. “Would I be down for Season 3? (laughs) Man, it’s Atlanta!” he responded.
“I was talking to someone on Instagram, and guy said Atlanta is like the Seinfeld of our generation. And that was one of the most interesting parallels I’ve heard, because its saying that it is a show that black people can do what we are doing. We can just be us. We’re dope and we can be dope in real light. I’d love to be back on the show like that but I’m just blessed to be even part of it.”
Atlanta airs Thursdays on FX.