Ahhh Chicago, the windy city. Home to emcee Common Sense, the late Robin Williams, and The Oprah Winfrey Show—the highest rated talk show in U.S. history. When it comes to talent, Chicago’s got plenty to offer, and Timon Kyle Durrett—cast member of OWN TV‘s drama series Queen Sugar — is among the créme de la créme of promising actors from the Chi-town. Though a fairly new face to mainstream, Durrett‘s been paving a way for himself in television/film for the last 23 years, and let’s all toast to 53 years more. You may remember Durrett as Quinn Davis, the selfish basketball player boyfriend of Valerie Stokes (Stacey Dash) on season 1 of Vh1’s Single Ladies or in lead role as reformed womanizer Cleavon Burkett, in 2015 comedy-romance, 72 Hours. Preceding his two breakout roles, Durrett has had his fair share of recurring appearances on a myriad of popular TV series including Girlfriends, The Young & Restless, CSI Miami, CSI NY, Ghost Whisperer, Samantha Who?, and Castle. Recently, the Queen Sugar actor phoned in to speak with me about his career, his role on the show, and “aunty” Oprah. It’s humid in New York and Durrett‘s telling me he’s just settling in, in Los Angeles, where he currently resides, and where OWN TV is stationed. When I ask him what else he’s up to, he graciously responds “Just ready to do this.” See more below.
MB: Introduce yourself to our Hot Zoners who aren’t familiar with you.
TKD: Hey, Hot Zoners. I’m Timon Kyle Durrett, and I play ‘Davis West’ on OWN’s new television series “Queen Sugar.”
MB: When did you first start acting?
TKD: My very first job as an actor – and I mean, the first time I’d ever set foot on a production set of any kind – was as an extra in a made-for-television movie called “There Are No Children Here (1993).” I was so absorbed by all the inner workings of a production. I never knew just how much “stuff” went on. I was hooked. I knew that this is what I wanted to do. And the movie starred Oprah Winfrey. So, I guess you could say I’ve come full circle.
MB: When did you recognize acting as your passion?
TKD: As a child, I had an intense fascination with certain things that I would see on television. Action shows and movies were my favorites. I always wanted to do what I saw the larger-than-life stars doing on the screen, I just didn’t know how, or if I ever could. But as I got older (late teens) my fascination turned to fierce determination. I didn’t want to just watch it anymore, I wanted to DO it. I had to. So, I did. I jumped and the universe caught me.
MB: Could you tell us more about your background?
TKD: I was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side. I’m the sixth of eight children (five brothers and two sisters). Outside of attending Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi, I’ve lived in Chicago all my life, up until my mother’s passing in 2001. Two months after that, I decided to head west. I didn’t even have enough stuff to fill one fourth of the moving truck, but I didn’t care. I was ready to start my new life.
MB: What was your first film debut? When?
TKD: My first feature film debut was “Like Mike” (20th Century FOX, 2002), in which I played ‘Henderson’, a role that I landed nine and a half months after arriving to Los Angeles.
MB: How long have you known Oprah Winfrey? When did you first meet her?
TKD: Even though I lived in Chicago, I’d never met Ms. Winfrey – never even seen her in person – until this past February, which was at the table read for the series on the Warner Bros. Studio lot. I was in line right by the door getting food when she walked in. When she saw me she goes, “Heeeyyyyy!” and comes in for a big hug, like an aunt I hadn’t seen in a long time. After my surprise and elation subsided, I thought, ‘Duh! She already knows who I am.’ It took a little longer for my internalized embarrassment to let up.
MB: What’s it like working with Oprah?
TKD: Let me just say that from day one, the work never felt like work to me. To be welcomed so affectionately by Ms. Winfrey, to have her tease me by imitating my voice and laughing at my corny jokes was an experience I didn’t expect. I always felt at home, at ease. Still do. She has this regal, elegant quality about her that makes me feel like I’m with family. She’s great.
MB: On the show you play Davis West, the husband of Charley Bordelon-West—played by Dawn-Lyen Gardner, the lead character. Tell us more about Davis West. What’s he like?
TKD: Davis West is a loving husband and father. He’s also a very famous professional athlete, for whom everything in life has always gone his way. His questionable involvement in a rape scandal puts him at the epicenter of a very public controversy. So, for the first time, he has to dig deep to fight for his marriage, his career, his reputation, and, quite possibly, his freedom.
MB: What was it like auditioning for that role? Tell us about the waiting process that followed. Were you nervous?
TKD: I’ve been trying to find the words that can describe the way I felt before, during, and after the audition process. I was living in Atlanta, GA when my agent called telling me that I was being flown out to Los Angeles to test read for the role of ‘Davis.’ Say What!? I couldn’t believe it. I’ll never forget the day, Thursday, December 17, 2015. The next day I was sitting down with Ava. Say What Again!!?? Still couldn’t believe it. But once she and I started talking, that nervous feeling melted away. Ava has that same queenly ability to put you at ease. Then the angst returned. I waited for what felt like an eternity. Then, on the night of January 20, 2016, Ava DuVernay called me personally to tell me I’d landed the role. No. Freakin’. Way!!!! After we got off the phone, I just sat there with a half-smile. I can not fully convey the feeling that came over me. I still get chills to this day when I think about it.
MB: We know that you’re originally from Chicago, and that you’ve played basketball while attending college in Mississippi. How do those experiences influence the character of Davis West?
TKD: Chicago, the moody and lovely backdrop of my life that it is, afforded me a lot to draw from, as did my time in Mississippi. The scores of emotions I recalled from so many experiences were, in part, inserted into ‘Davis’ world. When viewers see Davis, they will see parts of me that are very real, very true, very close to my heart, my spirit. That’s part of the beauty of this entire experience. It’s as if Ava and the writing team had a dossier on my life. With each script I read, I’d think back and say: ‘Wow! I can really relate to that.’ I hope the viewers will too.
Queen Sugar has been renewed for a second season ahead of the 2-night series premiere, which aired on Tuesday, September 6 & Wednesday, September 7. Catch the show on Wednesday nights at 10|9c via OWN TV.