Flossmoor native has passion for — and a role in — ‘The Chi’

  Tai Davis as Tracy in "The Chi" in episode seven of
  the first season.
 (Photos by Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)
Flossmoor residents may be seeing a familiar face on Showtime’s new hit program “The Chi.”

Tai Davis, a Flossmoor native and Homewood-Flossmoor High School alum, plays Tracy on the show that portrays the south side of Chicago through the lives of several connected characters.

“(Acting) is the only thing that I love,” Davis said. “Acting is the only thing that I’ve known, so all the other careers that I’ve done were the fluctuation. Acting is my constant. It’s my favorite thing to do. I get paid to do what I love and I’m happy to do it every chance I get.

“I get to play pretend for a living.”

Davis spent time working at Home Depot. She was a receptionist at a doctor’s office. She spent a day working at veterinarian's office before accepting the fact that she was not qualified to “clean up poop all day” and remembering that she didn’t like reptiles. 

Her first serious acting job was in 1998 on an episode of the ABC series “Cupid,” where she worked with Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall. She was still just a teenager but had a moment while sitting in her first real actor’s trailer eating steak for lunch.

“I realized that I was getting ready to go up and sing and perform and I was getting paid really well to do it,” Davis said. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute. This is a real career.’ And I looked at all these other actors as adults. Normally, when I was on set I was by myself or I was with other kids. This was the first set that I’d been on when I was around adults and realized they were doing this as a career.”

She’d figured out what she wanted to do with her life. The notion was reinforced later on that same set when her character cried. Davis looked around and noticed those around her getting emotional.

“I realized that you had to tap into real emotion and when you do that, it affects other people,” she said. “All of this happened in one day.”
Eventually, she began to notice that she needed more experience to accurately portray some of the parts for which she was auditioning. So, she took time away from acting to learn about life.

“I got married. I had a daughter and I really started to learn more about myself as a person,” Davis said. “I was able to tap into real feelings, real emotions and really dive deeper into the characters and the roles.”

Davis’s latest character, Tracy on “The Chi,” is a single mother whose teenage son was murdered. Tracy carries an obvious abundance of emotion with her. 

To learn more about that, Davis started paying attention to the news — especially when a young boy was murdered and the mother was interviewed. She studied crime statistics for Chicago. She and the rest of the cast met with people living in the neighborhoods portrayed on the show.

“I put myself in their position, (thinking about) how it would be to lose my daughter,” she said. “I met one woman, in particular, who was talking to me about the loss of her son and just what she was feeling and how she goes on with her day-to-day life. I carry that with me throughout the different moments of Tracy and the different beats of Tracy.”
Davis, who splits time between Flossmoor and Los Angeles, said there are some parts of her in Tracy. Both she and Tracy can be short, or “no-nonsense,” when angry. Both are devoted to their children. But Davis thinks she has a little more compassion than her character.

“I have an amazing tribe. My family is amazing, very supportive,” she said. “Everybody in my family loves the show and everybody is on the fence about Tracy. It’s so hilarious. They rag on my character but love me.
“They’re like ‘We love you but Tracy is a b—h.’” 

Chicago was and is a place that Davis has always lived, worked and frequented throughout her life. She still has friends and family there. That made “The Chi” more important to her than most acting gigs.

“When I was auditioning for other things, ‘The Chi’ was something that was closer to my heart,” she said. “This is where I’m from. This is my city. This is my culture. This is where my home is. This is where my heart is. I know the people. I know the food. I know the lingo. I know the violence. I know what these people look like, what they feel like, how they move. This was a passion project, a dream project for me.”

The Chi airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on Showtime. Showtime announced Jan. 30 that "The Chi" has been renewed for a second season. Episode 7 of the first season was available on the network Feb. 25.

More information:
"The Chi" website

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