Atlanta’s Khris Davis Loves Tracy Way More Than You

We had convo with Khris Davis about why the scene-stealing Tracy is so near and dear to his heart.
April 27, 2018, 6:55pm
Images courtesy of FX. 

Actor Khris Davis is adamant that we all know a side-character like Tracy from FX’s Atlanta. He’s a person with one defining accessory (durag), one defining attitude (a talker) and one defining purpose (to be a problem).

“We all know a Tracy, man. Every damn person met a Tracy before,” he tells me. “You met a Tracy bro.”

The ex-con friend of Alfred 'Paper Boi' Miles materializes out of nowhere during an Atlanta “Sportin’ Waves” episode from season two, and now he’s shown up again in the latest episode, “North of the Border” episode—about a cross-trip to a college show that lands Earn and the gang in the boonies; standard surreal, off the wall, Atlanta shit.

Despite having a purpose that seems hell bent on displacing Earn’s place in the grand state of things, as evidenced by a fistacuffs between the two on “North of the Border,” he still remains a fan favourite for his ability to laugh during strange situations, make messed up decisions and inability to shut his damn mouth.

In speaking with Khris, we had a chat about his character, the prison system, and if the man can really rock a wave as good as Tracy.

VICE: This guy Tracy just keeps popping up. He’s one of the most random characters on the show, but people love him for it. Did you expect that he’d be received like this?
Khris Davis: Man, I had no damn clue that Tracy was going to be this effective. I didn’t even think folks would like him. But hey, I like Tracy, because the guy reminds me of a ton of people I knew growing up. My only hope was that when people saw him, they wouldn’t assume he was some stereotypical ex-con if you will. They’d be able to see his humanity. The concern also came in whether or not I was going to gel with the already strong energies that the core cast members had. I wanted to compliment all that and be a good-teammate.

Did he come off as a stereotype when you first read the script?
He didn’t seem like a stereotype at all. But when you peg someone as some durag wearing ex-con doing card scans (laughs), you’re automatically putting them in a box. It happens with durag wearers if they’re in a train, the rain, a convenient store, you see that and you assume as I’m sure many viewers still do. For me, in knowing people like that, I didn’t see the stereotype, I saw the humanity. It was my job to show people how legit a person from prison can be to someone who doesn’t know that life. Yeah, he does the card scams, but that’s just his scam, his way of getting off. Paper Boi’s way is getting on selling drugs. How’s he any different from Tracy apart from the prison route? He smokes weed, hell I smoke weed too dammit. That’s just a truth, and we needed to portray that.

You also came into this thing with established characters already set. How did you plan to bring this guy in with his own energy?
When I began, I was like alright, let me watch this show for a real vibe, to see how the directors are doing their thing and acquire an energy. I was in Atlanta, and a couple of days before I was supposed to start shooting, I watched like three episodes and I couldn’t continue. I felt like I was falling into an admiration for what these artists and actors were doing, and that could influence me in wanting to take that on. My fear was that I’d go into shooting with their energies instead of my own. In order to maintain my artistic integrity, I had to maintain but also move along their flow. Tracy is meant to be completely different, and I didn’t want him to enter in as assisted energy from previous chapters.

A lot of the reasons why I personally love him comes through his confidence. You sound like a confident dude, how much of Tracy is actually you?
Hey man, that’s my physical body, that’s really me! It’s not like I had to pull an Teddy Perkins on Tracy. Here’s the truth right here, I’m a black man. Black men by numbers get sent to prison right? Any black man with a durag who is sent to prison can be a Tracy. Period point blank. So let’s start there. From my own personal life and experience, people who go to prison still do what we do. They still love, laugh, and still have a family that loves them. If they’re lucky, they even still have girlfriends, boyfriends and children. They still live these lives man.

But what did I put into Tracy? The love for that life despite his circumstances. His ability to push forward and the confidence to do that. It takes a brave person to experience what he experienced and still do whatever he has to. It may not be the right way, but he’s fighting in the only way that he can. He’s just trying to make it out here in these streets as a human being.

And that feels real. Even with his struggles with a job interview. Beyond the comedy, his frustrations felt real. How did you think your way through that scene?
Man, I was just thinking about how smart this character actually is, and all the things I did to get here. If I’m Tracy, I knew for a fact that I was going to get hired. My hair is on point (laughs), I got the kind of shoes that make me look like a professional. I’m wearing khakis and a tie. I’m talking about stuff I’d get clowned for if I was back in the hood. And here I am putting myself out there with the nerve to have some hope, and I don’t get the job?

It’s like...oh, he pauses for a second to make sure he heard that right. Because there’s just no way. Then you add in the fear and frustration about the reality. That he has to go back, and at that point, it’s just like, fuck it man. I chose to be here, I could of gone back to prison, and it’s like, are you kidding me? For what? Because you want to hold this thing over my head that I already did time for?

I’m talking to you, but a lot of what your saying sounds pretty personal. Why is that?
I don’t want to get into this too much, but Tracy is so close to me man. The character, the person, he’s so close to my life, my family, and he’s in some of my friends. I’ve seen people go through this and really struggle every day to try to make it man. And I’ve seen how society just keeps yanking away the rug, bro. Just the moment they put two feet on the rug, and they think they’re good, it’s gone. Some keep stepping on it no matter how many bruises they get, and some never bother to step back on that rug. Some people are just so tired of being out here, struggling against a wall of society that pushes them back without a space to be re-acclimated.

I also feel close to this character because I’m from New Jersey, and I felt like when I moved to New York, I made it out of the skin of my teeth man. That at any given moment, I could of been somewhere messed up, or I could have ended up in prison for some nonsense. Then I would have had to work against the same issues as Tracy.

One of the things I’ve written about, is how well this show tells an authentic set of stories without over explaining shit. It feels more real because of it.
It’s showing how we all exist in the all-together. We forget about guys like the barber Bibby who gives us our haircut. We don’t share folks like him to the world. But these experiences are a part of our life in the day to day. These people exist within the storylines of our lives, in the threads, and these are the people that have made some of us. A lot of us. We all know a Tracy man. Every damn person met a Tracy before, even if you were on a college campus, or you came up in school with somebody, you met a Tracy, bro. There’s an honesty in characters like that, who can just be without having to emphasize what being is. We aren’t caricatures, we’re not people people. We have a humanity and watch us live our best lives without having to overtly explain it.

And that we also aren’t a monolith and we deal with shit differently.
Exactly. We’re more than just one kind of black. The fact that Earn can move in and out of certain white spaces and still hold onto who he is without having to compromise to make that white space feel more comfortable is a different black. We’re all just being, and then dealing with whatever happens in all our spaces as human beings. That’s dope. That’s what it’s really like.

By the way, I gotta ask. Do you have a new appreciation for the wave game after that Sportin Waves episode?
For the wave game, nah man, I always had respect for the wave game. When I was coming up, we used to have wave competitions, me and my brothers and friends. It was just a thing and everybody would just be standing in the bathroom, putting water on their hands to make their waves look all swimmy. Those kind of waves, I mean some of us can get them, but I can’t. My texture isn’t having it (laughs), but I can get them pretty nice though. How many people do you know who can touch Tracy’s waves?

Not many.
Damn right. I'm talking about without no process, without nothing. Just straight up, this is my hair, I'm gonna put the wave cap on, and put a little grease, and we're gonna see what happens. I don't know many either. So on a scale of 1 to 10, Tracy is a 1000.

So you really couldn’t pull it off?
Short answer, hell no!

Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox daily.

Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.