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'Harlem' Star Robert Ri’chard Talks His Biggest Dating Deal-Breaker

The passionate actor has something in common with his character.


Have you ever had a dating, relationship, or hook-up experience that went so wrong you started questioning yourself? Is there something wrong with me? Did I somehow set the wrong expectation? Whether we want to admit it or not, a lot of us can identify with these feelings. That’s why I’m so happy that shows like Tracy Oliver’s Harlem exist to let us know we’re not alone.

The one-hour dramedy honestly and hilariously encompasses many of the trials and tribulations that the everyday Black millennial deals with. From topics about dating and relationships to questions surrounding one’s career trajectory, Harlem is entertaining, authentic, and extremely relatable. One character that has sparked a lot of healthy dialogue is Shawn. He represents the good guy who we may genuinely like but deviates from the ideal man we have in our mind.

Played by Robert Ri’chard, Shawn has some of the most fun and provocative scenes in the series. No stranger to putting on a show, the actor has been a part of many childhood favorites like Cousin Skeeter and One on One, to more grown-and-sexy projects like Kinky and Chocolate City. During our fun chat, we spoke about his acting journey, views on love and relationships, and why Amazon Prime's Harlem should be added to the xoTribe’s watchlist.

xoNecole: First, let me address what so many of our readers are thinking. Do you realize you were the star of a lot of our fantasies back in the day? How does that feel?

Robert Ri’chard: I don’t think I realize it yet! I really haven’t been hit over the head with the iconic roles and movies I’ve been a part of that have been these big juggernauts. And now, I’m on a new one with Harlem. Everybody’s binging and already asking for season two. I’m like, 'Ask for season seven! You know you want it already (laughs).'

But if anyone knows me, they know I never really watch my stuff. I love what I do but I never have the full validation of what I do because I don’t watch myself on camera. Still, it's definitely a blessing. People come up to me at airports, grocery stores, trains, and everything. I’m always on FaceTime talking to grandmas, wives, husbands, and everything. I love that. I love it.

Andre Harris

Well, you've been acting most of your life. How do you think you've grown as an actor and as a man throughout the years?

I feel like everyone makes a point that I'm stuck in time. I’ve been in the business for like 26, almost 27 years. And everyone’s always like you don’t even look 27! I feel like I’m in this Benjamin Button lane where everyone's growing up fast and I get to stay the same age. But luckily I have two other people that are the same age as me: Meagan [Good] is staying young and beautiful and she’s the lead of our show, and then, obviously, everyone knows KP [Kyla Pratt] and I love each other and we’ve just solidified staying youthful. And now I have a new leading lady, Quinn, played by Grace Byers.

Yes, let's talk about your love interest, Quinn! She had quite a few deal-breakers, and that caused a bit of tension in your characters' relationship. Do you have any personal red flags?

I think my deal-breaker is not being all the way in. I play Shawn, and Shawn is all the way in. He’s got nothing to hide. He’s like, if I fall in love with you, I’m gonna fall in love with you. Drop all the walls, resistance, and second-guessing. If you feel it, let’s do it. I think that’s my one thing, if someone is not all the way in, that’s probably a deal-breaker for me.

But also, as a guy, you have to make the ladies feel safe and vulnerable enough to open up. Look, a woman is gonna be reserved and hold her own. Only as you make her feel safe and comfortable will she open up, blossom, and show you the things she’s protecting. I have two sisters, so I listen to how women think. My dad was always telling me to open the door for a woman, make her laugh, and go get her drinks.

I'm happy you said that because I think a lot of women can sympathize with Quinn's character. Do you feel a connection with Shawn like that, too? What's the difference in how you love or how you're a partner versus your character on the show?

I think Shawn and I are so closely related. A lot of people felt like he was refreshing to see, you know, someone that’s all into one girl. He’s listening, talking to her, and helping with her job. He’s doing what he can to quarterback her life and make sure she’s getting the best out of the stuff she’s pursuing.

And I think for Quinn’s character, she’s out with her girls when she meets him. It’s supposed to be fun and games, he’s dancing for her and everything. Then, she realizes they have a lot in common but she wants to keep her walls up and just have a good time. But he wants to cook for her, wake her up with a kiss, meet her friends, and be a part of her life!

Courtesy of Amazon Prime

You've delved into quite a few provocative roles in your career. Was that intentional? If so, why do you think it's important to showcase those different shades as an actor?

No. I’ve done a lot of drama roles and I’ve played the “buttoned-up guy,” too. I think someone has to be fearless. My producers and writers feel like, ‘We can lean on Robert to do things that other actors might be nervous to do.’ I feel like a sniper in that way, I’m the person that’s gonna shoot that shot and be like a shooting guard. I feel honored that people pick me to show what millennials and Gen Z are going through.

And for me, I’m so engulfed in the world, I’m not even aware that a video camera is shooting. It's almost like Shawn is a real person with a real life, and he's doing what a lot of people in America do—jobs where they take care of their family and do whatever they have to. I represent that.

Finally, what is the biggest lesson you'd like people to gain from the show and your character?

Not only do you have to be fearless, but you have to help and love people through their trauma. Number one is to be gentle but two, to be a hammer, and say, 'Listen, I’ll call you out on your stuff.’

And for the show, in the 21st century, it’s so hard to manage friends, dating, and career. And to have a show on air with bomb music—everybody loves the music (laughs)—happening on the biggest platform in the world, New York, and have these characters in this eco-system being super-honest and transparent and trying to figure it out, it gives everyone at home a chance to be represented. I just want people to see themselves in these characters as they eat popcorn and get through this pandemic.

To find out more about Robert Ri'chard, visit his Instagram.

Featured image by Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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