Actor Titus Makin is no stranger to the silver screen, appearing in FOX’s Glee, Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars, HULU’s The Path, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, and The CW’s Star-Crossed, but his character’s storyline in season 3 of The Rookie is the star’s most weighty yet.
For its latest season, the ABC hit is taking on subject matter that unfortunately hits close to home for too many: systemic racism.
We spoke with Makin about his role as Jackson West, the “most prepared” rookie in the LAPD’s history, what’s in store for The Rookie‘s third season, his musical career, and more.
Season 3 of The Rookie is tackling some incredibly timely topics. What was it like to film this past season?
TM: It was amazing. To be quite honest, it was one of those things where I was a little bit nervous going into it, just in light of everything that was happening, and just my own personal feelings towards this situation and the reality. But they were really, really great about hearing how we would feel and our thoughts on the topic, and how we could apply it to the story.
I read that with everything that had transpired over the past year, you were a bit conflicted about returning for season 3. What was it about your character’s storyline that resonated with you?
TM: In the seasons we’ve seen before, it’s not a topic that we’ve really addressed. It’s just kind of been the reality of the story. And for a long time, not even just because of what’s been going on in the press, I’ve had that feeling of I wonder what Jackson would say about these things. I’ve always thought that and, you know, everything that’s been going on just gave me the strength to bring it up to my showrunner. And let him know that I did feel complacent. I felt like I wasn’t addressing a harsh reality that deserved a little attention. Thankfully, he was already planning to do so, but it aligned with my desires too.
What was the most challenging scene to film?
TM: One hundred percent the scene that was in episode four, where you see Doug Stanton played by Brandon Routh, falsely accost this young Black guy outside of his own house, and his parents, the Black kid’s parents, run outside and are screaming for him. And Doug’s not letting down, thinking that this guy’s guilty. And then you see Jackson in the crossfire of that, trying to follow the rules, but also fully understanding and being on the side of the Black family, but not knowing where to go with that. So, that was just a really harsh reality and a really tricky day – just because it felt all too real.
What initially drew you to the role of Jackson West?
TM: At first, I was excited, in all honesty, to have a cool cop moment i.e. Will Smith. There were more holdups, to be honest, like I was definitely more so on the side of being nervous that people would start attributing me to being on the side of the cops all the time. Which there are fantastic cops and fantastic people, but there are horrible cops and horrible people. I just didn’t want to have to be a voice for police officers – because I know people sometimes can’t separate actors from their roles.
And what else can we expect from this season?
TM: Tons of action. I mean, our writers and showrunner Alexi have done a great, great job about keeping a through line of truth and honoring the times we’re in, but also still, that lightheartedness and aspirational quality that the show’s always had. You get to see a little bit of humor filter in there, a lot of action, we still have a little bit of romance, but still tackling some really tricky topics.
In addition to acting, music is another passion of yours. What musicians inspired you growing up?
TM: I was heavily influenced by Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers. And then more modern day artists like Pharrell and André 3000 and Anderson .Paak.
Your stage name, Butterfly Ali, is quite unique. Where did that come from?
TM: I was writing a song that I was titling Butterfly Ali, because I was quoting “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” in the song. And I was like how can I pay Muhammad Ali respect for the quote he came up with. So, I ended up titling the song Butterfly Ali, just to honor Muhammad Ali. But also, thought on it, and I was like, you know what? Those two names really just, in my opinion, described the expression of my artistry. It’s not an alter ego. For me, it’s more just like, if I could name that that color, that feeling, that energy, I feel like it would be Butterfly Ali – something eclectic and fun, but also strong and powerful and had a meaning behind it.
Could you speak a little bit about your latest release, Pray for ‘Em?
TM: That was my call to the current climate, obviously systemic racism and things that have always been around, but now that we’re seeing a lot more in the press. People were asking me, “Oh, Titus, have you ever posted anything on Instagram about it? What are your thoughts?” And instead of writing a long caption under an Instagram post, I was like, why don’t I just put my thoughts in the song? So, that’s what I did with Pray for ‘Em. And it’s pretty much just saying, when we’ve done as much as we can, we just pray for change and do the best we can leading by example, and just continuing to grow.
What’s easier to prepare for: a new role or a gig?
TM: That’s actually a good question. I would say, probably a gig just because you get to bring a lot of yourself. I get to just walk on stage or on camera now, and just do what I do. And whatever comes out is my truth in that moment. As opposed to a role, you want to make sure you do it right – especially if you’re in a biopic or telling somebody else’s story.
Out of all the characters that you’ve played, which one would you say is most relatable to yourself?
TM: Honestly, I think I’ve yet to play a character that is super close to me. All the characters I’ve done don’t necessarily attack things the way I do. I’ve always played very kind of militant characters, ones that kind of stay in line and they’re not much rule breakers. If I had to answer that, the closest would be this particular season of The Rookie, how Jackson’s kind of stepping up and stepping out and speaking, that’s more my actual personality. I’m not afraid to ruffle a few feathers.
Besides The Rookie and your music, what else have you been working on?
TM: Within music, Butterfly Ali merch and an EP that we plan to release in the middle of this year.
Have you ever been to the Hamptons before?
TM: You know, what? No, I haven’t, but it always makes me think White Chicks.
That is a great movie.
The Rookie airs on Sundays at 10:00 p.m. EST.