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Benjamin Bratt Goes Against Type in 'Star'
December 21, 2016  | By David Hinckley

When you’re hired for a TV show to play the guy who created the show, you’d think it might be a tough gig.

Benjamin Bratt says no, that playing a character modeled on a younger incarnation of creator Lee Daniels in the new Fox show Star is something he’s been quite enjoying. (Star airs Wednesdays on Fox at 9 p.m. ET.)

Bratt plays Jahil Rivera, a struggling talent manager who lucks into representing the female trio – Star (Jude Demorest), Brittany (Simone Davis) and Alex (Ryan Destiny) – whose quest for fame and fortune lies at the heart of the show.

Jahil is a hustler, and it turns out he has a history with Carlotta (Queen Latifah), the de facto mother and protector of the trio.

So it all gets soapy, complicated and, everyone hopes, interesting.

Daniels has made no secret of basing parts of the show on his life, and since he was never a girl-group trio, his main persona emerges in Jahil.

Bratt says he’s delighted to take it on. 

“The number one thing that pulled me into the show,” he told TV writers last week, “was that on some level Lee designed Jahil Rivera as a reflection of himself when he was a younger man and working in Los Angeles as an account manager to actors.

”Stepping into the skin of someone like Jahil is an opportunity to expand beyond what typically I’m offered in a television forum.

“It’s also a chance to visit parts of a personality that are very different from my own. [It’s] far and away more challenging because they’re so far removed from what I am.”

At the same time, he said, Daniels has allowed him to develop Jahil within the context of the show, not strictly as a biographical portrayal.

“Lee is the inspiration for the character and obviously a natural touchstone for me to continually go back to,” Bratt said. “It’s an inspiration rather than making me feel pressure to exact a performance in the form of the creator.”

Whatever the specific genesis, Jahil has no shortage of issues with which he will wrestle.

“Obviously Lee is nothing if not provocative in both personality and in the subject matter he likes to explore,” said Bratt. “He’s also someone who has had his various issues with substance abuse and personal behavior that have maybe at times derailed his personal plan for himself.

“I like that he was going to explore that with this character. So when Star begins, we come upon a guy who is down on his luck, had a moment of fame likely back in the late ’90s and has been waiting for the right time and the right star to hitch his wagon to try to extend that ladder to success and fame once again.”

Bratt, who turned 53 this past weekend, has played a rainbow of characters over the years. He may be best known for his several years as Detective Rey Curtis on Law & Order (with the late Jerry Orbach, right), but he also had extended runs in E-Ring, The Cleaner and, most recently, 24: Live Another Day.

He first met Daniels, he recalled, when he worked on Daniels’s 2004 film The Woodsman. So when Daniels called about Star, he immediately sensed this could offer some fireworks.

“Having worked with him on The Woodsman and then following his body of work over the course of the years,” said Bratt, “he’s clearly someone who enjoys the role of provocateur.”

Hands-on provocateur.

“Lee puts his thumb on everything,” said Bratt. “I told him that we need to clone him.  We need at least four more of him because he’s spread so thin.  He’s in the editing room.  He’s in the writer’s room.  He’s dealing with the network.  He’s talking to the actors, and he’s also doing that on Empire.

In the process, Bratt said, Daniels is among those who are making TV more diverse.

“The industry is finally catching up with the reality of the diversity that exists within our country,” he said. “I have always cited early pioneers of blind casting, folks like Dick Wolf who gave me one of my first jobs, to Shonda Rhimes, and now Lee, who populate their programming as they see the world itself.”

Ironically, he said, his own early experience in graduate school at the American Conservatory Theater misled him into thinking diversity wasn’t an issue – because all the casting there was colorblind.

“It wasn’t until I got to Los Angeles for the first time back in the late ’80s,” he said, “that I realized, oh, wait a second, the industry isn’t really like that. They want to put you in a specific category right away.

“Thankfully, that’s all changing.”

Like the way Benjamin portrays Lee through Jahil.

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