Michael Rainey Jr. is no stranger to action. Anyone who has seen has seen his portrayal of Tariq St, Patrick on Power knows that Rainey is comfortable with heavy storylines filled to the brim with action, with some grief and heartbreak for an added kick. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the 17-year-old actor had no qualms about doing action sequences alongside Nicolas Cage in his upcoming film 211. In fact, the Kentucky native welcomed the chance to work with the Academy Award-winning actor.
“It was a lot of fun”, Rainey said of working with Cage. “It was easy to work with him. He said I was easy to work with as well. He also said I was his favorite co-star, so that was big for me.” For those itching to know the premise, 211 chronicles the story of a police officer and a teenage civilian who find themselves in the lethal crosshairs of a daring bank heist by heavily trained and heavily armed men. Rainey portrays Kenny, a timid high school student who is mandated to go on a ride along with Officer Mike Chandler (Cage) to avoid expulsion at his school. When we’re first introduced to Kenny, he is tormented and physically assaulted by a group of white students, only to be threatened with expulsion. The circumstances leading up to his threatened expulsion magnify the racial optics that play a role in how many approach school bullying, particularly how teachers perceive innocent black kids over their problematic white counterparts.
However, Rainey laments that his education differed vastly from Kenny’s. “I was homeschooled,” he said. However, this did not stop him from offering up a simple solution to the insidious nature of racism in the classroom that many black students green with optimism. “I feel like in school and in the world, unity is the key to everything. If everyone just united, the world could be just a better place overall.”
Cage has curated quite the reputation for his methodical approach to acting. Perhaps a testament to his talent and his self-assuredness alongside seasoned acting talent, Rainey opted on taking a more naturalistic approach to his portrayal of Kenny. “I didn’t do too much to prepare for it. I kinda just like to read a few lines, get a feel for who the character is and what his traits are,” he said. “From there, I just do everything naturally. I feel it’s easier for me and I tend to get the best results out of it.”
How Kenny is perceived by one of the police officers taking him on his ride along will reverberate with viewers. The general tenor of tension between law enforcement and the black community lingers in the shadows, albeit for brief moments throughout 211. At the hands of law enforcement, black bodies are a bullet’s main haven, finding and coursing their own safe space at our expense. The symphony of discord and disharmony that comes with police brutality is further heightened and continues to crescendo. Fortunately for Rainey, he has not had any experiences with law enforcement.
“I haven’t had any encounters. Lord knows what can happen. No one should be scared. We should be all be safe.” he said, echoing the said sentiments of many men and women blessed with Rainey’s hue and pigment.
211 arrives in theaters, VOD and Digital HD on June 8.