As a married, Gen-X father of two, Kenya Barris’s sitcom, Black-ish, more than hits home for me, oftentimes it feels like they are spying on my family through the pinhole camera on my MacBook. I may not share Dre’s bullheadedness, but I’m right there with his sneaker addiction and trying to balance giving my children more than what I had growing up without spoiling them. I once suggested to my daughter that we walk down the block to the local Walgreen’s and she turned to me with a straight face and asked if our car was broken. So, when Dre stresses things like his kids hearing N-bombs in rap songs that he loves, I get it.
Black-ish makes an ambitious attempt to reflect the struggles of a middle-class Black family in America, which at its core is convincing viewers that a middle-class Black family does indeed have struggles. From racism, colorism and politics to schooling your young children on the virtues of Prince, they manage to package it all into 22-minute bites served with a smile and a dash of tears.
The relatability has made the show, starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin, Peter Mackenzie, Jenifer Lewis, Deon Cole and Laurence Fishburne, a hit for ABC that has surpassed its 100th episode milestone and earned 13 Emmy nominations.
In the past five seasons we’ve watched the younger children literally grow up on screen and Marcus Scribner, who plays the eldest son, Junior, has been nominated for his second NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. BET.com spoke with Marcus recently about what it’s like for his character to grow up with him, the challenges of being a child actor and diversifying your bonds.
BET: Congratulations on your nomination for an NAACP Image Award. I see you have this hashtag going on Twitter called #SupportJunior, is that part of your campaign?
MS: It was kind of just a hashtag about the direction we’re taking Junior in. Him standing up to Dre is really like a new thing for Junior, so it was hashtag “#supportjunior” to get the audience behind him becoming a man and standing up to his dad.
How does it feel to finally have Junior stand up to his dad?
It’s amazing. I feel like it’s been many seasons in the making since Junior has been bullied and pushed around by Dre… so it’s nice to see him come into his own and make it known that he won’t be pushed around. I think it’s dope. I love it.
Did you really get the part of Junior by imitating Ice Cube poorly?
[laughs] Yes, kind of. Before most auditions, we research who is in the room so we know what you’re going into. We were in L.A. and I walked in at 14 years old yelling, “Wessside!” and it was so much worse because my voice [was higher] and it sounded like “WesssIIDE,” and they thought it was so corny, and so Junior, that it definitely helped my chances of booking the role.
Have you met Ice Cube since?
No, I still haven’t met Ice Cube. I’ll do my impression for him when I see him.
How has it felt to literally grow up on camera?
It’s been insane, but it’s kind of cool to have documentation of what it was like when [I] was younger. Looking back at some of the old episodes is crazy, like, ‘Wow, that was me.’ It’s been an insane journey, five seasons being on the show. It’s been a lot of fun.
You had to go from attending traditional high school to being home schooled. What other kinds of adjustments have you had to make growing up as an actor?
That was definitely one of the bigger adjustments. You have your studio teachers but it’s difficult doing a majority of the work by yourself. I think some other adjustments, just being around adults all of the time was pretty interesting as a 13-year-old kid. Learning how to talk to adults in the work place is a very valuable skill I picked up working on the show at such a young age. Also, getting used to people stopping you in the street never gets old. It took some adjustments at first, like, “You want to take a picture with me?”
There was a water cooler joke in a recent episode where the water spills and Junior says, “This has never happened to me before,” with some subtle innuendo. Have you enjoyed making the more mature jokes?
I love it. I’m growing up as a person as well as an actor, so it’s nice that the character has not been stagnant. That’s what I think is cool about Black-ish. On a lot of other sitcoms, the characters stay how they are, but we really got to see the evolution with Junior. It’s been fun to play my age every time he comes onto the screen. The mature jokes have been pretty nice. Even at a young age I enjoyed dark humor and comedy, so getting to finally get that on the show is a lot of fun. It makes for some pretty good laughs.
You mentioned working with adults and you have some real legends on the show. Have Jenifer Lewis and Laurence Fishburne given you any advice on set?
One of the most important pieces of advice I got was in one of the early seasons. Laurence told me to make sure I diversify. What he meant by that was diversify when it pertains to your brand as an actor, taking different roles. “If you’re not happy with what you’re doing, you should stop.” Which is the truest statement that’s ever been told to anyone in any career path. I know it’s hard out here and it’s important to make money and support your family, but doing what you love allows you to work even harder and become more successful. Make sure that it’s still fun. Even after five years on the show we still have fun on set. I still have a ton of fun every day and I’m thankful to have this job. It’s definitely a blessing. And just watching Jenifer, she’s hilarious and amazing at everything. Just watching her doing what she does is a blessing in itself.
Speaking of diversifying, you do a lot of voice-over work outside of Black-ish, like on She-Ra Princes of Power. In a recent episode, Junior does some VO for the firm. Did you give them any notes on how it’s done?
[Laughs] Junior had a very simple line, so he’s not gonna get the real voice-over experience. But I definitely went in there knowing exactly what to do. Because the first time I did voice over I was so confused. They were like, “here is the mic, you can adjust the coms with this control center,” and I was just so confused. But now I know exactly what to do. It was kind of cool having that experience going into that.
I thought it was kind of meta that you voice a character named Bow and your mom is named Bow on Black-ish.
It’s so weird. I don’t know how that ended up happening. It’s not a common name. It’s just so per chance. It’s crazy.
Junior is unsure about college, but you’ll be attending USC in the fall. Have you thought about a major yet?
I’m still undecided. Right now, I’m in a psychology program taking business finance, not even sure on a major yet.
Was the “mocktail” you drank in a recent episode really a Sprite and Tummy Tea?
That mocktail was iced tea, I think. Usually it’s water and food coloring. [Off the clock] I get the margaritas with no tequila.
One of the episodes that really hit home was the colorism episode, because my son is about your complexion and my daughter is about Yara’s complexion. What has been your experience with colorism personally and professionally?
I think more so than just my career, it’s an entire life situation. Being lighter-skinned, going to middle school and people thinking that you’re not Black enough or you’re not tough because you’re light-skinned and all of these stereotypical thoughts. Which I think is so dumb because we’re all Black in the end. We need to come together and support each other as one community and not divide ourselves more. We’re already divided along race lines as a human race, so there is no need to further divide ourselves along light skinned and dark skinned.
So how are you feeling about your Lakers?
[laughs] Had to slip the stinger in. We’re making some money moves. I feel like the team has a good chance NEXT year. It’s definitely a building process. There are a lot of ifs.
New episodes of Black-ish air Tuesday nights on ABC, and catch past episodes daily on BET.
Photo Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin/Kelsey McNeal