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Joseph Sikora on Tommy Egan's 'Power'
August 25, 2016  | By David Hinckley
 

It’s a dark-humor gag in television that “diversity” means casting a black actor as the incongruous best friend of the lead actor in an otherwise all-white world.

In that sense, Joseph Sikora’s Tommy Egan (top) in the Starz drama Power is the flip side. He’s the white best friend in an otherwise almost entirely black world.

Sikora gets the irony. In fact, he says with a laugh, “I’m playing the white best friend again in my next project,” Jacob’s Ladder with Michael Ealy.

But on Power, which airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET, Tommy Egan isn’t the good-natured sidekick who rarely gets much of a story of his own. Tommy operates in the heart of Power, a character without whom one of the best shows on television would be very different.

Nor is Tommy the admirable white guy, like Alec Baldwin in Mississippi Burning and dozens of other shows, who selflessly saves mistreated black folks.

No, Tommy is one of the meanest cats in a show full of psycho-killers, a status confirmed two weeks ago when his impulsive moment of ultra-violence created one of those scenes that just makes everything stop while the characters and the viewers try to absorb what he just did.

Tommy is the childhood pal and running buddy of James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick, top and left, with Sikora). Their backstory is unfolding gradually, but Tommy grew up in a black world and picked the street smarts of its underside.

Power opened with Ghost and Tommy running a drug distribution network.

Their goals, however, were somewhat different. Ghost is more polished. He wants to make enough money to open a high-end nightclub, go legit and raise his family. Tommy thinks more short-term.

“Tommy isn’t the kind of guy who thinks about what he’ll be doing when he’s 60,” says Sikora. “He knows that in his line of work, he’ll probably never get there. So he’s looking for more immediate rewards. To Tommy, every day is a gift.”

Meanwhile, Tommy and Ghost are linked.

“They’re two sides of the same coin,” says Sikora. “What Tommy lacks, Ghost has, and vice versa.”

In a world where almost no one trusts anyone else, Ghost and Tommy trusted each other – until the end of Season 2, when they had a serious falling-out.

Ghost was trying to go straight, and Tommy was trying to run their drug business, at the same time neither was sure what information the other might have given to the authorities or to rivals.

“They’re both on journeys of self-discovery,” says Sikora. “But between them, they’re not just having a little dispute. This is serious. The question is can it be rectified, and I think it can’t.

“They’re both going to use what they know about each other, and that is almost everything. It’s like a male/female breakup, where someone says maybe we can still be friends. But can they? Or will they just fall back into old habits?”

Forgiving is a tough concept in the life-or-death world of Power, where Ghost’s attempts to break away from the drug world are complicated by the fact his mentor Kanan (50 Cent, right with Sikora) just got out of prison and wants to get back into the game himself.

Trusting anyone on Power isn’t the smartest strategy.

“It’s the KRS-One line,” says Sikora. “If you’re soft, you’re lost.”

Still, Sikora’s Tommy isn’t just a cold psychopath.

“Tommy’s different when you see him in a family situation,” says Sikora. “Like with Ghost’s wife or the kids. He does regular things. He’s completely different from when he’s on the street.”

Tommy is also funny, on a show whose storyline doesn’t leave a lot of openings for laughs.

There’s a scene early in the third season where Tommy is auditioning potential new drug customers, and in each of the scenes, he’s stuffing his face while he negotiates, talking between bites.

“Sometimes Tommy is the comic relief,” says Sikora, whose own comic resume includes work on Adult Swim. “But he doesn’t think of himself as funny. The important thing is never acknowledge your own joke.”

Still, the heart of Tommy’s story and in some ways the heart of the show is his relationship with Ghost, which Sikora says is complicated enough that he’s still piecing it together himself.

It helps, he says, that “Omari and I are friends outside the set. We know each other pretty well, and I think that shows in the scenes between Tommy and Ghost. It looks like we’ve known each other all our lives.

“I’m so grateful to work with Omari. You can tell these guys have a real understanding of each other.”

Writer Courtney Kemp set Tommy up nicely, Sikora says, and then he filled in some of the other colors.

“I developed a backstory for Tommy, with Omari. We drove through Queens, to the places where Tommy grew up. 50 took us to his old neighborhood, and we talked to some of the people there.”

Power finishes its third season Sept. 25 and has been renewed for Seasons 4 and 5. That’s a long time for any character on this show to survive, including Tommy Egan, but Sikora says the best friend shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Tommy is smarter than he thinks he is,” says Sikora. “In the past, Ghost would tell him, ‘This is your part.’ Now that Tommy has been putting together his own operation, he’s feeling like hey, I know these things. I was learning from Ghost all those years. He just has to rely more on finesse.”

 
 
 
 
 
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