Seven Seconds, the new Netflix (netflix.com/sevenseconds) series from creator and producer Veena Sud, (The Killing) has streamed with raw and honest emotion as well as brutal truth. The series is about the never-ending consequences of a horrible incident in which Pete Jablonski (Beau Knapp), a white cop, accidentally runs over a black teenager named Brenton Butler on a bicycle. In sheer panic, Jablonski covers up the evidence with the help of his fellow officers. Throughout the remainder of the series, the audience follows along as an ever-increasing number of people are drawn into the aftermath of the crime. Brenton’s death almost seems to have a ripple effect on how each character responds to his death. The death of Brenton is tragic — without a doubt. Watching Latrice, Brenton’s mother, grieve and hunt down the answers in order to seek justice (played beautifully by Regina King), is devastating. However, Seven Seconds also reveals the ultimate crime — the indifference of a legal system that is supposed to protect and serve.
Pete Jablonski knows the teenager who was left to die in a ditch was black. He did feel guilty but he still let his fellow officers talk him into staying quiet and literally drive away from the scene without providing one ounce of assistance. Would this have happened if the teenager in the ditch was white? It’s hard to say. We are all confronted with choices at critical moments. The decisions we make result in consequences — some harsher than others.
When I had the opportunity to speak with Coley Mustafa Speaks, I was thrilled! Coley plays Messiah in the series and I wanted to get more insight into his character as well as the series as a whole. There are many more layers to Messiah than how he is perceived on Seven Seconds. He plays the leader of a gang that Brenton’s parents were so intent to keep Brenton out of but Messiah also has a strong mission.
Originally from Booker T. Washington Projects, in Jersey City, NJ, Coley attended Hampton University, where he played football while earning a degree in Marine & Environmental Science. As an undergraduate, he became internationally published for his work in shark behavior while performing in numerous stage, television and film productions. He is best known for his numerous national commercial campaigns for major brands as well as his menacing roles as “Keshawn” in Harry’s Law (NBC) opposite Kathy Bates. Coley’s breakout role was on Page 36 (HBO), a short but powerful film. Coley has juggled a lot and it has definitely paid off.
Since relocating to Los Angeles in September 2008, Coley Mustafa Speaks has shared the screen with Academy Award-winning actors and has worked with numerous other multi-award winning writers, directors, and producers. He also starred as Kevin Gaines on the USA Network series Unsolved USA. Coley Mustafa Speaks is a beautiful actor with so much to offer. (http://www.usanetwork.com/unsolved/episodes)
When he had a moment to stop, I had the opportunity to chat with him. For the record, he’s extremely polite, well-mannered, and down-to-earth.
GM: Seven Seconds is a painful but beautiful story. Amazing acting from the entire cast with wonderful cast chemistry. Overall, what was the experience like for you? Can you also expand on your audition process?
CMS: My experience was extremely challenging yet rewarding. Initially, I auditioned for the role of SETH but didn’t hear anything for several months. Then, I got a call to submit a self-tape for the role of MESSIAH to NY casting. Booked it! However, I had to work as local-hire. I was required to cover my own expenses (travel, meals, lodging, etc.). Since I’m LA-based and owned a fitness facility at the time, traveling was challenging (and expensive). I was also filming UNSOLVED (USA), so the trips were frequent. Although a lot of rough events transpired during that time, those experiences fueled me to deliver the most powerful performances possible. So, I’m grateful! I also formed valuable relationships in the process.
GM: When Brenton is left to die in the ditch, (which is so tragic),
do you personally see that as complete racism, cop corruption, some sort of warped indifference or a combination of all?
Pete (Beau Knapp) knows it is wrong and yet, still goes along with the coverup.
CMS: I see the situation as a beautiful portrayal of the indifference one feels toward another based on the demonization and demoralization by the greater society. In this story, I believe Pete’s decision to leave Brenton was motivated by a combination of fear, discrimination, and guilt. Corruption and racism began to dominate when he decided to uphold the lie as the story progressed.
GM: Veena Sud (from The Killing) created the series. Was she constantly on set? I really like her use of symbolism, dark tones and the combination of characters she pairs together.
CMS: Working with Veena was a dream! She was present for a couple of my episodes. She was also very open and accessible whenever I had any concerns. I also had the honor of being directed by Veena on my first day of shooting Episode 2. I thoroughly enjoyed her insight and perspective.
GM: Many actors say what the audience takes from the series is their own interpretation. What would you like the audience to take from the Seven Seconds?
CMS: I would hate to insult the audience by imposing my view of what they should take away. The beauty of art is interpretation. However, I would like the audience to be aware of the underlying message, which I believe is: There is a problem in society…in the system. If we chose indifference rather than definiteness, we all fall. Ask yourself, “if this were me or my loved ones, what would I do?… What WILL I do?”
GM: Your character, Messiah, plays the leader of a gang (the same one Brenton’s parents are so desperate to keep him out of). How did you regard Messiah in this specific role?
CMS: Messiah is not a bad person by any means. Yes, on the surface, he is a leader of a gang, but more importantly, he is a leader, provider, protector, savior to his children and loved ones. He also has the huge burden of maintaining balance and order in an entire city, due to his power. MESSIAH’s occupation may be illegal, but his intentions are pure.
GM: Is it true that the HBO short film “Page 36” was your breakout role? I saw a clip from this short film – very good!
CMS: Thank you! Yes, that was my first leading role on a major network. Working with the late, great, Nelsan Ellis was a true privilege and I’ve grown so much as an artist because of his influence.
GM: You also played Kevin Gaines on UNSOLVED USA. What was your experience like?
CMS: Working on UNSOLVED was an honor because of the rich, historical story. My character, KEVIN GAINES, an LAPD officer in the Rampart Division murdered by a fellow detective, was an instrumental part of the investigation. Under the masterful direction of Anthony Hemingway, my car chase scene was intense and thrilling. I had a blast working with such a visionary.
GM: Do you have a dream role?
CMS: I would love to star in the next JASON BORNE-type franchise. I want to play characters that are highly intelligent, highly skilled badasses who are sensitive and vulnerable, flawed yet decent men with big pecs and bigger hearts.
GM: Who inspires you (Men and Women) as actors/artists?
CMS: Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Leo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Dwayne Johnson to name a few. Each of these artists possesses key qualities that I admire and “steal” from as I create my path.
GM: You previously owned a fitness business and are obviously very fit. Do you workout daily?
CMS: Health, fitness, and wellness is part of my lifestyle. My personal philosophy is: Stand Strong in 3 dimensions — mind, body, spirit. Physically, I train daily. My workouts are based on programs I design with a specific goal in mind. I also have daily practices to train my mind and spirit, such as reading, writing, and meditation. This is how my business, SS3D Fit Club, was born. I had a simple goal of sharing my lifestyle with others to help them achieve their maximum potential in every aspect of life.
GM: Lastly, we obviously need change (big time) in terms of cultural attitudes within our society Do you see that happening, even slowly?
CMS: I agree. Yes, I definitely see attitudes changing. The deeper question is, “How?” The How is not always so easy but I do feel we can do it.
“I see the situation as a beautiful portrayal of the indifference one feels toward another based on the demonization and demoralization by the greater society. In this story, I believe Pete’s decision to leave Brenton was motivated by a combination of fear, discrimination, and guilt. Corruption and racism began to dominate when he decided to uphold the lie as the story progressed.” ~~ Coley Mustafa Speaks
GM: Any new projects on the horizon? I know they said “Seven Seconds” is only going to be one season. Any chance for another season?
CMS: Not sure what lies ahead for Seven Seconds, although I would love to see it live again. Currently, I’m in development on a series I created based on my experience as a scientist growing up in the hood of Jersey City. I’m very excited about bringing this to life. Other than that, you can catch me in UNSOLVED (USA) and several national commercials selling you something cool!
I personally want to thank Coley Mustafa Speaks for chatting with us. Overall, Seven Seconds will definitely make you stop and think if our society is moving forward. As many have said, “When is it going to stop?” There is absolutely nothing to fear in others. We all have the power within to produce change.
In the meantime, you can follow Coley Mustafa Speaks on the following Social Platforms
https://www.facebook.com/coley.m.speaks https://www.instagram.com/coleymustafaspeaks/ https://www.twitter.com/coleymspeaks https://www.facebook.com/sevensecondsnetflix/