Talk about a seasoned vet. Hosea Chanchez has played pro football quarterback Malik Wright for almost a decade on The Game. The hit BET series, which begins its eighth and penultimate season this week (Wednesdays, 10/9c), has gone to “hell and back several times,” he says.

But since being cancelled after three seasons on The CW, the smart, funny portrayal of gridiron guys and their gals found new life—to the tune of nearly 8 million viewers—on BET four years ago.

We huddled with the Alabama-born, Georgia-raised star to talk big breaks, the show’s journey and what NFL players think…

“Every time I step on a set, that’s a break, it’s nothing to be taken for granted. Every job leads to something else.”

When did you know you wanted to be actor?
Since I was five, I wanted to be a performer. I’d sing along to my grandmother’s records. I also remember staying up late, sneaking down to watch SNL. I loved the people inside the TV and how they were performing. Eddie Murphy was one of my first inspirations. His characters were genius and so entertaining, but I also liked guys like Steve Martin who had come earlier. There’s a core group of alumni who were phenomenal who went on to become huge movie stars.

You immediately moved to LA after high school and did all the tough jobs while working on your craft. What was your big break?
I studied and suffered and worked hard and got into commercials and then my career grew. As for my big break, every time I step on a set, that’s a break, it’s nothing to be taken for granted. Every job leads to something else. It’s realizing that dream I had as a kid, and now I’m literally doing it. You can be here today, gone tomorrow in this business, so just working continuously is a break in itself. I always try to stay as humble and grateful as possible.

On a related note, tell us about your Watch Me Win charity.
It’s about youth empowerment. The original concept was when I was on these red carpets and had access to the media, I wanted to talk about something other than my damn self all the time. I learned there was a lack of empowerment in urban socioeconomic areas, and I wanted to create something to help kids discover their purpose and passion in life, and how to overcome mental roadblocks. If you can mentally prepare yourself to beat anything in this world, then you can really achieve it. We give them the tools to be the best they can be, to think positively and to overcome negative situations that we all go through. I’ve gone out and spoken to over 75,000 kids since Watch Me Win’s inception, and we’re planning to open up a center in the south in 2016.

OK now, explain the history of The Game
The CW cancelled the show even though we were being syndicated on BET network. I remember for three years The Game was “on the bubble” even though it was gaining popularity. They wanted to go another direction, who knows? We knew that BET was also interested in producing original episodes, but discussions went on for two years. Finally, we came back on the air because of how hard our fans worked, they were so vigilant, flooding the network with phone calls, petitions, everything. We now have over seven million Facebook followers, and millions across all social media platforms.

the-game-castStars of The Game: Looks like a fun cast to us!

Series creator Mara Brock Akil says the show’s return and success demonstrated that “good storytelling can live.” What’s your take?
While The Game is set in the world of pro football, it’s really about the relationships between the players and the women in their lives. For me, the heart of the show is the women—Tasha, Melanie and Kelly [Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tia Mowry-Hardrict and Brittany Daniel, respectively]—as their characters are relatable to almost any women in life, not just involved in football. It’s about these three women and these three men, including my character Malik, and people feel the trials and tribulations of life through them.

How did the storyline evolve over time?
The relationships evolved with the players and significant others, leading to more focus on relationships and less on the sport—although we complete the arc and get back a little to the football theme in the last season. As for Malik, it doesn’t really work out for him like we may want it, getting back into football with a nice bow on it, which I like because it’s realistic.

Let’s talk about Malik, who was initially is seen as a cocky superstar but also a partygoer and an immature womanizer.
Initially, Malik wasn’t really a character that I liked, he’s just not my type of guy. So I had to really stop judging the character—I wouldn’t be serving him well by judging him so much. More recently, I’ve been more forgiving of him. In order to play him differently and add another layer to his character, I began playing him as if he’s always right—even though he’s wrong—that his actions were justifiable, that everything he did had a reason and it made sense. Even though he’s still not the greatest guy on the planet, I do believe that through me challenging myself to forgive him and like him, the viewers will see some extra layers.

What’s the feedback from the pro football community?
I feel we hit the nail on the head, and I’m not claiming to be the biggest pro football fan and knowing everything going on. But the feedback I’ve gotten from the NFL world, and I’ve made some really good friends there, they appreciate what we did, saying we were doing justice to their world.

Lead photo by Caitlin Mitchell