Exclusive: Marque Richardson Talks ‘Dear White People,’ Art As Activism & ‘Step Sisters’

Marque Richardson is no stranger to the television screen; he began appearing on TV in the mid-2000s on classics like The Bernie Mac Show and 7th Heaven.

He also had recurring roles on the acclaimed HBO series, True Blood, and The Newsroom. However, it was 31-year old’s role as the militant Reggie in Justin Simien’s 2014 debut feature Dear White People that truly made him one-to-watch in the industry. Now, three years later, Richardson is ready to return to Reggie in Simien’s Netflix series Dear White People where he will expand his character and shed new light on the man behind the activist.

Dear White People hits Netflix on April 28th, but recently got the opportunity to speak with Richardson about the forthcoming series, his work as a community service advocate, the one indulgence he allows himself on set, and his role in Charles Stone III’s latest film, Step Sisters, where he stars alongside Megalyn Echikunwoke and Naturi Naughton.

JET: For Dear White People the series, it’s so amazing how you guys get to really expand this world because in the film, you only really get to see a glimpse of each character. What was it like to return to Reggie after a three-year hiatus?

Marque Richardson: Oh man, I’m just glad that they called me back because you never know in this business or just schedule-wise. So, I’m grateful to be back first of all, and the experience of coming back to this character was just therapeutic for me. [Reggie] was a part of the first piece of work that I was able to do that allowed me to explore what it means to be a young Black man in America today and in the world, especially right now. (Laughing) Sometimes you want to set something on fire, so I was just so honored to be back. It was a great experience to learn more about who Reggie is as a person and how he moves and operates throughout the world.

JET: What was the one thing about Reggie that you learned during the series that you did not know when you were making the film?

Marque Richardson: In the film, I felt like Reggie was just always this hard, power to the people, stand up for everything that you believe in dude.

JET: He’s a 21st-century Black Panther.

Marque Richardson: Absolutely! A Malcolm X kind of dude, and of course Malcolm X was a layered human being, but with the series, I got to really explore, is Reggie a man or is he a movement and can he be both? Reggie’s not really sure that he can be both. In the series, Reggie’s dad is a Black Panther so just living up to the expectations of his parents and the expectations that he puts on himself are difficult. We all do that. There is a pseudo pressure that we put on ourselves to move throughout the world. So I learned a lot about Reggie and myself. You can’t just do this work and then go home and separate, especially with activism and what not.

JET: Once the trailer for the series dropped, there was a ton of pushback from people who were probably only looking at the title. How do you feel about that, and how important do you think Dear White People is in today’s political climate?

Marque Richardson: The backlash that the internet provided once the trailer dropped was from a group of people who have no idea what the series is about. They’re just going off of the title. In the trailer, a woman of color is telling the audience what they shouldn’t do to disrespect her and her people and we get a bunch of backlash and people of calling us racist. (Laughing)

JET: It’s crazy!

Marque Richardson: It’s insane. It’s fucking nuts, and it’s sad, but it’s nothing new to us. It’s nothing new under the sun, so really that just shows the importance of a show like this right now in this climate today; because it’s a mirror. The show itself is a mirror that reflects all of the different issues that plague society today. So, I think what’s important about the show is that it can make you laugh in one minute and the next minute, it’ll make you cry. So, it is a satire, and it’s easier to digest the message because we do make fun of ourselves, it’s absurd and silly, and then it gets serious. I feel like the work is really important because it will prompt people to have these conversations in their homes and at the workplace and just hopefully progress people forward.

JET: You are a huge community service advocate, so are there any special projects that you are working on right now that are really near and dear to your heart?

Marque Richardson: Yeah! For the past two weeks, I’ve been working with kids for the most part. I did a young storytellers program. It was fun, and it was my first time doing it. Fifth graders take six weeks to write a script or play, and then they bring actors to the school to perform it. I did that a couple of days ago, and that was awesome to see the writing and the kids pursuing an industry that can be a dark place. (Laughing). What’s important for me is to help children understand that they can be anything that they want, and they can be themselves ultimately, and that’s more than OK, that’s more than enough.

JET: You mentioned the ups and downs of the entertainment industry briefly, so what has your experience been like as a Black man working in entertainment, particularly now that we are seeing a resurgence of Black stories in film and on television?

Marque Richardson: Honestly, I don’t feel like the struggle that I’ve had has been abnormal. Like any other Black actor or any other actor in the business, of course, I’ve had my ups and downs. Luckily, I’ve had opportunities where I haven’t been typecast or placed in a box where I’ve had to play stereotypical roles. With Dear White People and another Civil Rights project that I did a couple of years back, All the Way, I’m just now starting to realize that art can be activism. So, I’ve always known that is the kind of work that I’ve wanted to do, but now it’s actually becoming concrete to me. So I’m conscious about what I’m putting out into the world, and I feel like it should say something positive, or it should spark a conversation.

JET: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to break into the industry?

Marque Richardson: For anyone who wants to get into the business, specifically as an actor, I would say, really know why you want to become an actor and what you want to do, and the kind of work and projects that you want to put out in the world.

JET: Another one of your upcoming projects is the sorority-themed film, Step Sisters. It’s also creating a bit of buzz and controversy because of the subject matter. I know the release date has been pushed back, do you know when it will be released and can you tell us more about your role in the film?

Marque Richardson: Yeah. That was a dope set. They pushed that project towards later in the year. It’s still going to be released this year as far as what I was told. But, they really just wanted to take more time and make it better and to make sure the product was the best thing that they could put out. I’ve seen some of it, and I think you all will be in for a treat, so I’m excited. That was a fun one. Charles [Stone III] is amazing; the cast is fantastic to work with. I was one one of two guys on set, so watching this group of women all work together and have so much fun and to get it done was just so cool to see. My character is a love interest of Megalyn [Echikunwoke]’s character, Jamilah. He’s a silly guy and kind of helps her figure out who she is and makes it OK for her to be herself. That’s his purpose in the film.

JET: Speaking of film sets, are there any must-haves that you bring with you at all times when you are filming?

Marque Richardson: You know what, I am a basic person, but, I always carry with me these Mrs. Myers Clean Day candles. They’re like six dollars at Target, and they smell the best, like a lavender scent and a lemon sent. So I have to have my candles, and every morning I drink soda water, and I also eat a breakfast burrito. I’ve been doing that since I was like four.

JET: As we spoke about previously, we are in a huge resurgence for Black cinema and television, so is there anything that you love watching right now?

Marque Richardson: For one, I’m just so happy to be a part of this resurgence. I know it’s a cyclical thing and I hope it stays around forever this time (Laughing). But I loved Insecure and Atlanta; I’m looking forward to Snowfall and Dear White People, I’mma binge watch the fuck outta that! (Laughing). I’m checking out Shots Fired right now. I also have my guilty pleasures like My 600-lb Life, and I just caught up with Chewing Gum. I’m really looking at diverse stories right now, that’s where my head is. I’m looking at stuff where I see myself. I’m tired of the same milk toast shit. But, TV is good, TV is amazing right now.

JET: Thank you so much for speaking with my Marque. We are all so very excited about Dear White People.

Marque Richardson: Thank you! I’m excited.

All 10-episodes of season one Dear White People will be streaming on Netflix Friday, April 28th.