The following story contains major spoilers about Wednesday’s Star — proceed at your own peril
It was inevitable, but a shock nonetheless: Star‘s seeming immortal Jahil has finally fallen. In Wednesday’s penultimate Season 2 episode, Benjamin Bratt‘s death-defying alter ego was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. In an exclusive interview with TVLine, Bratt reveals why he decided to depart Lee Daniels’ musical drama ahead of the just-ordered Season 3 (yes, it was his decision), weighs in on that bait-and-switch twist that led viewers to initially think Jahil had survived, and reveals how his troubled character could return in the future.
TVLINE | Why are you leaving the show?
I think the timing is right. The show has evolved [and] the primary focus [is now] on the lives of the girls and their music and their personal challenges. Jahil was involved in that evolution in Season 1 in a more heavily focused way. Season 2 has certainly demonstrated that he’s less vitally important to that evolution. I think it was just a natural [progression] for him to fade into the background. Another reason was deeply personal. I’m the father of two children, one of whom [has] special needs. I was commuting every weekend [from Star‘s Atlanta set] to my home [in New England], and it was a grind. The schedule we were on with Star didn’t allow me to succeed in focusing on… being a father and a husband. And as a professional actor, my focus was [also] a little dissipated. I was on an airplane sometimes four times a week.
TVLINE | Was it a tough decision?
Yes. It’s hard to walk away from a sure thing. I did it with Law & Order, too. There’s no such thing as job security as an actor. And when you have a show that’s nearly certain to get picked up for an additional season, that’s a tough thing to walk away from.
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TVLINE | How did that conversation go with [exec producer] Lee Daniels? Did he try to talk you into staying?
[He said], “You can’t leave!”[Laughs] I presented this to him as an opportunity. The show, at times, reflects the fragility of life, especially in communities like this, where drug addiction and domestic abuse and police brutality and drive-by shootings are, in some cases, an every day thing. [Star has] demonstrated over the past two seasons that certain beloved characters can disappear for some of those reasons. So I said, “This is an opportunity to dramatize the exit of a major character.”
TVLINE | What did you think of the decision to have Jahill die, versus maybe giving him a happy ending?
I thought it was a great way to go out. It’s clean. It’s dramatic. The show is nothing if not provocative and melodramatic. I think it will certainly shock viewers.
TVLINE | And then there was the whole bait-and-switch twist where you think he’s fine but then it turns out it was just Carlotta’s imagination.
That device [worked so well] because he has demonstrated and proven himself to be a cat with sometimes more than nine lives. The way the drive-by goes down, it leads the audience to think, “Oh, it’s just one more brush with death that he has managed to evade.”
TVLINE | Was it nice to play that Jahil-Carlotta reunion sequence, even though it was just a fantasy sequence?
Yes. There’s this undying love that exists between them, and it was a real joy playing that. [Queen Latifah] is a deeply soulful performer. Every day I got to work with her was nothing but pleasure. She’s someone that you can trust. And I hope she recognized that she could trust me. So when we had these intimate moments — and they were rare — it was the icing on the cake. I kept haranguing Lee, “Can you get the writers to write more for [Queen] and I?” [Laughs] For me, that was the real draw.
TVLINE | Might we see him pop up in a flashback?
Absolutely. Yes. The flashback motif is used often [on Star]. And quite successfully. So don’t count Jahil out. [Laughs]