I am so excited to share my conversation with Gio Johnson, a Chicago-based actor and content creator. You’ve watched him on Chicago Fire. You’ve seen him tearin’ it up on TikTok with his insightful videos. If you’re getting into the entertainment industry, you should definitely check out his work with GS Acting Workshops. In this interview, we discuss Gio’s path as an actor, the centrality of his faith, the television shows that inspired him (including Disney versus Nickelodeon), and the importance of telling stories authentically on screen.

Photo courtesy of Gio Johnson

So, you grew up in Chicago, right?

Yep, born and raised in the South Side of Chicago.

I was reading a little bit about you, and you’ve been acting for a long time. I read that you were on NBC when you were six, that’s pretty cool.

My aunt, she’s always been involved in stuff. She was a librarian – she was a branch manager – and we were like, ‘Why do you always get all the cool stuff? You’re a librarian; that’s not supposed to be cool.’ She was working, so I guess this one kind of connects: Librarian, and the event I was in this commercial for was the Book-a-thon. I called her and asked her if she had some kids, we got pulled out of school, me and my cousin (her daughter). We really didn’t know what we were going to do. My other aunt took us down that day to the studio, and they were like, ‘You guys are going to be in a commercial.’ And we’re like, ‘Oh, okay.’ That was my first taste of what it was like to be on set, and I was like, ‘Oh, I love this!’

Have you stayed in Chicago, or did you go out to LA at a point in time?

I travel back and forth to LA and Atlanta a lot, but for the most part, I’ve stayed in Chicago. My actual career didn’t take off until I was older because my mom…she was a teacher, and she didn’t know anything about being in the industry. My dad was in and out and he had no idea about being in the industry, either. And so I started off when I was younger, I took dance classes. I took tap, I took hip-hop, I took ballet, I think I did jazz for a semester.

I loved the entertainment part, but dance wasn’t my passion. I like dancing, it’s cool, I still will dance, I still will break out in a little two-step here and there … but something’s missing. And, when I did the commercial, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, that’s it. I wanna act.’ I like the idea of becoming somebody else and telling these stories.

And so, when I started my, you know, the small steps of your career, I was in high school. I was supposed to be studying for, I think, SATs, and I was going to a drama club down the street from my house at this arts center. Ended up telling my mom, ‘Hey, we have a show this weekend.’ So I’m expecting just my mom to show up to come and support me. And end of the show, I see this whole row of my family standing up and clapping. They were just very supportive, and that’s what gave me the drive to keep going, like, I have a bunch of people behind me that support me and think I can do this.

So, I continued doing theatre, eventually got an agent on my own. Was working with them for maybe two, three years before I finally got my big break, which was Chicago Fire. That was crazy; here’s a funny story about that. I don’t know if I’ve even told this story on a public platform, but I originally went in for another character, and so, I worked extremely hard on that character. Sometimes you just know things, you just know something different is gonna happen. I walked out of the room and I was like, ‘I feel like I’m going to get a callback, but for a different character. The audition room was in this building at Cinespace in Chicago, which is our studio here. And my agent’s office is like, three floors down. So I go down to my agent’s office and tell her, ‘Hey, I think the audition was good, I’m just not sure I’m gonna get the callback. I feel like they might call me back for a different character. And literally, as I’m about to leave out, she gets the email and says, ‘They wanna see you tomorrow, but for this character,’ which was Akeil, the character I ended up playing. I was like, ‘See, I told you. I knew, I just felt it.’

Weird thing — for the audition, there were no lines. It was just breathing, because Akeil gets shot in the episode, and he’s slowly passing away, and the whole thing is, they’re trying to get them to save his life, so they were like, okay, we’re going to tell you, ‘Okay, this is the stage that you’re at now. Now you’re at this stage, now you’re, like, fading away.’ I went home and I was like, ‘What do I do?’ Practicing breathing, I had to Google someone who was going through these things and what it would look like, and just took it into the room the next day and I was like, ‘Okay, I think I got it.’ Yeah, so that’s how I booked Chicago Fire.

Screen Shot 2021-09-16 at 6.29.26 PM
Gio Johnson as Akeil on Chicago Fire

You did your research, you and got that part!

Yeah, you gotta do your research, people. It’s not just about saying the words, it’s really embodying the character. I had to know what it was like to die.

I watched some of your scenes, and you were on the show before that, too, right? As a gunshot victim?

Yes, I keep getting shot on that show! That one was weird, too. I got a call from a friend to come in to be an extra, and then it kind of spiraled into that featured part there, where they were like, ‘The extras are getting paid this much.’ And I came in and they were like, ‘Hey, the directors want to see you for this gunshot victim.’

I’m not thinking anything of it at this point. I was like, ‘Okay, sure.’ I’m thinking it’s gonna be something simple, and it comes down to me and one other guy, and they end up picking me before I’m even out the building, I’m getting the call. They were like, ‘We need you to go do a makeup test, today.’ So I go, and that was my first time being on a big set in the lot. They were shooting on location at a hospital, and they literally had to do a prosthetic…this was the first time I got done everything from my nose all the way down to my chest. So when they stick the pen in there, it’s not me. It’s a dummy that looks just like me, which is weird when you’re on set. You’re like, ‘This is me, but it’s not me, but it looks just like it.’

I figured that; I was like, how did they make it so real? It looks like you’re getting punctured there.

My little cousin who watched it, she freaked out; she was like, ‘Are you okay?’

But how cool to be on that show twice! When they’re shooting, do you see it around if you happen to be out and about when they’re on location?

From time to time, because they shoot everywhere in Chicago, especially the Chicago shows – you have Fire, Med, and PD all shooting here – so unless you stay in the house for the rest of your life, the chances of you not seeing them are very slim. You’re going to, at some point, at least once a year, see one of these shows, or even The Chi, or Shameless when it was shooting here, or Empire when it was here. We have so many shows within the past ten years that have made Chicago their home to shoot, even if the actual setting wasn’t Chicago, like Empire – the setting was New York, but they used Chicago. Yeah, it’s really dope, and we have new shows. The 4400 is coming here, what else, there’s a couple others coming here. We have a new Amazon show coming here… There are just so many, and Chicago is just expanding its studio now, so I’m excited to see what else we bring here.

Lots to audition for. That’s great!

Yes, the auditions are picking up!

Awesome! So, can you speak to some of the differences from the scene in LA, which I’ve observed a little bit, versus Chicago, versus Atlanta, from your experience.

So, with Chicago, it’s more of, like, we’re so serious and gritty about it, because we’re big on theatre here, too, kind of like New York. I came from theatre, a lot of people from Chicago are either coming from a theatre background, or they just left a performing arts college or university. Columbia is here, so that competition is a little bit, like, it’s smaller than LA, but it’s also a little bit more hard-core because it’s not some random person out here chasing a dream. No, we’re working for this. We mean it. Whereas in LA, people just get up and leave: ‘I have a dream, I want to be a star,’ and this is no knock to anyone that does it. The bigger thing with LA is, it’s a much bigger pool. The networking is ten times more important there, it’s who you know, and winning the room. Always winning the room, but in LA it’s even more important because you never know where your next opportunity can come from.

So there’s a lot more of having to network and be at the parties, and be schmoozing with the who’s whos and the what’s whats. And then Atlanta is really just building up, but it’s more so for African Americans and people of color, which I think is really dope because that’s kind of the culture down there. It’s a very cultural movement like, everything of Black arts and music and fashion, which is really dope. So you have the Tyler Perrys down there, you have BET shooting a lot of their stuff down there. A lot of people use Tyler Perry’s lot. They’re filming Black Panther 2 right now and they’re back at Tyler Perry studios. They did Coming 2 America, the new one, there, they did Bad Boys 3 there. All of these huge movies are going to Tyler Perry. That studio, if you ever get a chance to go down there, it’s huge. It’s gigantic. And he has exact replicas of these famous houses, the White House, and all these things, right there on the lot. So it’s beneficial. Why go anywhere else? It’s like, if I’m shooting a period piece, I know Tyler has it. If I’m shooting a White House drama, I know Tyler has it. If I just need to do something where I’m sitting on my best friend’s front porch, there are millions of set houses over here that Tyler has. And I think he’s been smart in getting it down to a formula, and it’s a little cheaper to shoot in Atlanta, so there’s that benefit as well, because film is expensive.

So, one of the first things I saw you doing on social media was one of your Disney TikToks, which, as you know, I absolutely love those. And I’m curious, as we’re firmly into this whole other sphere of acting and entertaining with social media, how did some of those ideas come to you, to make those cool videos?

Gio Johnson TikTok-September 2021

So, I started off doing social media back when Vine was around, that was like 10 years ago now. Gosh, I’m old! What I realized with Vine is, I had a niche to be funny, but I needed to find a solid thing.

I love TV, movies, and nostalgia. I love things that bring people back to a happier place, but I also like to shake the table a little bit, so the Disney princess thing is something I’ve talked about for a long time, of why they can be problematic. Even though we love our Disney princesses, we love our heroes, we even love the villains. So, it was just this funny take I had on the problematic things in Disney movies, and I really didn’t have an idea to do a series. I was talking to a friend about why Ariel was problematic in The Little Mermaid, ‘cause she told me her daughter’s favorite was Ariel, and I was like, ‘No, Ariel’s a bad example.’ She was like ‘Why,’ and I go into my whole spiel about it. I was like ‘I’m gonna do a TikTok about this.’ I love Disney, BUT. And people were like, ‘Please do more. Do this movie, do this movie.’ So, the next one I threw up was The Princess and the Frog. Little Mermaid did okay, but the Princess and the Frog one just took off overnight. … When I went to bed it was maybe at 800 likes, I woke up the next morning, it was at, like, 19,000 likes. I don’t even know how many comments. I could not keep up.

I was like, let me keep this going, because people love it. And some people get offended when you talk about their childhood, some people were entertained. Some people were like, ‘Oh my God , I never thought about it like that.’ Another person was like, ‘Oh my gosh, now my kids can’t watch Disney princesses.’ I was like, ‘No, still let them enjoy it, still have that connection with them, but just be aware, they should probably not aspire to be exactly like them.’ There are still good qualities, but, you know.

That’s a good approach to say, ‘I love Disney, BUT.’ The Cinderella one, I think you call her Cindy, and that just cracks me up.

People loved that, they loved that I called her Cindy. And I don’t even know where that, like, sometimes when I do it, I grab a bunch of pictures from the movie, so usually what you guys see in the background are just the ones that flow with whatever I’m talking about, but I usually download like 20 different screenshots from the movie, like ‘Let’s talk about this and this and now this.’

I never really structure them; I just have fun, and I think that’s the best way to do it. So that it’s genuine and it doesn’t seem like I’m trying too hard, and the people connect with it.

Click here for Gio’s TikTok!

Gio Johnson TikTok with “Cindy”

And how true do you find this idea or mentality now, that what an actor is doing on social media really matters or can really contribute to your success outside of social media?

I think there’s benefits to it. I don’t think it’s necessary, but because we are in such a social media-driven world, it does help. Because a lot of brands and companies are more  willing to take a chance on the guy that already has a fanbase and will bring in the numbers than somebody who they have to build up to be a brand. Which, then in turn, kind of sucks for people who really love the craft, like me. I’m not saying I’m the next Denzel — don’t misquote me, guys.

But I know that I’m talented, I do know that. I know that I’m good at what I do. I’ve taken my classes, I’ve studied, I work on my craft every day, so it kind of sucks when I see someone who gets a role, not because they’re good or a great actor, but just because they have more followers than me, and I’m like, ‘This guy sucks! He just has 500,000 followers or 5 million, whatever the case may be, but he sucks as an actor.’ A 60-second clip is cool of you doing a goofy little stunt or falling over or making a joke, but actually being able to carry a story, and interact with these other characters, and have the ups and downs and emotions, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game. And I don’t think that the studios…I know they realize it, but I don’t think they really think about those things. Now that we’ve done this based on the numbers, is this person going to be able to sustain? What if you want to do a sequel, and all the reviews are that this guy sucks? … You really should pull on the people who have put in the work and the time.

Definitely. Before we talk about some shows and sitcoms, I’ve noticed that you’ve been active in a Christian community of actors. So I’m curious about what that has been like, how that’s helpful, and even what some of the challenges are of being a Christian in the entertainment industry.

This is a good one. I love God over everything. I do believe that entertainment and acting is a way to help spread the message of God. God is a creative, and so, arts, writing, acting, directing, all that is a part of being creative. I think we can entertain, yet edify. So having a good community of people that believe, just like you, is a great motivation because the industry is full of so much darkness and people who don’t believe in God, or want to push different agendas, so being around people that are like-minded, it definitely gives you hope that you can make a difference and an impact and reach people that you would normally not be able to reach, by doing the thing that you love.

Sometimes, I know when God is like, ‘This one’s not for you.’ It’s getting that big audition or that show that you’ve been praying for, but that role just doesn’t align with your views or how you would want to represent God. So, you just have to take that step back and realize that whatever is for you is gonna be for you. I definitely believe that if God orchestrated my path and whatever he has for me is gonna better for me than this one missed opportunity – it’s not really a missed opportunity, it’s just me passing it on to whoever it’s meant for.

The first thing we learned about God in the Bible is that he’s a creator, he’s a creative, he’s the greatest one.

Photo courtesy of Gio Johnson

I want to get to the genesis of these conversations inspired by the Child Star Chat [a group that meets for regular discussions on childhood stardom]. About not just Black sitcoms, but television or movies in general that have had such an impact on you as a person, an actor. The way I like to think about it is, there are certain shows. When I see them again, I can kind of go back to the youngest self that I was watching them, and feel like I’m back in that mold.

There’s so many. I was a TV kid, so much, like I was the kid that would sit there and watch something over and over and be able to repeat it. That’s probably where my acting bug started. Vividly, I can remember watching Power Rangers. I can vividly remember always wanting to be the black ranger. He looked like me, he dances, he does this cool hip-hop/karate thing. I forgot what it was called, but Walter E. Jones, I was like, ‘I wanna be that dude.’ I was the black ranger for probably two or three Halloweens in a row. Like, that’s how much I loved it. I still have Power Rangers toys in my closet over here. That was one of the shows.

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I loved Will Smith since I was a kid, still do. One of the nicest celebs I ever got the chance to meet. But I loved the Fresh Prince. I love that he was just loud and spontaneous and wild. And there were levels to it; I definitely understand it and love it even more now that I’m an adult and [can] understand it in full. As a kid, I just loved Will’s energy.

Famous Jett Jackson. That show was groundbreaking. That was the first Disney Channel show with a Black lead. With a positive representation of Black family, showing this young man in a strong, positive light taking care of his family, his friends. They never made him arrogant, they never made him cocky, and if he did have those moments, they brought it full circle where he humbled himself, and he was brought back to a place of understanding that this is all a blessing. I love that. I always say, it was Hannah Montana before Hannah Montana.

I say the same thing, and it’s so true. I’ve just started watching some of those episodes since I was a little bit on the younger side for that. I’ve started in on The Jersey, of course. Our friend, Jermaine, is incredibly talented on that show.

That’s another one. Man, that whole era. I think that was just a sweet spot for Disney, and I actually think it was a turning point for them of understanding, people want real stories. So during that time, if you really think about it, The Jersey was probably the most fantasy-driven thing that they had, but you still dealt with real-life things, like relationships and school and bullying, and all these other things, and insecurities. Them jumping into the bodies of the athletes is what gave them their confidence and what helped them do these things. You saw it from the perspective of these people that we all looked up to at that time.

The other dope thing with something like Jett Jackson was, it made me feel, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ There’s a guy on TV that looks like me, he’s living a normal life. He’s going to school. He’s starring in this TV show. He still gets to kick it with his friends, he still gets to be around his family, this is a possible thing for me. And Lee Thompson Young, God, RIP, rest his soul, was just such a talent. The kid was doing his own stunts. He was a hero. I was Silverstone for two Halloweens, too, I believe. I went downstairs and got one of my grandad’s old belts and made it into the Silverstone utility belt, and I had this little foil watch for his laser shooter where he talked to Artemis. Yeah, I love that show.

The first of that era, before the sitcom scene, that I explored was In a Heartbeat.

I almost forgot about In a Heartbeat, which was from Canada, starred a young Lauren Collins, who most people know as Paige Michalchuck from Degrassi.

Funny how all of that comes around later.

Everything, it all comes full circle. I almost forgot about In a Heartbeat. That was a much darker show than what you would have expected to see on Disney Channel.

That was just a time when they were into real life, a lot of real-life things. Even Lizzie McGuire, very real-life… Even Stevens, it was comical, but we still dealt with real-life things. It wasn’t until you started getting into the That’s So Ravens and everything else where it became a fantasy time.

Even So Weird was a darker show. It was a sci-fi show; it used to give me nightmares. That’s on the Disney side.

For Nickelodeon (because you know I can’t forget my Nick people, they will fight me!), definitely All That, Kenan & Kel from the jump, and Angelique Bates. I’m always going to give my girl, Angelique, her flowers. I love you, Angelique! But Kenan & Kel, those guys, it’s almost like the producers knew from the beginning. You know how they say we have industry plants? Kenan and Kel, they almost knew, like the chemistry they had together, whenever they hit the screen together, it was unmatched. I don’t care if it was Ed and Lester Oaks, Construction Worker, I don’t care if it was Superdude and the Milkman, whenever they got together, the scene was going to be ten times better. Clavis and Mavis, anytime. So it was a no-brainer to make the Kenan & Kel show, eventually, because they were All That at one point. Not throwing shade at anyone else on the cast, everyone on there was hilarious, but Kenan and Kel, when they were together, it was magic. I love the Kenan & Kel show.

Snick was elite. I loved Cousin Skeeter, Cousin Skeeter was amazing. Young Meagan Good was one of my first TV crushes. What’s up, Meg? And then, I don’t know if you were on Child Star Chat when I talked about how my love for being behind the camera came from Taina. On Taina, there was a character named Lamar Johnson, and he was a filmmaker, and I’d never seen a young Black guy who was into making film. And he had his little camcorder, and he would go around and make his own films, and I was like, ‘You can do that?’ So after watching the first season of Taina, I saved up money from doing things around the house, dog-walking, shoveling snow, everything, and I went and bought my first camcorder because of Chris Knowings playing Lamar Johnson on Taina.

When did everyone in our group [Child Star Chat], when did all of you guys get connected in this way and start having dialogue as actors?

That’s a good question, I’m trying to figure out how it happened. I know part of it started because of me, this is not me trying to take credit. So me and LaTangela [Newsome] had been connected on social media for some years now, so we would just talk on and off. I did a show during quarantine last year called The Kickback.

I interviewed Giovonnie [Samuels]. This was before I was working for her. I also interviewed Gary L. Gray, and when Clubhouse came about — I’m trying to figure out how I connected with everybody and it came together like this. I know we did an All That reunion room. And I kind of just stayed in contact with a lot of them, and we were talking, and when I went to Atlanta for my actors’ conference that I did with GSAW (our Pilot Season Power Weekend), met up with LaTangela…

Instagram/Gio Johnson

So it kind of all happened organically.

We’re still in the process of filming a secret project right now … It’s a reality project, but you really get to see and hear their hearts. I think we all know, and I think within the past few years it’s become a bigger thing, and a bigger topic, the fact that child stars, especially back in that era, did not get the best treatment. And so, hearing these stories, even being on set sometimes, my heart would be like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And it sucks when you’re doing what you love, but then you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, or you feel like you can’t do it without the stress or the worry. Doing what you love should not feel like a burden. Or, you shouldn’t feel anxiety to do it.

I’m glad that these stories are being told because it’s not only therapeutic and beneficial for them to get these stories out there. They’re also gonna help other people who have been in their positions or currently are. Of having the knowledge and the wisdom and letting them know it’s okay to speak up. It’s okay. You’re not alone, you’re not the only one who has gone through or is going through these things, and you deserve better. Your talent should not be taken advantage of. You should be able to perform, and do what you do happily and in peace, and not have to worry about the powers that be making you feel a certain type of way because they have the money or the power or the access. That’s not fair.

It sounds like you’re really well-suited to work with the kids in the program that you guys are running. I’m sure starting out, it can be really scary.

Oh yeah. When we did our kids’ conference, that was one thing I was excited about. To not only be able to pour into them, the whole thing about GSAW (GS Acting Workshops) is, with kids or adults, we don’t only want to give you the skills for the business; we want to teach you the business side of it. It’s called ‘the biz’ for a reason, but most people just get the acting classes and none of the behind-the-scenes work of this is what you need to do, this is what you should look for, this is what your contract should look like… red flags on set. We try to give that to them because it’s not only scary as a child, but it’s more dangerous for a parent who has no knowledge. … (There are some people who throw their children into the spotlight because they know that it can be a check.) But some people just really want to support their kids’ dreams, and they know their kids love it, so if you’re ignorant to it, you will take whatever deal comes your way. And it’s sad, and it’s so scary that you can damage a child with a dream that early on that they’d not want to do anything else, or be scared to step back into doing what they love, so if we can cut those corners early on, I’m all for it. I say all the time, I grew up around a lot of people in the industry, even though I wasn’t acting.

I had a lot of friends who were in movies and commercials and TV shows, so I kind of saw a lot of things, I saw what it’s like to be out in public…and someone notices you and you’re like, ‘But not right now.’ You just want your privacy. So, I get it, it’s even scary for someone who’s a little kid and going like, ‘What is happening?’

Gio and I further discussed the intersection of fame and fandom. It can be hard for fans to understand that they don’t have instant access to their favorite actors. This especially comes through in public situations where a fan is likely to want a photo with the celeb they’ve encountered. I often think about the delicate balance of appreciation, connection, respect, and privacy that should mutually exist between viewers and actors. Both Gio and I appreciate Raven’s approach to fan encounters, which she discussed on Jaleel White’s Ever After podcast.

We closed our conversation with a few more reflections on television, film, and representation.

Some of Gio’s favorite shows (Famous Jett Jackson, Power Rangers, Kenan & Kel, Fresh Prince, Gullah Gullah Island, and Taina)

One of the things that’s interested me is when we touch on diversity in television and sitcoms [in our Child Star Chat]. Nickelodeon has this incredible lineage of Black-led sitcoms, Disney Channel has theirs as well, but to compare the two at different eras is interesting.

Nick in the 90s was very driven by urban culture. Definitely driven by Black culture, from the fashion to the music…which I think was a good thing because for the most part, it didn’t feel like they were pandering because they had a great balance. You had shows like My Brother and Me, which only lasted a season, but great show, great sitcom. Then I can also parallel that with Pete and Pete. But then you had Clarissa Explains it All, then I can parallel that with All That, for every one or the other, there was something there. Having Black characters in their sitcom, shows like Hey Dude, I felt like they were good representations of themselves and not a caricature of Black culture.

I think Nick was very conscious of that, I think they were a little bit more in tune with that. I talk all the time about how a lot of the musical guests on All That probably should not have been there for a kids’ show. NWA was there. I’m like, what is Ice Cube doing on All That in the 90s? Coolio – why was Coolio on All That? But that’s what was cool. That’s what kids were trying to listen to, so they were meeting kids where they were at. All the way back to even like, Nick Arcade…there was a great balance of representation on Nickelodeon.

So Nickelodeon was a channel where I could always turn it on and see myself, I could see someone that looked like me. Not as much on Disney, which is unfortunate, because there’s a lot of shows on Disney that people would tell me, ‘Oh, you don’t remember this show?!’ I was like, ‘No.’ It wasn’t until the last 10 or 15 years that I even knew about the resurgence of The Mickey Mouse Club with Christina, Britney, Justin, JC, Ryan Gosling. I knew nothing about that Mickey Mouse Club, and it’s probably because at that young age, I was not watching it because I wasn’t attracted to that. I was probably attracted more to the shows on Nick that had representation of me. Or I was watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers or things like that. When you look for something that looks like you, a lot of other things become out of sight, out of mind.

I’ve seen the shows now, but at that age and that time, I was not watching it. I remember learning about Kids Incorporated when I was maybe in like 8th grade or a freshman. Someone was like, ‘You don’t remember Kids Incorporated?’ And I was like, ‘No. I don’t.’ I was like, ‘Do you know My Brother and Me?’ They’re like, ‘What’s that?’ I was like, ‘Okay, you think I’m weird, now I think you’re weird.’

It’s so raw at that age, it’s just what you’re going home and watching on TV because you identify with that.

I think another good one [is] Gullah Gullah Island. Watching Gullah Gullah Island, I wasn’t thinking ‘I’m watching it because I’m looking at someone who looks like me.’ I just liked it. It’s a great show. When you get older, you’re like, oh, I was watching things that I felt like I could relate to with people that looked like me. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I do want people to just always be aware of those things because media and television are one of the biggest forms where people who are not in the reachable bases of other cultures, learn about other cultures. So, if we’re not portrayed properly, you know, that’s the only insight that they have of, if they’ve never met someone of Latin descent or Chinese descent. If we are posting these stereotypes or things that don’t represent a culture in full, we don’t really know people, and that’s the only thing we can go off of. It’s like if you were to go into a history class and they only taught you x amount of history, then your perception of America or the world itself is just off…

I think we’ve gotten so much better with that in some ways. I do like that the representation is expanding, but I want to make sure that when we’re telling our stories, someone from that background is telling that story. It would have been weird if Crazy Rich Asians was directed by someone of Indian descent. … You need someone that directly connects to the culture to direct this movie. I think, now that we’re getting to a point where people are able to fully tell their stories, not just ‘I wrote the script and bring it to the studio and you do whatever you want with it.’ No, we have the full control. I’m writing it, and I have someone that I can relate to, that looks like me, to direct this story. If you were to bring me your story and say, ‘Hey Gio, can you direct a movie about my life?’ I’d probably be like, ‘I don’t understand it. No.’ I’m sure it’s a beautiful story, but I would not be able to relate to it like someone who grew up through your eyes. And I would want your story to be told as true and as raw and as genuine as possible, and for that to be done, you need a director who can relate to you on a full scale.

In tying it back around, I think Nick kind of had a good view on that to a certain extent. And I think Disney eventually, and now, is catching that train. I think they’re doing well. One of the shows I saw recently that my little cousins love is KC Undercover. I think, great representation there. And there’s another show that Marsai Martin has coming out on Disney that I think is going to be amazing. Three young Black girls. I’ve never seen three young girls, Black young girls, lead a show on Disney Channel. So I think that’s gonna be amazing. I just hope this continues for all cultures. I wanna see more Asian-American or Asian-influenced/led shows, Indian, Latinx, all cultures represented, because we all have stories to tell. And they’re all funny or dramatic or witty, and I wanna see them all.

And not just one narrative for every culture or background.

Yeah, we can be superheroes. We can be doctors. We can be lawyers, we can be all of these things. We can do a Western, you know. There’s a Black Western on Netflix right now. … Let me out the box. As an actor, that’s our playground. Let me play! It’s adult make-believe. Let me become these things, you know?

So, stop putting us in a box to be these typical everyday things that we are so much more than. We are not a monolith. We’re so much more. Let me play! I want to be Powerline one day. Let me be Powerline.

I’d like to thank Gio for hanging out with me on Zoom for this conversation. We first met some months ago on a Zoom birthday party, and I’m proud to call him one of my cool Internet friends. You can find Gio on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.

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