Octavius Johnson Talks His ‘Ray Donovan’ Role
An actor and singer, Octavius Johnson was virtually unknown until he got cast in Showtime’s Emmy-nominated crime drama, Ray Donovan. Johnson, a native of Baltimore, Md., scored the recurring role of Marvin Gaye Washington, an appealing singer and rapper from Compton who first appeared in season one as a love interest for main character Ray Donovan’s (Liev Schreiber) daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey).
At the end of season one, Ray had Marvin shipped back to Compton because he disapproved of their relationship, which began to blossom in season two as Marvin earned newfound fame as the “Black Justin Bieber.” That all came to a halt in this season’s eighth episode, “Sunny,” when [spoiler alert] Marvin and his father Re-Kon (Kwame Patterson) were murdered by powerful music entrepreneur Cookie (Omar Dorsey).
Johnson recently spoke to GALO via phone from his home in North Hollywood about playing Marvin, what it was like filming his intense death scene, the time he appeared on The Wire, and more.
GALO: You played Marvin Gaye Washington, otherwise known as the “Black Justin Bieber” on Ray Donovan. How did you first get cast as Marvin and what was your first impression of him?
Octavius Johnson: My first impression of him was that this kid is talented and he’s special, even though he’s from Compton. He’s a singer, he’s a rapper and he’s cool. He’s got this charisma about him. You don’t usually hear about characters like that from Compton. I think they did a good job of making it interesting rather than your normal kid thug from Compton. It’s been fun to play him. As far as the audition process, it was just another audition like every other audition. It happened to be the one, so I was lucky.
GALO: If you could single out one, what aspect do you like most about playing Marvin?
OJ: I like the fact that he’s so charismatic and that he loves to have fun. I remember in season one, episode three, I was playing the line down in emotion. When Ray Donovan busted in and asked me,” where’s your dad?” I wanted to say, “Dead.” But the writers came up to me and said, “No, say that he’s just living the life now.” He’d gotten over his dad’s death, so they see this happy kid from Compton but his parents are dead. But he’s enjoying life.
GALO: Do you and Marvin share any of the same personality traits?
OJ: Absolutely! No, I’m joking. I don’t do all that. I don’t drink or smoke. I do sing, and I’m not a rapper, but I just know how to rap — because I love hip-hop. I think I’m funny! I think Marvin’s funny. Some people tell me my jokes aren’t funny, but I think it’s OK. I think I’m funny.
GALO: And that’s all that matters.
OJ: [Laughs] Yeah. So the singing aspect, I think we’re similar in that way.
GALO: Were you surprised to learn about Marvin’s demise when you got the script?
OJ: Yes, I was. I didn’t expect to be killed, if written off, in any way. If anything, I figured Marvin would leave Bridget and Calabasas and buy his own house and enjoy the fame. And I mean enjoy the fame. But it was a great run for Marvin, and I was honored to be a part of the show for the two seasons that I was a part [of].
GALO: Marvin’s death scene, where Cookie shoots Re-Kon before killing him, was an intense episode ender. What was the experience like filming this on set?
OJ: The experience was emotional. I remember driving to that location. I felt really heavy, like, ‘wow, this is it.’ Right up into filming the scene, I was focused on delivering the right emotion. I really wanted to be sincere to the moment.
GALO: If you had the chance to play any character on the show, who would it have been?
OJ: It would be Mickey. He’s just so mischievous. He’s a mischievous guy, and Jon Voight does it so well. And that’d be fun to play. The whole show has a cast full of great characters. Ray Donovan himself, I love him. He’s just so cool.
GALO: You’re originally from Baltimore, Md., and your first role was a featured extra on HBO’s The Wire. Tell me about getting your first role in that critically acclaimed show, which happened to be about your hometown.
OJ: It was cool. I had a small role. My dad did location on The Wire for a few years. I just happened to be on set and they asked me if I wanted to be in it. It was a really small role in season three. I thought that it was really fun, and that led to the plays I was in in high school and I just kept doing it.
GALO: Would you say that experience is what inspired you to continue to pursue an acting career?
OJ: It was one of the few. It was really high school, the plays. I was in Rent, and that really made its mark. I also did Spelling Bee. A doctor at Johns Hopkins put the play on. That’s what made it for me.
GALO: Are you working on any upcoming projects?
OJ: No, not right now. I’m just hoping it leads to something else. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and I’ll keep people posted like that.
Featured image: Octavius J. Johnson as Marvin Gaye Washington and Kerris Dorsey as Bridget Donovan in “Ray Donovan” (Season 2, Episode 5). Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME.
Watch “Ray Donovan” Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.