Author’s Note: This interview was conducted in March 2022, Spoilers for season one of BMF below
When BMF premiered on Starz in September 2021, the crime drama inspired by a true story immediately caught the attention of social media. The show managed to merge the gritty and often times hard to take in realities of drug dealing and money laundering through the lens of the infamous Flenory’s–Big Meech and T–who built an empire as one of the most influential crime families in 1980s Detroit in an attempt to get their family out of poverty.
Laila Pruitt’s journey into the BMF family started with a ton of research. “I’d never really gotten that many auditions to play real people before so obviously I jumped at the opportunity,” she laughs. She was determined to expand her knowledge not only on the family as a whole but on Detroit’s accents and anything else that could immerse her into the role.
Part of that immersion, she muses, came through the discovery that the BMF had a bigger reach than she’d initially thought. From finding out people she knew already had varying knowledge of the family to the realization that they had impacted America overall and not just Detroit. “They definitely told me how they reacted when they watched it. I think a lot of them enjoyed it because whatever they thought they knew, like other aspects of the family or however [they thought] Meech and T were, like their personalities and things like that were sorta revealed to them,” she tells me about the feedback she received noting that even if they thought they knew the whole story, they still were surprised there was more to learn.
In order to become Nicole, Laila was able to meet the actual Nicole and talk to her about her experiences on top of her bringing her own to crafting Nicole as a character. As the youngest in her family, Laila notes that she related to Nicole’s experience with having family members attempt to shelter her from the things she’s already piecing together. For Nicole, no matter how much her family tries to keep her away from the drugs and money laundering in order to keep her as a kid for a little longer, she’s fully aware and sees the way it impacts her family and the role she has to play in it.
The family aspect was key to telling this story. Luckily for the cast, becoming a family was the easy part. Laila recalls one of the first scenes they filmed was the family dinner scene in the first episode where they were given the chance to improvise and get a feel for how they should interact with each other. The sibling dynamic especially, Laila shares, came naturally for her with Demetrius and Da’Vinchi taking her in as a little sister immediately with the three of them looking out for each other and teasing each other.
Whatever judgements you went into watching the show with, you can [leave] out with, ‘Okay, no one’s that one dimensional. They loved and they cried and they laughed together.’
“I mean we definitely had conversations about the family and their impact on different parts of the region. Honestly, having Demetrius on set was such a great thing,” she says about her on-screen brother. The son of Demetrius Flenory, Demetrius Flenory Jr. found himself portraying his father essentially by chance. During pre-production, casting struggled to find the right person to play him which led to Demetrius being asked to take acting classes in order to step into the role. A decision that made the story richer as both he and his father got to have a say in the story that made its way to the screen.
“I’m really glad that it happened that way, that Meech got to play his dad because him being on set I feel like really elevated everybody else’s game,” Laila continues. “It was like, ‘We have someone here directly tied to the family, to the founder of BMF itself.'” It inspired the cast and crew to bring their A-game while telling the story. “It was really great and he brought his A-game too, it was a great time with Meech on set.”
Fictionalized versions of true stories are especially popular to be greenlit, however, there always is a responsibility to honor the story appropriately. The way that real people are portrayed impacts that person and their relatives, especially those who might be recovering from any harm or trauma that the story is highlighting. Laila shares that in this instance, the cast was given the opportunity to meet some of the people they were portraying and ask questions. “We were really fortunate in that regard, so just trying to be as authentic as possible in portraying the person and how they really were. I’m very confident in our cast in the first season that we accomplished that,” she says. “I’m very proud of our entire cast and the writers who went back and did their research and did justice to the story too. But yeah, I think that for what we do and what we could do, we definitely did it justice.”
Along with hoping that their portrayal’s honored the story they were telling, she also notes that she hopes people watching the show see BMF as their jumping-off point doing their own research instead of only taking the show at face value. “It can be a two-way thing, we bring this art to your TV screen so that we can start a conversation and then you can begin to pique your interest and research about these people who created this dynasty they created. Then the second thing is that I hope that your expectations were shattered about who they are,” she explains.
“Whatever judgments you went into watching the show with, you can [leave] out with, ‘Okay, no one’s that one dimensional. They loved and they cried and they laughed together.’ You know? Different things like that–making a well-rounded experience understanding that these characters are people, you know what I mean?” Laila asks.
It’s maybe a big ask given the content matter, but it’s also a necessary one. Shows centering white people doing whatever it takes to achieve the American Dream, no matter how muddy the waters or how ethical the means, often get a pass because the American Dream is contextualized in those terms; it’s understood to be that someone like Walt White, Tony Soprano, or Don Draper starts off in unideal circumstances but their hunger to strive for success in a world telling them they have to if they want to be somebody makes them overambitious and causes them to do the things that they do. However, outside of shows like The Wire, critiques of the American Dream in the mainstream can often exclude that there are multiple layers to the harm that ideal has caused.
“I think [BMF] definitely turns it on its head. I mean they always say that if you work for it, you can get what you want and they definitely worked at it. I think that you really have to look at all the details of it,” Laila starts when I ask her about it. “In the essence of what the American Dream is, they definitely go for it. I mean they got it, it’s just that people don’t like the means that they got it from. But you also have to look at well the means were wrong but where did they come from? They came from an impoverished community and during a time, especially when the government just seemed [like they] did not care about Black people and people of color at all. I mean the war on drugs was going on, you know, you have to look at the whole picture I think. It definitely turns it on its head, their lives in general, so maybe making a show about it starts conversations about that for sure.”
In the essence of what the American Dream is, they definitely go for it. I mean they got it, it’s just that people don’t like the means that they got it from. But you also have to look at well the means were wrong but where did they come from?
She especially hopes that the show’s ability to keep viewers engaged and interested in the people on screen helps them to realize that the situation isn’t so black and white. Discussing characters, in season one she says that she found herself watching the show for B-Mickie and Cato every week. One of the season’s central love stories, the two of them go from being each other’s confidantes within the group to starting a secret relationship even as Cato’s loyalty comes highly into question until finally, B-Mickie chooses the BMF over her towards the end of the season in a scene that left everyone that watched it shocked. “I think I might’ve screamed watching that in my room,” Laila says. (And honestly? Same.) “I was like, ‘Stop it!!!!’ I cannot believe it, that was the coldest line! Top 2 coldest lines of that season just, ‘I love you too, boo,’ after that,” she says about B-Mickie’s last words to Cato.
“Its weird cause the rational mind is like, ‘They not gon end up together’ like you know they not gon end up together,” she says as we both talk more about how much we loved them knowing they were doomed from the start. “But the heart is like, ‘Okay, they’re gonna find a way to dig themselves outta this hole.’ But nah, it did not work out.” While I tuned into the show late, I muse that I’m sure the “I love you too, boo” line was everywhere when the episode dropped and she shares it definitely was especially on Instagram. “It’s probably people using that line in their own lives,” she jokes.
Along with Cato, there are a number of characters the show says goodbye to in the first season. When I ask her who she misses most, she shouts out the character Flick immediately. “The funniest guy on 12th street!” She credits him. “But, I hate to say it ’cause you got the actor’s viewpoint and the writer’s viewpoint. So from the actors’ viewpoint, you’re like ‘Dang, I wish they didn’t kill him.’ But from the writer’s viewpoint, it’s like, ‘That’s good writing right there because it says nobody is safe in this show.’ You know what I mean? So even though people loved his character, I just think he had to go. But I wish he didn’t, I loved his character.”
Here, of course, is where I remind her that in the first season we also say goodbye to her own character’s love interest, Darius, which causes her to immediately burst into laughter nothing that while she forgot about him, she wishes he could have been saved too. “Darius is such a sweetheart and the actor who plays him is so talented, we had a ball on set,” she says after we calm down from the laughing. “I’m sure I’ll see him on other sets because he’s so incredibly talented. But yes, that was also someone who would be gravely missed.”
In terms of what’s coming for season two, there’s really not much, if anything she can say. During the time of our interview, she was in the process of filming it, but since then the cast has wrapped with an expected premiere in January 2023. Aside from that she points out that different dynamics have changed and there are different relationships, noting that we’ll definitely see Nicole fulfilling her sisterly role but she can’t say in what way.
Part of her excitement about this project stems from being someone that’s also interested in working behind the camera and how much of a learning experience it’s been seeing the likes of Tasha Smith, Slick, and 50 Cent direct episodes. “3 completely different methods, 3 completely different people, and it was really great to sort of be able to pick and choose because they were all so talented. But you know, it’s just mental notes and things like that,” she says about her experience filming season one. During season two, she turned it up a notch taking notes in a notebook so she could form her own method for when she gets behind the camera.
I ask her what’s the biggest thing she’s learned/is taking away to which she responds flexibility. “We all create plans in our minds, especially from a director’s standpoint, we definitely have a plan for how things are gonna go but you know, set life can be crazy sometimes. There’s a bunch of different variables and a bunch of different people. So being flexible with time and flexible with people and flexible with how you approach people and flexible with the script, like things like that are all important. So just remember to kind of go with the flow,” she says.
We have to make our own way and sorta be hustlers about it and be adamant about what you want.
Currently, she’s studying Film at Howard University, a big step towards her goal of creating her own table instead of relying on being invited to a seat at someone else’s. She credits her mom for putting the ambition in her head when she was a freshman in high school. Her mom let her know that as she got older, she couldn’t rely on auditions to make her mark. “‘We have to make our own way and sorta be hustlers about it and be adamant about what you want. So creating your own content and writing your own projects is probably gonna be an important skill for you to have,'” Laila quoted her mom adding that it led to her learning about writing slowly but surely. “I finished my first script and from there, I think it’s fair to say I’ve had some exponential growth with my talent writing-wise. I’ve always loved writing but scriptwriting is a whole different thing. But it’s been really fun to learn about it for sure.”
As a fellow fan of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, not only is she also hopeful of an eventual adaptation, but she also has a vision for as well–it’s something she says she thinks about on a weekly basis. “It would have to be either a limited series or something like a trilogy like The Hunger Games. It would have to be like that because there’s not enough time in one movie to go through all those books. So it’d have to be a limited series and then each episode we would pick a character to have it follow like in the books. And it would definitely be extremely dramatic with funny moments–ooooooh I’m really thinking about it now!”
You can hear her light up over the phone talking about it adding that obviously while the show would be a dramedy, it’ll also include “just a smidge” of teen angst. As a series that she’s loved since 7th grade, the combination of a coming-of-age story with sci-fi and fairytale elements both excites and amazes her. “They’re literally traveling from planet to planet, there’s a girl that lives in a shuttle just floating in space, but it works! Ugh, it’s amazing!” She says citing that her favorite characters in the series are Ze’ev (Wolf) and Linh Cinder.
“[Cinder’s] character development, her and all the other characters’ development just completely transformed from her start to the end, it was awesome. That book was so good,” Laila reminisces. “I remember in 7th and 8th grade reading those books sitting in my closet under the covers when I was supposed to be sleep using my phone’s flashlight when I was supposed to be going to bed.”
While we manifest her involvement with The Lunar Chronicles being on a screen, Laila can now currently be seen in the first season of B.M.F. on Starz until season 2 premieres in January of next year. And more recently, her movie Secret Headquarters premiered on Paramount+. Blending comedy with coming-of-age and superhero action, the movie centers on Charlie (Walker Scobell) and his friends after he discovers a secret superhero headquarters in his home and then has to defend the headquarters.
You can stay up to date on all things Laila Pruitt by following her Instagram account.
Secret Headquarters is available to watch on Paramount+.
Season one of BMF is now streaming on the Starz app with season two premiering January 2023.
(photo cred: Michael Carson Photography)