Orlando Jones: Just Another TV Auteur
During the Golden Age of Movies, a triple threat was a performer who could act, dance, and sing. Nowadays during the Golden Age of Television, the triple threat has been replaced by a double threat: actors who write. Think Donald Glover, Aziz Ansari and Tina Fey. You can add Orlando Jones to that list too. Emerging from the sketch comedy world of MADtv, Jones has gone on to turn in some powerful performances (Madiba, American Gods), all while penning scripts for shows as varied as The Sinbad Show to The Adventures of Chico and Guapo. How does the multitalented Jones juggle all his creative endeavors? No idea. But we had a few questions for him anyway.
Q: You’ve been both writer and actor for several TV shows (MADtv, A Different World). Have you ever embraced the opportunity to script something for yourself that you thought no one else would do? Or is there an unexpected part you’d still like to write for yourself?
A: I wrote and produced a digital graphic novel called Tainted Love. It’s a modern- day love story that tells the tale of two criminals who find themselves expectant parents. I portray a character named “Black Barry,” a well-intentioned and hopelessly inept thief. He is the grossly underpaid bag man for Fred Lucas (Eric Roberts), the baddest gangster in town. The love of his life, Jezebel Jackson (Deanna Russo), is his perfect match: one part thief, one part new mom. Jezebel has a two-step plan to establish their new family. Step one: rob Fred Lucas. Step two: marry Barry. Her plan goes horribly wrong and puts Barry at odds with Detective Jamshid (Maz Jobrani). The series also stars Jim Jefferies.
Q: How deeply do you get into the research when you’re playing a real-life character like Oliver Tambo (Madiba) or Bobby Seale (The Chicago 8)? Were there any fascinating facts about either that you wish had been in the films?
A: I like to understand what was important to the character, so that is part of what I consider when preparing for a role. Generally speaking, everybody has a secret of some kind. And they usually go to great lengths to keep that secret hidden. Understanding that is crucial in understanding why people do what they do. Oliver Tambo had a deep commitment to Adelaide “Mama” Tambo and his children — who were prolific in their support — and an abiding faith. We talk about the events of Apartheid, but not the women of the movement. The fact that Adelaide was a nurse and worked with the Anglican church and that Oliver smuggled money into Apartheid using the church, spoke to his deep faith and commitment. But with many stories of historical importance, the women are often a “footnote”, despite the fact that they often play as large — or larger — a role as the men do. The aspect of Apartheid — the story of the women — really hasn’t been told yet. I wish there could have been more of that.
Q: You’ve done voice acting for animated series (Black Dynamite, Father of the Pride) and video games (Halo 2, L.A. Rush). Is there a difference between the two experiences?
A: The main difference is in the portrayal of these characters, because the craft of voice work is very similar — I’m acting and performing as I would with a theatrical role. I think the main difference in the actual experience between acting and voice acting that it’s an incredibly immersive experience to do voice work. It’s very personal, and much more intimate. You still work collaboratively with producers, directors and other creatives, but you’re at a studio in a VO booth. There’s a privacy and an intimacy that for me offers a great deal of freedom of expression. It’s something I really enjoy.
Q: I’m assuming you went to Comic-Con at some point for Sleepy Hollow. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen at the convention?
A: I’ve gone to San Diego Comic-Con for probably 15 years now. I went before it was cool to go, when you could still park across the street from the convention center. It’s been crazy to see it go from a nerdy, fan-centric convention to what it is today. Now, studios and networks plan their marketing strategies around the event and it’s become this global phenomenon. Despite all the business taking place, though, it’s still a hub for fans. It’s stayed true to that and that’s why I still go. To be a fan.
I’ve seen some crazy, outrageous stuff during Comic-Con — some of which I get to be a part of. This past year I performed several dozen weddings and vow-renewals in partnership with SyFy channel, which was really amazing and fun. Overall, the amount of creativity I see and experience is a huge part of what keeps me coming back. The level of artistry that people demonstrate and the commitment to personifying their characters is honestly humbling. I get invited to attend cons all over the world, and they’re all unique, but they’re unified by a singular passion: fandom.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with any of the other original members of MADtv? Are you still recognized on the streets for that show?
A: With my work and travel schedule, it’s not always easy to stay in touch with everyone I’d like to. But the nature of the business is that I regularly run in to people I’ve worked with before, and those reunions are great. Often, it’s a surprise and happy accident when, for instance, I’ll be on a talk show and run into a former castmate who’s appearing in another segment or taping another show. That happens quite often, actually, which is great.
I do still get recognized for work I’ve done decades ago. And I get thanked by fans for work I haven’t done. Like my Twitter profile says, I’m “not the little boy from ‘Everybody Hates Chris’. Not Solange Knowles. Not Orlando Brown/Bloom. Not Juwanna Mann. Not Jeff Goldblum in blackface. Not Mos Def.’
Q: Which of your movies has the most intensely cultish fans: Office Space, Drumline or Magnolia? Or is it something else?
A: It’s a mix. I have a lot of fans from my work on MadTV, I have amazing fans from my time on Sleepy Hollow, and great fans from American Gods and other work. As someone who, myself, is a fan of certain shows and certain people’s work, I really connect with people at the level of fandom. I have amazing conversations with people every day, and it’s always interesting to me to experience how different people connect with different characters I’ve played. And the great thing about the era in which we live is that younger people can experience, for example, Office Space and have a similar experience to someone who saw it 20 years ago — or they can a completely different experience with it.
Q: If you were programming an Orlando Jones double feature, what would the two movies be and why?
A: Black Lighting: The Ted Patrick Story, because mind control is one of the world’s most dangerous phenomenon and Ansasi Boys, the sequel to American Gods.
Photo: Jamie Hansen, courtesy of Defiant Public Relations