It’s a blustery day in early spring, and inside a cube-sized set designed to look like a working class New York City apartment — think aged brocade couches, linoleum floors, and sentimental knick knacks — the atmosphere is just as chilly during takes of a scene featuring rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in heated discussion with another character. As Kanan on Power, Jackson is hardened and bent on vengeance, adding further suspense to a series that hooked an average of 7 million viewers an episode last season. “We’re pushing boundaries,” says Jackson, adding that the show’s success is driven both by its diverse cast and gritty take on urban life. “We’re so far away from what traditional television allows.”
Power — a project born out of Jackson’s desire to produce a hip hop-driven series and creator/showrunner Courtney A. Kemp’s appetite for crime-driven storytelling after a successful stint as a producer on The Good Wife — revolves around Ghost (Omari Hardwick), a street-savvy drug lord trying to make good on his goals of becoming a boardroom tycoon. While previous seasons have focused primarily on Ghost’s professional and romantic struggles, this season promises to reveal additional layers of complex character whose criminal past may prevent him from ever living clean.
“I think what’s interesting is that we watch him slowly and subtly become more unsure about who he is and what he wants,” Hardwick says of his character. “It’s about realizing he can take the boy out of Ghost, but you can’t take Ghost out of the boy.”
Of course, there’ll also be plenty of violence, drama and sex — elements that have helped make the Starz series successful. “I want to pump more octane in it,” says Kemp of the action ahead. She pauses, and then breaks into a gleeful smile. “I want to create more stimuli. It’s not that you can’t have quiet moments, but I wanted people to have this adrenaline-fueled experience.”
Despite Kemp’s chatter about the rollercoaster drama, shooting at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios is remarkably calm — a factor which is no more evident than during Kemp’s easy exchanges with Jackson, an executive producer on the show. The pair collaborate on nearly every aspect of the show, from storylines to the slang used in scripts.
“He’s my accomplice,” says Kemp of the rapper. The bi-coastal peers — Kemp calls Los Angeles home, while Jackson is based in New York — begin the process by swapping notes over the phone. “He’ll talk for an hour, and then I’ll say, ‘Stop,’ and that’s when he knows I’m writing down everything,” says Kemp. “I listen to everything he saysHe is the source material.”
Which brings Kemp to her next point. Though Power revolves around a male character, the show’s female cast shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s Holly (Lucy Walters), whose powers of persuasion could determine Ghost’s fate; Ghost’s ex-wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton); who this season will move beyond her former husband’s shadow to singlehandedly create a successful future on her terms; and federal prosecutor Angela (Lela Loren), whose relationship to lover Ghost seems to be riding a perilous high. Here, take note: Though Power’s male characters will be deep-diving into shock-worthy territory, their female counterparts will get feistier, smarter and shrewder — just not cattier.
“One of the rules we have for our show, is that we have few rules in the writers’ room,” says Kemp. “Take Tasha. A lot of people say, ‘Well, why doesn’t she beat that b—- Angela down?’ And I say, ‘It’s because she’s not stupid. She’s not going to do what you expect her to.’ That’s a statement.”
Of course, if there’s one thing to know about the way Kemp shapes her show – and the reason why fans have become near-obsessed with its chair-gripping storylines – is that in some ways, the tweetable, GIF-able drama’s just begun. “A lot of things the show promised in the first season will come to pass in the third season,” shares Kemp. “I want people to go, ‘OMG, I can’t believe that just happened!”
Power season 3 debuts Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.