It’s time you meet your new favorite actress, How To Get Away with Murder star Aja Naomi King. You’ll get along great because she loves Shonda Rhimes, Beyoncé, and Empire’s Cookie Lyon as much as you do.
VH1 caught up with the up-and-coming star, who dished on the behind-the-scenes action of Murder (Shonda!) and how she feels about diversity being at the forefront of TV’s current lineup. Did we mention she supports Fifty Shades of Grey? Yes, she rocks.
How are you feeling about season 1 coming to an end?
It’s kind of sad, we’ve had so much fun shooting it and spending all this time together. I don’t want it to end, I enjoy people watching it and telling me what they think about it.
What has been your favorite scene to shoot so far?
Before it was the woods scene because it was super intense but my favorite hasn’t aired yet, it’s in the finale.
So we’ll know it when we see it?
I hope so, if I did my job right!
If you could play any other character, who would it be?
Annalise. Who doesn’t want to play her? She’s so tense and so raw. Or Rebecca, because I’ve never played someone so dark with so much hidden. [She’s really] twisted and that’s her constant world.
Do you have any TV guilty pleasures of your own?
I think it’s well-known that I love all things ABC and Shonda Rhimes — I’m a huge Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy fan. Outside our network, I love Game of Thrones. Crazy enough, I’ve been catching up on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. That show is really funny! They DO that show, they’re so good! The whole cast is so good and extremely diverse. Terry Crews and Andre Braugher are amazing on this show. Those writers are phenomenal.
Are you an Empire fan?
What do you think of season one?
The things that are done and said, I’m like, “Is this network television?!” You can’t look away! The music is so good and I am so blown away by the songs they do. I’m like, “Where did all this talent come from?” And the storyline is so good, you’re literally on the edge of your seat, like “What is going on? When is he gonna get caught for what he did?” And that one son of hers — if he disrespects her one more time!
Who’s your favorite character?
Cookie, of course.
All these new shows with primarily African-American casts — Murder, Empire, and black-ish — are doing so well. Do you feel like this was long overdue?
You know the crazy thing is, it’s a return to something that was already happening in the late ’80s, early ’90s. Queen Latifah had a show, Martin Lawrence had a show, there was Girlfriends with Tracee Ellis Ross, French Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters. Why is this so “ingenious” right now to have this super diverse cast, when all these shows were huge? They had huge fan bases, they were comedic, dramatic, they hit all the right notes, and it’s like people are remembering these were super successful, and saying, “Let’s do that again.”
Why do you think these types of show resonate with so many people?
Because people feed themselves these characters. There’s a reflection of yourself in what you’re watching so [that] you relate to it more strongly. Not to say there’s not good TV out there, but I think TV is better when it accurately reflects the world as it is. And yes, the world may be a little more melodramatic or a little more comedic, there are things about it that kind of tug at your humanity and your like, “Oh, I know this, this is familiar to me, I’ve experienced this.” And when you see that in all different colors, sexes, and sizes, you’re like, “Oh, that’s me being reflected back at me.”
What else do you think we need to be seeing more on TV?
Everything! TV is such a great medium in what it can do in terms of enlightening an audience. We can really inspire and teach people about other people. That’s a powerful tool and that’s something that the arts has always been capable of doing. Back when people couldn’t read, other people would take newspapers and turn them into theater, so that people would know what was going on in the world. That is a powerful thing.
Let’s talk Fifty Shades of Grey. Have you read the books, or seen the movie? Are you a fan?
I haven’t read the book, it’s not the type you can just read on a plane (unless you have a Kindle). I love the trailer — have Beyoncé sing anything and I’m a fan. I haven’t seen the film yet.
What do you think about the argument that it’s anti-feminist?
What matters is the premise of the story, which is desire. Maybe we shouldn’t be so ashamed about what we desire. I think that it’s important to be true to ourselves, and it may not be the norm for someone else but if it makes you happy, then…
How involved is Shonda Rhimes day-to-day?
I thought I would see more of Shonda and [creator] Pete (Nowalk) day-to-day, but they’re off doing their jobs. We don’t actually see a lot of the writers or creatives. Sometimes I’ll get told, “This line right here that you are about to say, Shonda wrote that,” and of course I’m excited. I’ll barely see Pete, but he’ll check in.
Who from the cast have you gotten closest with so far?
Jack (Falahee) and Karla (Souza) are both so wonderful but Katie (Findlay) and I spend a lot of time together. Alfie (Alfred Enoch), lived with me for a couple of days when he first got here. We’re all super close.
If you had to date any of the characters in real life, who would it be?
I would totally date Asher’s (Matt McGorry) character because he’s a surprising guy. He seems like this douchebag but he’s clearly one of the better students, morally speaking. I feel like he’s ride or die — very loyal when that whole thing happened with his father — and that’s an important quality.
You would be the one to go in and melt that heart of his?
Yeah, I would be the Beyoncé to his Jay-Z, you know, just upgrading him. [Laughs.]
What has been the most unexpected challenge of shooting Murder?
It’s a challenge when you don’t know what’s going to happen. When you don’t know when a moment makes sense [or] where your storyline is going. But there’s also something a little freeing about that, because that’s life. You don’t know what’s gonna happen so you can’t really plan, you can only go with it. I’m a little bit of a control freak so it’s been nice to learn to let go and just trust others.
If it were up to you, how would things end for Michaela this season?
They would all go down for murder, she would get off scot-free, Ian would come running back to her, her mother-in-law would be like, “Oh my God I’m so grateful to have you as part of our family,” [and] Annalise would still give her the trophy and a permanent assistant like Bonnie and Charlie.
What’s next for you? What’s your dream role?
I majored in theater, so I’d love to get back on a stage. I’m at a place where I want to have fun, I want to be challenged, I want to love the people I work with, and continue to appreciate being in the position to work and play and explore.