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Derrex Brady debated N-word dialogue with 'Johnson' creators

Derrex Brady plays Jarvis Johnson in Johnson. Photo courtesy of Bounce TV
Derrex Brady plays Jarvis Johnson in "Johnson." Photo courtesy of Bounce TV

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Derrex Brady said he struggled with a scene in the pilot for his new series Johnson, which premieres Sunday on Bounce, in which the show's four leads discuss the N-word. Jarvis Johnson (Brady) suggests that White people are tired of hearing Black people talk about the N-word.

"I had a tough time with that line," Brady said.

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Brady said he discussed his feelings on the line with Johnson creator Deji LaRay and executive producer Thomas Q. Jones. The actor said he came to understand why Jarvis expressed the perspective he did.

Jarvis and his three lifelong friends, Omar Johnson (Jones), Greg Johnson (LaRay) and Keith Johnson (Philip Smithney), discuss the word over a game of pool. While Jarvis's friends are offended when White people appropriate the N-word, Jarvis feels kids are getting mixed messages because popular music still uses it liberally in its lyrics.

"They're the ones that are buying the most rap songs and the N-word is in most rap songs," Brady said. "So it makes sense why they would be saying the lyrics of the song to say that word."

The N-word is one topic with which Brady disagrees with his character. Brady said he believes society should continue talking about the problem with the N-word.

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"There are so many triggers that come with that word," Brady said. "That word is still so impactful and powerful that it can light a torch within a second of saying it. So I think more people need to be educated."

However, Brady said he was committed to his character. Since Jarvis believed he and his friends could back off the N-word, Brady said he was able to deliver Jarvis's perspective convincingly.

"When I dive in, I try to dive in and totally encapsulate that character," Brady said. "I have my own views, I understand the character has their views, but I try to find some type of middle ground or at least understanding."

The four main characters on Johnson coincidentally share the last name, Johnson, and grew up together. Now adults, they navigate their friendship with the various relationships they have.

Jarvis is the only married Johnson. Omar is going through a divorce and custody battle. Greg is just getting serious with his girlfriend, and Keith is pining for a woman with whom he works.

Brady said Johnson also offers an opportunity to present multiple views on relationships. Jarvis's wife, Lisa (Jessica Luza), asks Jarvis to spend more time with her friends.

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"Is it fair for a woman to have a say on who her husband's friends are?" Brady asked. "We also look at what love looks like for men and women."

As with the N-word discussion, the four lead characters of Johnson offer four different perspectives on every topic.

"Having multiple perspectives is what's going to create dialogue," Brady said. "You want to bring others into the fold so that they can get the perspective and learn from it."

Jarvis also is a real estate broker with a struggling business in Atlanta. He wears suits from Zara and Calvin Klein, and plays along when his clients call him Jamal by mistake.

"At the end of the day, he's trying not to mess up his money," Brady said. "So he's trying to laugh it off and be cool with it."

Brady said he could relate to Jarvis being called Jamal. Brady said his legal name is spelled Darexx, but he changed the spelling when people in the business mispronounced it.

"I kind of give a little explanation with it," Brady said. "It's Derrex, just think plural. Then it's always a ha-ha laugh and they get it."

Brady began acting with the role of teenager Ajoni Williams on the Lifetime drama Any Day Now. Beginning in 1998, the show ran for four seasons.

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Before acting, Brady was a dancer for artists like Ralph Tresvant and Sheryl Lee. Brady also was a member of the rap group Project X.

Brady said his music manager connected him with an acting agent. Johnson is his first leading role in a series after recurring on Any Day Now, guest spots on shows like In Plain Sight, Strong Medicine, NCIS and roles in movies S1m0ne and The Space Between.

LaRay, Jones, Brady and Smithney filmed the pilot episode of Johnson four years ago, Brady said. Brady said they refilmed the first episode for Bounce, with new material to establish a 10-episode first season.

"Dialogue had shifted, updated, changed," Brady said. "The premise was still there, but we reshot everything."

Johnson airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EDT on Bounce.

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