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Kelvin Harrison Jr. Is Playing Martin Luther King But Has Another Favorite Black Icon: 'Love Me Some Beyoncé' (Exclusive)

This Black History Month, Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars as Martin Luther King Jr. in 'Genius: MLK/X'

<p>Leon Bennett/Getty</p> Kelvin Harrison Jr. in 2023

Leon Bennett/Getty

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in 2023

Kelvin Harrison Jr. knows exactly which icon he’s celebrating this Black History Month.

“This is so not on the Martin Luther King Jr. train of things, but it's just the truth,” says the actor, who plays the trailblazing civil rights activist in the new season of the anthology series Genius. “I love me some Beyoncé.”

While “there's a lot of people” who come to mind, Harrison Jr., 29, can’t help but put his love for the pop superstar on top. “It is so Kelvin to use this answer,” he tells PEOPLE with a laugh.

As a public figure, he explains, Beyoncé is “very aware of what she's doing, and she's been specific in every step of the way. I watch every documentary, I know this.”

Related: Beyoncé Thanks Fans for the Success of the 'Renaissance' Concert Film: 'I Am So Touched and Encouraged'

When it comes to inspiration, Harrison Jr. says the “Formation” singer is an artist “I just find really exciting to watch.”

“She holds all of it — the critique, the love, the power that she holds to being in this moment right now — with such grace,” he adds. “Say what you want about Queen Bey, but she's my queen.”

<p> Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood</p> Beyoncé in 2023 during the Renaissance World Tour

Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood

Beyoncé in 2023 during the Renaissance World Tour

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The Chevalier star is one of several trailblazers who spoke exclusively to PEOPLE about how they honor those that came before during February, which has been officially recognized as Black History Month since 1976. (For more from Harrison Jr., Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Tyler James Williams and others, pick up the latest issue, on newsstands everywhere now.)

While Harrison Jr. has made a name for himself playing famous Black figures from history — including activist Fred Hampton in The Trial of the Chicago 7, blues great B. B. King in Elvis and, in an upcoming project, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat — Dr. King challenged him like no role had before.

Related: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X's 'Dueling Philosophies' Spotlighted in NatGeo's Genius: First Look

“I had to put on a little bit more of my investigative hat and start to look for more of the nuances and try to start to figure out who the man is,” he says of National Geographic’s Genius: MLK/X, which begins airing episodes Thursday. 

After reading Dr. King’s autobiography and all the books he’d written until his 1968 assassination — “It was like history class,” he jokes — Harrison Jr. extended his research to the more personal sides of the activist. “With any historical figure, I believe, we don't get to understand who they are as an individual, who they are as a person. How do they love? What are their insecurities? How do they overcome their insecurities? What are their relationships like at home?”

<p>Richard DuCree/National Geographic</p> (Left to right:) Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Hubert Point-Du Jour in "Genius: MLK/X"

Richard DuCree/National Geographic

(Left to right:) Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Hubert Point-Du Jour in "Genius: MLK/X"

Genius, an anthology series that has highlighted the personal sides of Albert Einstein (played by Geoffrey Rush), Pablo Picasso (Antonio Banderas) and Aretha Franklin (Cynthia Erivo), is about “articulating what it means to be a genius and allowing it to be more relatable for all of us to see our own personal genius,” says Harrison Jr.

Related: Julia Roberts Says Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Paid Hospital Bill for Her Birth

“We can respect these icons, but we don't have to put them on a pedestal as they're above us,” he adds. “We all have that potential in us. We all can achieve these amazing great things — but it takes community, it takes support, it takes courage.”

Playing Malcolm X in MLK/X is British actor Aaron Pierre. The series costars Weruche Opia as Coretta Scott King and Jayme Lawson as Betty Shabazz, as well as Gary Carr, Hubert Point-Du Jour and the late Ron Cephas Jones.

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The first two episodes of GENIUS: MLK/X premiere Thursday on National Geographic and can be streamed the next day on Disney+ and Hulu, with two new episodes debuting weekly on all platforms.

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