EXCLUSIVE: Jeremy Tardy Talks ‘Dear White People,’ Becoming Rashid & All Of That Criticism

Jeremy Tardy is passionate AF.

A Julliard graduate who has starred in The Mindy Project and War Dogs, Tardy’s role as Kenyan student, Rashid Bakr in Justin Simien’s Netflix series Dear White People has thrust this relative newcomer into the spotlight.

Though the groundbreaking series has garnered significant critical acclaim, some of the pushback has been towards, Tardy’s Rashid, who some have claimed was not multi-dimensional at all. Recently, Tardy sat down with to address the criticisms, his research process to get into his character and what we can expect to see from Rashid in the coming season. How did you get involved with Dear White People?

Jeremy Tardy: Well, it was through my agent and my manager that got me the audition. I’ve been blessed, basically, with the people that I work with. They really get me out for anything that’s in the vein of something that I would want to do. In regards to Dear White People, I actually auditioned for the movie when I first got out of school, because I graduated in 2013. Funny enough, I auditioned for the role of Lionel. Of course, that was not meant for me to play. I saw the film and very much liked [it], but as far as the series goes, I didn’t actually know it was even picked up to be a series until I got the audition for it. In reading the script and then the role of Rashid, I was very interested, because in seeing the film, I thought, okay, they’re going a little bit further here with this character. Getting a little bit more of a diverse community in the school, getting a little bit more of a diverse perspective. That was very interesting. It presented a really awesome challenge as well to pick up the dialect and the perspective and so on and so forth.

JETmag: Speaking of Rashid, one of the criticisms of this show is that you don’t get to know much more about Rashid’s backstory. Do you think that will change in the second season, and did you have any discussions with Justin Simien about who your character who is a native of Kenya is?

JT: Well, in terms of the criticism, I think some of it is valid. I have read some of the criticism about Rashid and the African perspective. With that being said, I think it should be considered that it is a 10-episode series and Rashid is not one of the series regulars, at least not at the moment. So far we get the perspective of Lionel (DeRon Horton), Troy (Brandon P. Bell), Sam (Logan Browning), and Coco (Antoinette Robertson). Through their eyes, we see these other characters. Now, in conversation with Justin, he very much wants to see Rashid with his own episode. He wants to see Al (Jemar Michael) with his own episode and Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) with her own, to be able to see through their eyes as well. In terms of Rashid, we’ve been having conversations. There’s still so much to be determined in terms of the specifics of where he comes from, and in terms of the society of Kenya. I believe that [Rashid’s] from an upper class. In doing research, a friend of mine who put me in touch with a gentleman from Kenya. I’ve been doing research and really getting down to the nitty-gritty of it. There are some very specific dynamics in what it would look like for Rashid to come to America with the culture shock that he’d be dealing with, and the fact that he speaks five languages, what he’s going to be studying, what his goal and ambitions are. It’s very, very intricate what’s going on with Rashid, and I think a lot of that will be explored as we go forward in the series. We don’t know how long the series is going to potentially be, but there’s definitely going to be more of a spotlight, I suppose, or exposure to Rashid’s reality and his background.

JETmag: Did you do any other sort of intricate work to really get into the meats and bones of your character?

JT: Definitely. I have my American mindset and my American mold. I started with just listening to Kenyan speakers, and based on the time I had to prepare I wanted to try to get the biggest range. I started listening to this Kenyan comedian by the name of Eric Omondi, and he’s hilarious. In fact, so much of what I was trying to push into Rashid was coming off of some of the physical gestures and some of the vocal dynamics that I would hear in this comedian. I also listened to this senator. His name is Mike Mbuvi Sonko, and he’s a senator in Nairobi. Again, in terms of looking at a range of the spectrum for the dialect and trying to really capture something that’s realistic to that area. He’s much more diplomatic and articulate in his way of speech, and very sensitive in terms of the types of language that he would use in interviews and so on and so forth. That gave me a nice bit of range for trying to get an English language dialect from a Kenyan, because they also speak, obviously, many other languages. Swahili is probably the largest speaking language in the country, but there are so many different tribal languages as well. I was listening to a lot of Swahili and Kikuyu to get the natural sound of the language there that they speak because obviously English isn’t that first language. To get that sound and those rhythms and those dynamics, that was able to help me get as much of a sense of the sound that I would be able to use for Rashid. Of course, I’m still working on it and trying to be much more specific and all of that good stuff, but that’s kind of been the process for me. What was the most shocking moment for you on this first season of Dear White People?

JT: I think for most people who watched it, [it’s] the moment when the gun gets pulled on Reggie. That was not the most shocking moment for me though. The most shocking moment for me was actually the scene, and I loved this moment, the scene where Coco and Troy are making love in Troy’s bedroom. In the motion of what’s happening, her wig comes flying. That moment puts her into a state of shock and puts her into her shell. She crawls into her shell, and then Troy, being the character that he is, is trying to coax her out and make her comfortable He puts the do-rag on. That was actually one of the most beautiful, and I think, most vulnerable moments of the series, because it [gets] into the social relationship dynamic between a Black man and a Black woman, and the insecurities that are all in that. That was a great moment. I actually hadn’t read that episode, so I didn’t even know that was coming, so that was pretty cool. What did you learn about yourself as an actor and as a human being, through this process of filming this incredible series with Netflix?

JT: In terms of what I have learned on this project. First of all, about myself, I suppose that it would begin with my approach to Rashid. What I learned is that as an American, we have a very specific perspective of the world that is fairly narrow, I think, based on our culture. As Americans, we only see American culture. American culture is what permeates and influences the rest of the world and has been for a long time. As an American, I had to, of course, get outside of my own perspective, and jump into the perspective of someone else who does not come from the kind of privilege that Americans come from. Of course, that’s a very general statement, but relatively speaking, I think it’s fair to say that Americans have at least a bit more privilege than many other people in other countries throughout the world. That was an important thing for me to come to terms with, realizing my privilege. At this particular moment, we’re all fighting to maintain our rights, and fighting to maintain or to push forward in certain ways for legislation to help protect citizens of color or citizens from the LGBTQ community, but there is still a level of privilege that we do have. I guess I was really just deeply humbled by being involved in this process, because I was in the midst of something that I knew was going to transform people, and I was in the midst of something that I knew was going to transform lives and perspectives. That’s rare in this industry, to really be involved in a project that’s not just about the spectacle or not just about making money. All of that is fine. To be involved in something that can do that can make you laugh, but is also, at the very core, it means something. What is your ultimate goal as an actor?

JT: I guess overarching, overreaching goal, I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller, as someone who loves stories. Based on my love for stories and my love for cinema, I have a specific love for the art of storytelling through pictures, through the visual medium of that square that we look at. My goals are to produce, to create, or write stories that are involving things that we have not yet seen. Stories that are reminiscent of things that we could be and aren’t, or perhaps that we were, and that, I guess, covers everything. I’m not interested in just being Black, although I certainly want to address my people and to create art that will empower black people, but I want that to be a universal thing. I recently launched my production company it’s in the infancy stages, but it’s going to be a production company that’s going to be producing films to start with, and I have goals to expand it in different ways. I’m focusing on just film right now so that I can begin to produce those stories that I think are lacking, and I would like to hear as a viewer or as an audience member that I want to see. My ego is not really in it, because I don’t particularly see myself in everything that comes across my email or that comes across my desk or whatever. I do want to get stories out and work with people that I respect and admire. What’s on your playlist for summer 2017?

JT: Well, let’s talk about music right now, because right now I have been rocking this French Montana song, “Unforgettable.” I absolutely love that. All of Kendrick’s new album, D.A.M.N is on point, particularly “Lust” and “Duckworth.” A little bit of A$AP Rocky, “Holy Ghost.” I love that song. That’s my music playlist, but in terms of what is on the scope of what I’m watching, I’ve definitely got to watch House of Cards, the new season on. I’m a big fan of the actors on that show. Orange is the New Black A dear friend of mine, Danielle Brooks, I hear that she’s central to this season, so I’m very excited to see that. I have a long list of films that … I’m always seeing films. I probably see at least two movies a week, and for me, it’s homework more than entertainment, while I do enjoy doing it. I just saw King Arthur which was cool. That’s just a part of being in the industry. I have to know who’s who, what’s what, who’s writing what, who’s directing and producing. That’s how that goes.

All episodes of season one of Dear White People are now streaming on Netflix. Class begins again in 2018.

Photo Credits: Curtis Taylor Jr. & Netflix