John Clarence Stewart (‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’) on Simon confronting institutional racism in Season 2 [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

John Clarence Stewart got to explore the many shades of Simon in Season 2 of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” The character experiences systemic racism at the SPRQ Point offices and vocalizes his concerns, causing tension within the company. He also explores his relationship with Zoey (Jane Levy) further, leading to complicated feelings. But after all that navigating of his personal and professional life, he is ultimately in a better place and more confident in his place in the world. “There’s a lot of emotion, there’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of activism, but at the end of all of those moments is this unabashed, unashamed joy,” says Stewart in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “I was longing for more of that from Simon in the first season and I’m so happy that we got the opportunity to show that side of him.” Watch the exclusive interview above.

Tackling institutional racism through “Zoey’s” was a compelling journey for Stewart, admitting he was “tepid” upon learning that the writers wanted to explore such a weighty subject matter. As he points out, “The last thing that we need is for a musical TV show to make a swing at systematic racism and to do it in a way that is disingenuous.” But creator Austin Winsberg made it clear to him that for Episode 6, in which the topic is explored, he would center Black voices to shape the narrative, like the episode’s director Anya Adams, the episode’s writer Zora Bikangaga and Stewart himself. Stewart and Bikangaga had conversations about their own experiences with systemic racism, which partly inspired conversations in the episode. “It’s the most collaborative I’ve ever been in process in television as an actor,” admits Stewart.

As for his personal life, Simon is giving it a shot with Zoey but finds that their relationship is ultimately built on dishonesty. Because of her musical powers, which she keeps hidden from him, there is always a distance between them. “Simon is in a place, in my opinion, where he’s ready to put it all on the table,” explains Stewart, and while Simon is “showing up fully and he’s not being met with that back,” he observes that Simon isn’t actually entitled to learn this information. “It’s just the choice of Zoey and what she wants to do,” he notes. “And then for Simon, it’s the choice of whether or not he wants to continue to pursue.”

Heading into a potential third season, Stewart is excited to potentially explore Simon finding love with someone else. He hopes that Simon is able to find a different romantic interest after everything he’s been through with Zoey, “through the grief, through the back and forth, through learning how to show up, learning how to be a good partner,” someone who is willing to give fully back to him.

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