‘The New Edition Story’ Stars On Becoming N.E., Brotherhood, and Bobby Brown
The New Edition Story, BET's three-part miniseries detailing the career of beloved R&B supergroup New Edition, starts its three-night run on Tuesday, Jan. 24. The biopic tells the story of the young friends from Boston who dreamt of winning talent shows and who went on to eventually become one of the biggest acts in R&B. Chronicling the lives and careers of the six members (Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell, Johnny Gill, Ronnie DeVoe, Mike Bivins and Bobby Brown) was no easy task; and three of the series' stars sat down with The Boombox to talk about what it took to bring the N.E. story to the screen. Bryshere Y. Gray (Empire) Algee Smith (The Infamous), and newcomer Woody McClain spoke about the process.
"It's just a fun story," Gray (Mike Bivins) shared. "It’s something we grew up on. That’s why I think it was important to tell the story."
"It's important and cultural. That's two words but I like both," added Smith (Ralph Tresvant.) "It gives you a history lesson. It lets all the kids of our generation know what this music was about back then. There was so much that went into the performances, so much that went into the professionalism."
McClain (Bobby Brown) continued, "I'd say [it shows] brotherhood. Because these guys grew up together. They fought, they broke up but they always came back together like a real family. So it’s really about their brotherhood."
The auditioning process varied for the three stars.
"My audition process was crazy," Smith said. "I first had an audition in Atlanta. And I auditioned for [the role of] Mike Bivins first of all, so that’s funny. But then they asked me to stay and audition for Ralph. So I stayed longer.
"When I got back to LA, I got the call back. And then it was 10 or 11 hours in one room going back-and-forth over lines. So it was a hectic audition process. But they were trying to see who really wanted it, you know? They were trying to see who was going to do what they had to do to make the team."
As Hakeem on FOX's hit Empire, Gray has become one of the more high-profile young actors on television--all while maintaining a hip-hop career as Yazz. Smith appeared in Let It Shine, Army Wives, Earth to Echo and was cast in A&E's The Infamous in 2016; while this is McClain's first acting gig, he's danced with Chris Brown and appears in the upcoming Training Day spinoff. He recalls an immediate chemistry with Smith and Keith Powers, who plays Ronnie DeVoe, during the 11-hour script read. But Gray's audition process was much easier.
"The audition process was great," Gray says. "I did about one audition. But really it was Tisha Bivins who requested me to play the role. So I was so, so honored to be requested by Mrs. Bivins to play her husband."
Gray also loved portraying Bivins because he's an intelligent guy and an underdog who has a great story.
"My favorite part about playing Mike was that he is so ambitious. He was a hard worker. He was smart. [He] grew up in Boston, the projects. It’s a rags to riches story with Michael. He had ups, he had downs, but he prospered through those downs and became who he is today. And you know with like contracts that would come up to New Edition, Mike was the only one who caught on to the percentages and tried to express that to the fellas."
And in portraying N.E.'s focal point, Smith worked hard to convey the nuances in Ralph Tresvant's personality.
"I think the most difficult part was getting across that he’s a sensitive guy," he says. "That he made a lot of sacrifices but also getting across the fact that he knows what he wants for his career. So although he did make those sacrifices, he really wanted his solo thing, his time to shine at a certain point. So the hardest part was just trying to find a balance between those two lines."
As for McClain as the group's most notorious member, Bobby Brown; the actor worked hard to channel Brown's mannerisms during his performances. Smith jokes that McClain embodied Bobby all the time. "He walked around like he was too good for everybody," says Smith. "He was always Bobby."
But McClain studied Brown's history and Brown himself to get "The Bad Boy of R&B" down.
"Every day, all day I was watching interviews, listening to Bobby in my ear," McClain says. "Honestly everything was just Bobby."
All six of the actors, including Powers, Elijah Kelley (who plays Ricky Bell) and Luke James (who plays Johnny Gill), got along from the very beginning of prepping for the mini-series and it's obvious that their on-camera chemistry is real.
"Being around the fellas and becoming New Edition was my favorite part about this role. It was great, it was an amazing thing from the beginning. We gained a real brotherhood," Smith said.
Gray adds: "The guys are hilarious, I love working with them. They’re great. They’re all so talented. You know this cast is just so dynamic in so many ways. I can’t tell you how excited I am for the world to see it."
Make sure to catch this mini-series next week, 8pm January 24th through 26th on BET.