THE CHI is now in its fourth season, Sunday nights on Showtime. Created by Lena Waithe, THE CHI is set on the south side of Chicago, and follows the intertwined lives of a number of families.
Best friends Kevin Williams (Alex R. Hibbert), Stanley “Papa” Jackson (Shamon Brown Jr.), and Jake Taylor (Michael Epps) are now in high school.
Kevin and Papa have stable home lives. Jake’s is considerably more complicated. Jake was being raised by his brother Reg (Barton Fitzpatrick), a gang member who was ultimately assassinated on orders from his boss, Otis “Douda” Perry (Curtiss Cook). Douda wants to take Jake under his wing, even as he becomes Mayor of Chicago.
However, in THE CHI’s Season 3, Jake’s other brother Trig (Luke James), who has done a stint in prison, comes to town. Trig steps up to take care of younger sibling Jake and keep him out of Douda’s direct influence. This means Trig has to work for Douda, who gets Jake into to a prestigious high school, along with gifted student Kevin.
Standing by Trig throughout all this is his steadfast girlfriend Imani, played by Jasmine Davis in her first major acting role. Imani is a hairdresser, but she accepts taking on a maternal role with Jake. She’s less thrilled about Trig opening up their home to an old prison buddy.
Davis is a former model and current singer/songwriter. As a transgender woman portraying a transgender woman, Davis says she feels a responsibility to represent her community.
Speaking by phone from Chicago, Davis discusses all things Imani.
ASSIGNMENT X: Were you familiar with THE CHI before you got involved in the show as a performer?
JASMINE DAVIS: I wasn’t as familiar with the show before I got involved, because I didn’t really watch that much TV during the time that I think THE CHI premiered . I watched a few episodes, because I wanted to support my city when I found out it was a show called THE CHI, but other than that, I didn’t really dive in deep how I know my family [did]. My family were big fans of THE CHI. When they found out I was on it, they were telling me all about the characters. I’m like, “Oh, my God. I cannot believe I was not invested like they are.”
AX: Is your family supportive of you being an actor?
DAVIS: Oh, totally, now. My family never was not supportive. I think it was just, “Whatever you decide, I just hope you love it” [laughs].
AX: What made you decide to expand from modeling to acting?
DAVIS: As I started modeling, I started getting into more videos. I did a couple of rap videos and a couple of song videos. Some of them were big artists. And to me, that was like acting. I was still living in Chicago, but hanging out in L.A. at the time. I had a place in L.A. as well, so I was going back and forth. I finished up [taking classes with the comedy troupe] Second City a few years before that, and I remembered that training, and I was like, “You know what? I want to take another class.” So, I ended up going to that improv place in L.A., Upright Citizens Brigade. My agent also told me, “Maybe do some improv,” because I was booking commercials, and I felt like I’d hit a wall. It was like, “Do some more improv, maybe that will help you out.” And I figured out, it wasn’t that, it was just because they were submitting me only for trans roles, and I was like, “I’m not booking those. Let me just go back to acting.” And I booked a couple of things, and I ended up diving my feet a little bit, taking my first trans role in L.A.’S FINEST. And when THE CHI came around, I said, “Let’s see what this acting world is about.”
AX: We meet both Imani and Trig in THE CHI Season 3. Did you and Luke James sit down and go have coffee, or just hang out a little bit to feel like you had a relationship, or did you just show up on set, and it’s, “Okay, act like you’ve been together”?
DAVIS: It was basically, “Show up on set, act like you’ve been together.” I was like, “Oh, my God, this is my first big role, and it’s already having an experience that I feel like prepares you for the rest of your life as an actor.” You’re not going to always have that time, and I think he was working on another project, or his music. We met at the [costume] fitting, and then the next time we met was when we were walking into a trap house [the set for a drug dealer’s home] for the very first time, and we had to act like we had chemistry. We had no time to go over anything. We went to lunch once, but that was after Episode 5. But other than that, we had to do it on our own. My schedule was busy, his schedule was busy, so it was pretty chaotic [laughs].
AX: We know Trig’s family history, but we don’t know how the couple met. So, did you and Luke James get together and talk with each other about your characters’ back story, how they met, how they got together, and all of that?
DAVIS: No. And we still have not. I was waiting on production to let us know. In my mind, I have just come up with a back story myself, because we still don’t know. So, I came up with my own back story.
AX: With the understanding that THE CHI may give Imani a totally different back story, what is the one you came up with for her yourself?
DAVIS: When Imani was about to leave [in Season 3 – she wound up staying], she talked about having to kill her father [in self-defense, because he tried to kill her] when he found out she was trans. So, my back story was, my mom was getting abused by my dad, and she left me with him, and I never knew he was a violent man until that day. And after that occasion happened with me and my dad, other than that, Imani came from a very stable home. So, that’s what shook things up when she was about, I think I say I was about fourteen when that happened, when she killed her dad, and she was out on her own ever since. And I think that me and Trig met at one of my shops, way out in Kankakee. I made it seem like Imani was from California. She ran away to Chicago, she wanted a different setting, and ended up in Kankakee owning a shop, and that’s where she met Trig, who was fresh out of jail.
AX: When we saw Imani at the end of Season 3, she was preparing to parent Jake. Trig had reached a sort of compromise with Douda, but Trig seemed to have an idea that he was going to maybe shake things up from there. So, what does Imani know of Trig’s plans, and does she agree with him?
DAVIS: Imani does not agree with Trig’s plan of mingling with Douda, but a decision was made, and Imani is very loyal, so she’s going to go along with Trig [to keep him] out of trouble, as much as she can.
AX: Have you worked much with Michael Epps, who plays Trig’s high school student brother Jake?
DAVIS: Oh, I love him. He’s such a sweet kid. I hang out with his mom. We are friends, we text each other. And she’s always with him, so it was great to have that relationship with a kid who’s on set. Especially when you’re having those scenes, when you’re educating them, or in this season, you’re going to be parenting them, I just found that it was better for me and my character, and better for him, because I feel like we developed a relationship, that we can trust each other when it comes to what I’m going to bring, and what he’s going to bring. It’s great as an actor.
AX: Have you had any input into Imani’s style?
DAVIS: Her hair. Last year, I was very restricted on input, because I think they were trying to figure Imani out. I think it was a trial run to see if the audience was going to take to her. I really didn’t have any input on my clothing. But this year, I have lots of input on my hair. It’s totally improved. As far as my clothing, I love the clothes that I have, because I get to say yea or nay this year if I like something, but it’s all been yea, because my new stylist is more fashion-forward, and me coming in as a model – I previously modeled, I wanted to go back to modeling, I’m like, “I want to do something very fashionable.” And [the stylist] is so on it with the styles, I can’t wait for everyone to see the clothes. They’re beautiful, they’re stylish, they’re chic, they’re a little edgy, they’re funky, they’re sexy. It’s all the things.
AX: You said that the producers/network were hanging back to see what the reaction to Imani would be. What has been the reaction?
DAVIS: I was told by one of the producers that I became one of the fan favorites, and I did not know that. Because, like I say, they were writing me in as Season 3 was airing. Literally, we didn’t know if I was going to have five episodes. I didn’t even think I was going to last three. The network, or me, neither one of us, I felt like, knew the reaction it was going to be. But the more, I felt like, the network fell in love with Imani and the way I was portraying her, the more I fell in love with her. So, I became one of the fan favorites, as they say.
AX: As far as Imani’s hair, how has that changed, and what is Imani expressing through that?
DAVIS: I think she has a better quality of hair. She’s expressing her individuality, how she likes to switch things up, how she has different layers to her, because you always see her switching up her hair. And that’s one of the cool things about Imani. She is a multifaceted person. She’s not one-dimensional, you can’t put her in a box. She loves to experiment with things, and that’s one of many things that I’m so happy that I really got to experience, with a lot of cool hairstyles this year.
AX: Do we see much more of Imani’s world this season? Because in Season 3, there was a scene at a bar, but mostly, so far, we’ve seen Imani in Trig’s world.
DAVIS: Yeah, exactly. I keep getting that question. Without giving a lot away, I’m just going to say, we see who Imani is and what she stands for this year. And I think fans are going to love it. I mean, I love it.
AX: What’s been the most complicated aspect of playing Imani for you?
DAVIS: Oh, that’s a good question. The most complicated aspect is getting into those multiple layers that she has. She’s so layered, and I’m such a layered person as well, so it made me have to be more authentic in who I am, to get into her world and not be afraid – and even if I was afraid, actually still dig in deep to figure out, how can I tell her story truthfully? How can I get the courage to find the truth to what she’s trying to portray?
AX: What’s been the most enjoyable or satisfying aspect of playing Imani?
DAVIS: Her ability to be unapologetically who she is. She gets noticed. I always tell people, “Imani – if you had to give her a hashtag, it would be #NoF***s.” She does not care what people think of her. And she stands for good things. That’s what I love about her. She stands for good things. She wants the best for everyone.
AX: Do you have any other projects going on that we should know about?
DAVIS: I’m working on music right now that will be dropping in the next month or two. As far as acting things, I can’t say. I have some things up in the air, but it all depends on if we come back for a Season 5, and how that deal will be, so I can’t say.
AX: When you you’re say you’re working on music, are you a singer, are you a musician, are you a songwriter …?
DAVIS: I’m definitely a songwriter. My mom would say I was writing songs when I was seven or eight. I enjoy it. I get the music in my head, and I think of a concept, and I just write. And I never knew that that was a skill, I thought it was something that everyone was able to do. So, I’m a singer/songwriter, and a rapper, now. I didn’t even realize I wanted to be a rapper, but one of the ladies on the show, Miriam [A. Hyman], who plays Dre, she’s a rapper, so I was going in the studio with her, listening to her rap, and she inspired me. I ended up writing a whole EP of rap songs, so I’m going to put them out.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about your work on THE CHI?
DAVIS: That I do my best to represent my community in the best light possible, I do my best to shed light on girls like me, especially trans women, especially trans women of color, that we are human. We have a universal story, just like everyone else. We just want to be loved, and we want to love, and we hope for the best for everyone.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview: Jasmine Davis on Season 4 of the Showtime series THE CHI