Chris Chalk has a vivid history of spectacular characters that he has portrayed for us on the big screen, television, and even stage. I was blessed with the chance to chat with Chris about some of the details of his latest projects which include USA’s “Complications” where he plays the role of Darius Bishop, second-in-command of the Vine City Crew and more or less Dr. John Ellison’s handler. Chris also appeared in the Season 1 finale of FOX’s “Gotham” and was announced as a series regular for Season 2 last month. On “Gotham” he plays Lucius Fox, a junior executive at Wayne Enterprises and one of young Bruce Wayne’s mentors going forward. In addition, I chatted with Chris about what he looks for in a role and what he hopes the audience learns from the characters he plays.
You’ve got a lot of work under your belt now with “Complications” airing, and you recently returned to filming on Gotham as well, right?
What was it like to return to the Gotham set and as a series regular at that?
“Oh, it’s so cool. I’m such a comic book nerd. Just working on Gotham in general is very, very exciting. Then to come back to a bunch of people who are just so grateful to be a part of an awesome show. There’s always the options, which I’ve never had in my life, but you hear stories of people who aren’t grateful to work. These people are just so grateful to work, and we keep getting better and better scripts. To come into that environment is very exciting.”
Awesome! So you were familiar with the character (Lucius Fox) before you accepted the role?
“Oh yeah! Of course I was! I’m not the nerd who was smart enough to keep his comics in plastic bags. I’m the nerd who destroyed his comics trying to draw the characters, and I look back and regret every single comic I’ve destroyed [laughs].”
Yeah, I’ve been there. Sounds like me.
“Yeah. Oh, so annoying!”
It’s definitely something though in this day and age to see everything coming to the big screen.
“Isn’t that the coolest though man? This is like – I didn’t love the Avengers movie, the last one, but keep ’em coming!”
Absolutely. It’s a great age to be a nerd.
“It’s just wonderful.”
What’s it like to work on something like Gotham that’s so in-the-spotlight and sacred to so many?
“Well, for me, it’s kind of the same as working on anything. I trust my work ethic, and what I bring to the table. I just bring it. Then, I let the powers that be guide me to be a little better. It’s exciting. It’s fun. I get to bring my take to Lucius Fox. I get to bring my take to Darius Bishop which will be different from your take and everyone else’s take. It’s exciting to bring me in to everything that I get to do.”
You’ve had several other prominent roles to include: Jody Adair, one of my personal favorites from “Justified”, Tom Walker, Gary Cooper, and of course now, Darius Bishop on “Complications”. I guess this is one of those generic questions you probably get tired of, but “what initially drew you to the role of Darius?”
“I saw the pilot actually. They sent me the pilot. The first hour of the show which they shot a year before. USA is usually like Blue Skies, and I think the motto is something like, “Blue skies and happiness or something.” That’s not it, but it’s something like that. It’s just not something I would normally watch, but the people who run USA now are really evolving it into some very interesting things. The things before were interesting. It just wasn’t my kind of interesting. This is along with that new line of interesting television programming.
Once I saw the pilot, I met with Matt Nix. Matt Nix, the way that he described Darius, had everything to do with him being a human before being black and before being a gang member. That’s exciting when the person that writes it has the same intention that I bring to my characters. He’s a guy who loves something, and that’s most important. Then his circumstances are that he’s a black dude. He’s an educated black dude. He’s a gang member. How did he become a gang member? Exploring all that and having the room to explore all that, was what was very exciting to me.”
Well, I think most agree that you’re doing an absolutely amazing job especially with the heated moments from Thursday’s episode and everything before that. I can’t wait to see what else is in store. As Darius, you play second in command to Anthony Hyatt’s Ezera Tyler, and Darius is the one running the Vine City Crew while EZ is behind bars. How would you say Darius’ leadership differs from that of EZ?
“Darius took it reluctantly. He didn’t want to be the leader. He wasn’t really next in command at the time. It’s just that they have the same idea of family first. Take care of people. Keep as many people alive as possible. I think because Ezera is such a large presence, he probably didn’t have to be as violent. He seems to have less of a temper.
Darius can have little flashes of anger to regulate people’s behavior, but he’s also a very patient man. Because there are people who would have killed Dr. Ellison by now. I think EZ put me in charge because I know what’s best for the whole group as opposed to what serves me in the moment. If I’m mad, I know that I still have to take care of so many people, so I’ll do that first.”
Which of your characters would you say is the most like you and why?
“Oh. Wow. Which of my characters is most like me? That’s interesting. I don’t know. None of them! No. Who’s the most like me? There has to be an answer. The answer would be … Man, there’s been so many. Maybe Darius? But not the gang banging violent part, but the I love my family. I’d do almost anything for them. I’m about the business of the everyday life of trying to be the best person I can be every day. I think Darius is also that. I mean, I’m not going to kill anybody. I’m not very Gary Cooper like. He was a little more, a little too pent up. I’m not Tom Walker. That’s no. Yeah. I’d say Darius. I might just be saying that because that’s the one I did recently, but it feels like maybe Darius.”
In addition to the well-respected television and film career, you also started on Broadway if I’m correct? Before landing your role on Law & Order?
“I did. I did a lot of theater. I did a lot of Off-Off-Broadway, and then some Off-Broadway. Then Broadway. I did Fences with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, and some other amazing people.”
Looking back now, what was that transition like from stage acting to screen acting?
“Well, I had been doing those Law & Orders and all that at the same time I was doing theater. There’s no real transition. People always ask, “What’s the difference?” I don’t think there’s much of a difference besides the fact that there’s a camera right next to you, and there’s a whole audience to fill in a play.
The results of it is different. You get the instant feedback of the theater as opposed to the delayed feedback in films and TV, so that makes the energy of it different. But the actual, “What I have to do to prepare to become the character?”, is kind of the same thing. They both are equally as easy and equally as hard and require different disciplines. I don’t know. That’s a weird answer to your question. It’s kind of a non-answer.”
What is something that you hope the audience learns from your portrayal of Darius in “Complications”? What is something that you’ve learned from playing the character?
“Something that I would hope the audience learns from my portrayal of Darius is: That everyone they see, every day on the street, they should remember that they’re a human being first. We have our prejudices and our own fears, and that’s what we end up filtering our whole life experience through which sometimes aren’t very generous. We aren’t always the most generous when we do that.
When I go to Texas, I may see a group of white dudes wearing Confederate flags. I may not get to figure out who they are as individuals out of my own fears. I hope that when people see people similar to Darius or anybody that they don’t assume what they’re experience will be with them. I hope they give everybody a chance. Not stupidly. You don’t go into the middle of a gang fight and say, “Hey, I’d love to get to know you.”
You can’t assume everybody that wears a doo rag is a gang member. It just helps keep people’s hair down. Hopefully, it just gives people a little more perspective on humanity. What I took away from Darius is probably the very same thing. It’s that because I’ve played a few people who have been on stage and on-screen inmates, the prisoners. It’s a slippery slope.
We all, well, not we all, a lot of people have stolen things whether it be candy or a car. Sometimes, you just didn’t get caught. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It means that one terrible decision on a night could change your entire life. That’s probably what I learned from Darius. He quit school to take care of his family. He didn’t want to go around being a gang member. He just had to do what he had to do to take care of the people that he loved. That gave me a bit more perspective on how I perceive people. How I portray the people I get to play.”
That’s…wow. That’s definitely something that I agree with, and I appreciate that answer. What an answer to leave off on!