EXCLUSIVE | 'Hightown' child actor Rumi C Jean-Louis reveals he does his 'own stunts' on the Starz show
Spoilers for Episode 1 of 'Hightown'
Kids these days are crazy... crazy talented enough to breeze through award-winning shows on traumatizing real-life events with ever twisting plots, dark as the black hole, and probably just as all-consuming for a little six-year-old to make much sense of. But that's not the case with Rumi C Jean-Louis, who pretty much kicked off his career by appearing in Netflix's 'When they See Us', which is probably one of the darkest and harrowing stories of our time. It was clearly a blast for Rumi, as the little prodigy is back on the screen once again for yet another gritty crime thriller. This time, digressing from wrongful incarceration, Rumi finds himself in the middle of a town plagued by an opioid epidemic, as Frankie Jr on Starz's 'Hightown'.
Taking time out of his extremely busy schedule preparing for kindergarten and counting down days before he can be back on the set, Rumi was ever so prompt to get out of the way how his on-screen avatar does things he wouldn't consciously do in real life. "Frankie Jr is a pretty cool kid, he likes a lot of the things I like," Rumi tells MEA Worldwide exclusively while talking about Frankie Jr. "He lives with his mom, she works a lot and he gets to watch cartoons and play," he adds. It is, however, Frankie's introduction to the plot that Rumi doesn't quite agree with. "When we meet Frankie, he is in his house and a guy comes with food for him. His mom was sleeping and he lets (the guy) in and he played Jenga with Frankie until his mom woke up. Everyone keeps asking me why I let a stranger in, but I wouldn’t, Frankie Jr did," insists Rumi. Frankie Jr is the son of Hightown's incarcerated crimelord Frankie Cuevas (Amaury Nolasco) and local stripper Renee Segna/Candy (Riley Voelkel.)
When a body washes up ashore and Detective Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale) is assigned the case, his first lead is interrogating Frankie Sr, before ambushing Renee at her club and blackmailing her to divulge intel on the drug-related murder in town. Ray uses Frankie Jr to weasel his way into Renee's life, and while by the end of the pilot it's not clear whether his intent with Renee is genuine or not, he does offer a stable fatherly appearance in Frankie Jr's life, and it's simply pure and wholesome.
"Playing Frankie Jr has been so cool," Rumi says, crediting his on-screen parents and new buddy-cop for the fun experience he had filming. While taping in several different locations was a sheer thrill for the kid, he also adds 'Badge' is a "pretty cool guy, and Riley who is my mom, was fun. She would give me power ranger toys every day we filmed, I liked that a lot!" As for his TV-dad, Rumi thinks he too is super fun because "he has a lot of cool friends, some of them play superheroes – like Aquaman."
Big connections aside Rumi himself is quite the star for playing the younger version of one of the Central Park Five, as seen in Ava DuVernay's phenomenal Netflix miniseries, 'When They See Us.' Rumi played a young Raymond Santana and loved being on the set of a relatively dark and intense thriller, based on real-life events of a female jogger who was raped in Central Park, and subsequently, five innocent young African-American men were arrested. Thrilling as it might be that years later, the five of them were able to become the Exonerated Five, Rumi's fondest memories from being on the show involve the crew letting him "play with all of my characters toys. The stage also had a house with a lot of rooms and my baby pictures in them, just like 'Hightown'," he reminisces, adding how the vast emotional range for the role required him to do "different kinds of scenes, crying and happy scenes." His takeaway? "It was not that hard but a little bit hard."
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From having "other people watching you on TV" to "seeing the magic of television and movies -- the sets look like real places!", acting has been quite the journey for the little boy. His pro-tip? "You can’t look at the camera, or they have to do a lot of takes." Rumi quickly clarifies "It only happened to me once," but his only challenge is "early call times. Those are tough." His personal favorite scene from his latest venture 'Hightown' is the Jenga scene from the pilot. His favorite thing about the show? "Doing stunts with the stunt coordinator was really awesome. They had me jump off a stage onto crash pads to practice for a scene. I do my own stunts," he explains, confidently. And when he needs to wind down on set, he indulges in "craft services. I get to a break and they have lots of good food -- yogurt, spaghetti, cake, pasta, tacos, and lots of stuff."
Currently quarantined, Rumi has been observing the construction in their house, playing with trucks, and has also mastered how to ride a two-wheeler. "I'm looking forward to the summer because I like to swim," tells us the ambitious young boy who wants to play a young Steph Curry on the screen someday. That, or "a superhero -- like a real-life Miles Morales, and maybe have my own TV show." Rumi also loves doing "voice work in the studio so maybe I can do cartoons." The options are wide open with the rising star, all he wants to do is "Just have a lot of fun."
Watch Rumi dazzle you with his curious eyes and cheeky smirk as Frankie Jr on 'Hightown', premiering this Sunday, May 17, at 8 pm only on Starz.