Conversation with . . . Orlando Jones

12 02 2007

Orlando Jones is a busy man these days. This multi-talented performer, writer, sketch comedian and film star also is making lots of noise on the small screen. He has a recurring role on ABC’s “Men in Trees,” and on Monday he will play the substitute teacher from hell (at least for Chris) on “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with him. While his reputation as a funnyman is well deserved, he is levelheaded and incisively candid about his career choices and the nuances of the film industry.

Tim Gordon: Orlando, describe the character that you play on “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Orlando Jones: His school is kind of grey or lily white. Because I’m a Black substitute teacher, he thinks he’s going to have it easy, but in reality I’m twice as hard. I become his living nightmare.

T.G.: Did you use any of your teacher/student experiences to prepare for this role?

O.J.: Once, I was pulled to the side by one my teachers who explained to me that I was starting with two strikes against me. He told me, “You Black, they already think you stupid. You from the South, they already know you’re stupid.

T.G.: Are you more comfortable as a television or film actor?

O.J.: They’re kind of the same. I had a good time doing both. I was on “Mad TV” for two years. In film you get to spend more time with your character, while on TV, you’re three minutes and then gone. I wasn’t big on the recurring thing. The fun on TV is that you had to keep updating your character.

T.G.: Recently, you’ve received some very bad reviews for your latest film, “Primeval.” Were you happy with the finished product and what drew you to that project?

O.J.: I’ve never taken a role about some cash, that’s not me. What you do is not about your performance, but how it’s marketed or edited. When they approached me about Primeval, they said that these recent horror movies were about nothing and they wanted to do a true-to-life film about a real story in Rwanda. There is a documentary about a crocodile [that’s] 23 feet long and weighs a ton (National Geographic’s “Gustave: Have You Seen This Crocodile?”). They pitched the story to me as “Hotel Rwanda” meets “Jaws” – and its true!

T.G.: In your opinion, why hasn’t this story received more attention?

O.J.: Who gives a s*** if it’s just killing Black people?

T.G.: Does this situation of a film being mis-marketed occur often or is this just one of those things?

O.J.: It’s a crapshoot if that situation occurs often. No matter who you are, they’re going do what they want to do with these films. It happened to Jamie Foxx in “Stealth” after “Ray.” I’m sure Eddie Murphy had the same amount of dedication and passion in “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” that he had in “Dreamgirls.”

T.G.: Is there a double standard for Black actors versus their White counterparts?

O.J.: There is absolutely a double standard, which is most upheld by members of the media who don’t hold White actors to the same standard that exists for African Americans. They don’t hold Robert De Niro, Jim Carrey or Owen Wilson accountable when they make films that aren’t successful. It’s unfortunate that the people that should be most concerned are Black people.

T.G.: It sounds like you think that the business has become more about marketing than quality filmmaking.

O.J.: They are more accurate marketing White actors than Black actors. Eminem and 50 Cent’s stories were presented differently. Justin Timberlake’s film, “Alpha Dog,” was presented better than 50 Cent’s film, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” Each had an equally impressive director, but both were not marketed the same. The media needs to hold filmmakers accountable as well.

T.G.: One of your more successful films was “Drumline.” How did that film come about for you?

O.J.: I didn’t want to be in the magic tennis shoe movie (“Like Mike”). I choose “Drumline” instead. Nobody thought the film could cross over. I saw the film about a Black college band at an HBCU as a part of American history that nobody talks about nor knows about. “Drumline” made $70 million and they’re no talk about a sequel!

T.G.: Do you ever get discouraged with your career and think that you should be further along?

O.J.: It took Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Jim Carrey 20 years to get where they are today. My mentor, Laurence Fishburne, told me to just relax and do the work. “You’re only in your sixth or seventh year in front of the camera,” he said.

T.G.: How do you cope with peaks and valleys that come with your profession?

O.J.: All of this is the realities of the business. It’s just the way that it is. I love what I do. It’s a blessing to do it. Occasionally the stars are aligned and it comes out right.”

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