Timon Kyle Durrett – Queen Sugar
By: Kelly Kearney
Q) You play Davis West in the hit show “Queen Sugar.” How were you approached for the role and what was your audition process like?
Timon: I was living in Marietta, Georgia at the time and life happened. You know the peaks and the valleys and I was in one of those very deep valleys and looking for a way to sustain with a job or something because things with my career weren’t working out as I had planned. So, I was online, filing for a job and my information would not go through. I’ll tell you it would not go through and everything was filled out correctly. I was so tired and didn’t know what to do. So, I tried updating my phone and when it was done updating, I got a voicemail that popped up on the screen from my agent. She gave me all the information and 24 hours later I was reading in a room with Ava DuVernay.
Q) Davis is kind of a controversial character and having a rough time this season. I’m guessing he is much different than you are in your everyday life. What or whom inspires you for this role and the tough storyline he is involved in?
Timon: No, Davis and I are the same person. [Laughing] No, I’m just kidding! He and I are very different, but there are some similarities. There are times in my life where I made mistakes and was heavily vilified for it although it wasn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, but you know something that just happened. You get blamed just outright maliciously for something and you have no control over. With Davis, that lack of control is who he is. You can see how in some of the episodes. Now, I can’t give too much away, but there are these expose about who he really is and the way that he is. So, as far as where I identify with Davis, I had been in a position where I was scrutinized and vilified and attacked unwarranted. But Davis flip-flopped a little bit because he feels that what he did doesn’t warrant the abuse he’s taken on. His actions are the reason for that he just doesn’t see that. I am not that way. I understand the error of my ways, but I do understand that feeling of being attacked. So, that’s how I can identify with Davis, but I am no way like him or what he did or what he’s a part of. He lives like this millionaire, superstar, mega guy and that’s not me. But I do understand the pressures that come with navigating through expectations and temptations and living that type of lifestyle. I really like playing the conflicted, contentious and damaged rough edges kind of guy. It’s a lot of fun for me because being nice all the time is cool, but you know you can only be so nice. I mean nobody says, “Oh look, he got even nicer!” It’s not appealing. But If they say, “Oh, Davis did something even worse,” everyone is like they can’t wait to see what it was that he did. For me, the bad guys are fun to play because they have that spike of adrenalin. Like say in an action movie, you don’t have a bunch of people being nice to each other. No, you have to have that antagonistic component to bring out a range of emotions.
Q) People might not be aware of this, but “Queen Sugar” is based on a novel of the same name. Had you heard of the book before you landed the role or was the story new to you?
Timon: The story was absolutely new to me. I have to say, I’ve been reading it bit by bit and I need to finish it and see where it goes, but I do love the novel as well. The story was new to me and with reading the novel and then looking where the story is going on the show there is just this magic that’s surrounding the entre “Queen Sugar” phenomena. From day one it was something magical. One day I was literally in tears at my desk trying to find a way to pay to live and the next day. I was in a room with one of the most powerful women in the industry. So, there is definitely some magic in this.
Q) What is it about this show that made it become so popular so quickly and did that surprise you?
Timon: it wasn’t a surprise as much as it was a gift. Like, if someone gives you a gift but it’s not really a surprise – just something that you didn’t expect? I certainly wasn’t surprised of the greatness that is Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey and all the other people that work on the show, but I will tell you what I think it is that made this show so popular. It’s the love and compassion as well as passion and drive and fearlessness of the all the women involved in this show. By that I mean they said, “You know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna do what we want to do and we’re gonna make what we want to see and we’ll make it as good as we can and go with that.” That’s takes fearlessness and trust and dedication that a lot of people just don’t have that spiritual and mental fortitude to go for the gusto like that. So, I think the fact that it’s different and fresh and nuanced and as a drama it’s almost like short little films each week and all that is what made it what is. Ava just doesn’t cast the talent. She casts the spirit and she follows that line with everything she does. Everyone she picks from cast to crew, they really care about what they do there and its part of who they are and I think that translates on camera from the actors to the lighting and the music and scenery. We give back to the audience and I think the fans gorge on that because it’s really good stuff. It’s good, organic life stuff that people can relate to.
Q) Now that the show is taking the TV world by storm, have you had any funny or strange fan encounters?
Timon: Yeah. [pauses] This is the part that’s a little surprising to me, how fast my fan base has grown. Now, when I say fanbase I mean people who watch the show and support me. Almost every day, there is some encounter that has some sort of interesting component to it. This past Fall, after “Queen Sugar “aired, I was in the post office mailing something and an older black woman walked past me and punched me in the arm! She punched me just enough that it got my attention and I turned and looked. She gave me that little side eye and finger wave, like “shame on you.” She gave me that look like, “I see you.” She gave me that little look and then kept going, just as smooth as silk! [laughing] I said, “Wow! I’m getting reprimanded!” I can’t hide from fans because I’m so tall. I cannot hide even in the clouds and they see me right away and are like, “That’s him!” There could be like four or five of us from the show hanging out, but of course they will see me first because I stand out more in a crowd of people. It’s a lot of fun. I get the friendly sneers and jeers, but I have to tell you I like the fact I get to be a part of something or be that something that gets the viewers so emotionally invested. That just gets them enthralled I like being able to do that.
Q) The show was created, directed and produced by Ava DuVernay and Melissa Carter and Oprah Winfrey also serves as Executive Producers. What’s it like working on a show that is run and completely directed by women? Are there any differences that stand out for you?
Timon: For me, working with mostly female directors and Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey, for one it doesn’t feel like work for me. If you love what you’re doing, to me that’s not work. It’s what I do and I happen to make a living off of it and have fun doing it. The difference with working with mostly women is that it brings a balance that I think is long overdue in the industry. I’ve worked with far more male directors than female directors and with this show I think the feminine component can dig deeper into the emotionality in something like a “Queen Sugar” movement. To me, that’s the difference with working on this show. It’s really something that hasn’t been done before, by women in a demographic who have typically been slated as not being capable of doing such a thing. I think it’s important to empower women and not just in the industry, but women across the board. That’s what “Queen Sugar” has done in my eyes. It helps propel people forward in the sense that they can now see what’s possible and know what they’re watching is going to pave the way for them. I think it’s an incredible thing so needed in this industry.
Q) With our current political climate, what’s something entertainers like yourself can do to remain advocates for those that maybe don’t have a voice?
Timon: You know when you’re in such a position like myself, sometimes people will have more of a tendency to listen to you. I like to talk to people person to person because I think social media can sometimes be a misconstrued venue for people’s opinions. With the political and sociopolitical climate and even the racial climate (police and black people) – these topics are very hot right now and I implore people to keep learning and understand things for what they are. For me, I am a proponent of fairness and honesty and doing as right as possible by people. If we do right by people then we can do right by everything else. That includes things like the environment and all that stuff. So, I don’t try and persuade people with, “This is my opinion so you should do this,” understand what your truth is and see them for what they really. We live in a world that’s becoming very, very dark filled with a lot of pain, famine, death, struggle and suffering and everyone can feel it, even if it’s just a little bit. Some of us see it on television and others watch it happening right outside their door and I feel it’s my duty as a public figure to stay within my truth and my truth is to let people know that I am an advocate for fairness and justice and just people being good to one another. I don’t care about all that racial stuff or who you’re sleeping with. We can all get along peacefully and that would solve pretty much all our problems. You know, social media is great, but it’s not one on one. I love it, don’t get me wrong. I can see what my family is up to in Chicago without having to go there but there is something about getting to know each other one on one and finding that common ground. I want to get to know people, how they think and feel and see their faces and get that one on one experience. So, in my opinion, that’s what we really need instead of all this other crap so many spend their time focused on.
Q) Is there something that you have learned from playing Davis that you will take with you to other roles?
Timon: Yeah, one thing in bringing this character to life and being directed by women is it takes me out of my manhood per say and puts me in a position of the humanness of the situation and seeing from the perspective of a woman. I see now why there’s so much emotional terrors with the fans and Davis because he is a real person to somebody watching the show, whether he’s a famous ball player or not. He’s somebody’s husband or brother or boyfriend whose been in that position and he is a grand representation of something people have had to deal with. I think that “Queen Sugar” is an artistic representation of how a woman can be strong enough to deal with that. Watching a show like “Queen Sugar,” women who have struggled because of their gender and because of their race can relate. I think my character can help to convey these messages to women in all walks of life. You know like there are some dangers out there and people who will do you wrong, who will lie to you and cheat on you, who will steal from you, who will do anything to perpetuate your downfall but you can still be strong and come out of that muck and mire and shine like a queen.
Q) I read somewhere that your first role was an extra in a movie starring Oprah Winfrey and now here you are years later, starring in show she produces for her network. What’s it like being on a show on OWN and having the “queen of media” as a boss?
Timon: It is so cool! You know, I’ve adopted Oprah as my aunt. I call her “Auntie O.” I can see why she is where she is today. She has a skill set, but she also has a talent. What she does she does with finesse and a queenliness that commands your attention whether you want it to or not. She’s an awesome orator. She has this family type of steel to her when you’re around her. She makes you feel like you have known her forever even if you’ve only known her a year and a half. It’s just awesome working for Oprah and the OWN network. I think she has her finger on the pulse of how things are really supposed to be done and I’m blessed to be a part of it. OPRAH FOR PRESIDENT! Listen, if Oprah ran for President it would be a LANDSLIDE victory.
Q) You have an incredibly talented cast and production team but is there anyone else that you dream to one day work with?
Timon: I would love to work with Jeremy Renner. He was nominated for Hurt Locker. I would love to work with Katherine Bigalow, too. Gosh, my list is long, very long. I would love to do a film with Morgan Freeman, even if it’s just one scene where I talk to him. I would love that. I would also love to work with directors who do action films like Ridley Scott. I just love the feel of his films and the texture and the grit of his movies is just fascinating to me so I would love to work with him. My list is so long because I have so many wants and desires of things I want to do and people I want to work with in both television and film that I would exhaust you with that list [laughing].
Q) Besides “Queen Sugar,” is there any other projects on your horizon that the fans can look out for?
Timon: I’m being considered for an action film that’s not yet titled so I can’t say too much about it. There’s a comedy film I’m looking at but I am not signed on to that yet. I guess with my status on “Queen Sugar,” they’re keeping it hush, hush. People always ask, “What’s next on the horizon,” and I’m like, “Ugh, I can’t talk about it!” Doors are opening a little now and maybe when my schedule frees up, since I’ve been in contact with several people I have met at film festivals and such, they’re looking forward to working with me and I’m looking forward to it, too.
Q) Lastly, Timon is there anything you would like to say to your fans and supporters?
Timon: Keep watching! There’s some things in store for Davis that will be tugging at the fans emotions. I won’t say what kind of emotions or who it will be with but there will be more of that. As for me, look out for me in action films and I really can’t say more than that yet, but just keep your eyes out.