Starz’s Power Universe has been responsible for a lot of great things over the years: iconic characters, explosive spinoffs (and a prequel), and one of the most captivating franchises in television history. Perhaps the best of them all is the friendship it birthed between two of its biggest stars: Michael Rainey Jr. and Gianni Paolo.
The “Power Book II: Ghost” actors first met during season five filming of their parent series, a crime drama about a man living a double life as a businessman and drug dealer. The Starz staple ran for six seasons before Rainey Jr. and Paolo were tapped to lead the franchise’s first spinoff. As the two have previously recalled, their “Power” friendship wasn’t instantaneous at all. In fact, they barely spoke on their first day on set together outside of their scenes. But as they tell POPSUGAR, something truly “organic” followed suit shortly thereafter.
“Michael and I started hanging out outside of work, and then it just kind of evolved,” says Paolo, who plays Brayden Weston, the right-hand man to Rainey Jr.’s Tariq St. Patrick in their series.
“The podcast is the most consistent thing we have to look forward to [right now].”
Much like in their spinoff, which wrapped its third season earlier this year, Paolo and Rainey Jr. support each other in real life. Mainly by way of their podcast, “The Crew Has It” — which launched in May 2022 and has taken more of a central role in their lives since the SAG-AFTRA strike commenced on July 14.
“It’s definitely been weird because we would probably be back to filming by now,” Rainey Jr. says of navigating the strike. Paolo, meanwhile, adds, “It’s a little bit of uncertainty, where normally in the Power universe, it’s never uncertain.”
Even though the two say they finished filming their show’s fourth season two days before the actors’ strike began, everything else, as of now, is unknown. So in the meantime, the acting pair have pivoted their podcast episodes to showcase their celebrity guests — which normally feature fellow “Power” stars, though that list has now expanded to athletes, rappers, and more — and their career journeys rather than promoting onscreen projects. It’s made the show even more popular outside of the “Power” realm. As Rainey Jr. puts it, “Everybody wants to come chop it up with the boys.”
The duo admit it’s been a “growing pain stage” to find nonactor guests amid the strike, but maintaining the show is how they’re surviving it. “The podcast is the most consistent thing we have to look forward to [right now],” Rainey Jr. adds.
Still, the duo stay connected even when the cameras are off and their mics are down, as friendship is the thread that’s always kept them solid. Read on to see Rainey Jr. and Paolo in conversation with each other and find out more about their costars turned close friends bond, from how it started to how it’s going.
On the Origin of Their Friendship
Gianni Paolo: It was organic. Michael and I started hanging out outside of work, and then it just kind of evolved. I remember we were talking about potentially doing a podcast, and then I started being on [his] vlogs, and people loved [them], so it just evolved . . . We’re a perfect mesh together, and we match each other’s energies perfectly.
Michael Rainey Jr.: It was only right that we became so close through work and then, obviously, we grew a friendship out of [that]. It’s just like, why not? Why not keep the work going? Why not keep on opening more avenues to create revenue with each other? Might as well capitalize off of the platform that we have.
GP: Make content like shows, movies, and stuff that’s coming that we’re passionate about. It’s taking a little bit of time, but we’re in the process of doing that, so I’m excited for what’s coming.
MRJ: The boys is working.
On Cohosting a Podcast as Friends
MRJ: Honestly, it’s lit.
GP: It’s not even work, it’s just us with cameras on for an hour.
“So in three, four years, when ‘Power”s over and you’re kind of at nothing, it’s like, well what have you built? And Michael and I can say, look at what we built.”
MRJ: We have fire conversations with legendary people, and it’s just fun.
GP: It’s just a good time all around, and I love doing it. When we first started the podcast, I was a little nervous ’cause when actors tell too much about themselves, you lose the mysteriousness of it. But the way that the industry is going, they don’t really do that anymore. It’s more about, how much are you doing? How much are you being seen? How much content are you putting out? It’s the opposite of what it used to be . . . That’s what’s really taking over. So in three, four years, when “Power”‘s over and you’re kind of at nothing, it’s like, well what have you built? And Michael and I can say, look at what we built. Look at the platforms we have.
On Continuing Their Podcast Amid the Actors’ Strike
MRJ: We already established the fact that we were gonna keep rolling with the podcast. But being that the actors’ strike commenced and a lot of the actors that are a part of these shows can’t come on and talk about certain things, it put us in a position to pivot and reach out to a different type of audience. You know, bring on a different type of guest. But other than that, we were always keen on keeping on going with the podcast, whether the strikes were happening or not.
GP: Yeah, we definitely pivoted a little bit to a different audience . . . We’ve definitely expanded our horizons. Right now, we probably would be doing heavy “[Power Book IV:] Force” coverage, but since we can’t, we’ve had a lot of the actors from “Force” on anyway, and we talk about their experience on the show ’cause we’re highlighting them. This is an important time for them . . . so what we wanna do when we have them come on the podcast is highlight [them]. We’re not saying go watch a show, this and that. We’re saying we’re gonna highlight this person and give them their flowers because they’re a big reason why this show is where it is. I feel like we’ve done a great job of that while still being respectful to our union and the strike.
On Supporting SAG-AFTRA’s Strike Demands
MRJ: I mean, obviously, [I’m passionate about] the residuals. [Studios] are taking up all the money and, obviously, it’s money that they can share amongst the people that are bringing views to their platform. It’s only right that we get what we deserve. The AI stuff is crazy, too. Stealing jobs from people . . . It’s insane.
GP: Yeah, I think the residual stuff is crazy because, like Michael said, we’re the ones — the writers and the actors — bringing the viewers. Sure, the producers put together projects, but, ultimately, it’s what’s written on the page and what’s put on the screen; that’s what people come for.
“I hope we get everything we want. The actors deserve it.”
. . . The AI stuff is wild because I feel like, this is art. This and music are like the last forms of some type of expression . . . How are you going put some fake thing on the screen and that’s what’s going to tell the story? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. There’s so much nuance, especially being an actor and the human experience. How are you gonna put [that] into a computer?
MRJ: A computer’s never been through no trauma and nothing like that.
GP: Right. So that’s what gets me mad. It’s just fake. Everything will just wind up being on TikTok; there’ll be no TV anymore. No one will care. So what these studios are doing is like, “Oh, we’ll save money with the AI stuff,” when really people are just going to get so disinterested ’cause it’s not real anymore.
On How Long the Actors’ Strike Has Lasted
GP: Let’s f*cking make a deal. Like, let’s finish it. We wanna get back to work.
MRJ: It’s honestly crazy.
GP: [The strike] was supposed to be done because they made a deal with the writers and now they’re like, “OK, we might as well make a deal with the actors.” But then they didn’t give [us] anything. They gave the writers everything they wanted and they didn’t give the actors anything.
PS: What kind of resolve do you hope comes from the strike?
GP: I hope we get everything we want. The actors deserve it. We work hard. It’s a f*cking hard industry. When you book a job, it’s f*cking hard, like it’s not easy. So give the people what the f*ck they want. We work hard for the studios, you know, you guys wake up.
MRJ: It’s not even what we want, it’s what we deserve, honestly.