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No Big Deal, But Ron Cephas Jones Has Connections To Hamilton, Mr. Robot And Luke Cage

He's everywhere! ...No, he's really everywhere. Liane Bonin Starr chatted with him at the TCA press tour!

If you don't know Ron Cephas Jones's name, you probably know his face. If not, maybe you know his goatee. This year, Jones has had roles on USA's Mr. Robot (R.I.P. Romero), Netflix'sLuke Cage (which débuts September 30) and NBC's This Is Us (premiering September 20). He's a newish face to TV audiences, but he's a New York theater pro -- and so is his daughter is. (See your Hamilton Playbill, hint, hint). Jones took a few minutes at press tour to talk about how this year really is the year it all came together for him -- at least when it comes to TV.

Our Players

Hello, I'm Previously.TV Contributor Liane Bonin Starr.
Hello, I'm TV person Ron Cephas Jones.

The Talk

So sad we won't be seeing you on Mr. Robot!

Me too.

But the show does play with time, so maybe you're not gone forever?

You know what? It's interesting that you ask, because the last time I spoke with the director, he hinted at something about that. He didn't really say, but that's the way Sam [Esmail] is with that show. It's very secretive. They don't give out the episodes until a day before, so he's been very secretive. It's like you have to go into a special box when they send it to you and you have to put in a special code to get your script and your line, and he hinted something to the effect of -- and I'm paraphrasing -- gone but not done. And he had this little sneaky smile, so maybe the character will be referenced again because of the fsociety stuff; Romero's he's an original member of the fsociety. So we'll see.

But you're busy in any case.

I've got a couple of Netflix things coming up. I've got Luke Cage. I've got a really nice recurring role in that, and Baz Luhrmann's The Get Down, and the first six episodes of that start airing August 11th on Netflix. And then I've got another last episode of Mr. Robot; then This Is Us is coming up. It's been a good season for me. I'm very excited. This is the one that's going to put everything over the top. My first series regular, you know?

But you're not the new guy: you're very established in the New York theater scene.

My résumé is very theater-heavy, but over the last three years, some of the television stuff that's been booking has gotten good actors from New York, working stage actors from New York, and I started booking some more high-profile stuff.

And you're piling up the roles -- I thought for sure Romero was killed off because you'd gotten the This Is Us job.

We didn't even know about that yet before I found out about Mr. Robot, and it was such a disappointment because I felt that I had finally booked a role on a high-profile show, and it was a really cool character; Sam was kind enough to let me know they were going to kill off the character, and I was like, oh man, another one, I was so disappointed! And then it was not even a week later and I went in and booked [This Is Us], and it was just the right timing, because I wouldn't have been able to do Mr. Robot and do [Us] because it was filming at the same time with the pilot. It was one of those divine intervention kind of things.

And This Is Us gives you such a poignant character to play. He's so quiet when he tells his son he's dying, it's crushing.

It's really beautiful that the character has accepted his journey, because he feels like there's not much of a journey left until his son comes back into his life. And so you get a chance to see the arc of this character. He goes from feeling like his life is over to feeing like there's still some life in front of him. But how does he deal with that with this life-threatening disease? And the advent of all the marvelous strides we made in the medical profession with cancer, so many people we know and our family and friends who are living, there's going to be some interesting things that come up around health care. Is health care just for the people who can afford it? Because he certainly he can't, but his son can. It's his son who starts to talk about helping him get some care. There's a lot of interesting stuff coming up. Even when he's offered help, he's reluctant to take it. It's almost like he's accepting his fate, because he feels like it's his punishment for what he's done. That's why he feels so humbled. You don't see a lot of animation in his face when his son confronts him. He's like, yeah, that's what it is.

Another surprise on the show is how all the characters are tied together. Do you know if you'll get to interact with everybody?

Don't know! That's the part all of us don't know yet, when and if all these characters come together. My character, it's whether or not he'll become a part of the family. You see them at the end of the pilot, he kind of stays the night, but you don't know what that is. Is he staying until they can get him back home the next day, or is he staying for a while? Are they asking him to stay, or asking him to stay in their lives? We're all not quite sure until we get the episodes what's going to transpire.

How do you build such a heavy character?

That's what I always start with: I start with what's on the page and try not to get ahead of myself with what he should be feeling or what he should be doing and really staying in the present and focusing on what's on the page. And then of course, the dialogue among myself, the writer, and the director, trying to figure out where we want him to go, and his emotional arc and what-have-you. From just my own experiences with friends and family members, I try to draw on what different people are going through with difficult health problems and in my own life, and all the family connections that could be exploring that and drawing on that. But mostly, waiting to see what the script offers, what the words tell you, that inevitably gets you to where you need to be.

How does it impact your acting being a writer yourself?

It makes it so much more comfortable. You don't have to question everything. Dan [Fogelman] writes like a playwright. We had these beautiful monologues in the script, which you usually don't see in television. And when you do, they always cut and edit those monologue, so the camera's jumping back and forth in the monologue, where in the theater you stay on the actor until he finishes the monologue. On film, the actor's doing the monologue but the camera jumps around, because they think the audience doesn't have the attention span to watch one face for long. Which is what Mr. Robot is doing. You see Rami [Malek]'s face a lot. But you're able to handle it because the language coming out of the face is interesting, so you don't have to cut that much. All those cuts, it can affect the performance and what it looks like on screen. And I know they're doing it this way, they're doing it as if they're filming a play, so that should be interesting to watch how they're working the camera and see how that's going to be different from all of the shows that you watch, the tone of it, the color of each scene, it also creates mood. So all those elements are involved in creating the feel of the whole story, the elements of each story. And that I'm looking forward to, too.

Did you have any inkling this was going to be such a big year for you?

No. I had resigned myself that my future would be in the theater. But I started doing a lot more television, but that elusive role that can invariably put you over the top hadn't happened. And I'm in New York, I'm very New York-based, and I have a daughter--

--who is in Hamilton!

So I was raising my daughter and I never wanted to leave her to come out here, and she was able to do that with me, and I kept getting these great theater jobs. To be able to travel with Sam Mendes and do The Bridge Project, and do Shakespeare all around the world and play the Old Vic and play the Old Globe and play Shakespeare at The Public. And to play Richard III and Prospero. And coming out to L.A. and pursuing television, there are so many actors that I know have no idea how to do O'Neill or Tennessee Williams or August Wilson or Shakespeare. I just felt honored and great and I was still able to make a living, and now I'm able to make a little more -- and still have the quality. Which always doesn't happen, either. You can have the success, but not the quality.

Ultimately, it did happen for you, though it clearly wasn't overnight.

So when it did happen, it must have been for a reason, and it was my time. Everybody has their time. I stopped questioning it and just knew it would happen sooner or later, and if it didn't I would be okay. I'd still be working as an actor, one of the most respected actors in New York on the stage, and that was really what I'd wanted anyway when I started out to be an actor. I wanted to be a great stage actor, because those were the actors I admired, and those were the ones I was able to see. And when I was coming up, there weren't a lot of African-Americans doing television. And I'm talking about the '70s, when I went to high school and college. I'll be sixty in a couple of months. So, there wasn't something that I'd see all the time, but when you went to the theater in New York, you'd see all kinds of people. Everything worked out so well.

What was it like to see your daughter Jasmine on Broadway?

I can't even find the words. And I still, she's an incredible person, though, that's the thing. Always has been an incredible spirit. I'm just so proud, so incredibly proud. And the doors that have opened up for her, for her future, she won't have to go through the difficulties I went through, which is what every parent wants for their children, to make it a little easier for them. And growing up in New York in the theater, everybody knew her. So by the time she got to the rooms to audition, they already knew her -- "I knew you when your father would come in!" And then she'd do the work. Amazing. New York was already wide open for her. It was just a matter of her going in and taking it.


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