How have African Americans impacted the arts?
I mean… how haven’t we? We’ve historically been innovators and trendsetters. From the creation of the blues and rock & roll, all the way to hip-hop and viral TikTok dances. Our fingerprints are everywhere. Without us, America would be in the club two-stepping to Beethoven and Irish folk songs.
Tell us about your character on Run the World.
My character on Run the World is named Jason Ross. He’s married to Renee (played by the inimitable Bresha Webb), but when we meet him, their marriage is going through a serious rough patch. Jason decided to quit his well-paying finance job to manage a band he discovered on the subway. To which, fair enough, life is too short not to pursue your interests. BUT he also used all of their shared investment money to spend on studio time… without consulting his wife. Big yikes.
Despite that lapse in judgement, Jason is a good dude who means well. His love for Renee never falters. He’s intelligent. He’s capable. He’s human.
What was fun about playing Jason is that he’s essentially me, but with a few different life choices after college. So playing him kind of felt like stepping into this parallel universe where I chose a career in business. Chose to get married in my twenties. All of these things that were very much on the table for me. And it’s somewhat validating that even this “parallel” me was drawn to a career in the arts. It just feels right.
Tell us about the experience when you realized that you had the chops to work as an actor.
I don’t think there was a singular eureka moment where I was like “AYO I GOT THIS!” But the closest I have to it was back in high school. I was fortunate that my school had an incredible Speech and Debate program. If it weren’t for my participation in speech, I wouldn’t be here answering these questions. For anyone unfamiliar with Speech, the categories I was involved in were basically competitive acting. Students & their coaches would “cut” a play, book, or other published material into an 8-10 minute performance. That’s where I really cut my teeth as a performer for the first time. My success in Speech over a number of years (which I credit to the incredible coaching staff at Eagan HS) is what ultimately gave me the confidence to say “I think I can make a career out of this.”
What has been your favorite role to date and why?
Super tough question. Jason will always have a special place in my heart, because he really fit me like a glove. From the very first audition. He thinks a lot like I do. He talks like I do. There’s a lot of comfort in that. A lot of freedom.
Any time I’m asked this question I also have to give a shoutout to a character named Dylan I played in a series called AIRPORT SECURITY SQUAD. It’s an Office-style mockumentary about a bunch of TSA employees. Most of my dialogue was improv… was such a ball to shoot. The whole series is up on YouTube. The episodes are short, like 8-10 minutes, check it out.
What is your process to prepare for an audition?
Well. It’s definitely changed over the years, especially as the industry has moved away from in-person auditions into basically only self-tapes. These days —it’s kind of crazy — most of the time I’m not actually reading with another human. I record the other characters’ lines in an app, and trigger them manually. Which sounds insane as an actor. And it kind of is.
But the upside to the lack of human connection in that first read is that I can take as much time as I want (if I have it) to explore the scenes and make discoveries as I’m running takes. A lot of the time, my first take is basically a cold-read. There’s a certain freedom in conceding to the fact that you don’t have all the answers and just seeing what happens.
I’ve also done it the other way. Spending a ton of time ahead of the first take trying to understand everything you can, figuring out all of your possible choices, all that. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Both have worked for me. Right now, I find it more fun to play and discover in the moment. So that’s what I’m doing.
What are some things you look for prior to accepting a role?
The main things I’m looking for are whether I dig the the character, the script & the filmmakers. Money is always variable depending on the scale and scope of the project. Sometimes the best script you’ve ever read is getting made for $3.99 and they can only pay you a nickel. But hey, sometimes that’s worth doing.
What advice would you give someone who seeks to work as an actor?
I think that I’m going to answer this in a way that’s not exactly what was intended with the ask, because this is a particularly interesting time to ask it. Why? Because I personally believe that AI is going to have a fundamental impact on the arts, including filmmaking. What advice would I give to an aspiring actor right now? Just about to start out? Man. Right now, I’m not entirely certain what our industry will look like in 10 years. I’m also not entirely sure what work as a concept will look like in 10 years.
I do think that if AI ends up putting a lot of people out of work, and we somehow manage to figure out a universal basic income, more and more people will turn to creative pursuits. Arts. Humanities.
But I’ll say this, no matter what, human expression is important. Even if it comes to pass that the creation of art isn’t a uniquely human affair, I still believe that human art is important. And always will be.
So if it’s in your heart, do it. I just can’t say with confidence that it will be the best business decision for the up-and-comer. I’m usually much more positive (yet realistic about odds) on questions like this, but we’re entering unknown territory here. As an industry and as a species.
Tell us about the best advice you received from someone in the industry.
That there is supposed to be joy in this thing that we do. Sometimes we get so caught up in getting it right that we forget to have fun. And the work suffers for it. Don’t forget to play. Never forget to play.