Lawrence talks learning how to freestyle, “Underground” possibly coming to Netflix and his admiration for Issa Rae and Prodigy
Brooklyn born actor, Rayan Lawrence is not new to starring in notable films and television series such as “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” “Blue Bloods,” and “Ironside” with Blair Underwood; and indie flick “Pimp” with Keke Palmer and DMX. Lawrence is an established actor who stars in series “Underground,” where he plays an abolitionist named Elliot. Fans had the chance to see the actor in a different light as he portrayed Treach, the lead rapper of the acclaimed hip hop group Naughty by Nature, in “All Eyez on Me.”
Directed by famous film and music video director, Benny Boom, “All Eyez On Me” follows the life of Tupac Shakur: the rapper, actor, poet and activist.
The native New Yorker talked to the Los Angeles Sentinel about his depiction of Anthony “Treach” Criss and how growing up in the golden age of 90s hip hop helped to relate to his character as well the film as a whole.
Los Angeles Sentinel (LAS): Hip-hop trio, Naughty by Nature are pioneers to the foundation of rap music. How did you land the role of Treach?
Rayan Lawrence (RL): I worked with casting director, Winsome Sinclair. She knew about this role and brought me in to meet the director and we got an audition and a couple of weeks later, they called me and said that I got it.
LAS: Treach had an unwavering loyalty to Tupac throughout his time in the music industry. To capture the essences of the rapper and his friendship with Shakur, what was the process you took to prepare for this role? How did you feel to help bring Tupac’s life and music to the big screen?
RL: A couple of years before I knew about the role, I remember a friend of mine freestyling every day and I said ‘hey man let me start freestyling with you.’ So I started doing this before I even knew about the movie. At the time, we were having fun. But somehow when it came up and someone told me about the role, I then learned that I had to freestyle in the movie. I was able to practice before I got to rap in the movie. When I started getting into the role, I looked at the movie, “Juice” (1992), where they both starred in the film. I researched other projects and music videos that both rappers collaborated on as well as listening to the lyrics that they had.
It was a great experience to have been a part of something so historical because, ‘Pac was one of the most influential rappers of our time on a rap level. He had an impact similar to how Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. had an impact on politics. He did the same using his poetry through rap. I grew up in the 90s too, so to be able to relive that era and wear the clothes from that period was amazing. The music was great and to be able to do that on a political and musical aspect was wonderful.
LAS: During filming, did you connect with Treach, regarding his opinion on your portrayal and reviving that time period?
RL: I did not get to meet Treach. I would see him on occasions at different movie projects and events. But, I didn’t get a chance to talk to him before I was able to do the role, which was unfortunate. However, he did send the director, Benny Boom lyrics for me to freestyle in the movie. That’s how I knew he was on board and also at the same time he wanted to reach out to me, but at that time he was in Atlanta on tour for the 25th anniversary of Naughty by Nature, when we were shooting. I was back in L.A. Throughout the whole process, I didn’t get to meet him.
LAS: While we’re on topic of 90’s rappers, can I get your thoughts on the passing of rapper, Prodigy?
RL: Man …that was East coast, Queens! I grew up listing to Mobb Deep. Prodigy was another influential rapper. It’s unfortunate and it just shows how we have to get our checkups and take care of our health.
LAS: Switching gears, how did you get started as an actor?
RL: I came into this business to model. My first audition was for an ESPN commercial and I ended up booking it. That’s when I saw it as a passion, to be able to dive into another character. Growing up, I wanted to play basketball back in Brooklyn.
LAS: “Underground” was let go from WGN network. There are so many series such as “Dear White People” on streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and so forth, do you see “Underground” going that route?
RL: WGN was going in another direction because they were bought out as well as taking on non-scripted material. That is a part of the reason why we did get canceled. But hopefully we get picked up by another network, I think it is possible. This story needs to be told and a lot of young folks are looking to watch this show. We have a huge fan base that is so passionate about the series. People are still talking about it and it’s wonderful. I do hope we will get picked up. I think John Legend (executive producer) is leading us to it, he is confident that we will be back on air.
Hopefully Netflix [he laughs], there has been rumors for Netflix, that would be nice.
LAS: Your resume and recent role in “All Eyez On Me” is a testament to the journey of a Black actor. What advice can you give to fellow actors looking to book steady gigs and land that dream role?
RL: Never take it personal, its business. I compare acting to NBA Basketball. I have an athletic competitors mind. You have to keep motivating yourself to know that when one door closes another one will open. You’re going to get more no’s than yes because this is how the business works. As an actor, you have to practice and be prepared. Take classes, watch short and independent films, and learn the aspects of the business.
Create your own content! You have people like Issa Rae (“Insecure”) out there creating her own stuff, I love and appreciate her. There are a lot of creative ways on how you can do things now and don’t have to wait for Hollywood to come to you. Be prepared because at any time, you can land that role, but if you’re not ready, it’s a rap.
Go see Rayan Lawrence as Treach in “All Eyez On Me,” if you haven’t already, and be on the watch for the return of “Underground.”