Demetria McKinney Promises 'Motherland: Fort Salem' Will Put a Spell on You

Demetria McKinney Motherland: Fort Salem
Q&A
Freeform/Frank Ockenfels

Demetria McKinney jumped at the opportunity to immerse herself in the fantastical new and unique world of Motherland: Fort Salem. The upcoming girl-power Freeform series is set in the backdrop of an alternate America where witches ended their persecution 300 years ago in exchange for fighting for their country.

The actress/singer has done comedy, including Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, and dramas like Saints & Sinners and Bobbi Kristina, but playing the unwavering sergeant Anacostia in Motherland has been a different animal altogether.

“I’ve always been a fan of the genre," McKinney says. "I’ve loved everything from Charmed to Bewitched to Hocus Pocus. It was always a dream to be a part of something like that,” she said. “When I initially read some of the script, I thought it was just regular magic — 'Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo,' a wand. I had to completely reshape what I thought about magic, because part of the war here is the magic.

“Going into the actual training, I did not know we were going full Lara Croft. There was a lot of calisthenics. We had to get our air up. We had to be able to focus, [and] on top of that we’re singing. We had to get in these different formations. Eliot Lawrence, the creator of the show, is a mastermind in this space. He has been building this story for 10 years. We had to train really hard to do it justice.”

Joining McKinney’s character in the proverbial trenches as young witches go from basic training to the battlefield are recruits played by Taylor Hickson, Jessica Sutton, Ashley Nicole Williams and Amalia Holm.

Before the initial 10-episode story unfolds, we sat down with the star to find out why this new series will cast a spell on you.

(Freeform/Frank Ockenfels)

You’ve been such a strong voice for women empowerment. What does it mean to you to have this role to sink your teeth into? 

Demetria McKinney: Being part of something innovative is always exciting. Being a part of something that shows the magic of women is even more exciting. Getting to do it, especially as an African American woman. It’s not a race thing or anything like that, but to get to rock my natural hair and show the power in that. Getting to show all these multicultural woman, empowering themselves by way of combat, by way of magic, by way of sex, all these different things we take for granted as part of our magical power and prowess. I’m elated, excited and honored by it.

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The teasers gave us a taste of the show and definitely built anticipation. What can viewers expect? How would you describe what we will see? 

I don’t think fans can expect anything. I’m saying that in the best possible way. You can’t say what this is. I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t compare it to anything because as soon as I compare it to anything, I continue to read the script and am like, “Dang it! You got me.” I think it is a ride hitting a cord with women empowerment.

However, beyond that we’re also showing just how strong women are in lifting everybody up along with them. It’s not just the power of women per se. It’s about representing LGBTQ, all these different races and including men in a way that gives them an opportunity to walk in a different set of shoes. When you’re talking about expectations, how people can visualize this. It’s a whole different world. It’s a utopia told from a different lens. It’s a great vantage point to be seeing.

You’re in this authoritative role. How did you prepare and research for the part? 

I’m actually a military brat. I grew up with both my parents in the Air Force, so I’m kind of familiar with the militant lifestyle. My mother is who I base a lot of Anacostia on. My mother retired from the Air Force as a master sergeant. I understood the discipline. I understand what it was like to deploy. I understood what the regiment was. As a single mom, that compassionate side of my character comes through because I understand with an iron fist you also have to have a soft glove. You have to be able figure out where each one fits. It has been a fun dynamic. Yes she plays no games, but she does it with love.

What was the atmosphere like on set? In this setting, there must be a deep sense of camaraderie.  

We’re all being drawn into this whole new world together, so we’re leading into this new reality and coming into this new space. Going into military combat training. We did like real training. So when one of us hurt, we knew what that was about. “Yeah your elbow was wronged too. We’re going to help each other.” We all had to learn these different spells.

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Camaraderie is an understatement. We really became family. We went into a space where even during filming of the pilot and not knowing if it would get picked up, we each got a piece of witch jewelry to make sure we took that experience with us no matter where we were. Me and Lyne [Renee] are, ahem, seasoned ladies of the group. We took these ladies under our wing and are having a great time. We really enjoyed bringing these characters to life. Hopefully, people can see that camaraderie reflected on screen.

What kind of response have you gotten as more information and visuals come out? 

Hashtag "lets go." Everyone is looking forward to it. Everyone is incredibly excited. I think this show couldn’t have happened at a better time. I don’t think it couldn’t have happened with a better network. Freeform is willing to push the envelope and express different views. That is what makes it such a beautiful marriage. Seeing popup things like the Grammys. The visibility, the support is not only shown through the audience’s excitement, but the network is willing to make sure people know we’re coming and giving them the opportunity to join in.

(Freeform/Frank Ockenfels)

How has your experience within the industry changed since when you were just starting out? Do you feel a different mindset going for roles as gender equality and better representation continues to be pushed? 

A lot of the stuff early on in my career was the typical “black girl.” It was she is angry, she is a single mom, she has a drug issue. That’s not to say those stories don’t deserve to be told. I love telling stories. It’s an amazing job to get paid for, but there are other things we’re able to do. I remember when they bring me in for one character and I think, “Yeah, I’m going to read for this. I’d also like to play the role of the astronaut. I can do that too.”

Getting to this multitiered group of women with all these different talents and potions and possibilities has definitely expanded my horizons for what is possible with not only me, but the other African American woman watching me. They’ve seen me on all the platforms like the BETs, the TV Ones, the Bounces, I love them. But let’s bring the audiences here. Let’s co-mingle and figure out whose stories really apply where and how we can break those barriers.

You mention Bounce TV. Is there anything you can tell us about the future of Saints & Sinners? That series that has seen so much success.

I’m blessed to be part of really cool stuff. We break records on different occasions. Even on House of Payne. That was the longest-running black sitcom in history. Now with the success of Saints & Sinners, we’re definitely talking about Season 5. I’m hoping we’ll be able to confirm that sooner than later.

Right now, I am reveling in what Motherland is going to be. It’s such a different genre. It’s such a different world. It’s a space nobody has seen me in. I literally have stripped down almost as much as I did like when I played Whitney in Bobbi Kristina. It’s just a re-creation of me. I’m excited.

Motherland: Fort Salem, Series Premiere, Wednesday, March 18, 9/8c, Freeform