“I Run This” is a weekly interview series that highlights Black women and femmes who do dope shit in entertainment and culture while creating visibility, access and empowerment for those who look like them. Read my Ciara Imani May interview here.
There’s something truly addicting about the “Powerverse,” the TV universe 50 Cent and Courtney A. Kemp created on Starz stemming from the original show “Power.” The dynamic saga about the New York City drug game and the family-run empires that fuel it is as scandalous as it is violent.
In the third season of “Power Book II: Ghost,” a spinoff centering Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.), the son of the protagonist in “Power,” bodies drop often and each character has good reason to watch their back, law enforcement included. (TV and film writers, including those who worked on “Power Book II: Ghost,” are currently on strike over pay and working conditions.)
LaToya Tonodeo’s character Diana Tejada, daughter of drug-dealing duo Monet Tejada (Mary J. Blige) and Lorenzo Tejada (Berto Colon), is learning more than ever to hold her own this season. After blowing up her mother’s secret in Season 2 and getting shunned by her family, Diana starts to imagine a life outside of the family business. But after helping Monet kill a suspended detective and moving drugs on her college campus for Lorenzo, Diana finds herself deeper in the game than she’s ever been before.
“For Diana, it’s definitely family over everything,” Tonodeo said. “Diana’s weakness is matters of the heart. So even when she wants to do better for herself, she always puts herself second and her family first.”
And with her papi dead, a potential RICO case against her family, drug charges of her own and a fraught relationship with her mother, Diana finds herself having to make the tough decision of choosing family or choosing herself.
“Shit is about to hit the fan,” Tonodeo said of the remaining “Ghost” episodes. Her character is on the verge of connecting some key dots.
For “I Run This,” Tonodeo discussed Diana’s conflict between family and her dreams, channeling her inner Monet Tejada and how “Ghost” changed her life.
Love and loyalty for her family conflict with Diana’s aspirations to stay far away from her family’s business and perhaps leave the “big rich town” altogether to pursue a college career at Spelman. What were your initial thoughts when you first read her character arc for Season 3?
Oh, man. I was very excited, because coming off of that dinner table scene [in Season 2], I didn’t know where they were going to take me. So when I read that she’s finally going to attend school, which is something that she’s always wanted to do, I was excited about it. But then as I continued to read my arc, I’m like, oh, wait. So she actually gets involved in the life deeper than she ever has. For me, it was interesting to see how the rest of the episodes were going to be written to see how it all comes to fruition.
Diana is really laying the foundation to mark her own path in a big way this season, trying to gain more independence from her family while also, like you said, getting deeper into the life. At this point, how would you describe Diana’s role in her family and how it conflicts with what she’s trying to do with her future?
For Diana, it’s definitely family over everything. Diana’s weakness is matters of the heart. So even when she wants to do better for herself, she always puts herself second and her family first. And that’s always a conflict for her, because it’s always this push and pull of wanting to do better. For example, as we know, wanting to go to school, wanting to get out of the life. But then her father, when he was alive, pulls her back in, and she can’t help but to be helpful and say, “Yes,” because, again, it’s F.O.E. It’s family over everything. Always.
Do you think Diana is aware of that weakness of the heart that she has for her family?
I don’t think she’s aware. I think that it’s autopilot for her. It’s ingrained in her. That’s all the siblings. We just do certain things that are second nature. It would be nice to see that revelation happen where she realizes, “Oh my gosh, that matters of the heart is a weakness for me.” But at this moment where we find her, I don’t think she truly notices that.
Where we leave off, Diana has been arrested and now has charges against her. We’re all sitting on the edge of our seats trying to figure out her next move and it feels like a breaking point is coming. How did you go into preparing for this episode and understanding the decision she had to make?
Well, for the interrogation scene in Episode 8, I just tried to lean into the fact that she is a Tejada. Her mother raised her. She’s very much a mixture of Lorenzo and Monet, and then she has these two very strong brothers. I just really leaned into who I’ve known Diana to be since I’ve been sitting with her since Season 1.
And I tried to lean into the fact that, again, she’s Monet Tejada’s daughter. What would Monet do? If she’s supposed to be being groomed to be a little Monet, then what would she do? And that was my process for the interrogation stuff. Monet wouldn’t snitch. Monet would be 10 toes down. And even her father had federal charges. He was in prison. He didn’t snitch, so neither will Diana.
The comparisons of Diana being a little Monet are ironic, especially because their relationship is so fraught. How is it working with Mary in these very difficult scenes where obviously the mother-daughter relationship is toxic? What is the relationship that you have with Mary, and how does that impact the relationship that you both have on screen as Monet and Diana?
What I appreciate, with Mary, she’s very giving when it comes to just vulnerability in the scenes. She is very loose. We can literally ad-lib a scene. Of course, we’re staying within context of the words in the script, but if she adds a line, I can feed off of that and vice versa. If I add a line, she jumps right in. It’s like a beautiful dance that we play. And I really love that because, again, she’s giving when it comes to this playing within the scene.
And then outside of work, again, she’s a giving person. She offers up so much knowledge and advice. I feel that I could go to her and ask her a question about anything, and I feel like she would genuinely give me advice and her opinion on what she thinks. She’s such a great person.
What do you think Diana’s power is?
Oh, my. Hmm. Earlier I said her weakness is matters of the heart, but I also feel like it’s a little bit of her strength. So I would say matters of the heart is also one of her strengths/power.
Do you think Diana has a real chance of getting out the game?
I think Diana wants to believe she does, but, from the outside looking in, I don’t believe she has a real chance. I think it’s getting to a place where she’s going to have to really channel it and just commit herself to the life, because her whole family is involved.
And granted, there’s been so many people around her that’s been taken from her. And this is just me assuming. The writers are so good; they always surprise me. I feel like she wants to, but I think at this point, she needs to completely channel it and just dive in. There’s no escaping it. She’s a Tejada.
What are your hopes for her?
This one sounds crazy, but I do feel this way. Besides getting an education and all of that, I would love for Diana to finally catch a body. I would love that for her. Everybody has gotten one. I want one, OK?
And then besides that, it would be nice to see her channel her inner Monet and her inner Lorenzo ― like completely grow up, build that backbone that she has. But stop allowing it to be a weakness for her, and literally step into her strength and her power and just take over. Because I feel that she has all the attributes and ability to do so. She’s smart. She’s very strategic. She’s methodical. Unfortunately, she is a bit of a manipulator. She knows how to get her way. I would love for her to really step into that and lean into that.
Being on a show like “Ghost” there’s a lot of turnover ― main characters who you interact with are often killed off on the show. I mean, we have Papi this season, Zeke last season. How does that impact your performance and the energy on set?
Oh, my gosh. It’s sad, because you put in all this time with these people. They become family. Zeke played by Daniel Bellomy, Lorenzo/Papi played by Berto Colon; you have this family unit. We work with them all the time. When we find out, we’re finding out when we get the script, and it’s like, what? And it hurts, because we’re on group chats and we all hang out together. And then it’s like this person who plays my father, or plays my cousin, brother ― what happens now? And sometimes some of these people, they don’t live in New York. So while we’re here filming, it’s like a void there, and it hurts. I’m not going to lie. I get a little bit upset, like, damn, man, now what? I’m going to miss this person. It’s literally family.
How has “Power Book II” changed your life?
Oh, my gosh. Courtney A. Kemp, 50 Cent, all the producers, writers, everyone behind this show ― they literally have changed my life tremendously. First of all, this is the biggest show I’ve ever been on. It’s the show that I’ve always been a fan of.
My family and I are big fans of “Power,” and I always wanted to audition. And I thought, maybe one day. And then I find out “Power” is coming to a close. I’m like, what the hell? So I was like, well, there goes that. And then a spinoff comes about, and my team reached out, and I audition, whatever. Fast forward, I’m here, and it’s like, it’s literally a dream come true. It’s changed my life, and I’m just relishing in it and taking it in every single day.
Has there been any good advice or mentorship that you’ve gotten while working on “Power Book II”?
I remember the very first table read, it was the pilot table read, and I don’t know what made Courtney say this to me, but she tapped on my shoulder, and we were talking a little bit. She introduced me to Mary, but then once that conversation finished, she said to me, “You got yourself here. No one else.” Like standing in my power and belief in my confidence, knowing that I did this. And don’t allow people to make you feel like otherwise. No, you got yourself here and stand in that. So I really appreciated that a lot.
What’s your dream role?
There’s a few people that I would love to work with. I would love to play like a lawyer. And then, also, I’m very creative, and I love Jordan Peele, how he writes in his movies and how creative they are and these psychological thrillers.
I’m open to roles that allow me to really flex that muscle and have substance in layers so that I’m not playing one note or one side of a character. Because I believe in real-life humans, there’s duality to us. You could be two things at once, and I would love to play that. I just want to do something really creative, and that’s going to challenge me, challenge me to my core where I’m sitting there frustrated, trying to figure it out, but then having to challenge myself to stomp on every obstacle to become that character that I really want to be.
Are you working on anything outside of “Power” right now, whether it be in front of the camera or behind the camera?
Right now I am still focused very much on “Ghost,” but I think there may be some things in the works, but I can’t really speak on it. All I can do is pray about it. So, we’ll see.
What mark do you want to leave on this industry?
Ooh. Man. I would love to leave a mark that I’m hardworking, that I commit all the way to the roles that I’m given. And I would love to just continue to be a light to people and an inspiration to people, and also show that you can be in this industry and still be a strong believer in God and stand 10 toes down in your faith, and that you don’t have to choose one or the other. So, yeah, just to be a light and an inspiration to people.
“Power Book II: Ghost” streams on the Starz app and on demand on Fridays. It airs on Starz at 9 p.m. EST on Fridays.