From the Television Critics Association's winter meetings in Pasadena, Calif.:
Bryshere Gray wants the president to know that wasn't him calling President Obama a "sell-out" in last week's episode of Fox's new hit "Empire."
"This is my first acting experience, but I...always wanted to," said the West Philly rapper-turned-actor, who's also known as Yazz the Greatest, in an interview Saturday following a news conference for Fox's new hit "Empire." (For more about that and what Lafayette HIll's Terrence Howard had to say about his problematic past, see here.)
"Fox challenged me in so many ways with the character, as being ruthless and disrespectful and not having any limits," said Gray, who plays Hakeem Lyon, the youngest son of music mogul Lucious Lyon (Howard) in the prime-time soap co-created by West Philly's Lee Daniels ("The Butler," "Precious").
"They challenged me, but I was prepared."
Although maybe not for everything Hakeem's done so far.
"The most surprising thing I did was dissing the president," said Gray, referring to the scene in last week's episode in which Hakeem goes on an on-camera rant in a restaurant and insults Obama in a video that quickly goes viral. (In a later scene, Howard's character is seen calling Obama to apologize. It's the second time in the show's first two weeks that "Empire" has name-checked the president.)
"We have a great relationship, Obama and the Obama Foundation, and it was challenging, you know. It just shows you the type of guy Hakeem is," he said.
He's met the president?
"Yes. He's a great guy, humble."
Did he know Obama know he was going to be mentioned that way?
"He might have been watching. He might be a fan of 'Empire.' I mean, if he was -- he will know, but -- I hope he understands it was coming from Hakeem," not Bryshere, Gray said.
"It's the role, it's acting. Denzel [Washington], he plays villains sometimes, you know?"
The other big challenge for Gray in making the transition from rap to acting has been "slowing it up, making it sound clearer, making it make sense," he said. "You have to slow it down and mean it. And I'm learning from the best -- Taraji P. [Henson, who plays his mother, Cookie], Terrence Howard. Lee Daniels is directing me. Mario Van Peebles is directing me. I'm like around the all-star team."