Derrick A. King on The CW’s 4400, Time Travel, and Wanting To Be in Black Panther 3

Credit: Adrian S. Burrows Sr./THE CW

The CW’s 4400 is a reboot of the 2004 series, The 4400, and it features four thousand four hundred people over the last century suddenly appearing in present-day Detroit. Why are they here, and why did they jump forward in time? Derrick A. King portrays Isaiah “Rev” Johnston, one of the 4400. He’s a charismatic reverend from ’90s Chicago who takes it upon himself to lead the 4400 to help find the answer to their mysterious predicament.

King wanted to come in with a clean slate when he got the part for Isaiah, but he wathced the original series on Netflix and instantly became a fan. With the show being a reboot, there are similarities and differences, but the actor was excited for what the show had to offer.

“I’m super excited about it,” King tells Nerd Reactor. “I mean, 2004 sounds so close, right? But in reality, it’s almost 20 years ago, so a lot of things have changed, just in Hollywood culture, throughout the world, and in American culture. And honestly, the top of the line is TV. In this aspect, TV was just used very differently back then. Now TV, since the streaming platforms have come around, has gained a whole new purpose and flavor and feel to it. It’s exciting to be able to see it in a way that can really get dove into, definitely from this perspective of black America and the way that the writers are writing it. It’s really a beautiful story, and it’s fun to see it like this.”

The role of the reverend seems like it was tailor-made for King, a charismatic and charming actor.

“Imagine you get 30 auditions a year,” King said. There’s maybe two to five that you see and you’re like, ‘Okay, I can book this. I want to book them all, but this is me. You’re going to have to show me somebody that does this better than I do in order for me now to get this role.’ And this was honestly one of those. I connected from the moment I read the description on the paper.”

Credit: The CW

Even though Isaiah’s description was laid out on paper, it doesn’t mean that King didn’t have his own spin on the character. The actor went through stages in life from masking himself to finally being able to express himself, which he was able to do here.

“Well, I took what they gave me initially from how they wrote the reverend,” the actor said. “And then, of course, I think the most important thing to do, just for me as an actor, is to add myself into a role. I used to be infatuated with getting completely lost in a role and trying to make somebody brand new. Honestly, as an actor in LA, I get the most opportunities, and I do the best when I’m bringing myself because yourself is more than enough. And I think it was a masking type of thing I had to grow through just as a man, and as a person in general, of trying to hide yourself behind things. It’s like, ‘No, be yourself. Show them who you are.’ And when I added that into what they gave me with Rev Johnston, plus my background research of how it would feel to talk, speak in and be from the church in the ’90s, I think we made somebody that people are able to enjoy.”

The reverend travels from the ’90s to the present day, but he’s a product of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. King’s research included movies from those decades and watching The Movies That Made Us on Netflix. King wanted to know what it would feel like to be in that era by listening to songs from Earth, Wind & Fire, and watching classic films like Die Hard, Willy Wonka, and Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor films.

“Honestly, that’s one of the funnest eras to be in general,” King said. “I was born in the ’90s, so that’s one of those eras to me where it’s like, ‘I’m already interested. I’m interested in the colors and the clothes and Saved by the Bell vibes, you know, a different world.’ Rev Johnston reminds me of a split image of a Bobby Brown album cover type of feel. So it was back in the ’90s, a fun time.”

The project is a collaborative effort, and King learned from his fellow castmates, the writers, directors and the crew, helping him go through the day on set.

“So I’m really honing my craft personally as an actor and then a lot of my castmates, they bring a lot of fun to being an actor,” he said. “And a lot of times I take acting so seriously. I have one of those mentalities like I work hard, hard, hard, and I’ll get results, results, results. I want to be the very best like no one ever was. To capture them is my test, to train them is my cause.”

As King makes the Pokemon joke, he recalls how his castmates helped him be in the moment.

“I want to be the best, and they’re like, ‘Yo, you can be the best but have fun, be present. We’re here. And you know, we’ve made it to this point. Enjoy it.’ So I love learning from them. And on set, one of my favorite parts is when we get to all be together. Even though it sounds bad, we’re in like the camp of being in prison, for lack of a better word, by the government, and in those in those moments is the cast. We’re from different eras, so people have their different voices like ‘I’m from the South,’ and you got somebody from the ’30s, and they’re talking in a certain way. So it’s just fun, and I’m from the ’90s, and then we all get to dance and stuff like that and see all the characters’ decisions that the actors made all in one room. Oh, boy, it’s fun. It’s a good time.”

Another element from 4400 is that each person seems to have a special power. So far we’ve seen powers like telekinesis, super-healing and the power to make people do things through songs. An actor has to make a choice on how they look using their powers, and this is something that King was looking forward to.

“Those are choices that you have to make as an actor because you know, film is forever,” King said. “You realize that once I get cast, just the thought of it, it doesn’t even matter what my power is. If I have one, it’s like, I think I’m going to have one because I’m one of the 4400. How am I going to portray that without looking corny and stuff like that? But you think about it, we all love superheroes. Who doesn’t like superheroes? I mean, Marvel wouldn’t make a billion dollars a movie if everybody didn’t love superheroes. So people have been putting off having powers for a long time. And I hope I get to step into that realm and do it the right way.”

With Marvel Studios having many blockbusters under its belt, does King have an interest in being in a Marvel or DC film?

“Yes. Absolutely,” King said about wanting to be Marvel or DC character. “I would be lying if I didn’t say that. It’s a good stepping stone as it gets into being in that world. If they’re asking for a resume, like, ‘We’re looking for someone new in Black Panther 3.’ ‘Hey, guys, I have a resume here.’ I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction. And I do love comics. I do love superheroes. And it would be fantastic to be a part of a universe like that.”

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