HIT THE FLOOR: McKinley Freeman Interview (2013)

McKinley Freeman (photo credit: Evan Lane)
McKinley Freeman (photo credit: Evan Lane)

If you have been watching the new VH1 series HIT THE FLOOR, you know exactly what I mean when I use the phrase “devil with a heart,” for that description fits only one person: the Devil’s own, Derek Roman.  In a recent exclusive interview, star McKinley Freeman happily shared his deep, down insights on his character Derek’s devil-may-care attitude and his sizzling hot dance of attraction with Devil Girl Ahsha Hayes (Taylour Paige).

First of all, loved this last episode. It was so much fun.  Derek seems to be trying to win over the heart of Ahsha, and it’s so cute.
MCKINLEY:  The really cool thing about it is Ahsha is unlike anybody else in Derek’s life.  She brings a fresh energy to his life and that perhaps makes him do things in ways that he hasn’t done before with such genuine intentions, or whatever the case may be.  So it’s fun.  But it’s a bit nerve-wracking as the episodes go on, their involvement with one another and the things that come along with it.

What was your first thought when you got the script for HIT THE FLOOR and you were introduced to the role of Derek?
MCKINLEY:  The first time I went in and auditioned, it was for the role of Terrance (which is played by Rob Riley).  Then I went in for the call-back where I did my thing.  But at that point I had booked another pilot, a recurring role on DEVIOUS MAIDS (a Marc Cherry pilot).  So I was like, “Well, we’ll see what happens. I already have a job.”   So I was cool.  Afterwards when I was headed to my car, the producer comes running across the parking lot and he said, “Hey, they want you to come back in and read for a different role.”  So I went back in and they gave me sides for a role I had never seen before.  I looked it over for about 5 minutes and then I said, “Alright, whatever, I’ll just go do it.”  So I did and they brought me back a couple days later to meet with everyone from the network.  That’s when I found out that I had booked the role.  When I first read the script, I thought it was a really cool set up.  It creates a cool look at the world of professional sports, professional dancers, ownership, and all that other stuff that hasn’t quite been seen in  this light on television, and I thought that was cool. Then at the table read, I was like, “Wow, we’ve got a lot of talented people!”  So every step along the way, even as the episodes continue to come on, I get the opportunity to see my castmates and really enjoy the work that they do.  It’s always something to be excited about.

"Hit the Floor"
“Hit the Floor”

When you see a role like Derek come along, what sparks your interest?
MCKINLEY:  It’s interesting.  The thing that I’ve found is:  to get in touch with the things that are not so obvious. I think when people think about professional athletes it is someone who has money at their disposal; and Derek’s a single guy and he lives this kind of lifestyle, so the clichés are a dime-a-dozen — girls, parties, whatever the case may be.  But I think, as you saw in this last episode, I wanted to get in touch with the motivation behind why these kinds of things happen.  It’s like looking at a plant and you see the flower, but you don’t really understand the structure of the flower and see how deep the roots go.  So as the episodes and the season progresses, the context of why Derek behaves the way he does becomes a little bit clearer.  It’s fun.  My thing was it would be easy to just kind of show up and represent, but with any good character in any story, a small piece of that character is in all of us.  So somewhere inside all of us is somebody who wants to be recognized for what they do and do well.  To be appreciated and stuff like that.  I think that’s the thing that everybody can relate to.  The challenging part is you don’t know whether to love him or hate him week-to-week and that’s the part I enjoy.

Derek is one of the more complex characters as we’re starting to find out as the show is hinting at his backstory, like with his mom in this last episode.
MCKINLEY:  There’s all kinds of things floating around there.  Again, it’s really cool how James LaRosa and Jason Ganzel, who is the writer of that episode, really began to peel back the layers of the onion so people can see.  It’s “Ah, okay.  He’s got a lot going on.”  He’s not just some spoiled guy that has the world at his fingertips.  He’s got his own issues just like everybody else.  It’s like B.I.G. said, “More money, more problems.”   It sounds good in a rap, but there’s some truth to it.

It seems at times that Derek is spiraling out of control.  He doesn’t seem to be completely grounded in his world and he is just kind of floating along in it.  What is going to pull him back to being grounded?
MCKINLEY:  I think honesty, funny enough, is going to pull him back.  If you think about any world of any professional where you are extremely successful, whether it is a professional athlete or a singer or a rapper, or whatever the case may be, you have a lot of people around you that are frauds and are purposely telling you what you want to hear, whether it’s true or not.  So I think the thing that brings Derek back to reality are the truths in his life.  The things that we’re starting to find out about.  His relationship with his mom.  The contrast in how refreshing and honest Ahsha is juxtaposing everybody else in his life that just kind of tags along, wanting to hang out at a party or whatever. So I think an honest assessment of who Derek is as a person and where his life is and what’s important – even all the way down to the relationship that Derek has with Terrence and the aspirations of winning a championship — I think that the reality of all these things is like:  you have choices to make and just because you don’t make the choices doesn’t mean you haven’t made a choice.  I think that’s what Derek’s starting to figure out.

"Hit the Floor"
“Hit the Floor”

Do you actually think that Derek sees Terrence as a friend or is he just one of his fellow ball-players?
MCKINLEY:  I think Derek looks at Terrence as they’re teammates.  He would consider him more like a brother than a friend.  A friend is somebody who is like, “Hey, let’s go hangout.”  But a brother is somebody you go to battles with and you have issues with.  But at the end of the day it’s someone you have respect for and there’s something to be learned from them.  I think in this world Terrence is the standard for basketball excellence and he’s trying to teach Derek how to be that way because Derek has the potential to be better than Terrence.  So there’s that big-brother/little-brother and “I’ve been down that route and you can learn from me, if you listen” kind of thing.

Do you think Derek is in a place where he wants to curb some of his bad-boy tendencies and to be a better teammate and a better person maybe for Ahsha?
MCKINLEY:  I don’t know.  It’s hard ‘cause imagine living a lifestyle a certain way.  You could have the best intentions and try to be a certain way, but it’s like anything else, it’s conscious choices made over time that get you there.  But Derek’s definitely in a situation where he’s beginning to think about things at a deeper level.  I know it’s going to be fun to see how it plays out.

One of the things that has caught viewers’ attention is the Ahsha-Derek crackling chemistry.  How do you and Taylour work at creating that kind of chemistry so that it comes alive in a scene?
MCKINLEY:  I give credit to the writers because as the season progresses that relationship progresses through the episodes and the chemistry seems to get more and more intense, and with that changing relationship, we evolve as castmates.  ‘Cause as you spend more time together, you have more conversations, you have more scenes together, then of course you do the work and you begin to be more in tune with who your character is. The motivations are revealed, and you see what you need from one another, and that just becomes clearer and clear.  This last episode was kind of the first opportunity where we get to see just the beginnings of the chemistry between the two of them in probably the most intimate setting they have had this far, in Derek’s bedroom.  Like I said, the great thing about the show is there’s so many questions to be answered and there’s so many different ways things could go.  It’s just fun to see how people react. Honestly, when they would send us the scripts in advance of the shoot schedule, we’d be reading them and have the exact same reaction as the audience that is watching.  Like, “What?!”  And I’d turn to James (LaRosa) and say, “Are you serious?! Whose idea was this? That’s ridiculous.”  So we have the same reaction as people watching the show.

"Hit the Floor"
“Hit the Floor”

From last week’s episode, were you able to watch the dancers perform the dance water sequences? That was just incredible.
MCKINLEY:  Yeah, because that episode took place at Derek’s mansion, I got to be there and I did get a chance to watch it.  It was amazing.  It was amazing to watch.  I appreciate the dancers on the show, but after watching how hard these ladies work and the choreography that Michael Rooney does and then to see it all come together not only live, in person, but in context of the show is really amazing.  I’m hard pressed to believe there’s a more talented group of dancers on the planet than these ladies.  They are that amazing.

I’ve never seen anything like it and thought it was just phenomenal how they danced with all those water maneuvers.
MCKINLEY:  It was. Who thinks of that?!  But it worked and in string bikinis.  For a guy it was like sensory overload.  You have to watch it a couple of times. (Laughs)

Derek is kind of a player, so why doesn’t he take an interest in Kyle?  Because Kat Bailess is something else in that role.
MCKINLEY:  It’s funny ‘cause I feel like if you really take a look at them, I pose this question:  how different are the two of them? They are both in situations where they live for the moment and they are doing to do whatever it takes to get what they want.  Kyle might remind Derek of somebody that he’s run into before or perhaps he sees her as somebody that has the same kind of hustle that he has on some level.  But with Ahsha, it’s more of a breath-of-fresh-air, something completely different and that’s the kind of thing you can’t take your eyes off of.  I think that would be why.  Anything that comes easy, most people are like “eh,” but if it’s a challenge – like here’s this millionaire that has everything in the world and he’s flirting with this girl and she’s like, “I’d rather go be with my boyfriend.”   You get respect from loyalty.  You get respect from the truth.  And German (Jonathan McDaniel), he’s a guy that is hustling but doesn’t have nearly everything that Derek has.  Yet Ahsha’s so faithful to him because that is what she believes in. So that’s to be admired, no matter who you are and what you’re doing.

"Hit the Floor"
“Hit the Floor”

Taking a look at Derek, what do you admire in him?  What do you see that’s redeemable and cool about him?
MCKINLEY:  The thing that I see in Derek is that as time goes on he seems to be more honest with himself about what’s really going on and what’s really important to him.  What I appreciate is his ability to kind of live his life and at the same time be open to change.  To be open to new things.  And the greatest thing is his ability to take a chance.  I don’t care who you are, to be able to put yourself out there continually and get rejected time and time again, to have that conviction that this is something so different that he just can’t walk away from it, like he does with everything else.  The willingness to put yourself out there time and time again takes a lot of courage. Then to be rejected and do it again, that doesn’t happen all the time.

He certainly is confident! He also has a seductive charm about him.  Is that something that comes to you naturally, or is that something that was written into the character?
MCKINLEY:  (Laughs) I don’t really know. Ultimately the story is the most important thing, so I would say it’s a Derek quality.  I think there’s something seductive about a person who is willing to ask a person about what it is that they want.  In this case, it’s Ahsha and Derek finds himself in situations where he has the opportunity to say what he wants to say to see where it might go.  He uses their chemistry and their attraction to kind of figure out if there’s a possibility.  So there’s something sexy about two people in front of each other, who deep-down on the inside, they may or may not want the same thing, and that’s the part that they’re trying to figure out. So it’s a really sexual dance that happens and we all get to watch it happen.

What do you feel, as an actor, you have learned from the show so far?
MCKINLEY:  I have this freedom to kind of create as an artist.  Like you get the rules of the game and then you get to go do something with it.  They are trusting that you will do your job and you’re trusting they will do their job, and I think in order to be able to do that — the thing that I am aware of and continue to remind myself of — is to be prepared.  You really have to know who you are in this world and what’s important to you and what’s not.  You can’t just wake up in the morning and decide to do it when you get there.  It’s the type of thing that requires the homework and the studying and having things in the back of your mind when you’re on the treadmill.  As an artist, it is important to make sure that it is not McKinley Freeman that’s in front of Ahsha; it’s important to me that Derek’s point of view is Derek’s point of view – and at no point should anybody be thinking, “Oh, that’s McKinley.”  So really just making the most of the opportunity to see this world of HIT THE FLOOR through the eyes of Derek Roman so that everybody else that watches it can see that.  I think that’s really the most important thing.

"Hit the Floor"
“Hit the Floor”

Also, DEVIOUS MAIDS is debuting this week.  Maybe you can talk briefly about your role on the series and how long you got to work on the show?
MCKINLEY:  I don’t know what happened with that ‘cause I booked a series regular role on HIT THE FLOOR.  I think they may have recast my role or re-shot some of the scenes in the pilot.  So I’m not sure what’s happening with that.  I just know that I played the role of Sam, which I think they may have had to rewrite and rework.  So I’m not quite familiar with what they are doing.  It’s one of those things. It’s just the way the world works.  It was a great opportunity.  I had the opportunity to work with Marc Cherry a couple of times and I think he’s a genius.  I have no doubt DEVIOUS MAIDS is going to be a great success for Lifetime.  Dania Ramirez and Rosalyn Sanchez and the rest of the cast were amazing to work with.  I really do think a lot of people will enjoy it.  I’m actually looking forward to seeing how it all comes together myself.  It’s one of those shows that once you begin to watch it will be hard to turn your television channel, which is what Marc does best.

There seems to be a similar theme in DEVIOUS MAIDS and HIT THE FLOOR with secrets and lies and deception.
MCKINLEY:  (Laughs) I don’t think it is a theme that’s limited to just those two shows. Like SCANDAL, for example, there’s so many things going on and there’s so many secrets and so many turns.  I think you have to have that in order to keep people interested because it’s that type of thing that keeps people compelled to ask more questions and to see how it all plays out.

Taylour Paige

Well, we are definitely hooked on the Mia storyline in HIT THE FLOOR, just because we haven’t met her and we don’t know what’s going on.  It’s a cool throughline as we watch these other dramas unfold.
MCKINLEY:  I know! And it’s fun for me because the fact that nobody else knows, but I do.  It’s kind of cool to have a secret. But I can’t wait for it to unfold.  It’s one of the cool things.  Like the entire cast, until we found out, was like, “What the hell is going on here? Who is this girl?”  It’s one of the questions I get a lot on social media: “Who is Mia?”  It’s funny ‘cause on my birthday my mom said, “Happy Birthday! We love you.  We know your episode comes on tomorrow.  Who’s Mia?” So it’s fun.  I think it’s one of those things that helps keep people intrigued along with everything else that’s going on with the show.

I would tend to think the Ahsha-Derek storyline is also drawing in viewers.  They are so much fun to watch.
MCKINLEY:  (Laughs) Yeah, it’s fun.  I think Taylour Paige is an amazing up and coming actress, and I think that as the season progresses you’ll begin to see as the conversations and scenes allow it the ability that she has.  So I’m really proud of her in what she’s been able to do with the role.

To see more of the sizzling hot scenes between Derek and Ahsha, as well as discovering more about the mysterious Mia, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of HIT THE FLOOR on Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. on VH1.

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McKinley Freeman (photo credit: Evan Lane)
McKinley Freeman (photo credit: Evan Lane)

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