Something strange is afoot with The CW's 4400, and Keisha Taylor is going to get to the bottom of it. In the series premiere, Keisha boarded the case as a parole officer paired with a social worker: her partner, Jharrel Mateo. Although hesitant at first, she found herself pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding the 4400's sudden appearance in a Detroit park, and she may not like the answers she finds -- particularly where her girlfriend, DHS Agent Jessica Tanner, is concerned.
Speaking to CBR, 4400 star Ireon Roach explained why Keisha sees herself as a "protector" for those she loves. She broke down Keisha's ties to the carceral state and shared why she found that aspect of the character so challenging to portray. She promised that "The Way We Were" will surprise viewers by showing a new side of Keisha and offered a glimpse at the character's backstory. She also teased the tensions building between Keisha and Jessica, how Keisha will continue to learn from Jharrel and more.
CBR: Tell me a little about how you landed the role and how you found Keisha as a character.
Ireon Roach: So I was out... to audition for the role, I'll say back in maybe March or April. I remember I was actually away and was not able to film the audition when I wanted to or when my agent would have liked me to. Keisha is older than me and professionally in corrections and very far away -- like, I was very surprised to get this from my agent, but she was really excited about it and I really loved the synopsis and the original 4400.
So I thought it would be a really interesting thing to do. I just was having trouble finding the time since I was traveling. Actually, one of my agents was like, "You know, it's okay if you can't do it." And I was like, "No, no, I really want to! I'll get it done!" And I did, and it was actually kind of a back and forth of whether I would be able to work on the show or not.
I feel like the production network were really looking hard for Keisha, and I was too also. So every time I met with them and every time I got to put myself on tape for it, which was a few times, I really tried to dig deeper into who this person was and use the fact that she was so far away from me to ground myself further. It's like, "Okay, she is in corrections," but I personally, in my life, have a tie with the carceral state and institutions like that. So I had to think about not only how I would feel about it, but how this woman, who was also affected in very similar ways by violence in the state and that relationship.
So I just thought really hard to find Keisha. I thought really hard about how she connected to me and how we were also worlds apart and tried to build a bridge. I also worked on dropping my voice a little lower, because she seemed like she was working from a lot of stillness. So I had to find that stillness as well.
Introduce me to Keisha. If you were taking her out on a night on the town with your friends, what would you tell them about her?
Yeah, so Keisha seems very complicated on the outside and is actually just a very simple person. She's very curious. She's very observant. She moves quietly, but internally, there's a lot happening and a lot going on. She asks a lot of questions, because she's genuinely interested in answers, and all of those answers tell her how she has to move through the world.
She also, like I said, is a corrections officer, and she takes that job very seriously. I think that's because she also sees herself as a protector, as someone who is looking out for everyone else, even if that means that she's not looking out for herself in the best ways or in the most productive way -- at least everyone else around her is safe. That's something that's very, very important to her.
Which aspect of the character do you relate to the most and why?
I think I relate to Keisha's stillness, that stillness I was talking about earlier. I think, sometimes, when there's a big question and she wants to find the answer, that doesn't mean that she takes a whole bunch of action; it doesn't mean that she's moving around a lot or running around. She really just kind of sits and lets the situation reveal itself to her. She has to let other people let her know what's going on and see how they're reacting to it and how they move through it and that gives her a lot to go off of to find a solution.
I think she definitely is the type of person who wants the solution to find her -- and not in a passive way, necessarily, but more in a "The world knows itself best; the world will move the way that it does, and if we just stop and pay attention to it, that it will reveal itself," and I think that's very much something that I take into account in my own life when there is a problem. I have a hard time taking a lot of motion to get that answer. I think everything is all out there and if we just stop and listen and take a second and take account and check in, we'll find the answers we need.
Over the first few episodes of the season, we've started to learn the history of character like Shanice and Andre and even a little for Jharrell. When might we learn a little more about Keisha's background?
Yeah, so we'll learn a little bit more about Keisha [on] Monday, actually! Episode 1.05, we'll dive into Keisha's background. We'll actually get to see flashbacks into her past before her sister passed away, which is another big part of her work with the 4400 and her work with the Detroit Police Department.
I think we'll be surprised by the freedom we see her get to have and live in and the joy -- you know, Keisha smiling and a little bit of dancing and being with family, which, again, since those are the people she's trying so hard to protect, that's something that's really important to her. I think we'll just be generally surprised by how she sits in a completely different body and a completely different life of joy and figuring out how she did become this shell of herself that we're so accustomed to now.
The CW's 4400 is very invested in current events and hasn't shied away from divisive topics. Keisha is really at the center of that, as a Black woman with ties to the carceral state, like you mentioned earlier. How challenging did you find it to balance that side of her with the one that wants to protect?
That was very difficult for me, as Ireon, to wrap my head around. You have this Black, queer woman who is born and bred in Detroit, which has its own relationship to how African-Americans are able to live and get access to resources and housing and all of those things that she clearly would have had to encounter in her life, and then did make the decision to go into the justice system and into the carceral state and become a parole officer of all things.
I think what I had to find in order to make that make sense for me is the fact that it comes from something that I'm also accustomed to and familiar with, is the fear of losing the people around you. You can understand the ways that the state forces a lot of people's hands in the decisions they have to make, and sometimes those decisions aren't always safe for themselves or their families or the people around them or their communities. You can understand all of that, but at the end of the day, everyone has to get in where they fit in, essentially. If you want to make a change, you have to make a decision about how that change happens or actually you're being inactive.
I think the way Keisha found to not be inactive and not to be passive about what she did see happening around her, the violence she saw, whatever opinion she had about it, she knew that she wanted people to be safe. In a way, she found that to happen. Before, I would say Keisha has her faith in the system. She has faith in people's safety. This is just the most immediate way and the most connected way to her story and her sister and her family story that she saw to take a shot at protecting.
It is very complicated, because this seems like the place that a Black, queer woman -- it seems like the furthest thing you would want to tap into in order to get to that safety, but I think Keisha sees an opportunity to make it work. That's what's really interesting about the rest of the season is her awakening to how it may not always be working through her relationship with the 4400 case.
Tell me a little about Keisha's dynamic with Jharrell. How will he continue to challenge her moving forward?
I think Keisha comes to appreciate his going rogue. She comes to appreciate his heart and empathy leading before the rules he knows he has to follow just because he's working on this case and working so closely with DHS and all of these officials. The questions he comes to ask -- Keisha loves to ask questions as well. He's asking questions of the heart and questions about his family and questions about how he is personally invested in these people and in this case.
I think, at first, that really throws Keisha off as, "You're being unprofessional" and "That's not what we're supposed to be doing." He helps crack her open a little bit more and more, to see that maybe if the government can be selfish in this way, maybe we need to be a little selfish as people, as the humans that are a part of this case and try to work it from a different angle. So their relationship -- while it works out really strange because they have such different work methods -- I think they learn a lot from one another.
Aside from Jharrel, which other character does Keisha have the most interesting dynamic with and why?
The first name that comes to mind is with Shanice. I think, very similarly, Shanice sees herself as a protector as well. I mean, she comes into 2021 and the first thing she does is recite the Michigan penal code. So you have this very intelligent Black woman who's moving on to be a lawyer in the life that she knew before and she comes to this place where she still has a lot of bite and a lot of fight, and the person that she's biting and fighting looks just like her.
I think that is something very interesting to see on television right now, in terms of figuring out how people in your community are working towards liberation, whatever that can look like and could mean from very different angles and how we can learn from one another. I think, yeah, the relationship she has with Shanice is one of like, "How do I meet you where you are, and how do I listen to you? While it seems like we should be butting heads, even though we're on the same side, how do we navigate this relationship? How do I learn from you, even though you're from the past? How do I also lead you and teach you as you step into this new world?" So I think we'll see a lot more of how Shanice and Keisha navigate what could possibly be a friendship or relationship between 4400 and the people who are working their case.
Of all the characters, Keisha has perhaps the most unique connection to the government through her partner Jessica, but it feels like Jessica maybe isn't being fully open and honest with Keisha. How will that relationship continue to develop?
Yes! I think we are gonna see those tensions build. That's another one of the pieces of the awakening for Keisha and the cracking open for her is realizing that the people who she thought were on her side may not be and she may be in the dark. She's asking questions and maybe not getting the full answers that she was looking for.
Yeah, I think that relationship with Jessica, she realizes that they may not be as close as she thought they were or working together in the way that she thought they were. Those tensions will just continue to build and build, and we'll see where that goes.
What is one moment or scene you can't wait for audiences to see?
Oh, wow. I can't wait for -- there are so many! I can't wait for audiences to see how Jharrel's questions are answered, how his deepest questions for the season are answered. [laughs]
4400 airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
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