Russell Hornsby on How ‘BMF’ Brings Deep Level Authenticity
The weight of stepping into the shoes of real people is not lost on Russell Hornsby. The prolific actor can currently be seen portraying Charles Flenory, the late patriarch in the 50 Cent produced Starz drama BMF.
Inspired by a true story, the series travels back to the 1980s and southwest Detroit, where Charles’ young sons Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory (played by real son Demetrius Flenory Jr.) and Terry “Southwest T” Flenory (Da’Vinchi) turn their business aspirations into what would become the Black Mafia Family—one of the most prominent drug trafficking organizations in America.
As the show builds to its November 21 season finale, Hornsby provides us with some intel. The busy star also delves into what we can expect from his turn as boxing promoter Don King in Hulu’s Iron Mike series and his recurring role in Season 3 of Netflix’s Lost in Space.
In a matter of days, BMF was renewed for a second season. Why do you think the show has resonated so much?
Russell Hornsby: People have a thirst for that story to be told. I also believe what we did differently, and I have to thank [director] Tasha Smith, is that she approached with a deep level of authenticity that you don’t often see when Black stories get told. Story and script is one thing, but when you get some fantastic actors old and young, you can’t help but come out with an authentic grounded performance and work. People want realness. That is what we gave them.
Charles is a proud man who wants the best for his family and kids, but forces outside the home and environment have intervened. It’s reflected in Big Meech and Terry.
We are getting the opportunity to see what America was like in the late ’70s and early ’80s in this country. Charles represented a person and a family afflicted by how America has let down its populous. Charles represents that code: if you work hard, you will be able to make it in America. That would have been the case up to that point. What we’re seeing is his two boys looking out for him, saying, “Dad, I understand that, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
What we’re seeing is everyone reassessing their lives. America is changing. Lives are changing, and we have to change with it. If not, you get left behind. I think that is what the boys recognized at a young age in high school. Whether we like it or not, drugs, illicit activity, and gangsterism were all part of America. They said we are choosing not to be poor anymore. I think that’s the lens that I peer through. You have two kids in a family who were fed up with what America wasn’t doing for them. They had to figure out what to do for themselves.
Charles passed away in 2017, but what has the reaction been from the family about the show’s portrayal?
Lucille, the matriarch of the family, came to me at the premiere with tears in her eyes. She said, “Thank you. Charles would be proud. I’m proud of how you portrayed the story and how we portrayed them so beautifully.” That’s the highest honor you can get at this point. She said, “You honored us.”
BMF is a passion project for 50 Cent, who directs episode 7 (airing November 14). How has it been working with him?
I think 50 brings this energy that makes one passionate. I fed off of him and his willingness to take the reigns. It has been a joy and a lot of fun. Snoop Dogg [who plays Pastor Swift] has as well. I have respect for Dogg because when he shows up, he shows up and comes prepared. You can’t ask for much more than that. He delivers a lovely performance. It’s fun to play with someone who is prepared to go to work.
Snoop, 50 Cent, even Eminem has a guest spot. Beyond that, music is an important part of the show. What do you feel it adds to the storytelling?
I think that when you talk about our culture, Black culture and lives, music is such a big part of the story because music is always a huge part of our lives. You really get an opportunity to see where the culture was, where society was, and also see where Black people were at that time in America: what we were loving, what we were hating, what we were running and fearful of. It takes people back. It gives the opportunity for older folks to reminisce and for younger folks to learn.
What can you tease about the season finale as we really see the roots forming in this origin story of the Flenory family and things start to unravel?
When you’re dealing with success, opportunity, and money in a life of crime, you lose people. And you lose people that you love. I think that’s part of the pain and cost of being in the street game. It is going to be a great finale. I don’t think everything is going to tie up in a nice bow. It definitely leaves it open for Season 2.
I know there is a lot of mystery regarding your role on Lost in Space this season, but how excited are you to be part of this project?
I’m excited because I get to be part of something that has a huge fan base and cult following. I had no idea. I told my brother I was going to be on the show—he was excited and got me excited. It was a post-pandemic job. When I got to work and read the scripts, it’s getting to be another character who is totally different. The cast is great. Everyone came with an exuberant joy to just be working again. A year ago, I was in Vancouver. The temperature was cold and blustery, but I was happy to be up there.
You’re currently working on Iron Mike. What has been your approach in your take on the often over-the-top Don King?
I’ve done a lot of theater work in the last 30 years. I can be a character actor as well. I get to play a character that was hated by most and loved by few and get an opportunity to show the humanity in him as well as all the dark side.
BMF, Sundays, 8/7c, Starz and on Starz online
Lost In Space, Wednesday, December 1, Netflix
Iron Mike, TBA, Hulu