Interview with actors of “Tom Swift” on The CW by Suzanne 5/6/22
This was a fun press day for the new show on The CW. The character of Tom Swift was previously seen on their show “Nancy Drew,” so this is a spinoff. It was a very fun panel. I wish I could have asked more questions. They didn’t tell us ahead of time who would be there, and I would liked to have asked April Parker Jones a question because she’s been on many great shows that I watch. She plays Tom Swift’s mother.
THE CW NETWORK
Noga Landau, Melinda Hsu Taylor, Cameron Johnson (Exec. Producers)
Albert Mwangi “Rowan,” Ashleigh Murray “Zenzi Fullington,” Tian Richards “Tom Swift,” Marquise Vilson “Isaac Vega,” April Parker Jones “Lorraine Swift”
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the virtual press panel for The CW’s devilishly-charming new series, TOM SWIFT. We are so proud of this project and look forward to sharing it with you. As an exceptionally-brilliant inventor with unlimited resources and unimaginable wealth. Tom Swift is a man who many men would kill to be, or be with it, a man with the world in the palm of his hand. If that world gets shaken to its core after the shocking disappearance of his father, thrusting Tom into a breathtaking adventure, full of mysterious conspiracies and unexplained phenomena. Premiering Tuesday, May 31st at 9:00 PM this is TOM SWIFT.
TOM SWIFT: Honored guests. A core value at Swift Enterprises is that if you can dream it, we can make it happen.
What does a genius inventor do when he’s not inventing?
TOM SWIFT: I multitask.
ROWAN: While I’m gone, you need to grow up. Be a man.
ROWAN: You will have more responsibility heaped upon you than you even know.
ROWAN: Everyone you love will end up dead.
TOM SWIFT: My name is Tom Swift. I’ve got this.
MODERATOR: Please welcome the cast and executive producers of TOM SWIFT. We are so excited to have you here with us. And as a quick reminder to press, if you’d like to ask a question, please click the “raise your hand button” and we’ll put you in the queue and call on you when it’s your turn. If you have a two-part question or follow-up, please let us know at the top of the question. Thank you for joining us today. Thank you to everyone for your participation. Now let’s get started. First up is Suzanne Lanoue followed by Fred Topel.
SUZANNE: Hey, good afternoon, everyone.
ALL: Hey, Noga!
TIAN RICHARDS: Noga, you look good.
NOGA LANDAU: You all look so good. I feel like (You too!) [UNINTELLIGIBLE] explode from all the gorgeousness.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Well, beauty combusts.
NOGA LANDAU: It’s a scientific fact.
SUZANNE: Hi, this is Suzanne from TVMEG.COM. And my question is for Tian. I read that there are some supernatural elements in this show as well, but I didn’t see any in the pilot. So can you tell us about any of them?
TIAN RICHARDS: Ooh, well, our show takes place in a beautiful tech world. So tech is the leading, the leading factor in our show. Though in NANCY DREW, Tom did get his first experience with the supernatural, that’s not really a big theme of Tom Swift. But who knows? I mean, but right now we’re just, we’re just, we’re tech-heavy over here. [LAUGHS]
CAMERON JOHNSON: As long as there’s no [INAUDIBLE] here, there may be ghosts. But yes.
TIAN RICHARDS: Yeah. Again, who knows?
CAMERON JOHNSON: Anything is possible, but yes.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Cosmic wonder, I would say.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Mm, cosmic wonder.
SUZANNE: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Next step is Fred Topel.
FRED: Uh, also for Tian, this obviously isn’t your first time playing Tom Swift, but how is it different having a show centered around Tom, and how is he different in this show?
TIAN RICHARDS: OK, a question I love. First of all, yo, it’s been three years since Tom Swift was in Horseshoe Bay. So that takes place in 2019, we take place in current day. So, Tom has definitely grown up a little more. When we first meet him, he’s still trying to get the, the meteorite to, to build the, you know, spaceship for his father. At the top of our series, we meet him when he has just completed that spaceship. So again, definitely further along his journey.
TIAN RICHARDS: We look a little different, I like to say. I mean, a, a little bit, a little bit, we’re giving a little more, you know, grown-man energy, definitely this time around. And it was so beautiful this time, you get to see Tom in his element. You get to see him with his family, with his friends, you get to see him in his hometown. So, you really do open up the fullness of who this man was. We got like a prequel, like an appetizer of Tom and, and NANCY DREW. But now you get, you get a full course. So come on, baby. We not snacks, we meals.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Right, are you hungry?
CAMERON JOHNSON: We got like the edemame of Tom. Now we have the sushi.
TIAN RICHARDS: Come on! I love that. I love that.
FRED: You feel different being the center of the show?
TIAN RICHARDS: Yes, yes! Before, I got to come in and be cute and be in Horseshoe Bay and like just follow Nancy’s lead and really watch Kennedy lead. But I needed that because that was the most I’d ever done in an episode of television. I’d never been [in] a series. Yeah, I’d never been a series regular before. So just to watch Kennedy take control of the set as a leader and be so beautiful and fearless, it really gave me insight on what was to come or, or what I hoped to come at the time.
TIAN RICHARDS: So I just sat back and watched how open and given, giving she was, and hope to do the same. But yes, it feels totally different. I, I say this all the time and I love my cast for just, and, and, and, and my creators for just really huddling around me and, and allowing me to find my voice in this space and really come into my own as an artist, as a man, you know, I definitely feel a lot more grown [LAUGHS] this time around. Cause I came in with a bit of imposter syndrome, and I, I’ve been definitely finding myself in this space, so, so seamlessly. And that’s a life experience that I’ll, I’ll take with me. So yeah.
Yeah, growth. I think growth is the main thing that I’m, I’m having in this journey.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Truly it’s been so wonderful and heartwarming to watch Tian realize and understand inside of himself that he is incredible, and that like, he is just as good as all of them really that, that, that, that we all knew that he would be. And it’s, it’s been really beautiful to watch, and it’s made my, my, my, my little heart smile.
APRIL PARKER JONES: Yeah. I, I have to piggyback on that. I think I, I tell you all the time, I do. And I, I, I’m learning so much from you the way that you are taking leader, this role as a leader. And it’s so beautiful. And, although I’m probably the oldest one here on set, I’ve learned so much from your example, and I’m so proud of you for stepping into this with such confidence and such compassion for all of us. So, thank you, I see you.
TIAN RICHARDS: Thank you. Thank you, April. Can we, can we tell ’em really quickly, tell them a story?
TIAN RICHARDS: Let’s talk about it. So I met the beautiful, wonderful Miss April Parker Jones, I’m not gonna tell ’em how long ago, but we were a lot younger. I was 18 and I used to be a personal assistant. And the guy I worked for used to put actors on tape. So, so many people would come through and I was fresh out of high school. I think I had just turned 18. And then in walks this beautiful woman, honey tone, nice commanding voice and presence. And she gets on tape and does it in one take. And I say, who is that? And it was April Parker Jones, ladies and gentlemen. And all these years later, we’re now doing a series together in the same city that we met.
APRIL PARKER JONES: Absolutely full circle, full circle. Yes, my friend. I love you.
TIAN RICHARDS: I love you.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Yeah. I will say actually, when we were doing the casting, the chemistry read, April was one of three final contenders. And she came on the screen and said to Tian, just forgetting about the audition entirely, “I am so proud of you.” That’s real, feel that hug. (Oh yes) And right away we like, oh, this is [OVERLAPPING]
APRIL PARKER JONES: Oh yes, Mama Swift.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Also, your performance is right.
CAMERON JOHNSON: It’s hard to hug via zoom. So we’re, that was, that’s true talent.
TIAN RICHARDS: Thank you, Cameron.
MODERATOR: Next up is Yana Grebenyuk, followed by Jay Bobbin.
YANA: So, speaking about Nancy Drew, I know that they’re in different timelines right now, but we don’t know where Season 4 is headed with the show. So, I was wondering, is there a possibility that there could be a crossover in the future? And if so, what would you like to explore between the two shows?
NOGA LANDAU: First of all, hi Yana, I love all of your coverage of the Drew. I really appreciate you. So right now they are in two completely different years. NANCY DREW, it’s still kind of 2019 and TOM SWIFT is, has jumped forward to the present date in the future, or the “present.” So as far as the two shows speaking to each other, if they do, it’s gonna happen eventually, and it’s gonna happen in a really interesting way. But, you know, what’s important to us is that these two shows really stand on their own. Like they’re in the same universe, the characters know each other, we’ve put a lot of really fun, little Easter eggs if you’re paying attention between Tom and Nancy.
NOGA LANDAU: But, you know, they’re such different shows. NANCY DREW is about a bunch of kids in a small town in Maine, you know, solving ghost stories in a crab shack. And this show is about billionaires and… [LAUGHTER] and people who build rocket ships and go to space. So they’re so different and they’re so, but they’re both so, like I think what links them together is how earnest they are and funny. And at their core, they’re kind of about similar issues of claiming your own identity and growing up and figuring out who you are in relation to your family and your parents and the secrets you carry with you. Um, so yeah, it’s, there, there’s the similarities for sure. But they’re, they’re definitely their own things at this point.
CAMERON JOHNSON: I just want to see Nancy in our clothes. Like I just wanna see Nancy, Gucci to the floor. Like that’s, that’s important for me. I wanna see that.
YANA: Yeah. I want, I want Zenzi to like, to talk to Nancy one day. Like I think a Zenzi [OVERLAPPING] right, Ashleigh?
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Yes, yes, yes. I love her. Let’s go shopping. Yes. Yes.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: That actually sort of gave me an idea, but I can’t talk about it.
MODERATOR: Next up is Jay Bobbin followed by Karen Moul.
JAY: Hello. Thank you. Hi everyone, thanks for doing this. Tian, this is for you, too. There was a period of several months after the put pilot for this aired on NANCY DREW before the official series pickup came. Were you able to keep the faith during that, that this would go?
TIAN RICHARDS: Ooh. Yeah. I mean, it, that was, that was a period. But, again, just throwing it back to divine connections. I met Cameron Johnson, Noga Landau, and the beautiful Melinda Hsu Taylor on zoom and they became a true family for me, like during that time. I went to their homes. I visited, you know, and at, with different parties we would go to, and met their children. And they, you know, because I’m in LA by myself, like, you know, figuring out life. And they really just, they poured into me and they became a, a, a family for me within this experience. And I got to meet LeVar Burton and it was like, it was a great experience.
TIAN RICHARDS: So to have them during that time and they, it wasn’t like a thing of, you know, oh, we’re only about business, and once, you know, the show is kind of, you know, waiting to get the green light, we’re not dealing with, you know, they check in and just see how it was doing or just, you know, send nice, beautiful words of inspiration. And Cameron’s like, you know, “what clothes are you buying?” Like… I have stepped my fashion game up tremendously because the people know I only wear gym clothes, 24/7. (Adidas)
CAMERON JOHNSON: That’s cause you stay in the gym 24/7.
TIAN RICHARDS: Oh, yes, yes. But no, during that time, something just always told me, like, I didn’t get to this point by accident. It’s been a long journey to get here. Again, since I graduated high school, the year I met April, like, and just going forward. Um, but in that time, like I kept my faith. I researched, I did things like, I just didn’t sit at home being idle. Like, I went to visit MIT. I went to space museums. I researched, I read books. So, I was really able to keep myself immersed in the world of TOM SWIFT and be adjacent without racking my brain.
TIAN RICHARDS: So, you know, at times, yeah, it’s like, what’s happening, what’s happening, what’s happening? But I would hear little updates say, “Hey, we’re not, you know, it’s not gone yet. It’s still happening. It could happen.” So yeah, I kept the faith and… look at us, who woulda thought?
MODERATOR: And next up is Karen Moul, followed by Bruce Miller.
KAREN: Hi, this is Karen from ScifiVision.com. (Hello) Um, like NANCY DREW, TOM SWIFT is a pretty old piece of intellectual property from like the book series from the thirties. But as I watched this episode, I saw shades of Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, definitely the Lions family is in there, I think. And I’d love it if the executive producers could tell us a bit about the great stories and characters that have inspired you as you created the show.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Well, you know, we definitely wanted to make a show that was way more inclusive than the original IP. The books from back in the day are from a different era. They don’t hold up, really. However, what we loved about the core concept of optimism and friendship and kind of relentless positivity, that we brought into the show. And then we populated with a black, gay billionaire and, you know, all his found family and friends. And, at the time also, I had just done a thing where my son, who’s trans, had, you know, had to answer this question, like what TV shows are out there that you’re like, “Oh, that’s me, that’s my story.” And he was like, “Well, there aren’t any.” And I said, “I’m gonna change that for you, honey, if I can.”
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: And that’s part of what we put into this show. So, we really wanted to make it a show where, no matter what kind of intersectional identity you have, you have somebody to relate to, somebody to cheer for, somebody to hope for and, and feel like, “That’s me. I’m, I’m the one who’s in love. I’m the one who’s being desired and pursued. And I’m the one who has friends, and I can change the world. It doesn’t matter where I came from, what I look like, you know, who I love or how I feel on the inside. I’m being celebrated here and now for who I already am.”
CAMERON JOHNSON: I think for me, I mean, it’s funny that she said the, the, the Lion family, spoiler alert, I used to write for Empire. And I was, it was a wonderful time. I had the great, good, the good fortune of working for Brett Mahoney and Lee Daniels. And I think what was interesting about working, especially working on those shows is that I’ve always worked on shows that prime, that had primarily black casts. And so as a consequence, I’ve never thought about too much about like, okay, so, but like, what do we, how do we tell this story in a way that like, is, you know, gonna be that other people, that is going to be understood by people who aren’t necessarily black?
CAMERON JOHNSON: Because it’s like, okay, well, who’s the audience? But the beautiful thing about this particular show and what we were able to do, and what was always so important to me is, how do we tell a show that is, tell a story about a group of people that is authentically black, that is steeped in black culture, that gets to that, but that tells universal stories that anyone can tap into? One of my favorite movies is Clueless. I am not blonde, I do look great in plaid though. (Yes) And I’m not above having a white Jeep.
CAMERON JOHNSON: But my point is to say that like, that’s what we were able to do here, is gather a group of people together and tell a story about a person who has lost something and who is trying to reclaim that, and also figure out what do I take from my parents? What do I leave behind? And what is the life that I can build for myself when surrounded by the people that I love. And I have been feeling incredibly fortunate to, to do that.
TIAN RICHARDS: Oh, you forgot one thing.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Oh, what’s that?
TIAN RICHARDS: And you’re not a virgin who can’t drive.
CAMERON JOHNSON: That’s true, I drive beautifully. There’s a stick shift joke in there, but I’m gonna leave it.
MODERATOR: Okay, next up is Bruce Miller, followed by Damian Holbrook.
BRUCE: Sorry, about the sense of style of this show. Everybody is like, wow. But how do you decide that. And do the actors get a chance to like say, no, I wouldn’t wear that or that’s not me?
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Oh, yes.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Yes, they do.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Ashleigh, I want you to talk about the things that, just this morning, you’re saying, this doesn’t fit me right. There’s a designer I know.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Oh yeah. Okay. So, you know, there, there’s an outfit that I’m wearing in this episode that we’re shooting currently, and it was made from scratch. Our seamstress made the, the pattern herself. And we’re still trying to get the pattern measurements right, and it wasn’t quite, you know, hitting where we need it to, it’s gonna take a little bit more work. And I brought up the fact that I know this really wonderful designer, Cynthia Rowley, who makes beautiful clothing, very, very feminine, very statement pieces. And she also makes like SCUBA attire as well. And I thought…
CAMERON JOHNSON: As one does.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: There happens to be a similarity to the outfit in which I’m wearing today. Well, not this one. But the one in the episode that we could, you know, see if maybe she would be willing to, you know, create one for us, and then we can put the logos and things and such to match the show. And so that collaborative effort on top of having such a wonderful, smart in-touch costume designer, like spiritually rooted in each and every one of these characters. It’s hard to say no to outfits. There’s only been like two or three times where I’ve said, hm, I don’t wanna wear that. But honestly, I’ll go in there and I’ll be like, “Yes, yes, yes, that’s mine. Um, yes!”
CAMERON JOHNSON: Our costume designer is Ayana Kimani James. She did the first several seasons of Insecure. She works on the new ALL AMERICAN spinoff as well as a bunch of other things. And you know, when we were interviewing custom designers, we interviewed a lot of people who, like some people who like, just didn’t quite get it. Who were like, there’s the, they had good ideas and they were well intentioned. And then we met Ayana, and Ayana sat down and she had a vision for what Tom was gonna look like. She had a vision for what Zenzi was gonna look like. She understood the luxury and she understood all of the random black fashion references like Charles Harbison or Pierre Moss, or, you know, all of those or curb or every, what else is there? There’s so many.
CAMERON JOHNSON: But my point is just to say that, like, she understood all of those things. She said, I can take that and I can get you a sweatshirt with a [UNINTELLIGIBLE] Wiley on it, and I can make it work on this show, and I can do it for your budget. And I was like, yes, yes, of course. And we hired her, we hired her on the spot. And what I love about the collaboration I feel like we’ve been able to have with the clothing is that, I feel like all of you and you can, if I’m lying, don’t tell me.
CAMERON JOHNSON: But I, I feel like all of us have been able to be like, Hey, I like, I like the way that looks on me. Can we do more of that? Or I hate the way that this looks on me. Can we do less of that? Or can we find something that’s gonna be, you know, keep up with the fashion of it all. But also, I just want to make it really difficult for people to Cosplay Tom. Like I want them to be like, okay, that first look, the one from the trailer, okay, wait. So that’s a black Telfar jacket, Gucci pants, Gucci boots, and a Gucci shirt. Ah, I’m gonna have to knock that off. It’s gonna be tough. Look out Comic Con.
NOGA LANDAU: And yet, and yet possible! And yet very possible.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And yet totally possible, and yet totally possible.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: You know, in the small details, like Albert wears earrings just in his real life. (Love, love) And he’s wearing them his first audition for us. And we’re like, who’s that guy with the earrings, you know, and the cool accent. And we just, you know, we used his, we said other things, your performance is great. And then, you know, his earrings are part of the character now. Like, how do you pick your earrings? You know, we talked about this, like…
ALBERT MWANGI: Yeah. I, I, I think I’ve always used my earrings as a form of expression. Um, so they clocked that and loved it. And it’s, it’s, it’s rare to, to have that, you know. So, to have producers be like, we love your package as it is. So, and whatever you’ve added to the acting for the character, then go, go. I was like, yes. Why not? Any chance to wear earrings, I’m down. [OVERLAPPING]
CAMERON JOHNSON: We do have Marquise in some better fashion in the future though. He’s in a lot of black military looks. What do you wanna see yourself in, Marquise? What do you wanna see you in? What do you wanna see Isaac in?
MARQUISE VILSON: I’m fine the, the, the way that Isaac is, right, like his intention is to often be present. He’s the eyes, he’s the ears, he doesn’t necessarily need to be seen. So that’s okay. I have, I have a life outside of [OVERLAPPING] I get to wear what I wanna wear. And also I happen to be wearing black today anyway [OVERLAPPING].
CAMERON JOHNSON: We will do Isaac. We will be the eyes and ears in Gucci. That’s fine. A nice print.
APRIL PARKER JONES: Lorraine doesn’t wear any black, you know, April wears black all the time. You notice that Lorraine’s not worn any…well, I take that back… (the funeral) Besides that though in her casual every day, like know, like, and so, so maybe we’ll introduce a little bit more the darker side of Lorraine.
TIAN RICHARDS: For the record, Isaac’s fashion and attire is my favorite on the show, is how I would dress in my actual life.
MARQUISE VILSON: It’s, it is exactly how he dresses.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And I hope to someday be able to afford Tom’s clothes. Like that’s my, that’s my goal.
MODERATOR: Next up is Damian Holbrook, followed by Porsche Monique.
DAMIAN: Hey, hey everybody, how are you?
TIAN RICHARDS: We love Damian.
DAMIAN: I, I have two questions. First, for Ms. Ashleigh. Um, having gotten to see the, the pilot, I was so excited that this, this really feels like your first grownup role. You know, like, like we met her as a teen, and even when she was living in New York in Katy Keene, she was still struggling, but this is a fully realized woman who is not to be messed with. How fun is that to have that role?
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Honestly, it’s so wonderful because, you know, I, I’ve always been a very mature person, even in my youth. And it’s nice to be able to finally step and walk in that same maturity. You know, it, it feels good to, to feel like a woman and to be received as a woman, and to be respected as a woman, that I can show up and I can command a space and I can command attention and I will be listened to, I will be understood, and I will be enmeshed and welcomed and received. That’s, that’s, it’s, it’s wonderful. It’s also wonderful to be able to… do I curse? I be cursing. I get to curse. I get to be funny.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Network TV, on network TV.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Well, you know, network cursing. So it’s, it’s dainty, but it’s there.
DAMIAN: Nice. And for Cameron and the showrunners or the, the executive producers, is the, is the brewing love triangle between a trans ex-military man, a Kenyan government official or, or related government person and a black gay billionaire, is this a historic moment? Like this has gotta be the first time we’ve seen it, right?
CAMERON JOHNSON: Well, I mean, we’re making a couple different types of history here on TOM SWIFT. I think that love, we like to do love squares on TOM SWIFT. There are other love interests involved. They are all overlapping. It is just a series of Venn diagrams of mess in the best way possible. Nothing like a geometry joke. But in terms of, but in terms of like the first things we’ve seen on TV, there has, as far as I know, never been a network TV show where it’s lead, where they title, where the titular character, the #1 on the call sheet is a black gay man.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And we’ve never, I’ve never seen a show where those sorts of stories are explored with, like us, I am a gay black man, duh. And like our, are the center of the story and didn’t get to be able to explore love and romance and fun and et cetera, without being somebody’s like, you know, just additional character. And so, I think it is historic. I think it is messy and I think it is really fun. And I think you’re gonna love it. I don’t know. I, I, I just, I suspect.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: May I say one more thing? The thing that I’m most excited about being able to play this role is… I want to be a part of myself that I feel like I haven’t been able to be for a long time. There, there is… there’s an essence of Ashleigh in, in her womanhood and in her blackness that I, I just get to, I just get to flourish. It’s, I’m, I’m so thankful for this. I really am.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Wonderful for you. I mean, it’s, well, one, I mean, just Ashleigh, come on…that’s, I can’t cry, I have on makeup. Oh my God. (Sorry) But I mean, the, the character of Zenzi is, is something that we came up with, but the name is after Zenzelay is the full name, is named for one of my best friends who has been, I don’t know one of my, just my backbone since I was about 12. And it was such an honor to like, see you bring her to life. She has the personality of my godsister, Danielle. We have blended them together. And Danielle is my, if Zenzi’s my backbone, then Danny’s my rib cage, maybe my legs.
But they are, you, you bring these women to life in such a beautiful, honest, vulnerable, true, incredible, hilarious, sassy, bad bitch kind of way. There was literally a moment, there’s a moment in the episode where I was literally throwing stuff at the screen when I was watching. So, thank you. Glad we can do it.
Next up is Porsha Monique followed by Rick Bentley.
PORSHA: I wanted to circle back to the earlier conversation when you guys were hitting a little bit on just some of the redefining the blackness and giving a different portrayal of, of blackness to the, to the general audience. So, I wanted to go ahead and ask, what do you think is the importance of showing black faces and people of color onscreen in a story that is geared towards, you know, something that’s more positive, it’s more fun, it’s more aspirational as opposed to playing into like black trauma and those types of themes?
CAMERON JOHNSON: Well, here’s the thing for me, I, I guess I, I guess I’ll, I’ll be black and answer. But, I mean [OVERLAPPING] There’s a couple of things that are at play here. So one, we had six black people sitting on this stage and we all come from different places, have different points of view, have different backgrounds and that we can all bring to life. I don’t really have any interest as a writer or as an artist, if I can be so pretentious, in exploring like stories of trauma for the sake of trauma. Like that’s just not something I’m really interested in doing.
CAMERON JOHNSON: What I would, when we were working on this, I was in what I like to call, like my, my, my black joy phase, where I was trying to create TV shows that were about black people being happy, looking fabulous, having fun, falling in love, you know, having deep, emotional connections being resonant, but doing so with joy. And so, is there crazy traumatic shit that happens on this show? Maybe. But I, but I think we’re trying to do it in a way that sort of opens the door to… content that is about black people existing in their own lives and making choices, but without it being about, you know, pain or, you know, some horrible thing that happened, or even racism even, or… it’s a show about black people being black in the same way that, you know, Step by Step is a show about white people being white, it’s a show about a family. It’s a show about people existing that anyone can watch and identify with, even if they’re not the same color as the people on the screen. It’s just that we do it with some swag and, you know, some good shoes.
TIAN RICHARDS: Yeah, come on. If I could just piggyback, it’s also just a, a, a beautiful thing to see black people exist that we haven’t seen before, particularly. We are of like the black elite, the 1%, but not by way of, you know, music or basketball, which are great professions. But, you know, it’s the idea of legacy and heritage and, and we, and our heritage and legacy is tech, which is another thing in and of itself. But, for that to be the basis, we get to bring forth so many more conversations. Like, with my research, I got to, you know, go into the arsenal of black inventors and creators. We got to talk about Benjamin Banneker and, you know, George Washington Carver, and Lonnie, Lonnie Johnson.
TIAN RICHARDS: There’s so many people who, whose names that haven’t been spoken in history, but now, through this current modern vessel, we can like look into that. And, you know, and also get the young kids interested in STEM and tech, because that’s never looked cool before like this, you know? It’s so many intersections that this show gets to take part in that, it’s, I’ve never witnessed anything like this. And to be a part of it is, I still like can’t believe it.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: You know, one, one of my favorite things about this show is that, if you haven’t noticed, we are of a very rich complexion. And I can speak from my experience. I have, I have been… muted in my expression of emotion, because I may emote a very human reaction in a situation that anyone else would have that same reaction. But when I have it, it’s often received as too much. It’s too angry. You’re too sad, you’re, it’s, it’s never received as understood. It’s just too much. And it’s wonderful that we have this show where people are just living in their human experience, and you get to see that spectrum and recognize it and relate to it without being felt like you’re feeling too much.
APRIL PARKER JONES: I think another wonderful thing about this show that I love so much is that that Tom’s superpower is his brain. You know, we were celebrating his genius, you know? And, and I, I hope that that when young people or, or anyone who watches this show, they’re able to, to tap into the reality that we all have within us that genius. (That genius, yeah) You know, so I, I think that that superpower is, is, is one that’s, that, that’s awesome and relatable, and, and, and hasn’t really been seen a lot, you know, that, that, that’s your superpower, your intelligence. Yeah.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: One other aspect that I’ll speak about as somebody who’s outside of this experience, but I’m so excited that the audience also is gonna get invited into this world. We have a lot of very specific moments and situations in the show. There’s a black cowboy rodeo that we visit. There’s a black cotillion that we go to. There’s a lot of stuff that is kind of subtly talking about big themes and currents in the world, in the country, but in a way that becomes so personal and so relatable that, it’s a show that invites everybody in and embraces whatever you’re coming from. And just kind of like, let’s all be together. I think it’s really exciting to watch as somebody who’s not black, frankly.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And I, for the, if you get me drunk enough, I will show you pictures from my cotillion.
TIAN RICHARDS: They’re great.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: They’re so great. They’re great!
CAMERON JOHNSON: You know, Tian spoke about legacy, and I think the other important thing to remember is that as we look at this show is that black people like this have always existed. (Right) Madame CJ Walker, first black, one of the first millionaires, black female millionaires in this country. She lived in, in, in a villa, in a, in an estate, not unlike Swift manor. Jack and Jill, which is an organization for the children of, of professional black people is, it’s like about a hundred years old. There’s always been Boule, there’s always been The Links. Those things have always been existed, but they’ve always been kind of secret.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And so our goal is not necessarily to like, make them not secret or do some sort of like black excellence porn. Our goal, that’s not it, that’s not it, that’s not the goal. Our goal is to talk about people who you haven’t seen before living lives that you may be familiar with. And that, as Melinda said, you know, you can excitedly become a part of.
ALBERT MWANGI: Could I, could I add something as well? You know, coming from Kenya, having born, being born and raised from Kenya, being on a show like this is, it’s, it’s awesome because I feel like all of us as characters get to dare to be ourselves. And, and, and just adding to that aspect of, this show just shows just any other human condition, the same as all stories that are well told, do. And so it’s, I think it’s brilliant for audiences to come out of this thinking and knowing that they can dare to be, to, to be themselves, whether they have a different racial background, different sexual background or gender, or country. It doesn’t matter, just dare to be yourself and do it unapologetically.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And get into that accent on Albert? (OVERLAPPING) We heard that on the zoom, we were like, wait, what? Yes, keep talking.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: I’m sorry, your mic isn’t working. Can you [INAUDIBLE]
NOGA LANDAU: How was the thing is at, as, at first Rowan, the character, was not supposed to have this beautiful, majestic accent that he now has. And then, and then we heard how Albert actually speaks, and we were like earrings and his real accent, and that’s who he is. We’re gonna go with it.
ALBERT MWANGI: Yes. And I’m so glad you guys gave me that opportunity to do it. I think it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing. And, and yeah, it’s, it’s a privilege and, and fun, I think. I love it. To do it with all of you guys.
PORSHA: Can you guys speak to the, having LeVar Burton, LeVar Burton’s role and just having that combination, having the, yeah, the creative team and the producers, having that strong mentor figure, but having it be distilled in AI. That’s such an interesting combination to me. So if you can speak on how that came to life and how it enabled you to be a little bit more creative with that type of role.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: We wanted somebody who was a best friend to a lonely kid, whose parents were off and out of the house, who didn’t have folks he could relate to, you know, at his level, but also of his age. So, he created this robot essentially, who would be kind of his Obi-Wan. And be encouraging and smart and protective and loving, and, you know, secretly in the ways he wished his dad were. But at the same time, you know, the shape of the drone, the flying Barton Barclay, I’m sorry, drone is a little bit like the Starship Enterprise. And you know, my first piece of fiction when I was eight, was writing little stories about, it was fan fiction for Star Trek.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Cause I grew up in this little town in Bangor, Maine. And so everybody else was white, and they were nice, but I was terribly self-conscious and timid because I didn’t look like anybody else. And so I spent my whole childhood hiding in my bedroom reading like the Lord of the Rings over and over again. Cause in those books, if you were different, it was cool. And you brought something to the party, and it gave me hope. And having LeVar Burton voice this character is such a crazy full-circle thing for me. I wanna like get in a time machine and tell my younger self, “Just keep writing in your bedroom and reading these books and writing fan fiction for Star Trek.”
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: But it’s also a thrill as like a grownup to meet LeVar Burton, who is a lovely person and so talented and so cool and just like mentoring Tian in the most beautiful way. And it was kind of like, we couldn’t have asked for a better Barclay. It’s a thrill.
TIAN RICHARDS: Can I add to that? (Go ahead) Okay. Cause I have to, I have to say this. To meet LeVar Burton, and they were here to witness this.
CAMERON JOHNSON: They all burst into tears. I was the only one who kept it together.
TIAN RICHARDS: And I experienced that with, with Melinda, Noga and Cameron on both zoom and in person. But it’s otherworldly because you really sit down and you think about it, he encapsulates the entire experience. Like you think about “Roots” and history and the voice to America. You think about Star Trek in the future. You think about just, you know, present day and shaping young minds that are going to become. And come on rainbows, he’s an ally.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Rainbows!
CAMERON JOHNSON: Butterfly in the sky.
TIAN RICHARDS: Yes! But, his, his spirit is, is so, so beautiful and so open. Cause, you know, I didn’t know what to expect. You know, he’s a, he’s a legend. So when I, when I met him, it’s like, he just saw me. I, I just felt like he saw me. And um, we just sat and talked about life. And he, he poured into me and, and told me, you know, stuff that Cecily Tyson and Maya Angelou had told him, like what a flex by the way. (Right) Just to pull that outta your pocket. But um, but no, he’s, he’s an amazing, you know, person. And I just wanna shout out and give him his flowers cause he doesn’t get them enough. We love you, LeVar Burton, we love you, man.
PORSHA: Thank you all so much.
MODERATOR: Next up is Rick Bentley, followed by Karama Horne.
RICK: Thank you very much. I have two quick questions regarding the books. Tian, for you first, your Tom Swift is certainly not the same as the Tom Swift that was introduced over a hundred years ago. But did you feel compelled at all [INAUDIBLE] those books. And for the executive producers, the Tom Swift books were really driven by the technology, because at that time, what we considered everyday was really phenomenal back then. But in this case, did you have, is it, do you feel like this show is more driven by the personal stories with the technology as a support?
CAMERON JOHNSON: Why don’t you go first.
TIAN RICHARDS: So to answer your first question, I did read one of the books. And again, it is very outdated material, but I just wanted to read it just to experience what it was like growing up. I did read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, but had never really come across Tom Swift. And what I can say a, a, a cool aspect about the books is how much tech came from it. Like if you think about the taser, is the Thomas A Swift electric rifle. And you know, that’s a piece of tech today. Um, so yeah, we are, we are very different though. Our show is definitely driven by the personal stories of today and of the modern world. But you will see so many references and new iterations of stuff that was in the book, little Easter eggs that we’ve had since NANCY DREW to now that, that tie it back to the universe. But yeah, I, I, I read one.
CAMERON JOHNSON: I, too read one. We are absolutely still driven by the tech though. Um, just to be clear. I mean our rule with the tech on the show though, is that, you know, there’s a, do I tell them of the Tomtage? (Sure) We should speak of the Tomtage. Okay, so we were working on the pilot and Melinda was like, Cameron, you know what? We just need, we need something that looks like, she said, like, just like, it’s like when you turn the A Team and you know you’re watching the A team, it’s like, what can we do that’s gonna make people know that you’re like, you’re watching TOM SWIFT?
CAMERON JOHNSON: So after I Googled the A Team, I then thought to myself, OK, cool. I then was like, okay, let’s do this, let’s do this. And so the thing that we came, that the three of us came up with is something called a Tomtage, which is a montage in which Tom does a thing that he finds, figures out what he is gonna need to go on the mission of the day. The first thing is the car. Uh, we have a lot of cars on this show. I’m definitely at car gay… unapologetically. Thanks, dad. And then there is the shoe, which is of course the most important thing I think in it, what, what are we wearing to go do some (In the car) And then finally, today it’s an Air Force One. It’s just something simple, I didn’t wanna do anything too crazy. But it also is monochrome with the outfit. That’s what matters.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And then, finally there is the invention. And so the, our rule for the inventions is that the inventions all have to be, at least come from, in some way, something kind of dumb. So, and what we mean by that is like, is what was the frivolous reason that this genius decided to invent, I don’t know, a camera made of steam or something like that? Could it be for taking better nudes? Something along those lines? And so, it’s things like that, that I think, but that are part of it. But the spirit of invention and the spirit of technology and the spirit of possibility is kind, are sort of the defining characteristics of our show.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Yeah, it is a, it’s a show about people and family relationships and those sorts of dramas. But it’s, what can we invent and how can we invent it and what can, how can we do that in a way that feels like cool and approachable and accept and accessible, so that maybe someday someone will read, watch our show and be like, I can make that thing real in the same way someone did with Tom Swift and his electric rifle, AKA, the taser.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Absolutely. We definitely base it in science. And we do a lot of research. We’ve got a very busy writer’s room of wonderful minds, and they’re constantly coming to us, like this thing really happened. This guy really invented an invisibility cloak. Who knew? And we’re incorporating those things in the show. And we also want to reach out to the audience. As we get into the season, you will see a social media account for an incubator run by Zenzi called Swift Horizons. And we wanna ask people to actually send in their STEM ideas and, you know, we’ll try to promote it on social media, or at least have a, a forum for people to talk to each other and share ideas about tech and innovation.
MODERATOR: Next up is Karama Horne, followed by Ronda Penrice.
KARAMA: Hi there, it’s Karama, aka the blurred girl. What’s up? How y’all doing? Cameron, Cameron, love the nail polish. I have a question for Cameron, Tian and Ashleigh, but quickly, separate. Cameron. This is higher… there you go. Which one’s higher, the car budget or the fashion budget?
CAMERON JOHNSON: Car budget or shoe budget? Okay. Um, let me think about this. So in 101, we have a G63, we’ve got a Jaguar XKE we’ve got, this is a deep cup on 1988 Buick Grand National GNX. A Land Rover Defender 110, and Isaac, Albert, of course has a Toyota Camry. Of course, as one does. Oh, and then wait, Zenzi also has a drop-top Benz. So I think, oh wait, and then Lorraine’s got a series of Maybachs. I forgot about that. She’s got a fleet. I forgot about the Maybach fleet. So, I would, I think that it would be, I just listed about $2 million worth of cars…
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: But they were mostly rentals.
CAMERON JOHNSON: But they were mostly rentals. So I think, I think we may have outdone it with clothes. I think we may have outdone it with clothes.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: I think, for sure, the clothes were more money.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Absolutely spent more money on clothes. But I mean, who doesn’t wanna live that way? I don’t know, that’s fun.
KARAMA: No, I do. So, Tian, which character do you feel Tom Swift is more aligned with, Batman or Tony Stark in your, in your mind?
TIAN RICHARDS: I would definitely say Tony Stark. (Tony Stark) Yeah. Yeah, Tony stark. And you know what’s crazy? I just saw “Ironman” for the first time like last…
CAMERON JOHNSON: You shouldn’t say that out loud. You shouldn’t say that to people.
KARAMA: Unfortunately, now I can’t, now I can’t write about you. Sorry.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Wow! How was it for the 15th time?
TIAN RICHARDS: No, like I was aware, like I sit down and like, watch it in its entirety. Like I seen clips and stuff over a friend’s house, but, you know, after seeing it for the story, I had seen him in the Avengers film. Like I knew who he was, but just the original Ironman film, like I wanted to, you know, sit down and experience it. But yes, I will say Tony Stark.
KARAMA: Awesome. And final question is for Ashleigh, about, well, first of all, Cynthia Rowley is the truth. So thank you for getting her on the show. (Yes. Yes, she is) Uh, what does Zenzi want? Does she really want to, does she want to really stay running his company? And will she stay Tom’s friend, or are we gonna see a little bit of competition there? Because she really is the brains of the operation.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Well, let’s, let’s just set this clear. [LAUGHTER] Zenzi and Tom will always be friends. (Aww) This, it’s like, it’s, I just love you. It’s, it’s like that, it’s like chosen family. You know, they are, they are longtime family friends, but they’re like cousins. They’re like, they’re like siblings, you know, they can finish each other’s sentences or know what the other person needs and what they don’t need. You know, that’s, that’s a bond that is really, really hard to break.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: And there’s nothing about the two of them that wants to lose that. You know, there’s, there’s definitely friction as they both grow. But the goal is not to grow apart, but together. You know, that we could both rise up together and support each other in our journeys. So I, I, I know that, at least we better always be. [LOOKS AT CJ]
CAMERON JOHNSON: Will do as we’re told. Thank you.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: No Zenzi, my Zenzi, you know, it, it is, I mean, it was a chemistry that, you know, I immediately felt when we did our, when we did our chem read. (Yes) I was, it was like, I was talking to my brother, my best friend. Like he really felt like a confidant right away. And we bring so much of that to the show naturally. And for Zenzi, if she’s gonna stay within the company within the Swift, you know, world and orbit, I think it’s really, time will only tell. It’s, it’s a hard, it’s a hard choice because they are family, you know? And, and it’s not, walking away from family is not an easy decision for anyone. You know, it’s, it’s do you choose the people that love you, or do you choose yourself, or is there a way that you can choose both?
TIAN RICHARDS: Nobody [INAUDIBLE]
MODERATOR: Next up is Ronda Penrice followed by Rhayne Coleman.
RONDA: Hey, well, speaking of family, I’m actually your cousin, but… Darryl is my own father. Yes.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Oh my God! Did you see my face when they were like, “And then next up Ronda Penrice.” I was like [GASPS]
RONDA: I’m so proud of you, so proud of you. (Yes!)
NOGA LANDAU: Oh my gosh.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: I’m gonna cry. [OVERLAPPING] Real family. Hi!
RONDA: You kinda alluded to it, but I wanted to ask directly, why is this the right time for TOM SWIFT? And why is The CW the right place?
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Is that for me? Not for me. [OVERLAPPING]
RONDA: It’s for whoever [OVERLAPPING]
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: I feel like… Noga, if you wanna speak to this [OVERLAPPING]. I will tell you folks that Noga was the first person who said, this should be a black gay billionaire story. Ooh, let’s give some credit to Noga Landau. [APPLAUSE]
NOGA LANDAU: Yay. Well, I’m, I’m not a black gay billionaire, believe it or not. I wanna come out and be clear about that… But…
CAMERON JOHNSON: I had a whole plan to date her, here we are.
NOGA LANDAU: I know, I know, we were so close. You know, as we said before, this show is, is making history in many ways. It is the first, you know, network broadcast show where you have the titular character as a black gay man. Marquis is also making history. I don’t want to like put you on the spot, but I would love to just call out, you know, your contribution to this and how, how so many [OVERLAPPING] Yeah, I mean, so many, so many kids are gonna grow up seeing you on their TV screen and it’s going to, it’s gonna show them who they can be. And it’s so powerful.
NOGA LANDAU: And you know, regardless of what your politics are, regardless of, of who you are and where you think the country is going, I think the fact that… I think the fact that we’re seeing people be able to live more and more authentically, and yet the, the struggle is not over, and the fight is not over, I couldn’t think of a better time to have a show like this come out. And honestly, it would’ve been great if a show like this came out 50 years ago. But now is our opportunity. And now we finally have allies in, you know, our studio CBS, and in our network CW who are gonna let us tell this story.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Yeah, they have been incredibly supportive (Truly) We’ve come to them with some fairly out-there ideas and they’ve been like, “Great, can you do more?” You know, like seriously, they’re so encouraging and embracing of our creative ideas. And they’re great collaborators, great partners in this. They’ve been really, really, really supportive. We love the trailer, thank you. And you know, also I feel like The CW is sort of the network that could. And it’s doesn’t have the same sorts of pressures in some ways that some of the, I don’t know… Say you’re a giant streamer like Netflix, you have a different kind of target you’re trying to hit. Say you’re a giant you know, corporation like ABC has a certain thing that it’s trying to do.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: The CW has been able to do these very kind of, this is just for you, and yet everybody feels like, oh, I could tune into that too. And they have a really good blend of very targeted and yet very accessible programming. So I think it’s a great home for us.
CAMERON JOHNSON: The CW is the right place for us, because The CW is the place that said go further, do more, make it gayer, make it queerer, make it blacker. I’m literally not joking. Like we’ll be on notes calls and I’m like, oh God, there’s no way they’re gonna let me get away with this. And then they’re like, there’s absolutely no way. And then like, and then, you know, the execs are like, yes, absolutely. We are not only gonna let you get away with this, we’d like you to do more.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And I think the real, the other reason why The CW is the right place for this is that this is where youth go to see universal stories. I watched every single episode of “Gossip Girl” three times. Like, I have, there’s a, an ongoing joke, what is it? “Party of Five” is the show that I’m supposed to watch. Anyway, that I, that I, I…
NOGA LANDAU: Dawson’s River, you’re supposed to watch Dawson’s River.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Dawson’s River apparently was a show on the, on our network at some point. But this is a place where stories about young people learning about themselves, learning about their lives, starting off in existence can be broadcast on a large scale. And the fact that they’re willing to take this sort, to be like risky enough to be like, yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s make it about a black gay guy. Let’s do that. And he’s gonna be actually black and gay. He’s gonna kiss boys and he’s gonna, you know, do more than that. And we’re gonna, and you can populate the world with other people who are like him is why they’re the place for this. And I think they’ve been such a wonderful creative partner, and I’m obsessed with them. Thank you.
TIAN RICHARDS: Dare to defy.
RONDA: Well, thank you guys. Great job so far, but of course I’m biased.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Thank you.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Mess up your question, question wasn’t for Ashleigh though. I’m just gonna point that out at the family reunion, like they’ve got…
MODERATOR: We’re approaching our final two questions. Next up is Rhayne Coleman and followed by Walker Ragsdale.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Well, come on back, Ronda!
RHAYNE: Can you guys hear me? (Yes) Okay. My apologies. Okay. Thank you all for having me, glad, glad to be here. Um, I have two questions. So one dealing with the identity, there are some very tough conversations being had by Tom and his father. The word sensitive being thrown around. I loved, loved, loved that. But this is the story that a lot of queer people have these very same experiences. And this is really for, I guess, anyone, how important was it to capture that? Cause you did mention, you know, not wanting to kind of rehash black trauma. But this very specific thing is happening a lot. And I wanted to get into the fight with Tom and with Tom and Zenzi, if you could speak to that as well.
TIAN RICHARDS: Okay. I’ll take that one. What I will say, I definitely have my own set of daddy issues, though the, the problems are a little different with, with my own. But, what I hope to have happen, or what I hope to see is a world where we see less and less of that resistance from our, our parents. Thankfully I have a mother and father who, we don’t have that issue. Where they did fully accept me and my journey and everything in-between. We have other issues, but not that one.
TIAN RICHARDS: But it is great to grow up in a household where you can be fully realized and fully self-actualized. And since I am the product of that I, I hope that everybody gets a chance to experience that. But that’s, you know, not, that’s not the reality. So, there are many people who deal with parents who, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, sometimes it’s a little more micro-aggression in-between. It’s not, we always kick you out of the house or disown you, but it’s like little micro-aggression, little comments that they make, little, you know, side jabs that you, you feel it. And come on, I’m black in a, in a, in a black family. Like people say stuff, you know? People say little things they think are, are, are (Funny) Yeah, funny or passable, like yeah, yeah.
CAMERON JOHNSON: Sweet, sugar in the tank. (Yes) Like the lovebirds.
TIAN RICHARDS: Yes. All of that, all of that. So it’s, it’s circulating the conversation to where we see people that look like us go through these things as well, and, and, and in the world scope. So yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s, that’s always a hard issue and I’m, I’m just struggling a little bit, because I know friends that have definitely experienced the, the brute of their parents not understanding who they are and, you know, things being pushed upon them. And I even think about my own journey just a little bit, where, though I get got to actualize, you know. At a time, like I was really on some heavy, like I gotta be masculine out here in the world to survive, you know? And not letting other parts of my femininity and, and, and the full breadth of my humanity show.
TIAN RICHARDS: So, you know, I, of course you got uncles and cousins and grandfathers that, you know, you have to assimilate with, as well as in the world, because you’ll be seen a certain way. And yeah, so it shows that somebody who, on paper has everything, still has human issues. Because, though we have money and access and status, we are not void of human issues within the human experience.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: Yeah. And I think for folks who might be watching it from the other side of the Barton argument, not saying that our viewers are necessarily like this, but everybody knows somebody who struggled with their kids’ identity. And to have hope for those folks that maybe they could come around or maybe they could evolve Barton, you know, spoiler, he won’t always be that angry. I’ll leave it at that. But, you know, you gotta start someplace to get someplace.
MELINDA HSU TAYLOR: And then, you know, one of the things that I’m really proud of also, you know, we’ll, we’ll get to this in series, but Lorraine being a church-goer and actually being incredibly accepting. And that those two things can be completely feeding off of each other, that you have a religious faith and that you also embrace somebody’s identity. Those two things can exist right at the same time, they could actually make each other stronger.
CAMERON JOHNSON: That’s true. Amen. You know, it’s, it’s interesting in thinking about that scene in particular and the relationship between Barton and Tom, I think it was, look, my dad would really appreciate it if I said that all of this is fiction, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Um, but with that said, you know, I, I do have to give my parents credit because they were never, you know… I, I’ve been very obviously gay first ever since I bought my first Spice Girls album. And it is, it was great. It was a vibe, I loved it. My friends did not. They had notes, but it was great. But with that said, it wasn’t a P-flag, rainbow-sticker-on-the-car type of acceptance. It was an acceptance that came with, you, there are still standards that you, as a black man from this type of particular type of respectable family, need to live up to. And if you don’t live up to those things, if you don’t meet those standards, there’s gonna be problems.
CAMERON JOHNSON: And underneath that, there was always, and there still can always be, a little bit of like a soupçon of homophobia that comes out. And I think for Barton, that’s what he’s working through. But at its core, I mean, I’ll tell a small little personal story, I don’t think I’ve ever told before. But basically, so the day that I came out to my dad, I had had a dream, I was home for spring break in college. I woke up and I was like, I must tell my father that I am gay, and I had a full panic attack. And I got on the phone to call like this, a mentor of mine who was Dr. Jones. And I said, if I, and she said, well, what’s the problem.
And I was like, well, if I tell my dad I’m gay, is he going to still love me?
CAMERON JOHNSON: And she paused as if I had said something insane. And she said, of course. Barton and Tom love each other dearly. The problem is that their vision for what being a man is, is so different that it’s a big bridge to cross. And so, for Barton that’s, well, I mean, you’re gay and your life’s gonna be harder and you’re not like the type of person I wanted you to be. And Tom is like, I can do so many things, I just do it differently. I just am doing it gay. I’m doing it fabulously, as one must. And it’s that collision that drives so much of the story. And that is sort of, is the thing that one can recover from.
CAMERON JOHNSON: It’s less about like becoming less homophobic, which is important. Yes, we should all do that and transphobic and all of the other, all the sorts of phobias that, and racist and all the things that we all have internally. But what it’s really about is accepting that your child’s vision, the person you love’s vision of what their life should be, can be different. And your job is not to like, try to beat them into submission and doing like what your dream of, of them was. It’s to help them be the best possible version of that, of themselves.
APRIL PARKER JONES: Amen.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: There was a sec-, what was the other question?
RHAYNE: Yes, I’m sorry. It was about the, can you hear me? OK. It was about the argument between Tom right after the, the big criminal event. That was so intense. Like I was on pins and needles. Like that back and forth. So you spoke to your chemistry, like, how was it filming that scene?
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Okay, you know what? So when we shot that scene, that was actually a scene that I had auditioned with. And I, I, like, I know that fight. I have siblings, you know, I have cousins, I have friends. You know, people that you really, that you guys are on the same wavelength, and if somebody’s given you a little energy, you’re like, “Yeah, I know, I heard that, but I’m still gonna talk to you.” And it was, it was that moment where Tom can reach a frequency that Zenzi is really trying to get him to come down from. And he keeps going and keeps going, and now she has to meet him there. And we are, you wanna have a conversation? Well, we can have a conversation?
TIAN RICHARDS: Who was having that?!
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Exactly. And what’s so funny is, that when we did that, we, we shot it, you know, several times. And we definitely both had, I feel like we both had an idea of what it was supposed to feel like, what it was supposed to look like. And our director, Anton was like (Shout-out to Anton Cropper) He was like, okay, listen, I need, y’all like, you got it, but I just need you to stop. I need you to talk to him like you talking. And it’s funny because I thought I was talking to him, like I was talking to, he was like, talk to him like you talking to your cousin.
TIAN RICHARDS: No, no, no. Tell him though. Cause Miss Mama was pacing back and forth. And I was, oh, oh, okay. I was waiting.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: I started pacing.
TIAN RICHARDS: Oh okay. I was waiting for my cue. And she was…
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Because I had been waiting for you all night!
TIAN RICHARDS: Oh, I’m trying to get to the observatory. And, and then “action!” Whoa!
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: It was, it was so intense and it was so wonderful. And that’s one of my favorite, favorite things about working with Tian, is that he commits, (Yes) he commits. He does his homework and he’s there with you, and he listens and it comes from here and he gives it, and you take it and you throw it right back. It’s like, it’s like tennis, the whole time. And it’s such a wonderful, thrilling, fulfilling workout. And the fact that you had that reaction, that’s what we were having.
TIAN RICHARDS: Zenzi, my Zenzi!
MODERATOR: Okay. We’ve gone over, so we need to wrap things up. I just wanted to thank everyone again for participating. This has been amazing. I hope everyone has a great weekend. And just a reminder, TOM SWIFT premieres Tuesday, May 31st at 9:00 PM on The CW. Thank you guys so much. Thank you everyone.
Tuesday (9:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET) on The CW
As an exceptionally brilliant inventor with unlimited resources and unimaginable wealth, the devilishly charming Tom Swift (Tian Richards) is a man who many men would kill to be, or be with – a man with the world in the palm of his hand. But that world gets shaken to its core after the shocking disappearance of his father, thrusting Tom into a breathtaking adventure full of mysterious conspiracies and unexplained phenomena. On his whirlwind quest to unravel the truth, Tom finds himself fighting to stay one step ahead of an Illuminati-scale cabal hellbent on stopping him. Tackling this treacherous pursuit armed with his vast intellect, his roguish wit, and an endless supply of designer sneakers, he will also rely on his closest companions: his best friend Zenzi (Ashleigh Murray), whose unabashed and unvarnished candor keeps Tom grounded while she forges a path for herself as a business visionary; his bodyguard Isaac (Marquise Vilsón), whose fierce commitment to his chosen family is complicated by his own simmering feelings for Tom; and his AI, Barclay (voiced by LeVar Burton), whose insights and tough love have been a constant throughout Tom’s life.
At home, Tom’s relationship with his mother Lorraine (April Parker Jones) becomes conflicted as she urges him to take his father’s place in elite Black society. But unbeknownst to Tom, his mother’s request is driven by deep secrets of her own. What’s more, the mysterious and dangerous Rowan (Albert Mwangi) intersects Tom’s path with hidden motivations and undeniable mutual chemistry. While Tom navigates these emotionally charged dynamics, his missions will require his genius and his flair for innovation guided by romance, friendship and the mysteries of the universe yet unsolved.
The character of Tom Swift was originally introduced to audiences in season two of NANCY DREW. The series is inspired by the Tom Swift book series that hails from Stratemeyer Syndicate, which also publishes the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins books.
TOM SWIFT stars Tian Richards, Ashleigh Murray, Marquise Vilsón, April Parker Jones and Albert Mwangi, with LeVar Burton as the voice of Barclay, Tom’s AI.
TOM SWIFT is a production of CBS Studios in association with Fake Empire. TOM SWIFT was co-created by Melinda Hsu Taylor (“Nancy Drew,” “The Gifted”), Noga Landau (“Nancy Drew,” “The Magicians”) and Cameron Johnson (“Empire”). Taylor, Landau and Johnson also serve as executive producers along with Josh Schwartz (“Nancy Drew,” “Gossip Girl,” “Dynasty”), Stephanie Savage (“Nancy Drew,” “Gossip Girl,” “Dynasty”), and Lis Rowinski (“Nancy Drew,” “Gossip Girl,” “Dynasty”)
Proofread and Edited by Brenda