'Your Honor' Star Isiah Whitlock Jr. On Playing Complex Characters: 'I Feel Like I Have A Responsibility As An Actor'
Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/SHOWTIME.
Interviews , Television

'Your Honor' Star Isiah Whitlock Jr. On Playing Complex Characters: 'I Feel Like I Have A Responsibility As An Actor'

Isiah Whitlock Jr. knows a thing or two about playing a shady politician. The frequent Spike Lee collaborator is currently starring opposite Bryan Cranston in Showtime’s miniseries, Your Honor. He portrays Charlie, a politician with deep roots in New Orleans’ organized crime world. However, many people will recognize the veteran actor for his work as Clay Davis on HBO’s The Wire.

As slick as the “sh*t” talking Maryland State Senator was, he might not have anything on Charlie. Your Honor follows Michael Desiato (Cranston), a New Orleans based judge who finds himself on a collision course with a mob boss when his son Adam (Hunter Doohan) is involved in a hit and run that leaves the mob boss’ son dead.

Charlie is Michael’s best friend, a man with various ties to the community. Due to his status in the city and loyalty to Michael, he unwittingly finds himself in the middle of a firestorm between Michael’s desperate attempts to cover for Adam and the mob.

“I never see these guys as really being all that crooked,” Whitlock said of Charlie and other devious characters he’s played. “I mean, they really are truly politicians. The thing I love about Charlie is he is committed. He’s committed to Michael, and he would do anything for Michael to protect him and protect his son once he understands the situation and what’s going on. And that was one of the things that jumped out at me. I just don’t want people to just dismiss Charlie as a crooked politician. He is a human being who really cares about his best friend. I hope that people can walk away wishing that they had a friend like Charlie, who would go that extra mile to be in their lives. That being said, it does move me toward doing some things that are just not very nice and right. But I have to walk that fine line.”

Amid the current Black Lives Matter movement, there has been much talk about white privilege and the disparities that BIPOC faces in all walks of life that do not affect our white counterparts. Your Honor is a searing reminder of this. “I wasn’t too shocked by it,” Whitlock said of the show closely mirroring real life. “I was pretty amazed. I was amazed that we were presenting this type of dilemma. Everything else after that became necessary. Finally, we have a show, and there’s a few others out there, that lifts the curtain and shows just how broken the justice system is and at times just how corrupt.”

While this is certainly not Whitlock’s first time playing someone like Charlie, he did find some real-life inspiration in Former Speaker of the California State Assembly Willie Brown. “I was discussing the role with the costume designer, and we were talking about making my character sort of this flashy guy, flashy clothes with different colors and things like that, that would giving that New Orleans flare,” he explained. “And I said, ‘You know, this reminds me of that politician I knew out of San Francisco by the name of Willie Brown.’ And I did a little research. I said, ‘I want to make this like him because he was a great politician.’ I wanted to get that swagger, and there was a confidence, and there was a body language that when he was in the room, you knew he was in the room. I remember at the time just admiring that, and I’m talking about going way back, but he has such a presence. I wanted to take Charlie to have that kind of presence.”

After over four decades in the industry, Whitlock has one specific approach for each role that he takes on. “When I approached those roles, I’d just say, ‘I’ll try to make it as believable and as honest as I possibly can,’ because to me, that’s the only way you’re ever going to get the message across. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in some great projects where I’ve been able to do that, to foster that message and move things along. Looking back on it, it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I have been able through my work to make this a better place. I feel like I have a responsibility as an actor, and I’ve held up my end to be able to create some of these characters and show the complexity that a lot of these characters go through, that they are human beings, that they’re not just some figures out there running around.”

Your Honor airs on Sundays at 10 PM ET/PT.

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