Hot off the release of his new show, Johnson, we tapped multihyphenate actor, writer and producer—and Atlanta native—Deji Laray (@dejilaray) for a deep dive into the show, its controversial themes and why communication is always key.
Tell me about the inspiration behind Johnson. I had a core group of friends in college. We were all very different but very close. We respected each other. I think Johnson was born out of that experience. Of course, it’s television, so you work to add more dynamics and complexities to the characters, but being able to see myself and the majority of guys around me represented on television was a goal with this show.
What are the most important themes in the show, and why do you think it’s important for each to be recognized? The most important themes in the show are love, living and speaking your own truth, and accepting each other’s differences. The show is filled with strong opinions, contrasting opinions and perspectives that create conflicts within relationships. The journey of the show is accepting those differences and working through those conflicts. It’s important for these themes to be recognized because it all contributes to personal growth.
One of the goals of Johnson was to close the divide between the understanding of men and women. Can you share more about this? They say men are from Mars and women are from Venus. We want to reshape that to say men are from Earth and women are from Earth— just different time zones. Of course, we have our differences with how we deal with many things, like dating, marriage and parenting, etc., and we cover those fun and entertaining differences on our show, but there is a deeper divide between men and women, and, more specifically, Black men and Black women, for reasons that are very layered and complex. A lot of those reasons stem from centuries-old discriminatory practices against Black women and men revolving around colorism, patriarchal societies and workplace discrimination. And it will take a long time to dismantle a lot of these biases. It starts with conversations and people willing to listen and put forth actions, and that’s what we do on the show.
What’s your hope for opening up the conversation about current social issues? My hope is that it makes it easier for viewers to have these types of conversations without completely writing off the person they may disagree with. Many times our differences can be resolved with communication and listening.
Anything else exciting in the works? My producing partner, Thomas Q. Jones, and I started a production company called Midnight Train Productions, and we have an entire catalog of projects in the pipeline. Johnson was the first project under our production company banner. Up next we have an international action suspense film entitled Escaping Paradise that is in postproduction and due out later this year.
How often do you get back to Atlanta these days? Any favorite places to frequent in town? I get back to Atlanta several times a year, but not as often as I would like. I love my city, and every time I come home it feels very nostalgic yet new at the same time because so much has changed. I eat at the same places every single time I touch down in the A. I eat at Bartaco in Midtown, Taqueria Del Sol (strictly for the shrimp corn chowder) and The U Bar on Camp Creek Parkway to watch football and eat chicken wings.
Photography by: Storm Santos