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A Hip Hop Mutant Straddles the Divide

Actor Jeremie Harris is fast becoming a familiar face on television, with key roles in two hit series. On FX’s Marvel Studios-produced series Legion, he plays Ptonomy Wallace, a superhero mutant with a photographic memory and the ability to read the memories of others. On Netflix’s 1970s hip hop-themed series The Get Down, he portrays shady record company executive Shane Vincent. Harris recently spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead to talk about the series, how he identifies with his characters and his thoughts on diversity within the television industry. Here’s an edited interview transcript.

MCN:Did you think the first season ofLegionwould be as successful as it was?
Jeremie Harris: Well, it’s [showrunner] Noah Hawley, so we go behind him. Even though we might not understand everything — as we were reading the scripts, we were in the same place as the fans were in trying to figure out is this real or not real — but we have so much faith in him. We see what he did with Fargo, as well as his specificity as a writer and his appreciation for writing. I hoped it would be successful, but you never know, but I knew we had a good leader in front of us.

MCN:There’s a lot of superhero content in the entertainment industry today. What was it aboutLegionthat allowed it to break through the clutter?
JH: It’s a different type of superhero show, and that’s why it broke through and why the critics and people who watched it loved it so much. It’s very different and it’s taking a new and unique approach to presenting a comic book superhero story. It also deals a lot with mental health and illness, as well as “others” — people who have been told their entire lives that they’re not normal, don’t fit in or are different because of the way they are. We band together to work with one another to show that we are OK with who we are. That’s the theme that I love, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to cut through and make a mark for ourselves in this genre.

MCN:Were you a bigX-Menor superhero fan growing up?
JH: My brother was the bigger fan, and I was like the younger brother who checked it out every now and then. I hadn’t heard of Legion before the show, and I wasn’t someone who knew all the ins and outs and intricacies of The X-Men. So for me it was a good process of going up to Marvel — they gave me more than 100 comic books to take home — and I’ve learned more and more as I’ve gone along.

MCN:You’re also part of the cast ofThe Get Down, which is a little different from your role inLegion.
JH: I’m really excited about people seeing The Get Down part 2. I play an A&R [Artists and Repertoire] executive so I do my little shady business stuff, but I have a good heart in the show. When you work with these visionaries like [The Get Down creator] Baz Luhrmann who respect the art, you know that an audience will find it and attach itself to it. When you’re creating detailed characters, I think fans will really find it. I think that’s what’s happening with The Get Down and with Legion. I just hope to keep myself a part of work like that.

MCN:Are you finding that the television industry is currently providing more opportunities for actors of color than in previous years?
JH: I think representation is important, and now that’s coming to the forefront. It’s important to have characters that reflect the world, and we are a world of people of diverse backgrounds. I think we’re just going to continue to move forward, and young actors like myself are excited to have the opportunities that I know that 30 or 40 years ago some of my contemporaries didn’t have. I just want to keep that going: Inclusion is something that we can’t ever turn our back on, so we all need to be included.