Relish and restraint come together in Curtiss Cook’s performance of the enigmatic Otis “Douda” Perry in Showtime’s “The Chi.” Cook’s character entered the show in season two as a shadowy patriarchal symbol of ‘hood success. Now in its third season, the Lena Waithe-created drama, compellingly showcases the lives of a group of Black working-class Chicago residents in a powerfully nuanced way.
Part Paul Castellano, part Nicky Barnes, Perry runs seemingly legitimate enterprises (like a chain of pizza shops) to launder the filthy lucre his real business interests reap. Perry’s honeyed sotto voce tones, expensive polo shirts, and bespoke suits in cool muted colors convincingly disguise the sociopath beneath.
Cook explained to the MSR, “Otis Perry was one of those young Black boys on the South Side who felt like they didn’t have a way out, but because he was smart and had mentors who looked after him, he was able to rise up the ranks of the 63rd Street mob, on the South Side of Chicago.”
Luckily, production on season three wrapped in February so the show wasn’t affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Cook revealed that he has spent the greater part of the lockdown at his home in the mountains a few miles from New York City where he’s had the chance to reconnect more fully with his spouse and the youngest three of their five children. “Now everybody is home so it gave me this opportunity to relearn my family. We have movie nights and game nights.”
“I’m so proud of the younger generation who has continued kicking down the door and not letting the death of George Floyd be in vain.”
Hungry for more power (and leverage) than being an ersatz community leader brings, Cook said his character in season three will be running for mayor. The defining moment that set Perry on his path in the Chicago underworld will also be part of season three. It was a tough scene for the Ohio native. “I had to find a way to give it nuance in a short time, with this monologue, without it being melodrama,” he recalled.
Cook, who has been featured on “House of Cards,” said he was drawn to what was described to him as a complex crime figure. Since Black actors don’t normally get those opportunities, he was excited at the prospect. “They said, ‘When you see this dude, you have no idea. He’s just a nice dude. Then he does these horrific things.’ That appealed to me immediately.”
Perry also uses the South Side’s paucity of both full-time fathers and economic opportunity to manipulate people into his nefarious web. Cook said some of Perry’s motives, though, are well-meaning. “He’s a teacher and he’s a father figure as well. He has ulterior motives but he’s also honestly trying to help these dudes.”
“The Chi,” in addition to offering compelling character-driven stories, dramatizes societal realities that often run counter to what we’re conventionally taught. Cook recalls an eye-opening scene from season two.
Filmed on location in Cook County Jail, it portrayed a meeting between Perry and the effective capo di tutti i capi, who was doing a life sentence. “This old dude was sitting in jail but was still in charge of everything. He had his own room there and they were bringing in lady friends for him.
“This was one of the first times I saw that in a Black setting. But then I thought, why wouldn’t a Black mobster, a Black millionaire be doing the same thing?”
Cook said while researching the role he was confronted with the question of why people tend to follow such personalities. “I wanted to figure it out,” said Cook. “How do people get behind a figure like that?” He came to the conclusion that it has to do with basic survival. “It’s about the person showing, ‘What I do works. What I do will bring money to all of us.’
“If I’m feeding everybody and my ideas continue to feed everyone, you have an opportunity to get more by pleasing me. I’m giving the illusion of giving you more.”
Cook has also been powerfully touched by the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death. “I’m so proud of the younger generation who has continued kicking down the door and not letting the death of George Floyd be in vain. I’m glad they’re insisting on change, and that White supremacy is wrong, and racism is wrong. I’m also glad to be part of a show about real Black folk and the people that this fight is for.”
Season three of “The Chi” is now airing on Showtime Sundays 9 PM EST. For more info, visit www.sho.com/the-chi.