Many may recognize Tiffany Boone from Once Upon a Time, where she portrayed Young Ursula, or Fox’s The Following, where she played a teenage killer. However, it’s her role in The Chi that Boone, 30, says is the most challenging. Boone plays Jerrika, a girl from the “right side” of the tracks in Chicago who gets involved with the inner city lives of the Southside of Chicago.
After taking a break from acting to find her creative voice, she read the script for The Chi and couldn’t say no to Lena Waithe’s strong message. Read Us Weekly’s full Q&A below:
Us Weekly: What drew you to the character?
Tiffany Boone: When I read the original pilot, I was so moved by the script. I didn’t think there was anything out there quite like it. A lot of people learned about the murder rate and violence in Chicago, and I thought Lena was trying to tell the true story behind those headlines and introduce people to the lives of these people that you read about and show the humanity of these people. Specifically with Jerrika, I felt like I knew her. She felt like me. She felt like my girlfriend, she felt nuance and complicated in a way that I don’t think black women are written a lot these days. I felt like The Chi was a way to present that voice.
Us: Jerrika’s not afraid to speak her mind. Was that important for you when you decided to take on the role?
TB: I feel like I always play very strong personalities or characters. What was new was how close she was to me. I’m normally playing high schoolers. In The Following, I was playing a 15-year-old girl. This is the closest I’ve ever played to myself and that seemed like such a challenge to me. It’s actually harder to play something so grounded and real to you and find nuances in that. For her to be so close to who I am and still make her her own person, that’s what was interesting to me and what I wanted to tackle and step up to the plate on.
Us: Lena is such a strong writer. Especially in today’s world, how important was that for you when reading the part?
TB: I am a fan of Lena’s of course and she has such strong voice. She’s building an amazing legacy and just to be a part of that is a blessing. For us, there’s a lot of tides turning in Hollywood right now. Female voices, voices of color, queer voices, all of that is coming to the forefront and to be able to be a part of something that is written by a black, female, queer writer is amazing. It’s quite a time in history to be an actor.
Us: You took some time off from acting — why did you decide to come back now?
TB: I was really exhausted. I was feeling drained creatively. I didn’t feel like projects that I was auditioning for were speaking to me and I was kind of becoming bitter. Before I got to the point where I was hating what I was doing and hating the art and the process, I decided to just take a break. I didn’t know how long it could be. It could have been forever. I wanted to do something else creative, so I started creating flowering bins out of my house and I make flower arrangements for Lena. After I took that break and was able to have creative control in my own life, coming back, my first audition was for The Chi and it worked out. I had built a lot of confidence. By the time I came back, I went to audition and knew exactly what I wanted to do.
Us: What do you hope, in the bigger scheme of things, people get out of The Chi?
TB: I hope that people who are in these situations or have experienced the things we’ve talked about in the Chi, feel prod that there are people who want to tell their stories. I hope that other people will be able to see the truth of their circumstances, that they are full people: smart, funny, loving people. For people who never been in these situations, I hope it builds their empathy, that they see themselves in these characters. Even though they’re not from the inner city and they haven’t lost anyone to gun violence and have never been in these situations, you can just see this as people and see them trying to make the right decisions. Hopefully, people will be able to see Chicago is so much more than what I read about. Chicago is so much more than what our so-called president says about it. These are human beings who deserve resources and respect and love and care. I hope that people are able to connect with these characters.
The Chi airs on Showtime Sundays at 10 p.m. ET.