Lela Loren is spending her summer hanging out with crime bosses looking to go legit.
Loren, who has a recurring role in Fox's "Gang Related" (9 p.m. Thursdays), also stars opposite Omari Hardwick ("Being Mary Jane") in the new Starz drama "Power" -- 9 p.m. Saturdays on Starz, beginning tonight -- where she's playing Angela Valdes, a government lawyer and the long-lost love of James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Hardwick).
Ghost, who she once knew as Jamie, is a now-married drug lord who dreams of making his nightclub sideline his only business.
Written by Courtney Kemp Agboh ("The Good Wife") and produced by rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, who'll also play Ghost's old boss, the music-intensive "Power" uses a premium-cable level of sex and violence to tell what Hardwick and Loren see as a very old American story.
"I don't think that the black market's a new thing," Loren said last week during a visit with Hardwick to Philadelphia to promote the show. "It's always been a part of history and it's been one of the ways that immigrants and disenfranchised people move into the middle class."
"He's no different than a bootlegger," Hardwick said of Ghost.
"You have these conflicting world views," Loren said. "You have the world of what's legal and then you also have within Ghost's world . an incredible code of ethics that he tries to stick to. While someone like Angela is on the right side of the law, but she's shady. She cuts corners, and is selfish.
"It blurs the lines of who the villain is, who the heroes are. It makes it fun as an actor to get to play in those murkier waters."
There's blood in those waters.
"It's definitely fun to be able to one day just play daddy (on the show), and then the next day, the call sheet says you're going to kill somebody," Hardwick said. "That's really cool to play in one character." While he said that it's becoming increasingly hard to do those latter scenes, especially because he's lost relatives to gun violence and is a father himself, he finds them necessary to storytelling.
Hardwick's more disturbed, he said, by people who continue to watch violent shows and then ask why they're so violent. "You're watching me play it. And now you're turning around and judging it? I could never get through Episode 1 if I was judging the character."
"I think the thing is, that people ask these questions and they worry about being desensitized and are we romanticizing violence and all these things, and it's a little hypocritical of us in a sense because these are the darker shades of human nature," Loren said. "And in our society, we like to divorce ourselves from it and pretend it's not true "
"And in our own households," Hardwick added.
"But it's rampant, and it's where you see our instinctual nature play out," said Loren, noting that her character has demons, too.
Blood and guts
"There's a term, and (the Spanish poet) Federico Lorca talked about it in the 1930s," she said. "It's called duende. And it literally means, like, this fairy that lives in the walls. It's the opposite of golden inspiration. It's the blood and the guts that come up through the soles of your feet and choke you on the way out of your throat.
"But it's vital. It's not the pretty pastel colors, it's like all the deep sepias and ochres and blacks. And it's not necessarily fun to play in those colors, but it's incredibly satisfying. Because there would be massive consequences if you had to do it in your real life."
"We're not curing cancer," said Hardwick, warming to his co-star's theme, "but we're supposed to change the spectrum of thought and embrace the dark duende inside them that (people) run from."