‘For Life’ EP 50 Cent on Telling the Inspiring True Story of Isaac Wright Jr.
Inspired by the true story of Isaac Wright Jr., ABC’s new series For Life is a fictionalized legal and family drama following the life of lawyer, prisoner, and father Aaron Wallace (Nicholas Pinnock).
Mirroring Wright’s story, Aaron becomes a lawyer while still incarcerated and starts defending his fellow inmates while also attempting to overturn his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Driven by a desire to rejoin his family and reclaim his life, the show will follow his many struggles and obstacles along the way.
One of those obstacles happens to be series executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (Power), who will play tough fellow inmate, Cassius. We caught up with the rapper, actor and producer on set late last year where he opened up about the compelling story behind the series. He also previewed what’s to come with his character and much more.
What should viewers know about Isaac Wright Jr.’s story ahead of tuning in?
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson: Well, I think people should know that he has come through extreme adversity. Just imagine what it would be like to be sentenced to 70 years plus life for something that you didn’t actually do? And a lot of people, it would break them before they were able to mentally pull themselves together to try and make an effort to help themselves out.
The percentage of people who win appeals, it’s maybe 4 percent. So for you to think that you’re going to actually get out on appeal after you have 70 years plus life, it’s a little crazy. Imagine the process after you see your loved ones and you communicate to them that you think you’ve found a way that you could actually help yourself, and they’re looking at you like, “OK, he might be going crazy.”
It’s such a slim chance that you would assume that you’re not going to get out under those circumstances … It would be a whole new process of you getting yourself back into good spirits to go back to work on it. Each visit would be an emotional setback that slowed down your progress of you getting to that point.
And what do you think is so important about a show like this which depicts our country’s prison system?
I think it’s even more powerful that it’s being displayed on network television because the connection to the true story is what will allow people to follow the process more intensely. It’s like Run-DMC, you don’t have to curse, but it feels like you’re cursing, because they know that how true the story is, they know that it’s coming from a real place, that they’ll immerse themselves in it.
And I’m trying to fight to keep down how many episodes we produce per season because it’ll feel like it’s on a premium network. Next year, they’ll probably be saying, ‘We want 18 or 22,’ and I’ll be trying and kicking and screaming to try and keep it as low as possible.
Is there a number you have in mind? What’s the sweet spot for episode count?
Well, we have 13 now. I don’t mind 13. They’ll want more. Most likely we’ll move into a having more episodes per season, but I don’t mind keeping it where it’s at. We’re doing 10 episodes per season in premium cable [for his other Starz series, Power, and its spinoffs] and they’ll adjust to it.
You were inspired by Wright Jr.’s story when you met him. Were you involved with this series from the beginning?
From the beginning, yeah. I met Isaac through a friend. Actually [boxer Floyd Mayweather] is responsible for this a little bit. He pulled out of us working together in the promotions business… and because I was a licensed promoter in Nevada, I wouldn’t attend the BX Fight Club matches because it was a dark show. Because they’re going to those backyard fights, it is amateur fighting at that point, so you can’t support those things, and because I had the license, I wouldn’t go. So what they did was they hired Isaac [Wright Jr.] to try and find a way that they can legalize it so I could attend. That’s how me and Isaac met and when he told me his story, I was like, “Yo, I’m going to do something with that.”
Apart from serving as executive producer, you’re also playing Cassius Dawkins. What can you tell us about him and what kind of role he’ll play in Aaron’s story?
He’s institutionalized. When you look at someone that was incarcerated at 16 or 17, and then spent a large portion of the time being incarcerated, you probably can only remember [from the time you were 8]. So you start to remember more of the time that you’ve spent incarcerated than when you were in the free world. There’s a point that they don’t actually care about making it back to the free world. As long as they’re in a position where they’re comfortable and occupied comfortably in the system, they’re fine. And it becomes an issue for anyone because he doesn’t care about going home.
On your social media, you revealed that you gained 15 pounds for this role. What else did you do to prepare?
Well, I had to go get my teeth [he smiles, showing off gold-plated teeth]. But I had to look at the temperament of the people that I knew who spent more time incarcerated [than they were originally sentenced]. Like, “you had two to four [years] but you did seven. Why?” And it’s because they got into who they were, their reputation in the jail. They stopped thinking about the outside and started thinking about [their life inside]. And a lot of the people who come in… when they’re new, they’re adjusting. And then they move around early and put those people under their wing so they have a small army.
And Cassius enters the show partway through the season. How would you say the tone of the prison shifts once he arrives?
Oh, immediately it’s different. The warden comes, and she wants to talk to me immediately, as soon as we walk in. The Cassius character recognizes Aaron on the bus, but he doesn’t say hi because he doesn’t care about who he is early on.
[It’s] established that he’s somebody because the warden stops doing what she was doing to make sure that she has communication with him before it gets poisoned in the pool of people that are there. She’s already communicated with multiple wardens [from] the last place he was at and the place before that, and he developed a reputation with them of being the kind of person that, even if you can control it, it will be out of control.
So, you want to provoke?
Right, it’s just his temperament. So there’s always something going on because he’s there.
For Life, Series Premiere, Tuesday, February 11, 10/9c, ABC