Shamon Brown Jr. started in the industry at age 5, racking up credits that range from commercials to local plays to guest spots on network dramas including “Chicago Fire.” Now, at just 13 years old, he is getting buzz as Papa, the smart and funny sidekick on Lena Waithe’s “The Chi.” On the show he has provided much needed levity — starting with the third episode, “Quaking Grass,” in which he led a dance party — to an otherwise often dark look at South Side Chicago.
Brown: “My agent in Chicago sent me an audition for Papa, and I went and they loved the way I did it. It was a couple more callbacks, which first I was like, ‘Oh God, OK, I actually have a shot, so let me do this right.’ I kept memorizing my lines, I kept listening to the feedback my mom and family members had about how to do the part. And in one of the last auditions Lena and [executive producer] Common were in the room and they loved how I did it. They said ‘Keep up the good work, we’ll talk to you soon,’ and sooner or later I got the part as Papa.
“Since this is my first breakout speaking role, it was definitely a good experience to see how filming would go — how the whole process is like — table reads and being on set with the cast and everything. It was just amazing.
“We’re definitely like family. When everyone was in Chicago to film we hung out after, so that’s why our chemistry is good — they say our chemistry is good on the show. We definitely hung out after, and our whole bond with each other is just incredible.
“I feel like I’m like my character because as much as I don’t seem like a dancer, I do dance a lot. And I crack jokes with my friends, and I’m not trying to tell you what’s good and what’s not right to do. Papa definitely is a character I feel like I am, too, and I just love him.
“Any time me, Michael [Epps, who plays Jake], and Alex [Hibbert, who plays Kevin], are on set we crack jokes. Even when we mess up, we always have a good time and always help each other out on set. We just love each other like we’re brothers.
“One of my role models is definitely my Uncle Cory Hardrict, because he came from nothing and is one of the most incredible African-American actors today, in my opinion. [Another is] definitely Tyler Perry, and also Tia Mowry and Zendaya — especially Zendaya. I’ve loved Zendaya since I was a little kid, and seeing her shows on Disney Channel and everything inspired me.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 5. Growing up watching TV all my life I was like, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to be on a show?’ Just to see it now and see how the whole process went, I definitely want to keep going with my career in acting and television. I’d definitely love to be in a movie — since I did a TV show I want to see how the process is for a movie. Either a comedy or a drama, it doesn’t really matter as long as I get to have the experience and see what it’s like and move forward and do more and more.”