Welcome to the third edition of #MCM — comin’ atcha the first Monday of every month about your fave celeb crushes. Sometimes, it’ll be an extended look into our print issue’s Bae Watch and other times, it’ll be someone we haven’t featured yet. Up next: Brett Gray.
A lot of people are calling him the breakout star of Netflix’s hit show On My Block, but Brett Gray is just a dude from the Fourth Avenue block of Philadelphia who’s enjoying the ride on a journey he didn’t quite expect.
“It’s crazy,” Brett says. “It’s like every day I’m doing something different, and I’m in a different place with a different publication and a different outfit and a different shoot. It’s craziness. I have an assistant now, it’s ridiculous. But, it’s so much fun, and more than I hoped for. I never thought about fame or a show or anything like that,” he continues. “I’m the one cheesing in the corner who’s happy to be there.”
Before On My Block, Brett was killin’ it in NYC’s musical theater scene with roles in off-Broadway productions, as well as a few small TV show and commercial appearances. In fact, he was performing in the musical The Man in the Ceiling last summer when he got the call to audition for On My Block and ultimately land his big break as Jamal on the show.
A quirky, yet outspoken, 14-year-old who provides comedic relief to the binge-worthy series, Jamal is Brett’s first actual attempt at comedy. “I was so nervous because of the comedy aspect of it,” Brett says. “I consider myself a comical person in life, but it’s different when you have lines and make a character funny in their way. I talked to my mentors and took a few classes, and did some things to prepare myself to get that spontaneity going and try to put my own humor into Jamal to make it comfortable to myself.” The risk he took to play this type of role, though, clearly paid off. “I’m very proud of myself. I feel it was successful, the work that I did. Also, watching the season, I know what I’m going to do differently or try to go further in in season two. I’m excited to get back at it.”
With the guidance of On My Block’s showrunner Lauren Iungerich, as well as other directors on set, Brett was able to figure out who Jamal is and understand what moments needed to be super extra, what moments could be understated, and just what worked and didn’t work overall. For Brett, being on a block was nothing new for him and learning the script and the story lines was the easy part. “I think it was awesome for people to tell me that this moment needs to be bigger or more neurotic or find something else to do here because this isn’t landing. Having that guidance helped to flesh out Jamal,” Brett says. “And I also forget that Jamal is 14 years old, and he’s traversing his way through a territory that he’s not familiar with. I have to remember that in his paradigm of living, the stakes are higher, and I have to bring my energy to those moments for him.”
Aside from acting, Brett’s making a name for himself in the music game, too. His first EP called Easy Daze is set to drop tomorrow (August 7), which is also his 22nd birthday. The first single “Old Thing Back” helped kick off Black Music Month back in June, and last week he released his second single “No One Else.”
The seven song debut will be nostalgic in sound, as it is a #throwback to the late ’90s/early 2000s R&B vibe. “I just started singing in my late teens. I thought, ‘I’m going to go where I’m comfortable and where I came from musically.’ I wanted to start with that and how I would be if I could be the people that I saw growing up. I think it was the natural, logical step one for me,” Brett says. And with that era of music as inspiration, you’ll understand why all the songs are about his past love and relationship experiences. “It’s about multiple people. But the main story line and overarching theme is about one person.”
Through it all, Brett knows the support and love he’s received from fans is what keeps him pushin’ toward all his goals. “Every day, I’m in awe of all the people that the show is touching,” he says. “Thank you guys for watching and for sharing and collectively becoming a part of this train ride that we’ve gone on with the show. Thank you for season two because we are all happy and employed and ready to bust out the big guns and tell these stories.”
*Read even more about Brett in the Bae Watch column of our fall issue, on sale now.
Main Photo: Dave Krugman