JOSEPH SIKORA ON WHY TOMMY EGAN IS SO ‘POWER’ HUNGRY
BY KEITH MURPHY
Joseph Sikora is trying his best not to spoil the whole damn thing. The 40-year-old Chicago-born thespian, and former graf writer—now one of the stars of the obsessively watched cable crime drama Power—pauses for a few elongated seconds when asked specifically about the future of his character Tommy Egan. When last we saw the coldly calculating, doggedly loyal, ultra-violent, and at times hilarious drug dealer. he had reunited with his longtime partner—the budding street king turned gone-straight night club impresario James “Ghost” St. Patrick—to take out the ruthless Serbian cartel head Milan.
There are a litany of questions heading into the pivotal Fourth season of the June 25 premiere of Starz’ crown jewel (last season’s premiere drew 2.26 million total viewers, making this the biggest series in the network’s history.) Powerhas since moved to the coveted must-see-TV Sunday slot at 9pm. So, how will Tommy, the show’s resident wild-and-ready white boy, handle overseeing the most powerful drug operation in New York? Will Ghost survive prison after being taken in by special agent and girlfriend Angela (as played by Lela Loren)?
What about Ghost’s estranged, two-fisted wife Tasha St. Patrick (Naturi Naughton), who has to deal with the sobering horror that their son Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.) is being held hostage by unconscionable villain Kanan, played almost too perfectly by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who also doubles as the executive producer of Power? Oh yeah, and is Tasha’s best friend Keisha (La La Anthony) still alive?
“I think that the fans can expect characters that are on the verge of change to finally start changing,” says a coy Sikora, who doesn’t want to be receiving any phone calls from Power show-runner Courtney Kemp. “And that’s a very scary thing. Change is not only the most difficult thing that we do as humans for survival because we want to better ourselves, but because it’s incredibly hard to change who you are. So we start to see some of the cracks and realities of what change actually means for people.”
Nice save. When MASS APPEAL wasn’t attempting to get some behind-the-scenes goods from Joseph Sikora, we discussed a wide range of subjects from why you should take 50 Cent seriously as actor and how the highly complex Tommy is the most challenging and personally fulfilling role of his career to his character’s controversial usage of the N-word. Buckle up.
Last season, Tommy and Ghost reunited to take out Milan. Do you believe your volatile character is ready to handle running such a massive drug operation?
I am as scared for him as I am for anybody in his way. It’s going to be interesting. I think Tommy is going to have to learn the ropes of this game he already knows well, but in a very different way. With Ghost being incarcerated that is going to have a huge impact on Tommy’s life.
What effect will prison have on Tommy’s relationship with Ghost?
I think that Tommy has a little bit of survivor’s remorse with that. He now has to step up to the plate as a father figure for Ghost’s family because I think we’ve seen multiple times Ghost the head of the St. Patrick’s. He tried his best to be a family man. And Ghost’s family has been very important to Tommy.
You must be having the time of your life playing such an over-the-top character. Do you smile as you read the scripts, given the fact that Tommy has so many standout lines?
Well, I think one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had is when they started giving me these big things to do because that means that they believe in your ability as an actor to pull them off. I definitely do well with positive reinforcement and to feel like I’m part of a really great team has been a hugely influential thing on my life. People can tell that I’m having fun playing Tommy, even during the serious moments on the show. In Season One they had to write the show to establish the main characters. But Season Two they were able to write for what we as actors brought to the characters.
You mentioned how this season Tommy will take on more of a father figure/protector role for Ghost’s family. There’s also a brother-sister dynamic happening between Tommy and Ghost’s estranged wife Tasha. What can fans expect from their relationship this season?
Tommy and Tasha are going to take a really interesting step on a business level. They are going to find themselves in a desperate situation where they need each other more than ever for each other’s specialties. And throughout this season Tommy is really going to have to rely on Tasha and need her to come through for him. Then we are going to see where Tasha is at in her relationship and her journey that does or doesn’t deal with Ghost. Tommy and Tasha are both dealing with essentially the same problem, with Ghost’s incarceration and then trying to grow as individuals for themselves, by themselves. We will see which one of them will be able to get away further from Ghost.
Another interesting dynamic on the show is Tommy’s relationship with his mother, which is at times borders on creepy. How would you describe their weird relationship?[Laughs] That’s the biggest part of it. Because Courtney doesn’t do flashbacks. That’s why we get to see why Tommy is who he is through the relationship with his mother, which we are going to see more of this season.
I’m pretty sure that Tommy is not going to be too happy that Tariq has been snatched up by Kanan.
Well, Tommy does have that one part of his personality, which for better or worse is Kill-Them-All. And I think that is going to come back ten-fold when or if he finds out that Kanan is responsible.
Speaking of Kanan, what has been your experience working with 50 Cent, who not only wears the hat of executive producer on the show, but also has become one of the most hated villains on television? Is Tommy going to lay some hands on Kanan?[Laughs] Let’s just say Kanan will find himself in some pretty precarious positions this season. There’s a huge twist on that character. By the way, I think this is the best acting work that Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson has ever done to date. He has only progressed in excellence every year of this show. I think he has taken that excellence on to all of his films that he’s doing. And he’s a conscious, kind, and accessible boss.
Perhaps the biggest risk Power has taken on the show was the episode where we heard your character say the N-word last season. Social media lit up when that was uttered. How did that scene come about and did you have any apprehension with saying such a polarizing word that recently got Bill Maher in hot water?
I think the majority of people that saw it was like, “Oh, yeah…that makes sense.” And I have to be fair. It wasn’t in the script. I put it in there as an actor. Because I believed that Tommy—and this is coming from my own personal experience—would say the N-word a ton. You just know that was his environment.
You do realize that that was dangerous move that could just as easily have blown up in your face?
Yes. But it’s not a racially loaded term for Tommy. He’s not an idiot. Now it would be racist if it was presented a certain way, but just calling Ghost “my N-word” we know that there’s a juxtaposition of that word that can and is very frequently used by the black community. And Tommy was around all that on a street level. Then you have the fact that the N-word is used in a multiplicity of ways.
And Tommy would just speak like that because that’s his environment. Courtney very specifically never had a white character say that word in that familiar way. So when I improvised that word into the script, I think they wisely knew for the rest of the world that doesn’t realize that not only black people, but also the majority of homegrown Latin people in New York have used that word. I’m not talking about just Afro-Latin kids…I’m talking about New York Latin folks in general. I’m talking about Asian kids that grew up [in the ‘hood] as well as some white kids as well.
But of course there is the pain that comes with that word given its hardened connection to slavery and white supremacy…
Right… And the question is are we responsible if we just let that word come out that way without the majority of America understanding the discrepancy? That’s not my call. But what is my call is bringing what I believe the truth of this character is to the world. And what is [the producers’s] call is to see if any of that is going to make the cut. So I think we are all going on what we believe is responsible. We left Tommy saying the N-word one time and the camera was never on his face. And I think that was the right choice.
Would you call Tommy a good man?
Absolutely. There are different aspects to every human being. There are people that are hardened criminals and killers like Tommy who are incarcerated right now and some who aren’t. And when they are alone in their rooms they cry like babies because life hurts and they are human. I don’t want Tommy to only be perceived as a sociopath. He is somebody that has learned to go to different places. Even when he’s burning this guy he’s humming a song because he is trying to go to a different place because he doesn’t want to be present in that dark reality to do what he has to do.
That scene captures Tommy perfectly.
It does. And Tommy hums that song to keep his own sanity. He will always step up like a man to do his best. Tommy comes through with action and his family, specifically Ghost and all the St. Patricks’—that’s his people. When he and Holly were together and he says, “Oh, I want to introduce you to my family.” And she asks, “Who, your mother?” And he says, “No…my family.” He brought her to see the St. Patricks’. That’s just a re-affirmation to them as a family.
Power Season Four debuts this Sunday June 25 at 9pm on Starz.