Jonica Booth Initially Bombed Her "Rap Sh!t" Audition, But Here's How She Earned Back The Role Of Chastity

Close-up of a Jonica Booth smiling, wearing a blazer and silver earrings
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From reality star to breakout star, Jonica Booth is ready to cement her name in Hollywood one role at a time, and she's already making a lasting impression. The world was first introduced to Jonica, aka "Blue," in 2013 on Season 12 of Oxygen's hit series Bad Girls Club, where she built a reputation for having an infectious personality that instantly drew people close to her while also confronting her issues with commitment as more and more woment fought for her attention. Her ability to command a room, from the people around her and from the viewer's perspective, was the first sign of her onscreen allure.

Fast-forward 10+ years later, and Jonica is back on TV, this time starring in Issa Rae's latest scripted series, Rap Sh!t — an HBO dramedy, loosely inspired by the City Girls, about two friends from Miami who reconnect to form a rap group with hopes of making it big in the music industry. On the show, Jonica plays Chastity "Duke" Killens, an enthusiastic party promoter and pimp who offers to become Mia and Shawna's talent manager. One thing about Chastity, she's a hustler and "no" is not in her vocabulary.

For BuzzFeed's Black Out & Proud project, I sat down with Jonica to discuss her budding acting career, what it was like working with Issa Rae, her Rap Sh!t monologue that went viral, why she didn't feel the need to officially come out, the bisexual tropes she's tired of seeing on screen, and so much more!

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and took place just days before Rap Sh!t was canceled.

BUZZFEED: Seeing you transition into acting has been beautiful. What was your main focus back then vs. now that you’re building your career in Hollywood?

Jonica Booth: Ten years ago, I was just focused on living life. I felt like I did what I was supposed to do, which was get the degree for my family and be the first one to graduate college. I was lost, because all I knew my whole life was basketball and I obviously didn't go to the WNBA, so I was like, "What am I gonna do with life?" You know what, I'm gonna live, that's what I'm gonna do! Then I went on reality TV [in Bad Girls Club]. It was my first time going out of the country — we were in Barcelona, so it was a lot of firsts for me. It was a lot of just fun and freedom...I felt fearless. I was fearless then. Now, I'm fearless, but not as much as when I was in my 20s. Now, I would say I know what I want to do...or at least I have a better idea of what I want. We're human and things change. For me, I love acting. I want to get better at it. I want to continue pursuing it. That's the difference between then and now.

Seven women standing in a row posing for the camera, each wearing unique stylish dresses and heels
Oxygen Media / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images

In Rap Sh!t, you play Chastity “Duke” Killens, a party promoter/pimp who identifies as a stud or a masc lesbian. What initially drew you to the character?

Honestly, Morgan, the character found me. I came across my email, from my team at the time, and I thought that Jonica was Chastity. It took a lot of learning to realize Jonica is not Chastity. I initially did the audition as Jonica. Once I become more established, I'm going to show you my first audition tape. I promise you. [During my audition, my hair] was [in] a little puff and I had a jersey on. I was like, "What, I'm Chastity!" They denied that audition so quick. I didn't get a call back or anything. And I'm like, "I thought I did great." But then, shoutout to [casting director] Vicki Thompson and her cast and team. She came back like a month later and we did some things together. I initially contacted them, but that's a whole 'nother story. Anyway, when they got back to me, they gave me notes. With the notes, I realized that I went into the audition as a tomboy. I went in there as a cute girl with curls. I didn't truly try to learn Chastity, but aside from that, I didn't truly try to learn about stud women and masc women. So when I went back with those notes, I tapped more into Chastity and who she was. Chastity reminds me a lot of my friends. I wouldn't have done it justice had they accepted me with my first audition. It was very important for me to embody who that character was.

You truly brought this character to life. When it came to transforming yourself into Chastity, what did you do to ensure that the role was being played authentically and not just a caricature of a Black dominant lesbian?

That person exists, studs [masc-presenting Black lesbians] are out there, so I chose to go be around who I felt was like Chastity, or friends that identified themselves in that way. There are a lot of actors out there, including masc-presenting actors, and I didn't want anyone to see the role and be like, "They should have just got such and such to play her." So, I made sure I did what I needed to do to learn who Chastity was. Issa Rae and Syreeta Singleton, the showrunner, they didn't know Chastity. They just knew that they wanted this character. But when I asked them, "Hey, what do you want her to do?" They said, "We want to see your choice." That was beautiful, because I don't know if I'll be blessed like that on every set. Some people are like, "No, we want it to be like this." But Issa allowed that range for me and allowed me to make a lot of choices for this character. I guess I appreciate that actually, because that means she trusted me. I did my homework to figure out what this character's supposed to look like. I did. I actually really did. I called all my stud, gay friends and was like, "What's up? Do y'all shave your legs? I got questions!"

Chastity in a graphic t-shirt stands outdoors, with text-adorned jewelry and a focused expression
Erin Simkin/Max

And what kind of feedback did they give you when they finally saw your portrayal on screen?

There was one stud that came to me and was like, "You doing this for all the studs!" She was crying to me and I'm thinking, "Thank you!" I didn't know what to say. I was just trying to become this character, but I love that she felt seen. I feel like everybody should feel seen on TV at some point. There was a time when Black people just didn't feel seen, period. Then Black women weren't...we were always portrayed as the ghetto girl, we're never depicted as business women. There were so many times throughout history where we weren't being seen. Now I'm like, "Wow, this character is actually a person and they're now being seen." Lena Waithe has helped with that visibility and representation, but there's still a lot of work to be done. So, I'm glad that I got a chance to be a part of what I think, in 10 years, will be normal. I'm gonna change that. I got to be a part of it in its early stages and I'm glad that I did them justice. I made the masc women — you know, I'm bisexual and sometimes I present masc — feel like, "Yeah, that's how we are. That's what we'd do."

"There were so many times throughout history where we weren't being seen."

Chastity in a Marlins jersey leans on a couch, looking pensive, with beverages on the table
Courtesy of Max

I love learning that you had so much autonomy with your truly brought Chastity to life with every decision you made for her. Your character arc in the show has been one of my favorite things to watch. In Season 2, we really get to see your growth from the Duke of Miami to Chastity the renaissance woman. What have you enjoyed most about Chastity’s character development from Season 1 to Season 2?

What I enjoy most about Chastity is that we really got to show the viewers who she was. In Season 1, we just saw the goofy, clown, in-the-way Chastity, who still made plays. Don't get it twisted! People forget Chastity got their song played in the club. You might not like how it got done, but Chastity got it done. In the second season, you got to really know Chastity. You got to know where she comes from, see her dynamic with her uncle and how she even came to live with her uncle, and where her parents are. I love that they chose to dive more into her personal life, because it showed that she ain't no gangster, she's just trying to get it. That's like a lot of us out here. You might not like how your friends are trying to get it, but they're hustling. I'm glad that they showed the real struggles that Chastity was going through. We all see people and judge what we see. We don't even know what this person went through today. How can you judge this person?

I got into it with somebody at the grocery store before. And I thought about it like, "You got it, 'cuz I'm actually having a good day. I don't know what you went through." Someone could have died. She could have found out she was sick or something. So it's like, we never know. We saw all this goofy stuff from Chastity in the beginning, but you didn't even know that her mom died when she was young and she had to move in with her uncle, and was ultimately pushed into this business. So, yeah, I'm glad that we got to show that on Season 2.

Three women smiling and walking together, one wearing a headscarf, one with a headband, and one with braided hair
Alicia Vera/HBO Max

We definitely got to see how multi-dimensional she was. We got to really feel for her character because like you said, in the beginning, she was just this goofball who would do anything to get what she wants. But in reality, she's a go-getter. And that's something to be admired. I really want to give you your flowers for that final scene with Mia and Shawna, because you had me feeling all types of emotions. What have you learned about yourself after playing this role?

It was so beautiful to see. Acting is vulnerability. A lot of people don't know, but my brother died from asthma when he was 29 — three days before we started shooting Season 1. So, this season was very personal for me. I had something to prove to myself. Everyone was like, "How did you get the tears to come [during that final scene with Shawna and Mia]? How did you tap into that? Did you think about your brother?" And I'm like, "No, because I smile when I think about him." That's what I'm learning in acting — you have maybe three to five minutes to get to this point...sometimes you only have three to five seconds. That was the struggle, but I worked with my acting coach on it, and every take that we did, I got there.What was on your mind during that monologue scene?What I thought about in that moment was, I'm a Pisces — thank god I'm a Pisces. I think all Pisces should be actors...and Cancers, because we're emotional people. I'm very sensitive, so to reach that point in that scene, I really thought about the character. To know that I have feelings for a fictional character is so Pisces of me [laughs]. How am I feeling sad for a fictional character that I'm in the process of creating? But that's how I got there — I thought about the situation and the lines in the script, and I realized how hurtful it would be for somebody to feel these things. With acting, you have to be free. You have to not care about being cool or looking cool. So, I allowed myself to feel exactly what I was saying. And that's what came out. I'm glad it translated on screen the way that I wanted it to be.

I'm sorry about your brother. I lost my brother as twin brother. He was murdered.

I'm sorry, Morgan. That's a different type of pain. I actually want to start a grief group, because so many people are losing people. I'm realizing a lot of people are losing their siblings and parents. So, I want to start a grief group because with other people who are going through what I'm going through, because we laugh at the things people say to us — like, "Oh, you will be fine in no time"? You thought you ate with that? Who are you to say that? Talking to someone who actually knows what I'm dealing with and gets it would be good. Something can trigger you out of nowhere and no one would get why you're just sad or crying. They don't get it and I don't feel like explaining it to them. So I'm with you, Morgan. I am with you.

Thank you, I appreciate it.

One thing fans can always expect from an Issa Rae production is representation. From the predominantly Black cast to you personally identifying as bisexual and playing a LGBTQ+ character on screen. Was there ever a moment that made you realize, wow this show or this character is making an impact in people’s lives in ways that I never imagined?

When that random stud came to me and opened up about how my character made her feel represented...that was definitely an eye-opening moment for me. That was back during the first season, so that made me feel like the show was touching people. Then when my monologue scene went viral and people like Gabrielle Union contacted me, I was like, "Whoa, what's happening?" Or I'll see people tweet that scene on Twitter and it'll have a million retweets and I'm just like, "If there's one thing Issa's going to do, it's tug at your heart." She knows how to reel you in, whether you're for the character or against the character, she knows how to get you to watch the character.

Jonica posing in a textured outfit with midriff showing and accessorized with large glasses and a pendant necklace
Axelle / FilmMagic / Getty Images

When it comes to seeing bisexuals portrayed on screen, what tropes are you tired of seeing?

I would like for people to erase the idea that bisexuals are confused about their sexuality. It really bothers me. Because it's like, "Are they really?" They know exactly what they like. They like who they like, and that's just what it is. One of my biggest pet peeves is, let's say I'm dating a woman, people will be like, "Oh, I thought you were bi?" Um, yeah I am, but I'm dating this person. Or if I'm dating a man, they'll say, "I thought you liked girls?" Yeah, I do, but I like him in this moment. Honestly, I wish humans just erased caring about what other people do in their bedroom. That's so weird to me when we, as people, care about the consensual acts that happen in someone else's bedroom. Let people live. Let's not worry about who or what this person likes and things of that nature. As far as being bisexual, again, bisexuals are not confused. They know what they want. They want that person. Honestly, I think a lot of bisexual people might be sapiosexuals, meaning they care more about the mind. I'm attracted to energy and the mind, so if you just happen to be a girl or you just happen to be a guy, it is what it is. We're fine, people...leave us alone. We're happy.

"Honestly, I wish humans just erased caring about what other people do in their bedroom."

Jonica at Fenty event wearing a layered ensemble with a jacket, oversized necklace, and high-top sneakers
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

I read that you don't have a coming-out story, because you never really officially came out. The act of coming out can be a therapeutic process for people, in general, so I don't want to take that experience away from anybody, but sometimes I feel like there's so much pressure for people in the LGBTQ community to feel like they have to tell people how they identify. It's almost like their sexuality is being used as a title for who they are instead of it being a part of who they are.

That's my thing too. Why does what I do in my bedroom have something to do with you? As far as coming out, I didn't tell my parents I was straight. I didn't have to do some big sit-down, because I didn't tell anybody I was straight. I didn't tell you I was anything. Your job as family and parents, I believe, is to raise your child to survive, to excel, and to succeed. You want them to have integrity, dignity, and things of that nature, be honorable. That's what I think a parent's ultimate goal is — to protect that child in that way. As far as who I choose to love and date, I've been fortunate enough and blessed to have a supportive family. I'm sure that they have their desires for what they want for me, but they respect me, my choices, and my decisions. I'm not out here doing anything wild. I'm doing great. I tell them, "You guys did great with me." This is the test. I feel like raising kids is the parents' homework and who they become in the world is the test. [I said to them], "Y'all didn't raise a serial killer or anything like that, all I did was start dating girls." Once they put that in perspective, I think they realized, "Ugh, she's not so bad."

We've done a lot of self-reflection during this interview. With this being your first major acting role, what have you learned about yourself?

From playing this role to working in Hollywood, I've learned that I do care what people think. We go through life and we're taught not to care what people think, but I feel the complete opposite. I feel like that's misinformation. You're not supposed to worry about the opinion of people you don't know or care about — that I understand a little more. But I do care how my work is perceived. I do care about my representation on set. I do care about my reputation after someone walks away from me and what they take from being in my presence. Being in Hollywood and becoming an actor on a hit show, I care about how I make Issa look, because she took a chance on me. So, yeah, that's the main thing I learned about myself — I do care how I'm perceived to an extent. When it comes to the people that you value, their opinions and things like that matter.

Jonica posing on red carpet, wearing a striped blazer, ruffled skirt, and holding a clutch
Charley Gallay / Getty Images for ELLE

When Season 3 hits, and I word it like that, because we're speaking it into existence. Season 3 is coming! What do you want to see from your character?

I need Chastity to get a win. I don't want her out here robbing people; I don't want to see her going through it. I just want her to get a real win. I wanted to see her show that it was possible — that there are successful studs in this industry. There are also successful managers out there. We see a side of Chastity's sexuality, how she dresses, how she presents herself...but at the end of the day, she's still a manager. There are managers out there of different races and sexual orientationas who go through what Chastity went through, and I want people to see that. I want them to know there is gold at the end of the rainbow. So, I hope they show a little of that. I want Mia and Shawna to come back to Chastity. I think Chastity needs to make them work for it, because I don't want to just let them back in. They owe her an apology, but I want them to come back together — they need to blow up together.

That's the reunion we all want to see! What inspires you as an actor nowadays?

My inspiration is when I'm looking at the Emmys. I want to be there. That inspires me. I want the world to know my brother's name. I feel like I have to keep going — to say it on different levels and on different platforms. That's the inspiration. Honestly, looking at Issa, just being up close and personal, I don't take that for granted. I don't feel like, "I'm gong to work, that's just my boss." It's like, nah, that's Issa...Issa Rae. The same Issa Rae who was in Barbie, who was in Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse, and did it all within one year. Let's not forget she also dropped her wine, Viarae, that same year. I'm watching this lady work nonstop and still be happy, or at least presenting herself as such, and just leading by example — that's an inspiration. How could you not be inspired when you're in these rooms with these people? I'm not here as a plus one. I'm here because I'm supposed to be here. My name is on the list. So that's an inspiration in itself.

What's next for Jonica Booth?

I'm getting back into stand-up comedy. I just did my show at the Comedy Store and I'm gonna do another one. I was recently a guest on the We're Having Gay Sex podcast with host Ashley Gavin, and I was later asked to open for her. Not only is she a big comedian, but she's a comedian that I respect. She's also doing something with Netflix. I also want to get back into my clothing line. And, of course, I'm looking to get another role. I'm auditioning.

Jonica in an oversized blazer and unbuttoned shirt posing on event backdrop
Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

I can't wait to see you on my screen again! Okay, I want to get into a few questions about your experience as a Black bisexual woman, both in life and in your career. Who was your first queer crush?

I love me some Nia Long. But I really love Hennessy Carolina...Cardi B's sister.

Y'all would look cute together.

That's what I'm saying, Morgan! She needs to stop playing. You need to tell her that. Hennessy needs to call me. I could take her out — I mean, I don't have it like Offset, but I have a lil' somethin' somethin'.

Who was your first fashion icon?

Stop playing — Rihanna! Oh and Teyana Taylor. So many people have compared me to Teyana my whole life. When we see each other, we hug, we speak, but yeah, her fashion is just out of this world! She's super dope. I think she makes iconic statements with her style. Like, her and Rihanna? What are we saying? And Zendaya, she eats up the carpet every time! I be trying to eat the carpets up too a little. My stylist Cali Prentice, we're coming up together, so we're trying to do this carpet thing because we see how Zendaya moves. But when it comes to fashion, Teyana and Rihanna got it in the bag.

Jonica in eclectic outfit with patched jacket and hat, posing on event backdrop
Jc Olivera / Getty Images

What advice would you give to young Black queer people?

The advice that I would give to young Black queer people is be proud of yourself. I know it's tough. I know you're moving through something. I know you feel like you're alone, but you're not. There is a whole community that supports you; there's a whole community that's just like you. Be proud of yourself. Own it. You have to own that shit. You're gonna be okay. You're okay. And that's all I will say.

Earlier, you mentioned how important it is to have representation of all kinds on screen. Was there anyone that you had growing up that you saw on screen that made you feel seen?

When I was growing up, it didn't really have to do with my sexuality, it was more for just being Black. So watching shows like Living Single, Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Bernie Mac Show — even as a kid, watching Recess with the character Spinelli. Spinelli was my girl. I was a tomboy, I like basketball, and I liked hanging with the boys. I needed all those things to help let me know that I can maneuver through life and that there is a place for me.

What has been your proudest moment being Black and queer?

My monologue. That was the one for me. It made me so proud to know how the world received it.

Jonica in an outfit with flowing train posing on 'Rap Sh!t' red carpet event
Alberto Rodriguez / Hollywood Reporter via Getty Images

Lastly, how much progress do you think has been made for Black queer people in society and/or in Hollywood?

Not much. We've definitely progressed and have come a long way, but it seems like no matter how far we get, something shows us that we're still so far. But I think we have progressed a lot, especially within the queer community. A lot more things are being accepted, for example gender-neutral bathrooms. We've done a lot as a whole to try to understand each other and to try to understand the different things that we as humans are experiencing. There's still so much work that has to be done, but I'm excited because I feel like everyone's trying now. Well, not everyone, but those that are trying are really making a difference. In my opinion, the older generations are trying to understand it a little more too. With each new generation, it seems we become more understanding and more loving. If we were all more loving, more things would be accepted. Just love. Love thy neighbor, that's what we learned in elementary school, but some people just can't do it.

PREACH! Thank you for chatting with me, Jonica! For more Jonica, be sure to stream Season 1 and 2 of Rap Sh!t on HBO Max.You can read more Black, Out & Proud interviews here.

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