Derrick A. King On What He Desires More Than FameBy Kirby Wright
Apr. 28 2022, Published 3:30 p.m. ET
“It was 2015 or early 2016. I went to an acting class and felt like I was home. I remember the day and location so clearly.”
One thing that stands out about Derrick A. King is his respect for true artistry. From the reverence in his voice when he spoke of artists like Leonardo DiCaprio and J. Cole, to the conviction in his tone when he speaks about his future career plans, it’s clear that he has a vision for his path. Currently, King stars in the CW’s popular drama, 4400 where he plays Rev. Johnston, a natural leader who sometimes battles with his unique influence, a trait King can connect with.
Our conversation was inspiring because not only is he a graduate of an HBCU [Clark Atlanta University] but his story speaks to the importance of self-confidence. In this authentic chat, King opens up to us about the excitement of 4400, his career journey, and why it’s important to always trust and know yourself.
Bleu: Talk to me about going from CAU [Clark Atlanta University] to the 4400. How are you feeling at this moment?
Derrick A. King: It feels amazing. It was definitely filled with quite a few years of discovering myself, trying to make it happen. But, as you know as a CAU alumna, “you have to find a way or make one,” and that’s exactly what I did.
Now if I remember correctly, you started in the corporate world. So what was it like juggling your professional career while chasing auditions?
Well, there was like a six-to-eight-month period that I was working in corporate America, I was working at Nestle in Los Angeles. And my coworkers could attest to this (and it’s fine because I don’t work there anymore). But, I would literally leave work often to go to auditions. I would just tell my boss I have to take an early lunch and go. I never missed an audition!
And you’re known for your monologues. When did you realize you had a gift for delivering them?
Well, I’ve been in the arts my whole life. Kindergarten through eighth grade I went to performing arts schools. I’ve also had the wherewithal that being on stage is where I loved to be. The corporate job was more of a sidetrack to me realizing there’s money to get. But I came back to understanding that everything isn’t about money.
And monologues, I was trying to find my way. I came up in a time where social media presence was a big deal. There was this time between 2014 to 2018 that everybody thought the more followers you had meant you were gonna be famous. So, there were auditions you literally couldn’t get if you didn’t have 10k or 20k followers. So, a lot of people in LA [Los Angeles] were trying to get their followers up, which created the era of the social media entertainer.
I feel like there are top-notch accounts that make great and funny videos, but there’s also a lot of copycats. I kinda dipped into that for a second, but not long, (three months max).
It didn’t feel like the trajectory I wanted to be on. I’m not looking for clout, I’m looking for respect in my field. So, I was like how else I can get my name out there, and monologues were the way. I didn’t have to depend on anybody’s time or acting, it’s something you can do for yourself and through you.
You seem like you’ve had quite the journey. Was there ever a moment where you ever questioned yourself or your talent?
It was kinda the opposite. It was 2015 or early 2016, I went to an acting class and felt like I was home. I remember the day and location so clearly. Of course, there are turmoil and times in the journey that gets difficult though. In 2017 there was a big opportunity after I left Nestle. ABC had a showcase and I got to the final round. But, I ended up not making it. And it was a long process too, and I was so discouraged. I didn’t know where money was coming from, and I started thinking about that corporate job. I saw people getting houses, getting married, and having kids. It’s like, I gave all of that up to try and do something that might be impossible. But then, I meditated and got back to it! (laughs)
Well, it worked out! You seem very in tune with yourself. Do you see any similarities with your character, Rev Johnston?
I mean he’s from the 90s, I was born in the 90s. Then there’s his charismatic position as a leader. He wants to know his purpose. Also, I notice it’s always different speaking to people who have advice on something versus the individuals in the driver’s seat. Sometimes people don’t comprehend that, and I can understand Rev. Johnston in this position as he tries to find his place.
What are some things we can expect from his character?
So with Rev. Johnston, you can expect to see a character with many layers. He’s a leader but he doesn’t step into the role with completely clear consciousness and understanding of what his purpose is. So, he uses the church lens and how his father leads. You’ll see him having power and battling with if he’s doing things altruistically or because of ego. And you’ll also see the characters respond to that battle.
I have to say, I love that it was pretty much an all-Black cast. You really don’t see that in sci-fi projects. Did this resonate with you?
How could it not? Of course, it’s important to me, I went to an HBCU and am from PG County. It’s a big deal. And it is a primarily Black cast, but it’s also super diverse in general. From different cultures and communities, everyone is represented. And more so than the color of our skin is the truth of our perspective. The melanin is great, but I also get to see what this type of situation would look like through a Black lens.
Yeah, that’s amazing. But let’s backtrack a second. Tell me about that moment when you found out you got the role.
Believe it or not, I have the whole moment on video! So basically, I got the call for this, two days after I was on TV for the first time. I had a role on Call Your Mother that aired in April. So, I was living on a high. The day after, my agent called me and said, ‘How would you feel if the 4400 roles came back around?’, and that he was going to make some calls. So that was at about noon and now it’s about 6 or 7 in the evening. So, when he called, I put the phone on speaker and had my friend record it just in case. Now, I have that whole nine minutes on video. Sometimes, I refer to it just to stay humble and reflect.
Speaking of reflection. Can you share three goals you want to accomplish that we’d be surprised are on your vision board?
You know I think it was J. Cole that said, “If they don’t know your dreams, they can’t shoot them. “So I keep important things pretty close. But I will always say that throughout my life I’ve been considered a jack of trades. Acting was just the thing that I was great at. Still, I want to get into voice acting. It’s also definitely high on my list to win an Oscar. I can say that because I’ve said it a bunch of times on Instagram and too many times to my friends! I’m an actor’s actor. My main goal is to be respected by my peers. More than fame or anything I want other actors to see my skill. And then finally, just to find happiness and love in me, in a way that I can love others and teach them to love as well. And obviously, just with my platform to be able to do that consistently with other people.
Speaking of the industry, who are some individuals you look up to? It can be because of their skill or their career path.
I’d say, Leonardo DiCaprio, for not only his craft but his selection of projects. Will Smith for his demeanor and attitude. That’s where I’m shooting to be in 20 to 30 years (family and commitment to craft), and as far as demeanor I’d say a cross between J. Cole and Dave Chappelle. I never want to get to a point where people feel disconnected from me. I feel like J. Cole could drop the best album today and we still might see him riding a bike in New York later. If I have to become someone else to thrive, I don’t want it.
With the glam of Hollywood and all the excitement, how do you stay grounded in who you are?
I’m not a child (laughs). Seriously, I do feel like if I had got it [fame] any earlier I would have been swayed left or right. But now, I’ve had experiences, as I’ve been to college. I’ve been popular and I had highs and lows. This is a different level, but my character is the same. I became a man before this happened. Character, real friendship, real love, and fakeness –I know what all of that feels like…and I meditate.
Finally, what advice would you give to an aspiring actor?
Be yourself. And I’m not trying to sound cliche when I say be yourself. I literally mean be who you are. Even with Rev. Johnston, I could’ve been like ‘how does a preacher act like’, but I found those things when I found that character but what I brought most is myself. We spend so much time trying to please what we think other people want and that’s no way to live. Nina Simone said, “you lose everything you got trying to give everybody everything they want.”