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Bryan Terrell Clark Is Portraying The Character He Always Wanted To See

On "Diarra From Detroit," the actor and singer portrays Mr. Tea, the no-nonsense best friend.

Mar 28, 2024, 03:23 PM EDT | Updated Mar 28, 2024

When Bryan Terrell Clark was auditioning for his first television role on “CSI: NY” in 2008, he walked into the casting room wearing sagging pants, frowned anytime he spoke and slammed the door when he left.

The episode’s director was impressed with his performance on set, but Clark, convinced that he could only get cast as a thug or a drug dealer, was ready to put those roles aside. He set a goal to only pursue opportunities that allow him to showcase his various talents and embrace being a gay Black man.

“I would always introduce myself and transform into the character, but I wouldn’t get it,” said Clark, who was trained at the Yale School of Drama. “We still had to Blacken up, and later on in my life, casting directors would want us to be more flamboyant. It’s nothing wrong with the array of how we express ourselves, but it’s a problem when it’s only limited to stereotypes.”

It’s been 16 years since that life-changing audition, and Clark is now portraying a character on television written for him. He co-stars on “Diarra From Detroit,” a dark comedy about a schoolteacher (Diarra Kilpatrick) going through a divorce while trying to solve a mystery involving the disappearance of a man she met on a dating app. The series premiered on BET+ earlier this month and airs new episodes on Thursdays. Kilpatrick is also the series creator.

Clark plays Mr. Tea, a former All-American basketball player and singer who teaches at the same school as Kilpatrick’s character. He’s her loyal, no-nonsense gay best friend who regularly gives her advice about relationships.

Kilpatrick and Ester Lou Weithers, “Diarra From Detroit’s” co-executive producer, approached Clark in the fall of 2022 during the taping of comedian Yvonne Orji’s second HBO series, “A Whole Me,” about auditioning for the part. The pilot episode’s script is based on actual conversations between Clark, Kilpatrick and the writers.

“Mr. Tea is so authentically me and so many other queer people that I know,” Clark said. “I’m so thankful that Diarra wrote and developed a full, well-rounded queer Black man for the screen. It’s a dream come true and an answered prayer.”

It was Clark’s time on Broadway that made him understand his presence onstage mattered. In 2013, Clark made his Broadway debut as late singer Marvin Gaye in “Motown: The Musical” and returned six years later as George Washington in “Hamilton.”

He joined the ensemble cast of “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” a show written by playwright Keenan Scott II about seven Black men ranging in age exploring various emotions in a Brooklyn neighborhood, as the character Happiness. “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” the first Broadway production written, directed and starring an all-Black lineup, opened in October 2021 and closed after 79 performances in December. It was the first play to return to Broadway after live theater went on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Clark was hoping to take a break from Broadway, but says “Thoughts of a Colored Man” is “one of the most fulfilling things he’s been able to do.”

“I’d found the language for my purpose as an artist, and that’s to push culture forward one story at a time,” Clark said. “We got a chance to actually not only to tell stories from our culture, but to be directed and costumed by people who grew up in that same ethos.”

Clark has worked with filmmaker Ava DuVernay on “Cherish The Day,” “Queen Sugar” and “When They See Us,” along with a slew of guest spots in various television programs, including “The New Edition Story” on BET, as veteran producer Terry Lewis.

Embracing his own trauma and family issues helped Clark develop his characters. He was born and raised in Baltimore to an educator-turned-pastor mother and a blue-collar-working father. His dad was a drug dealer-turned-addict that entered rehab 22 times in 20 years.

Growing up in church, Clark says his family’s religious beliefs made it difficult for him to come out. Old wounds healed when the versatile entertainer married his husband, costume designer Devario Simmons, on New Year’s Day 2022.

The couple’s mothers prayed for them at the wedding.

“It was a lot of internal shame from home life to who I really was,” Clark, 43, said. “But all of the things I used to see as traumas and difficulties in my life have become my superpowers. In a strange way, both of my parents taught me how to fly and embrace my authenticity.”

Any time Clark wasn’t acting, he silently worked on his music. He has performed alongside Maxwell, Brandy, Ne-Yo, Anita Baker and Michael Bublé.

In 2011, he got a co-writing credit on Mary J. Blige’s “Irreversible” after producer Harmony Samuels threw him into a recording session. Actor Jussie Smollett heard a demo of “Freedom,” which Clark wrote, in 2016 when Clark appeared on an episode of “Empire.” The song became Smollett’s debut single.

Clark plans to release new music later this year. Earlier this month, the multitalented artist co-headlined at Carnegie Hall, performing Motown songs with Valisia LeKae and the New York Pops Orchestra.

Stepping on the stage at Carnegie Hall was another moment Clark realized being his full self had made his dreams come true.

“What people respond to is your authenticity, and until you have that freedom internally, your work is limited, especially as an actor,” Clark said. “I finally feel free in my life and fully in my zone.”

“Diarra From Detroit” airs new episodes on Thursdays on BET+.


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