“The Chi”‘s Luke James Says Broadway Was “Profoundly the Hardest Thing” He’s Ever Done

“The Chi”‘s Luke James Says Broadway Was “Profoundly the Hardest Thing” He’s Ever Done

In our Q&A series POPSUGAR Crush, we get to know some of our favorite celebs’ more intimate details — from their signature scent to their perfect date night. This month, we’re crushing on “The Chi” star Luke James.

Luke James loves a challenge. That much is evident from the singer-actor’s accomplished onscreen career. From portraying music icon Johnny Gill in BET’s “The New Edition Story” to R&B bad boy Noah Brooks in Fox’s hit musical series “Star,” James has taken on a handful of roles through the years that have propelled him from an acting novice to a pro. One of his most notable roles to date is in Lena Waithe’s “The Chi,” the all-too-relatable Showtime drama that depicts the struggles of a group of South Side Chicago residents, all linked by coincidence but bonded by their common circumstances.

The show returns for its two-part sixth season, which is 16 episodes long, on Aug. 4 — and James tells POPSUGAR it’s “bananas.” “I cannot wait for y’all to take this ride,” he says. “We’ve got new characters. It’s expanding, obviously. So yeah, it’s going to be gorgeous.”

“I’m just grateful to be a part of a show that people can feel a sense of home with.”

In the show, James plays Victor “Trig” Taylor, the former street dude-turned-community organizer who finishes out season five declaring his campaign for city councilman. The actor originally began his run on the show in season three as a recurring character before he became a series regular. According to James, his four-season journey has been “awesome” and “challenging in all the best ways.”

“Getting into the depths of such a character and telling the truth, it’s been such a fun exercise for the past three, four years,” he shares. “I’m just grateful to be a part of a show that people can feel a sense of home with. I mean, six seasons, somebody’s got to love it. I know my entire cast and crew and everybody who’s ever been a part of this show is tremendously grateful. It’s just a beauty to be a part of [it].”

Though James says he “definitely feels challenged” with “The Chi,” it hasn’t been his hardest acting gig — that would be on Broadway, in “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” The play — which James calls a “love letter to [Black men] in totality” — was written by Keenan Scott II and starred James, “Swagger”‘s Tristan Mack Wilds, “BMF”‘s Da’Vinchi, “Pose”‘s Dyllón Burnside, Bryan Terrell Clark, Forrest McClendon, and Esau Pritchett. Compared with his previous roles, James says he “had never done anything like” the stage production before.

“I’m grateful that I did because it released so much within me and helped me really see my capabilities and to stop doubting myself.”

“Seventy-something shows, eight shows a week, one day of rest, 90 minutes. I’m grateful for those 90 minutes, because I look at other people’s shows and it’s so much longer,” he explains. “It’s crazy because as a person who wants to do great, you’re constantly trying to push yourself to do something different than you’ve ever done before. Instead of staying in the comfort zone of, for me, film and simply creating music, putting yourself out there on a stage night after night with material that is begging you to reveal your truth, personal truth in some ways. Yeah, ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man’ was profoundly the hardest thing I had taken on, but I’m grateful that I did because it released so much within me and helped me really see my capabilities and to stop doubting myself.”

While the play opened on Broadway in the fall of 2021, it only lasted a little over two months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down — a pain point for James. He says, “We held on for so long, and it breaks my heart to think about it because there was a window that we needed to reach and we didn’t get to reach it, but that’s OK. Everything happens for a reason but it was a crazy experience. I’m sure it was a crazy experience for those who came to see it because it was for me to do it.”

These days, James finds peace by staying in creative mode, making music (yes, that includes a new album), and working on his onscreen projects — some of which were “cooking” before SAG-AFTRA declared a strike in July: “I’m creating some beautiful things, and someday I guess I’ll let them fly when they’re ready.” For now, though, the “Chi” star is focused on “being present in the moment.” “I can honestly say, right now, I’m just grateful I get to do what I love to do,” he says. “It gets no better than that.”

Learn more about James in the rest of his POPSUGAR Crush interview ahead.

What’s your signature scent?

If I wear cologne, [it’s] Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir. That right there, yeah, that’s the one. It just tops everything I’ve ever tried before. But for the most part, I like my own scent. Maybe coconut and lavender oil put together. That’s my thing.

What’s your biggest turn-off/turn-on?

Biggest turn-off is attitude. How you deal with life in all aspects. I just like people who are kind and I can read that. I can feel that immediately. If you ain’t kind, then that’s a turn-off. Because your karma is going to affect my karma. If a tree falls, I need to know that it’s not coming for both of us and it ain’t coming for you, because if [it is], then I got to get out the way.

What’s your idea of a perfect date?

Some food, for sure. I don’t drink, I toke. That’s what I like. I prefer to chill. I’m not really an out-and-about person, so I like a nice walk. Set the scene: New York, date night, meet up in the afternoon and we can hang out all into the evening until the late hours. Then wake up in the morning and you catch your train, I catch my train, and ba-doop, there it is.

What’s your favorite thing to order for takeout?

Oh, well, I’m plant-based, so whatever is available. Those of you who are plant-based, you understand my struggle as far as when it comes to takeout, what is available and cooked with less nonsense. But I have a meal prep service because I haven’t gotten into the art of culinary; eventually, I will. So I do meal prep because it’s just a little bit easier for me.

When you’re not working, what do you do for self-care?

I like to be home. I like to be loved up on. That recharges me. Being around my family, that’s everything. That’s real life, for real. I love working out, it’s just a great release. Creating, that’s my fun time. That’s my pleasure. Filming and all that, it’s work. I get paid for it, but to be fair, it’s all fun. It’s really, really all fun until it isn’t. And then I’ll do something else because I’m a true artist, and if I’m not in the space of light and love, then I don’t do it.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

The gift of life; to be here. Someone had to say yes, someone had to take a chance and have me against all odds. Someone had to give up a part of them to ensure that I make it here in this world to have this life.

What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done or that somebody has done for you?

Someone bought me a piano. They knew I wanted a specific piano, and they sought after it, behind my back, and bought me a piano and surprised me with it one morning. Yeah, that’s romance to my heart. That’s like . . . Damn, you bought me a piano?

What’s the best love advice you’ve ever received?

In a relationship, the best way to listen is to be quiet. In love, there are things you won’t understand. You have to give and take, and you’re molding your gives and takes all together, and what you like and what you don’t like. If you love that person and want to mold all of that together, you have to love them first, truly. Or you’ll just be unhappy doing something you don’t want to really do. They can feel that, and that’s the worst thing in the world. To hear someone say they love you but feel they don’t. So let go. But if you are in love, the best thing to do is to honor the quiet and just listen.

This interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike began on July 14.

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