Sacramento native Keith Powers boasts a half-million swooning Instagram followers, thanks to his roles in two critically acclaimed musical biopics, Straight Outta Compton and The New Edition Story. Now the 24-year-old actor is romancing Bella Thorne in the new television drama Famous in Love, which premieres April 18 on Freeform (formerly ABC Family). He shares a few choice anecdotes, like how he learned to bust a move from Ronnie DeVoe and that awkward moment when he met Dr. Dre.
How would you describe the new show? People are calling it the next Pretty Little Liars. It has Pretty Little Liars nuances because Marlene King [produces both programs], so you’ll get those thrills, but it’s a fresh new show of its own. The only show I can say it’s close to is Entourage. Another one is Gossip Girl, because of the lies, the scandal, the sexiness. [Bella Thorne plays a college student and aspiring actress who gets cast opposite Powers’ character in a Twilight-like movie, and becomes torn romantically between him and a longtime guy friend.] If you want to see what an actress can go through after gaining overnight success, watch Famous in Love, because it’s so accurate. You get to see what she goes through, still wanting to be in school and dealing with fame. And then it gets dark and goes to a whole other place.
Your character, Jordan Wilder, sports a black eye. He’s the series’ bad boy, isn’t he? Jordan is not really a bad boy, he’s just a guy who makes mistakes, but the negatives get put on front street more than the positives. Jordan is the type not to interact with many others because of people throwing his name in dirt, but once you get to know [him], he has a lot of substance—he’s a cares-so-much type of guy. One mistake [in particular] haunts him: he moved in on his best friend’s girlfriend. What I love about the show is we get a chance to love and hate something about every character, and at the same time we can relate to all of them because they’re not perfect.
Speaking of relatable, you are awfully cozy with your fans on Twitter and Instagram—you answer many tweets personally. Can you keep it up now that your star is rising? I’ve always been a people person. With social media you have the luxury of reaching out to people directly. Once you have them, whatever you feed them they’ll take with an open heart. So I think it’s important. There are some who are grandfathered in and don’t have to do that—the Denzels, the Will Smiths, the Leonardo DiCaprios, the Channing Tatums. But things have changed, and social media has taken a primary role in the entertainment industry. It’s part of the job. I try to look at most tweets, but ever since The New Edition Story came out [on BET in January], my Twitter account has been in a shambles, and my Instagram too—the comments sections are crazy. So I’ve readjusted.
Let’s talk about The New Edition Story, in which you played group member Ronnie DeVoe, and Straight Outta Compton, about the rap group N.W.A.—you played Dr. Dre’s late brother, Tyree. What was it like portraying these real people? Playing Tyree was like playing a fictional character because people didn’t know him. Dr. Dre made a song about his brother on the 2001 album, [but] I got to introduce the character. But people know Ronnie—he’s still breathing and walking around. So people could pick out when I wasn’t authentic right off the bat.
Did you get to meet Ronnie? We met all of New Edition—they were there when we were learning the dance moves. We had New Edition boot camp [where] we basically had to shadow them—we had to keep up. It was good and bad: good because we’d get everything straight from the source, and bad when they’d come on set and say, “Aw, I would have never said that!” So it got a little tricky. Ronnie always gave me feedback. At first I couldn’t learn to dance, and he made it easy for me and kept my head on straight, rooting me on. That always felt good.
If you’d been a teenager in the ’80s or ’90s, whose poster would you have had on your wall, N.W.A.’s or New Edition’s? Definitely both, because I heard a lot of R&B growing up, [and] a lot of West Coast hip-hop—that was the time when West Coast and East Coast were beefin’. You’ve got the best of both worlds with those two. [New Edition’s] music is so timeless. I don’t think “Can You Stand the Rain” will ever be an old song. That’s one of the greatest songs of all time.
What was it like meeting Dr. Dre for the first time, when you’d been hired to play his late brother in the movie? It was awkward at first. We met at LA Center Studios. He didn’t want to look at me—he’d look at me, then look away. He was probably thinking, “Wow, this dude looks like my little brother!” I’d look at him, then he’d look at me, then I’d get shy. Then it was like, “This is going to be good.” Then, “All right, let’s do this!” And my middle name is Tyree, which was his brother’s name—it’s funny how things work out. [Dr. Dre] was one of my idols growing up, one of my heroes, so it’s dope I got to play his little brother.
Your character’s death is a big emotional turning point in the movie. [Tyree] idolized his big brother. He just wanted to be with his big brother at a time when N.W.A. was hot, but his mom said “No, you’re in school, you’ve got to focus on that.” And right when Dr. Dre was about to let him come [on a tour], that’s when he passed away. [Tyree was killed in a street fight in 1989 at the age of 21.] That’s what hurt, because, man, he just wanted to go on the tour. It’s always a sensitive subject talking about that with Dr. Dre, because he probably thinks about that all the time. I’m just glad I was able to show people his little brother because of this movie.
Was your mom protective of you like Tyree and Dr. Dre’s? I think all moms are—but my mom wasn’t overprotective. When [my siblings and I] were young we were always outside on our bikes and we’d be gone for hours. That was our vibe. But we obeyed our parents, so my mom trusted us.
What kind of childhood did you have? I had a very normal childhood, a fun childhood. I grew up in South Sacramento and went to high school in Elk Grove. I thank God [for] the childhood I had because I think it helps my acting. I was able to experience natural things that I think all kids should experience. You should go outside and [pop] wheelies on your bike and fall down and scrape your knee. I got to play basketball after school for hours, climb mountains, go out into the fields. There was no care in the world. I think a lot of parents suffocate their kids, and when they get out into the real world they don’t know how to act.
You played wide receiver in high school, and had plans to go into the NFL. I definitely had aspirations, but it didn’t work out, and I’m glad because I love what I do. Looking back, I didn’t love sports as much as I thought I did. You grow up thinking you can play sports for the rest of your life, but you have to work at it, and I wasn’t putting in the work. But acting I love, and I put in the work.
Your family still lives in South Sacramento. Do you get home much? I come up for holidays and birthdays. I stay with my grandparents, my mom—I hop from house to house. Everything has changed in Sacramento, but at the same time it’s still the same. Last time I was there, I was courtside with my mom [at a Kings game at Golden 1 Center]. It was super dope. I was so excited being courtside I didn’t even eat. via. Sactownmag
There’s a deep
irony in a film as gigantic The Lost City of Z being distributed
by a company like Amazon. We live in an
era where it is easier than ever to watch new movies without having to go to a
theater to pay for a ticket. Companies
like Netflix and Amazon are soon to be releasing critically acclaimed movies like Mudbound
and The Big Sick on streaming that will be in contention for next years awards.
worth admiring about this, more people than ever can watch new releases without
having to pay lots of money to find small, art house theaters. Staying at home to watch big films is definitely more convenient.
But with this
change in the way we view in cinema, I wonder if something is lost? Since the dawn of filmmaking, the vision has
always been creating this otherworldly, interactive experience between the
movie and the audience. There’s magic in
the idea of walking into a giant dark room with complete strangers and sharing
a work of art together. Some films don’t
deserve to be seen for the first time in any other way.
If you disagree, I recommend
seeing James Gray’s new movie The
Lost City of Z. It’s a film based on the
true story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie
Hunnam), a British explorer who went searching for the remnants of a
missing ancient city in the Amazonian Jungle.
He faces scrutiny from his peers for his bold theories, but with the
help of his wife (Sienna Miller) and
colleague (Robert Pattinson), he
goes on three expeditions to find the city until his mysterious disappearance
in the jungle with his oldest son (Tom
Holland) in 1925.
I have no previous
experience with James Gray’s filmography, but having seen his latest picture, I
am driven to find every movie that this man has made. The
Lost City of Z is a film with a deep understanding of what it is that makes
us connect with the movies.
The film is as if James
Gray is taking the best elements of various styles of movies and heightening
and then combining them in this film.
The Lost City of Z combines the breathtaking majesty of old studio epic,
the subtlety of a period drama and the breathtaking thrills of an adventure
movie, constantly playing with these three things to produce a movie that feels
Journey Fawcett goes on is larger than life and spans two decades. We see everything from Fawcett’s first
mission into the Amazon to a speculation of what happened to him after he went
missing and the result is a movie that is long in pace, 140 minutes to be
confidence, an indulgence to Gray’s work in this film that’s missing from most
modern cinema. The director isn’t afraid
to make a movie that basks in the grandiose scale of its story and demands the
respect of its audience. He knows that
the story he’s telling is huge and he allows for a flamboyance that never seems
overbearing or unearned.
pulls off this level of cockiness with the help of cinematographer Darius Khondji and composer Christopher Spelman. Staying true to its similarities to the
movies of an older era, The Lost City of
Z is shot on film and boy is it ever.
The darkly lit ballrooms, the strange glow of a boat going down a river
and the shots of Fawcett walking through the forest with the tribes of the
areas he explores, are almost indescribable in their beauty. It’s as though we are right there with them
and we are getting a clear glimpse into this world that no longer exists. It’s like observing a painting where each
images has such richness and texture.
Film can provide an authenticity, a naked
honesty that a lot of digital movies still can’t provide and Gray plays on that
here to provide a work of art that’s simultaneously out of this world and
ingrained in our world. The fight
between digital and film is one that film is clearly losing, but similarly to
the fight between seeing something on a laptop and seeing something in a theater,
Gray is making the case for it while he still can.
And my god, I haven’t
even begun to describe the music. Khondji’s music leaves such a lasting
impression on you after the film has ended.
There isn’t a single beat that isn’t meaningful, that doesn’t feel
designed to create the ultimate love letter to a forgotten craft paved by artists like Bernard Hermann and Ennio Morricone.
soundtrack to a movie like The Lost City
of Z only makes me resent the laziness put into composing the music for a
lot of modern films. Sometimes you hear the music for a recent biopic or action movie and you would think they only thought about it for ten minutes. The music in this movie has heart put
into it and helps carry the viewer further into this unknown land that we
But to praise the
technical elements of this movie for too long feels disrespectful to so much of
what this movie is able to accomplish beyond that. I have highlighted a lot of excellent things
in this movie but making a truly great epic is more than just making a film
that’s big in scale with flawless technical qualities, it’s about displaying a
story that demands the effort. The
Revenant can be as long and pretty look as it wants to be, but that’s a film I
still find pretentious and dull because it contains nothing of substance beneath the surface.
reviewing Pacific Rim in 2013 and
being unimpressed by the lead performance by Charlie Hunnam. After seeing his performance as Percy
Fawcett, I don’t necessarily see him as an amazing actor but I finally
understand his appeal. Within his
performance, he conveys the confidence and masculinity featured in old
performances from actors like Charlton Heston.
But with this role, he’s also allowed to provide an intimacy and a
modern tenderness that’s missing from more classically trained actors.
in Hunnam’s performance, the line between rugged individualism and quiet comforts
of life is the battle at the heart of The
Lost City of Z. The movie argues
that Percy Fawcett’s continued obsession with going into the Amazonian Jungle
and finding his lost city was in part his attempts to escape his place in the
In England, he lives a quiet, ordinary life for
a man of his time period. When he’s
home, he’s bound to same rules and restrictions that tied down most people
living back then. He’s forced to fight
back against people who look down on him for his social class, he’s forced to
fight in a war that he doesn’t want to fight in and he must argue the case for
why the tribes living within the Amazonian Jungles are an advanced society to
people brainwashed by racist colonialism.
But his escape is more than just an attempt
to ignore the limits of his society, his escape is an attempt to ignore the
limits of himself. Despite being
progressive for the time, he has a sexist view of women that allows him to
ignore the hopes and dreams of his wife.
He chooses not to be there for his family, his children grow up while he’s
far away. He preaches that he’s proud to
be an outcast and he doesn’t care about rank or medals, but he’ll gladly receive
awards and praise from his colleagues for his work. Even his treatment of the tribes of the Amazons is questionable. His biggest secret is that he’s not much
better than the people around him.
With this, Fawcett’s
journey into the vast unknown is his way of going to the limits of his world. By charting these unknown lands and
experiencing these things that have been done by no one like him before, he is
trying to avoid the fears that he will become just another person lost to space
and time, another person who live, die, and be forgotten within the miniscule
amount of time that we are given. In his
missing city, he sees redemption from the flaws of being a human being.
attempt to find his lost city is perhaps the ending to his story that he always
wanted. Fawcett never dies, he simply
vanishes without a trace. In disappearing,
he finally becomes the thing that he has been searching for, transcendence from
his reality. Like the city, he becomes a
legend that will never be fully discovered, only leaving bits and pieces behind
for others to search for.
In writing this
review, I realize how smug and hyperbolic my review of this movie is, but I
think that fits with the film. In
the spirit of recent works like Hayou Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises or Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, The Lost City of Z
is about the defiance of time, both in the story and the storytelling.
changing and we are seeing a changing of the guard. In many ways, I choose to accept this. With the death of old Hollywood comes the
death of many of the flaws within it, the lack of diversity, the tyrannical
directors, the misunderstanding of low budget films and the discomfort that
comes with refusing to give in to easier, modern day techniques. There’s so much about embracing new forms of
entertainment and having new ways to watch entertainment that genuinely excites
me and has me looking forward to what the future holds.
But, James Gray’s
The Lost City of Z plays like the final argument for saving a dying art. He uses the best elements of classic cinema
to show an epic story about what it means to live life to the fullest with no
regard for the consequences. Every shot,
every sound, every word is like an artist who’s at the final stage, playing
their instruments like they know that it’s all crumbling around them. This is a film about doing as much as humanly
possible with the little that we are provided.
Five years from now,
ten years from now, the world will be different than what it is now. So, like Fawcett diving into the piranha and
disease infested waters of the Amazonian jungle to reach something just within
his grasp, take time to find things that are worth exploring in the present while
you still can.