Destined to Succeed: A Talk with Mekai Curtis

Mekai Curtis shares with DAMAN about his journey in the entertainment industry—how it began and the challenges he faces, as well as his experience playing the titular character Kanan Stark in Starz’s “Power Book III: Raising Kanan”

Jacket and pants by 4funkyflavours; T-shirt by Obey

Sometimes, fate leads us to success in the most unexpected ways. What might feel like an unfortunate event might mark the beginning of a stroke of serendipity. This rings true for actor Mekai Matthew Curtis. After suffering an injury in Pop Warner football in 2012, he managed to convince his parents to take him to a casting call. Turned out, he aced it—thanks to his charisma and talent—and thus began his acting journey with Disney. 

Curtis debuted as Paul in the 2014 comedy “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” He then starred in other Disney series including Girl Meets World and Kirby Buckets, and even showcased his voice acting talent through “Milo Murphy’s Law” and “The Lion Guard.” Last year, he joined the Power family to play the younger version of Kanan Stark in “Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” which catapulted his name even further into the realm of stardom. Curtis talks with DAMAN about the beginning of his career, as well as his current journey and hopes for the future. 

DAMAN: How’s 2022 been treating you so far?
Mekai Curtis: 2022 has been quite the rollercoaster. It’s day by day but I’m’ taking it in stride. Grateful. Excited. Alive.

DAMAN: Can you tell us about your childhood?
Mekai Curtis: I was born and raised in Neptune, New Jersey, up until about third grade. I moved around Ocean County, New Jersey, for a few years before moving to L.A. to pursue acting around age 12. 

Shirt by Standard Cloth; pants by XIVI

DAMAN: What first inspired you to become an actor?
Mekai Curtis: I got to leave school early! [Laughs] Aside from getting to leave school early on some days for work, I’ve always enjoyed the arts and being creative. Meeting a talent agent on a train when I was four years old was the catalyst of me delving into the realm of acting. 

DAMAN: In the beginning of your acting career, you were tied closely with Disney and starred in the 2014 fantasy comedy “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Can you tell us about the experience?
Mekai Curtis: In 2012, after injuring myself in Pop Warner football, I convinced my parents to take me to a Disney Open Casting Call in Missouri. There, I auditioned with Disney’s top casting executives and directors. Disney saw my raw talent and charisma, they loved it. My family packed up, moved to Los Angeles and there my journey within that company began. Simultaneously, while filming that movie, I began auditioning and working on the series I starred on called “Kirby Buckets.” 

DAMAN: What do you find most unique about your character—Paul—in the film?
Mekai Curtis: There was nothing particularly special about the character Paul.  He was a typical teen best friend who tried to lend support to a friend in conflict.  Paul was the cool friend, the ladies’ man. He coached Alexander on all things cool.

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DAMAN: You were cast in the Starz’s crime drama series “Power Book III: Raising Kanan.” Can you give us an intro for this show?
Mekai Curtis: In “Raising Kanan,” I play Kanan Stark who is a younger version of the titular character Kanan played by 50 Cent in the original “Power” series. In “Power,” Kanan was a very complicated character whose behavior left viewers quite confused on how to feel about him. “Raising Kanan” gives fans of the original series a look into the mind of a very visceral character, while taking new viewers on an emotional rollercoaster with a young man trying to establish his legacy amongst his mother’s ever-growing empire. 

DAMAN: How would you best describe Kanan?
Mekai Curtis: Kanan’s a smart, driven and naïve kid from the south side of Jamaica Queens whose whole world revolves around his mother Raquel “Raq” Thomas, their family and the empire she has built. Kanan is 15 years old, trying to figure out who he is and what he wants to do in life. He naturally gravitates towards being in the “family business” but soon finds that the world he wanted so desperately into may not be exactly what he thought … as well as the people. 

DAMAN: How did you prepare to fit into the shoes of such a character? Especially since he’s the younger version of the character first played by 50 Cent…
Mekai Curtis: Yes, 50 Cent had already done such an amazing job with the older Kanan. It was imperative to me to do a thorough job with deconstructing the character. I wanted to embody as much of the original character as possible while humanizing him and how he came to be who was presented in the original “Power.” There were lots of conversations with 50, lots of studying his work—both acting and music to learn the nuances of his mannerisms. There were lots of talks with the creator, Sascha Penn, to get an understanding of what was most important and I also worked with a dialect coach.

Sweater by Urban Outfitters; pants by XIVI; shoes by Nike

DAMAN: Have you noticed any similarities between Kanan and yourself?
Mekai Curtis: The part of Kanan that I relate to the most is his love and loyalty to family. I am a family guy so I understand the levels of love, loyalty and all that can come with that.

DAMAN: What has been the most memorable or unforgettable moments from filming the series?
Mekai Curtis: Just getting to be around such dynamic performers and artists, and even the directors and producers, who are willing to share their knowledge and love of the craft. Any chance I get to step on set is a learning experience. 

DAMAN: Besides acting, you are also into voice acting, having lent your voice to the character of Zack Underwood in the 2016 animated series “Milo Murphy’s Law.” What was that like?
Mekai Curtis: “Milo Murphy’s Law” was created by Dan Povenmire and Swampy Marsh, the creators of “Phineas and Ferb.” I was super excited to get a chance to work with them. They’re both genius creators and I loved working with them ad soaking up their wisdom. It was also a great opportunity to experience and learn another discipline of acting. Voice-over work is fun.

Shirt by Standard Cloth; pants by Market UO; bag by Louis Vuitton; shoes by Nike; socks by Oooh Yeah! Socks

DAMAN: Who are your muses in this entertainment industry?
Mekai Curtis: I draw inspiration from many different places, people and artists. Denzel Washington, Colman Domingo, Phil LaMarr, Matthew McConaughey … I truly could keep going, but these are artists I’ve looked up to who have transcended time and genres and exemplified true chameleon=like tendencies with any role they take on while also being extremely grounded humans.  

DAMAN: What is the most challenging or difficult character you have played so far?
Mekai Curtis: To date, Kanan has to be the most nuanced character that I’ve played. Playing Kanan requires not only embodying the essence of the older original character but Kanan’s story is deeply layered. It touches on sensitive subjects that require a certain respect in order to do it justice. Sometimes, it requires pulling from a really deep place which can be exhausting at times.

DAMAN: Any dream roles you would love to play?
Mekai Curtis: I don’t really have any “dream” roles. I really just love getting to create these people and places for other people to connect to. But I would love to play a superhero. Something filled with action and stunts. There’s a different level mentally and physically you have to tap into to be in those roles. I look for that challenge. 

T-shirt by Global Warning; pants by Dickies; necklace by LÏNS Paris by Gustavo Lins

DAMAN: In your acting journey, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever heard?
Mekai Curtis: I’ve received so many pieces of advice that have stuck with me on my journey in this industry but most of the advice I have received is simply through observation of how some of my favorite entertainers and more live every day. 

DAMAN: We learnt that you are also into music. What are the instruments you play?
Mekai Curtis: I’ve been a musician since the day I was born basically! [Laughs]  I’ve been playing drums since I was about nine months old. But I also play keys, bass and produce music as well. 

Jacket by BDG; T-shirt by Rolling Stones UO; pants by 4funkyflavours; shoes by Nike

DAMAN: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
Mekai Curtis: A musician, for sure, while investing in other ventures. I’m an entrepreneur at heart! 

DAMAN: Any future projects you can share with us?
Mekai Curtis: There’s a lot lined up for me right now; not too much I can currently talk about but just know, I’m here to take over!  

DAMAN: Last but not least, what’s your biggest hope for yourself and the entertainment industry?
Mekai Curtis: Like I just said, I plan to be around for a very long time. I’m blessed to do what I love on a very large scale. I get to show love through the things that I love. As long as I get to continue to tell stories that people love, through any of the avenues I’m afforded, I’ll be living in all my hopes, dreams and purpose.

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