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June 10, 2024

'The Chi' actor Brett Gray recounts his path from Mt. Airy to the small screen

The 27-year-old, who has starred in several TV series and is working on an upcoming R&B album, says he loves the 'hard edges' of his hometown.

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Brett Gray the Chi. Provided Image/Paramount+

Actor Brett Gray, left, plays Damien in season 6 of 'The Chi,' a drama about a group of young people in Chicago. The Philly native says he still holds a soft spot for his hometown.

Brett Gray's love for the performing arts began after his music teacher called his home to recommend his mother enroll him in classes outside of school. 

His mother heeded the advice, enrolling Gray in classes at the New Freedom Theatre on North Broad Street and later the Philadelphia High School for the Creative Arts in South Philly. 

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"It was just this cool outlet that I kind of discovered, maybe I had been gifted in," said Gray, 27, who grew up in Mt. Airy. "And then I just grabbed it and went full force with it as I got older."

That full-force attitude eventually earned him starring roles in multiple TV shows and led to an upcoming R&B album. In 2014, he landed his first job at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in New York City, where he spent time couch-surfing after graduating high school. 

From there, he starred as Jamal Turner in the Netflix drama "On My Block," Dal R'El in the animated series "Star Trek: Prodigy" and Felix in the Amazon Prime comedy "I'm a Virgo." Most recently, he was cast in Season 6 of Paramount+'s "The Chi," a show about a group of young people in Chicago. 

Gray plays Damien, the brother of one of the show's main characters, Emmett. Gray said he likes playing the role because Damien is a free-spirited character, and Gray is still learning what he's there to do. 

"To me, he's like SpongeBob, he's lovable and he does random things that come from a really great place and so you've got to love it even if it's crazy," Gray said. 

As an actor, Gray said he starts the creative process by asking questions about his characters – where they came from, what they bring to the table and what their motivation is in their stories. Gray said he's undergoing a similar process as he works on his first full-length album, which he hopes to finish by the fall. He previously released three EPs and a single, "New Money Same Me (Gucci Bag)."

While working on the album, Gray said he's had to ask himself who he is, what's meaningful to him and what struggles or downfalls he's willing to share with his audience. With music, he's telling his own story for the first time, he said. 

"I feel like it's been really important for me and my growth to understand who I am and to be able to tell my story, separate myself from my characters and claim my place as an artist in the market as opposed to 'That guy from this thing,'" Gray said.

Gray splits his time living in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. But he said he still comes to Philly as often as he can to spend time with his family. When he is home, he likes to stop by Stuffed by Jannah Jewelz's West Philly location, French Toast Bites on Cherry Street Pier and Franklin Fountain in Old City. He also loves to run by the art museum, stop by Race Street Pier and hang out in Chestnut Hill. 

From here, Gray hinted that he might be returning to the stage for his next role. But no matter where he goes in his career, Gray said he still loves the "hard edges" of Philadelphia. He said it's not as polished as other cities, although he's noticed a similar trait in the Windy City.

"I'm kind of falling in love with Chicago for the same reason — there's hard edges, not everything is sugar-coated," Gray said. "It feels real and there's a hustle and a grind and a in-your-face attitude behind it that I really respect, and I think it's constructive for me to be around that."