"I was so glad we get to explore that and really show people that there is so much more to the human soul," Asante Blackk tells PEOPLE
Young love is always a joy to watch — and This Is Us‘ latest episode was a slice of life put on screen.
“The Dinner and the Date” took on race and class through the lens of teenage love (in the present with Asante Blackk’s Malik and Lyric Ross’ Deja) and admiration (in the past with Lonnie Chavis’ young Randall) within black and multiracial families. Another TIU couple worth rooting for took center stage during Tuesday’s episode in Malik, who is a teenage dad from a blue-collar family, and Deja, who is three years his junior and was adopted from foster care into the affluent Pearson household.
Their blossoming romance was sealed with a first kiss and an unforgettable introduction to his native Philadelphia, but their impulsive date came at the cost of both of them skipping school. The uncharacteristic decision led to their parents meeting for an awkward dinner that quickly turned into a heated exchange chock full of preconceived notions and flawed human nature.
And much like how Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) admitted to judging Malik without ever getting to really know him, Blackk tells PEOPLE he’s excited for his character to help dispel the myth of young black fathers.
“It’s a storyline that we don’t really get to see in the young, black boys. You never really see the young teen, black fathers being the one that’s single and the one that’s staying around for the babies,” the 18-year-old actor says. “It happens a lot in real life, but in the media, it’s never portrayed as it truly is.”
Blackk, who rose to fame in the Emmy-winning series When They See Us, calls Malik “someone that I’ve never really seen on screen and on TV before,” adding, “I’m glad that we’re breaking that stereotype with this character. He loves his daughter and will do anything for her. But also he has a very supportive family, and he’s not just in it alone. His parents are there for them. They let them know that this is his responsibility, and they have his back regardless.”
“He’s there for his daughter 110 percent. He wants to show Deja that he’s also there for her 110 percent. It’s just the type of guy he is: Very honest, very standup kind of guy, very charismatic, very caring and loving,” he shares.
“Just because he’s a single father doesn’t mean that he’s a bad guy and he’s going to hurt Deja,” Blackk says. “I was so glad we get to explore that and really show people that there is so much more to the human soul. We reserve judgments, that you don’t even realize that you’re doing, because you don’t know anything about their situation.”
Despite unfavorable first impressions, Ross tells PEOPLE, “What’s to come is going to be a very beautiful and well made-up relationship,” adding, “Deja has been through a lot, she’s been through so much. For her to open up the way she has to Randall and his family is amazing in itself. But for her to actually have this boy tell her that he’s into her and her to believe it, that’s another level.”
Meanwhile, Blackk says “Malik obviously likes Deja a lot, and when he likes somebody like that, he’s going to do everything in his power to really show her that he cares.”
He further teases: “There’s going to be some moments where people will say, ‘Okay, I definitely see a lot of Randall and Beth in Malik and Deja, or even Jack and Rebecca in Malik and Deja,’ because it’s young love that’s just starting to bud and you kind of see it grow over time. It’s going to be amazing.”
Blackk also calls his casting on TIU “amazing,” especially since he’s been a fan of the series since season 1. “It’s a full-circle moment for me,” he raves.
“I feel like I’m a part of a family already, and that’s a hard thing to do when something has been running for three seasons and you’re the new guy jumping on the ship. It’s been nothing but love,” he says. “It’s also amazing to be able to laugh with each other and chill with each other when the director calls cut. I can’t wait to just sit around and be a part of the family for, hopefully, a long time.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.