Ben Watson: 'The LA Complex' Reveals Gay Black Character
Betcha didn't see that coming, huh? Episode two of the hot new MuchMusic (and soon-to-be The CW) show the "The L.A. Complex" ended with aspiring hip-hop artist Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson) locking lips with his tough-as-nails hip-hop mentor/boss, King (Andra Fuller). It's the first time a TV show has explored the taboo topic of being gay in the hip-hop world, and it's already provoked quite the reaction from fans.
The Huffington Post caught up with Watson to find out what it's been like as a young actor tackling such a controversial character, chatting about everything from filming the nerve-wracking scene with Fuller to how he feels about his new life as an accidental role model.
You had a pretty major scene at the end of last week's episode! What kind of reaction have you been getting so far?
The second it ended I was getting tweets and Facebook messages with people saying, "Omigod! What just happened? I never saw that coming!" It was completely out of left field for a lot of people. It was the perfect response I was hoping to get. Everyone's dying to know what's going to happen in episode three.
What was it like filming that scene?
It was nerve-wracking because Andra and I knew it was coming, and it was one of the last scenes of the day. Plus there are so many people around us! We had two choices -- we could run away and hide or jump right in and fulfill the needs of these characters. So we jumped right in!
Offhand, I can't even think of an openly gay man in the rap or hip-hop worlds, so in that sense your characters are pretty groundbreaking...
It's controversial and it's amazing at the same time. There have already been a lot of comments on the 'net, and a lot of people are already turned off by it because it's not done in the hip-hop world by two black guys. It's just not done. I feel a lot of pressure -- good pressure and bad pressure. It's a story that has to be told and has to be told right. I can't think about the negative part, I just have to fulfill the story of Tariq.
How did your family react?
I'm black Jamaican, so it was a little controversial! There were a lot of people who were like "Awesome!" but there were some people who were turned off by it. They reacted a lot better than I thought they would have, let's put it that way. It shocked a lot of people, but what can I do?
Can you give some hints about what will happen in future episodes? Will this affair stay a secret?
I can guarantee you there are a ton of people on the down-low in the hip-hop world. We're not the type of show that's going to be like, 'Cool, we're going to tell the hip-hop world that it's time to come out!' and all of that stuff. It's going to be true to life, so it has to be a relationship on the DL. We can't just come out and be like, "cool, we're in the hip-hop world, we're proud, we're gay." As much as we'd like to do that, it's just not realistic. So yeah, it's going to be a relationship on the DL. And... things happen! A lot of things happen. These next four episodes are ridiculously amazing, so a lot of people are going to be stunned by what happens.
I'm dying of curiosity because HuffPost interviewed [co-creator] Martin Gero a couple of weeks ago, and he said that all of the characters are based on real people. Do you know who Tariq is based on? You don't have to name names, I'm just wondering if you know!
I don't know! I would love to say, "yeah, I know exactly who Tariq is," but I don't know! I have no idea. I would love to get into Martin's head!
Do you feel a sense of responsibility that comes along with this? Are you prepared to be a role model of sorts?
A lot of people have asked me that. I knew that in taking on a role like this, it was going to come with the territory. This is one of the last characters that they cast in the series. I knew that it would be a very tough role to cast, especially being a black guy whose character is gay on the show and in hip-hop -- it's a lot for someone to take on. A lot of people aren't going to be comfortable portraying this role on television. I want to help people. Hopefully I will get an opportunity to help through something like the It Gets Better campaign or PSAs. I would absolutely love the opportunity to do something like that.
Do you think the American reaction is going to be different when this starts airing on The CW?
Oh, man, wow. I'm freaking out because I don't know. With every good reaction there's going to be a counter bad reaction, so I'm just going to have to go with the flow! I'm freaking out thinking about it right now. Thanks for bringing it up! [Laughs]
At this point, do you think the positive reaction is outweighing the negative?
On my Twitter, nothing has been negative yet. Some of the negative reactions have been coming from a lot of older black Canadians. In our culture, it's totally fine to be gay and open and all of that fun stuff, but if you're from an older generation it's still "wrong." I've been reading some negative comments, but I can't let that stop me. I just have to embrace it.
Are you worried about being typecast as a gay character for the rest of your career?
Honestly, I don't care. It was a thought that if the show was a success I might be pigeonholed, but who cares, really? I'm an actor -- that's what I do. I take on roles and then I lose the role and become me again.
"The L.A. Complex" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on MuchMusic.
You can watch the controversial scene below -- SPOILER ALERT for those who haven't seen it!