When Demetrius Flenory Jr. got a call from his father instructing him to meet rapper-producer Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson at an audition in Atlanta two years ago, he had no idea he was about to land the role he was literally born to play.
In hindsight, perhaps he should've been used to his father keeping secrets. It wasn't until age 12 that he learned that his father, Demetrius "Big Meech" Flenory, had been a drug trafficker and crime boss of such mythical magnitude that rappers mention Meech almost as often as they do Scarface.
Flenory, now 21, didn't know that day in Atlanta that he was being eyed to play his father in BMF, a Starz crime drama that premiered September 26. It follows Meech and his brother Terry as they rise from poverty and create the Black Mafia Family, a $270 million syndicate that had 500 employees in 12 states when the DEA indicted them in 2005. But he found out soon enough.
"The day after the auditions, [executive producer] 50 Cent called and said he wanted to move me to L.A. and put me in acting class, because he wanted me to play my dad. It sounded crazy." It was crazy, since Flenory had no interest in acting, which he'd tried once after college and didn't like. But off to L.A. he went, leaving his life in Miami for an acting immersive that had him in classes day and night, five days a week.
"They were already in the writers' room," he recalls. "I had to fast-track learning how to act."
With the encouragement of 50 Cent, veteran costars (Russell Hornsby plays Meech's strict father) and skilled teachers (Tasha Smith is a director–executive producer), "Lil Meech" got up to speed.
The pilot, set in 1980s Detroit, finds marketing-savvy Big Meech and business-minded Terry (Da'Vinchi, grown-ish) vowing to escape poverty the only way they know how: selling cocaine.
Naturally, violence and other complications follow. Flenory says it was initially hard to get into the mindset of his father, whom he talks to daily. (His dad is still serving a 30-year sentence.) "I didn't understand the depths of what they did until I got older," he says. "But one of the main messages is that it's not about drug dealing. It's about love, and people wanting to take care of their family."
With his father's legacy in his hands, Flenory says he takes his responsibility "very seriously.... My dad had to make a name for himself. Now I have to make a name for myself, too."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2021