Power Book IV: Force, the third spinoff of rapper and TV mogul Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s wildly successful Starz franchise wrapped around the very popular Tommy Egan, moved the action from New York to star Joseph Sikora’s native Chicago. In the Windy City, Tommy makes very interesting connections, with one of the most memorable being with Diamond, the South Side drug kingpin fresh off a 15-year prison bid. It’s an important breakthrough for actor Isaac Keys. 

Getting here has been a journey for Keys who put in work as gang enforcer Ed on the Epix series Get Shorty and as G on the 50 Cent-produced Crackle series The Oath. Prior to acting, he spent time in the NFL with the Vikings, Cardinals and Packers, as well as in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos. Training for his pro football career came via Morehouse long before NFL Hall of Famer and 2021 EBONY Power 100 Game Changer of the Year honoree Deion Sanders gave Black College football a major upgrade in mainstream press attention.  

“I am such a fan of what Deion is doing because I think, especially right now, in this state where we are with Critical Race Theory, we need to make sure that we speak up on behalf of HBCUs,” says the actor. 

Attending Morehouse and playing football was one of the most defining moments of the St. Louis native’s life. “I created a family,” he shares. “I'm still close to the guy who was my athletic director. I still have a Morehouse mom. I still talk to my teammates. We even started a 501c3 for our Morehouse Football Alumni Association where we raise money, and we give back to the athletic program and football.”

Becoming an actor, he admits, came when he felt he had hit rock bottom. “I made the transition to acting when I didn't know what the hell I was getting ready to do with my life,” he confides. “I didn't have money to show for football. I was so ashamed. I was disappointed in my own self.”

Interestingly, his first on-screen appearance came vying for Omarosa’s heart on the dating show Donald J. Trump Presents The Ultimate Merger back in 2010.  Playing himself, he found, didn’t work as well for scripted roles. Putting in the same work as he did for football, however, paid off. His journey as Ed on Get Shorty, which ran from 2017 to 2019, is when he knew he had made it as an actor. 

“I came on as a recurring guest star, but they had me on for 10 episodes. And that’s not normal for a recurring guest star,” he explains. “This character, he didn't say a whole lot. He was an enforcer to the queenpin. . . . Then we got to season two and they upped it a little bit more. Now I started [getting story] arcs. My character wasn't necessarily supposed to make it so long, but it was the way I developed the character that enticed the writers in that room to be like ‘he has something. We like this. We can build more around his character.’ And then season three, I became a series regular.”

Now he’s making an impression as Diamond on Power Book IV: Force, which has already been renewed for a second season. It’s a role he immediately connected with. “This character is written like me,” he shares. “I don't have to step too far out the box. I can just develop a character that I feel is already in tune with. He is in a transitional place where you're trying to evolve, but sometimes you're still involved in a lifestyle that won’t allow you to change.”

Coming from St. Louis, which he says has a similar vibe to Chicago, also helped him nail Diamond who came up rough and now balances reassuming the Chicago Brothers Incorporated throne after his brother Jenard has held it down. But Keys says going even farther than that with his portrayal was important to him. “With Diamond coming out of prison, it was important to me to talk to friends, family members, who were incarcerated,” explains the actor who had previously auditioned for the other Power spinoffs Raising Kanan and Ghost. “I also wanted people who had served time to feel [seen] and some of the feedback I've gotten thus far has been just that.”

Keys knows he’s in a great place. “I feel like I'm walking in my purpose,” he says. “So now it's just about continuing to learn and evolve and elevate to whatever's next.” 

Power Book IV: Force wraps its first season April 17. 

Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies and editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter.