Brandon McKnight chatted about playing Chester P Runk, one of the newest members of Team Flash on The CW’s long-time hit series, The Flash. Brandon also discussed his audition process and how he was inspired to start acting.
Welcome, Brandon and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Brandon McKnight (BM): Thanks for having me, man.
You’re from Canada, a nation which boasts a rich legacy of both comedic and dramatic acting talent. Did anyone or anything in particular inspire you to pursue acting personally?
BM: Most of my inspirations actually weren’t Canadian. It was mainly the big people that we all love in Hollywood – Denzel, Forest Whitaker. The main people that really inspired me were coming up around me, at the same time. A couple of guys like Emmanuel Kabango, Lyriq Bent, Clé Bennett (who we can see on Falcon and The Winter Soldier now). They were like a generation above me, those were the guys that paved the way.
Especially for black actors coming out of Canada. You see a lot of well-known black actors, now we’ve got Stephen James, Shamier Anderson. Watching those guys do what they’re doing coming up made it really seem possible.
I was inspired by the Denzels and all those guys, but the guys that made it possible made it seem like, “Oh no, I can do this. I can shoot for the stars.” Paving the way opened up all those doors. So, mainly those guys.
How secretive was the audition process to play Chester P Runk on The Flash? Were you aware of the character’s identity when reading for the part?
BM: Not at all. Everything about the character was the same, but a different name. In the audition, his name was “Zeke” not Chester. There was no way for me to know up until we were in talks and negotiations, actually doing it, that the character was based off something from the comic books. From my personal knowledge, I thought it was just a random character that they were bringing in.
I knew the character was going to be recurring. Possibility of a series reg, but it was a very loose possibility. I didn’t really know much about anything until after I got it. Then, they were like, “This is who the character actually is. This is where he comes from, this is what he does…”
Chester was one of the first characters to be introduced by new showrunner Eric Wallace, a known DC Comics fan. Was there any pressure attached to this? How instrumental was Eric in crafting who Chester was and how his presence would affect the show?
BM: Very much so. He gave me a lot stuff that to this day playing Chester, I still think about. One thing that he told me early on was that Chester’s the smartest guy in every room, he just doesn’t know it. He’s the most empathetic person in every room, he just doesn’t know it. He thinks faster than he can speak. [Eric Wallace] used the description of a dog seeing a squirrel paying attention to this. But then something over here will happen! Bouncing around non-stop, just moving so quickly.
He was very instrumental in setting the groundwork for what Chester was. Pre COVID, the writers were there all the time and they were like, “Listen, you can do what you want. You can change some of the lines if you need to. Let’s figure out who this guy is. We’ve love what you’re doing, so just play.” And that’s what I’ve been doing. Even to this day, I still get a lot of freedom to just do what Chester does.
Unlike previous new characters, Chester debuted on the show without any pre-existing connections to the established cast. Would you have played Chester differently if he had been friends with someone on Team Flash?
BM: I feel like him warming up to the team and him feeling more comfortable faster… even now, he’s trying to find his place. That’s kind of just who Chester is. He’s always been the oddball, always been the outcast, in a way. So, being a part of this team now, he’s still trying to figure…. gaining confidence every day. I feel like that process would have been a lot faster for him if he already knew someone from the team.
You know, you could go into the different types of story arcs that could come out of that. Maybe him having some sort of familiarity with Barry, Cisco or anybody early on then realizing that they’re part of this big team, maybe that could have done something. There’s a million different things that could have been done. It definitely would have been different, for sure.
Although you are now a series regular for Season 7, Chester P. Runk started off as a recurring role in Season 6. At the beginning, were you given any indication of how long Chester would be on the show for?
BM: Eric told me early on that he wanted to make Chester a part of the team. There was no concrete anything up until maybe a month before it happened. I’ve said this before, I knew the possibility of a series regular was there. I didn’t know when, how or if it was actually happening.
Season 7, episode 6 (“The One With The Nineties”) took a deep dive into Chester’s backstory. It was an interesting to see such an extroverted character go through a very different emotional state. As the actor playing the role, how has what was revealed in that episode informed your portrayal of Chester going forward?
BM: The biggest challenge in that was just bringing Chester down. He’s such a big ball of energy, so erratic and like you said, extroverted. He’s just always dialled to 11. So, bringing him down to a ground level where he’s still who he is, you still recognise him as Chester. Making it believable that this guy’s having a real moment that’s affecting him very deeply, the deepest of deep.
That was the main challenge with that and the scene between him and his father… it was difficult because of bringing him down to the ground level but also not so far down that he makes it obvious that there’s more going on than what he has to portray. Chester can’t sit there and be crying about his Dad or he’d be like, “Who’s in my garage crying?” Still be covert, but feel what he felt. and still be Chester were the main challenges with that.
It was a blessing to have the actor who played my father as well [Milton Barnes] because he was great and an amazing person to work with. Those were the main challenges with that scene and I like how it came out.
In other interviews, you’ve mentioned being familiar with The Flash before joining the show. Were there any characters you were looking forward to interacting with as Chester P. Runk?
BM: Everybody, man. I was mostly looking forward to working with Grant [Gustin] obviously since he plays The Flash. I was also very excited to work with Candice [Patton], Carlos [Valdes]… everybody, really. Very excited to work with Danielle. Me and Kayla [Compton] came into the show at the same time. We had never really interacted so getting to do that as well was amazing. It was all of those things.
Seeing as the show is called The Flash and Grant Gustin plays the character, was getting his approval important for you when you joined the series?
BM: I wouldn’t say approval, but you definitely wanna… my biggest fear coming into the show, something I had to get rid of really early on, was just fitting into the puzzle. Not a lot of shows see six seasons, at the time that I was having these thoughts. Not a lot of shows have a fanbase like this. You go into this well-oiled machine that’s been through a couple of showrunners before and everybody knows what they’re doing.
Everybody has already built their relationships. Now, not only am I coming in as a new character to this team, I’m coming in as a new actor to the show, to this team. I just wanted to make sure that I fit and I didn’t disrupt… I just didn’t want to be a disruption, period. I wanted to find my place and find where I moulded without changing too much, while also bringing myself to what it is.
That was the biggest challenge, and I remember that I did that monologue in 601, I think on my second or third day shooting. At that time, I had only met Candice and Dani Nicolet (Cecile Horton). I met Grant, I think once just in passing. Everybody was so nice, so generous and then I did my monologue. The day after or two days later, I had another day on set. Everybody saw what I did and came in like, “Oh my God, we love what you did.” They were all so very kind, very generous and met me with open arms. Moulding into everything was pretty easy.
It wasn’t so much looking for approval, but I got the approval that I wasn’t even really looking for. It was really, really nice.
Having had an opportunity to work with many other actors on The Flash, is there anyone you would like more scenes with?
BM: I’ve been very lucky because being the ‘tech guy’ or the guy on the comms, I kind of get to interact with everyone and work with everyone. So, I feel like I’ve been getting plenty of that, which I’m very happy about. Everybody is so talented, so great. I don’t think there’s any specific person that I want to work with more. I’ve worked with everybody and I would like to just continue.
Being a series regular on a network show is a full-time job. That being said, is there anything in the pipeline besides The Flash that you can talk about?
BM: I’m writing a couple of my own things. Mostly finishing a short film that I shot a couple of years ago. I’m at a place now where I can actually finish it. I’m also reading a few scripts, so there’s a few things going on. Nothing that I can really comment on yet, because it’s all up in the air. Yeah, there’s a few things that I’m looking at.
Eric Wallace has a long connection with DC Comics outside of working on this show. Did you get any insight into why he would want to bring the Chester character (known as ‘Chunk’ in the comics) onto the show?
BM: Not so much, I just know Eric really loves the character. He really, really loves the character. You know, I just started reading the comics again and I think his story arc is great. He starts off as a person who seems like a villain, but really, he’s fighting the duality of: ‘I have these powers and all these demons, rooted insecurities and sadness. I have to do these terrible things in order for my powers not to consume me. I have to consume other things.’
That story arc and that idea that your own abilities that make you super are also the things that are oppressing you in a way, it’s like a fight within one’s self, literally. I find it really interesting and I think that’s probably why Eric liked it too. He’s black and that idea and that story has so much to do what it is to live in a black body. That whole internal struggle at all times versus how the outside world sees you, it’s completely different from who you actually are.
As you see from the comics, he ends up being one of the most important people on the planet, in a way. He becomes one of the richest people. He was seen as something completely different and no one took the time, besides Wally West, to bond with this guy. All of what Chester represents is so accurate to what it is to be black today. I think Eric was really smart to bring this character in and also just bring more awareness to the character.
Seeing as the cast has filmed episodes further ahead than what has aired, how would you describe what’s to come in only a few words?
BM: Expect a lot of twists and turns, a lot of surprises. Expect a lot of developments for all of the characters. Yeah, I’ll leave it at that!
What do you hope to accomplish, professionally or personally, in 2021?
BM: Well, the short I mentioned before, hopefully, well not hopefully, I will be completing it this year. As well as, you know, there’s probably a couple of other projects, like I was mentioning, that are kinda up in the air, that I”ve gotta make some decisions on. Hopefully those pan out. Other than that, keeping healthy, keeping safe, keeping happy.
To round this off, is there anything you would like to say to fans of the show?
BM: Other than thank you for watching, keep watching. We’re going take you on a ride this season. Thanks for being a fan of the show. I love you as much as you love the show.
Once again Brandon, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Take care and stay safe!
BM: Thank you so much, you too brother.