Before Brandon Micheal Hall got the lead in ABC's new sitcom The Mayor, a friend asked him what he wanted to do next in his career. "I said, 'Honestly, man, I want to play a role where I play myself,'" Hall recounts during a recent phone conversation. "I want to play a young, black, rapper. I want to do something that has something to do with politics, something where I can make a social change. Something in that vein." His friend suggested he may have to write that himself—but then he got an audition that made those plans unnecessary.
In the comedy, Hall plays Courtney Rose, an aspiring rapper in a fictional Northern California town called Fort Grey. He decides to run for mayor as a stunt, and, thanks to his candor in a debate, ends up winning. The pilot—the only episode made available to reporters—is a feel-good story in which Courtney learns about putting his new job and responsibilities above his personal ambitions. Hall, whose biggest credit to date is a supporting turn on TBS's Search Party, perfectly calibrates Courtney's charm offensive with his still-developing maturity. And for the 24-year-old, the role is the manifestation of his personal passions.
While he was studying at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities and New York's Juilliard, Hall says he basically sequestered himself from the news cycle. "When I got out and I realized how much craziness was happening in the world, I was like, 'I've got to find some way to involve myself through the arts,'" he explains. "So when I found out he was running for mayor and there was a political message to the story, I was like, 'OK, I have to work my butt off to get this.'"
The Mayor was created by The Mindy Project veteran Jeremy Bronson, but its executive producer, Daveed Diggs, has been its biggest draw in terms of name-recognition behind the scenes. (In front of the camera, Community's Yvette Nicole Brown is Courtney's mom and Glee's Lea Michele is his chief-of-staff.) Diggs—for those that weren't consumed by Hamilton mania—won a Tony and legions of fans for his linguistic dexterity as both Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Hall quickly realized he had a number of connections to Diggs: They lived nearby each other, have a mutual friend, and their birthdays are extremely close in date.
They got drinks. Diggs, who is from Oakland, offered to fly Hall out to the Bay Area to get a better sense of just who Courtney is as a character. During the three-day trip, Hall went to the Fruitvale BART stop where Oscar Grant was shot by a police officer. "I played the video, and I sat right there, and I watched it while I was sitting in the station," he says. "That's when it came to me that like, Oh, this is much bigger than a show. This is about people's lives that are being lost every day."
The Mayor is something of an anomaly in 2017: a series about government that's actually optimistic rather than cynical. Courtney is an example of what happens if an outsider gets elected and actually does good—unlike, say, a real life figurehead who also doesn't consider himself part of the establishment. "Not to get too political with Trump—because in this artistic process he's not very relevant—but we've seen through Trump that anyone, if you're targeting the right group of people, can wind up winning, unfortunately," Hall says. "And unfortunately no matter who that group of people are, they will show their faces when somebody is speaking up about the things that they have problems with. And what Courtney does is, he's in the same way but he's doing it for the 99 percent. He's doing it for the other side of the spectrum."
So that's the political side of the series. Then there's the rapping. Plans are in place to release tracks each episode that are ostensibly by Courtney but really the work of Diggs and his group clipping. Hall had a fledgling rap career as a teenager alongside his cousins—an anecdote that he trotted out during his first talk show appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week. Before The Mayor came along, he had been making beats and writing bars as a creative outlet outside of acting. But he wasn't planning on releasing those to the world.
For his first audition, Hall performed material he wrote when he was 16 and a Cassidy freestyle, but went ahead and composed something completely new when he was called back. That ended up in the pilot, and now he's continuing to hone his skills. "Whenever I can find time on set, I write a couple of bars, or I write a verse down to an instrumental," he says. Perhaps in the second season more of Courtney's musical voice will be Hall's, but the actor says he's not there quite yet. And as for politics? That will probably never happen, though he has designs to volunteer. "The more I learn about this system, the more I'm like, I would lose my hair in a week," he says. "And I like my 'fro. It looks good. I don't want to lose it."
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