Star Boys

Star Boys

Lee Daniel's soapy musical drama may follow the unlikely success story of a girl group, but the male cast's path to stardom has just as many twists.

Lee Daniel's soapy musical drama may follow the unlikely success story of a girl group, but the male cast's path to stardom has just as many twists.

Jordan E. Cooper

By day, Jordan E. Cooper writes for Star, Fox’s juicy drama about an ambitious girl group’s rise to fame - a gig he landed after creator Lee Daniels read his unproduced play. Following an intimate reading this past September attended by Naomi Campbell, Lena Waithe, and Trevante Rhodes (to name a few) that play will finally open on March 12 at New York’s Public Theater.

In Ain’t No Mo, all black Americans receive a mass email urging them to move to Africa. “[Everyone] has to decide whether or not to get on the plane,” Cooper says. The thought-provoking concept grew out of the fatal police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. “I was so shaken, I couldn’t do anything but walk,” says Cooper, a student at Columbia at the time. “I walked all the way from 14th to 165th. I was like, ‘Fuck this shit, we going to Africa.’”

If the seeming banality of police brutality inspired a kind of solitary rage in Cooper, the election of Donald Trump jolted him back into writing - not that the events of November 2016 surprised him. “[What] white women felt, America’s hangover, was that black women have felt for the past 450 years: disappointed, sad, threatened, not heard.” But he says the singular hour of Trump did come with a silver lining: “I felt convicted to fight - to let black presence be known, not forgotten, thrown away, or belittled,” he says. For Cooper, the process of writing Ain’t No Mo was cathartic. “I wasn’t writing it for anyone else [but me]” he says. Even so, it ended up in the hands of Daniels, whose work has inspired unprecedented numbers of black and queer viewers - including Cooper. “I remember watching Empire’s premiere in 2014 in my dorm room and thinking, this is so black; ain’t nobody gonna watch this!” says Cooper. Despite the shows success, Cooper never thought he’d one day work alongside Daniels, amplifying historically silenced voices like theirs. “[Lee] being black and gay, and me being black and queer - [he’s] a mentor I never dreamed of having.”Since getting Lee’s call (“He was like. ‘I want [you] to be a part of this; I want this young man to write on Star,’” recalls the young scribe) Cooper’s life has just become kind of heightened reality - just like one of his TV plots. Case in point; the reading of Ain’t No Mo in September at L.A.’s Hudson Theater. “It was insane!” Cooper says of the turnout. “One of the main characters, Peaches, is a flight attendant and drag queen. RuPaul was in the audience, Cackling with laughter. That was a humbling experience for me.” ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

Luke James

For Luke James, living in Atlanta, where Star is filmed, is like having five million chaperones - an IRL effect of his character Noah Brook's alcoholism storyline. "I can't go [anywhere] with a bottle of water, even if it says 'water'," James says. "In all honesty, I didn't know what I was getting myself into." The decorated music producer got by with a little help from his Uber drivers ("They all watch the show.") and now welcomes the surveillance. "[Fans] see him as a real person, which is dope," he says. James is no stranger to living legends: Of producing. Britney Spear's "Kill the Lights," James says, "That was awesome; I grew up watching her." SAMUEL ANDERSON

Matthew Noszka

Former college baller and car mechanic Matthew Noszka's professional track is a winding one. Before enrolling in a required acting class, the Penn native regarded performing arts warily: "I remember seeing guys in leotards on campus and thinking, what's going on here?" But the applause his first-ever monologue elicited changed all that. His knack for Insta-connection has led to everything from a model agent ("He DM-ed me for shirtless photos. Only later did I realize that's normal.") to his ever expanding role on Star as Jackson. "In our first scene together, Jude and I improv-ed this Bonnie and Clyde situation, when she slashes a tire," he recalls. "I feel like they kind of saw a spark there." SA

Miss Lawrence

Hairy stylist-turned-actor has had a courtside seat to the modern LGBTQ revolution. Growing up, his nonconforming looks were "rarely accepted," other than by his earliest clients: girls in high school. After going pro, Lawrence catered to several Atlanta Housewives cast members, and from there the gigs snowballed into a walk-on role on Empire. His role as Miss Bruce on Lee Daniel's Star has mirrored larger cultural shifts: "Most people look at [stylists] as a 'kiki' and a cackle, but they have [more] to offer," he says - as the third season demonstrates in the arc between Miss Bruce and Noah Brooks. "It's almost nonexistent to see a heterosexual man befriend a black gay man," he says. "I think [the show] will really aid in healing that." SA

Credits: Photos: Heather Hazaan Fashion: Yuiko Ikebata Text: Samuel Anderson  

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