By Christine Thompson
We had a great conversation with a very pleasant Joseph David-Jones, who has a co-starring role in the highly anticipated Kathryn Bigelow film “Detroit,” which opens in theaters August 4th. A genuinely modest and self-effacing guy, he told us how he ended up in the acting world portraying a variety of strong and diverse on-screen roles, like up-and-coming musician Clay starring opposite Hayden Panatierre on the CMT series “Nashville,” and Hollis in The Divergent Series: Allegiant opposite Shailene Woodley. He has also made headlines in the comic book world as Connor Hawke on “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.”
AMFM: I thought it was really interesting that you gave up a full Mechanical Engineering Scholarship to the University of Kentucky to pursue an acting career. Mechanical engineering is such a promising future, what made you come out to Los Angeles?
JOSEPH DAVID-JONES: That’s crazy how did you find that?
AMFM: It’s out there on the internet!
JDJ: Trust me, that’s a crazy thing to have to explain to your parents. I never wanted to be an engineer. But I took a career aptitude test and it said I was best suited for it, so I thought “Oh! That’s what I’m supposed to do!” I was good at math and science, and had the grades. But I hated it. It was awful. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life learning hours and hours of coding. Or designing car doors and making sure the doors fit the cars as part of a team. I mean don’t get wrong, it’s a perfect job for somebody, but really didn’t know if I wanted to do that for the rest of my life.
AMFM: The perfect job for somebody else, I guess.
JDJ: (laughs) I know! So I started modeling in Kentucky and my father took me to a Image Model and Talent Agency. They said “ you should do an acting competition, you have a natural ability and seem to stand out.” So I went to New York to the competition.
AMFM: What year was that?
JDJ: 2010. I initially went for modeling and acting. So first I tried modeling, and wasn’t that successful, I was in top 20. There were a lot of people , but it wasn’t enough for me to think “Oh! This is what I’m supposed to do.”
But when they asked him to try acting, he ended up getting the Male Actor of The Year award.
“Then all the agencies and manager were saying, hey, now you really need to come out to L.A., now you need to come back to New York,” said Jones. “They said we’ll help you get the auditions, we’ll help you get situated to be successful in this industry. All these agencies came calling.
I went back to Kentucky – I didn’t know what to do. So I flipped a coin. Actually I flipped it three times, and it came up heads each time. I said this is a sign, I’m supposed to go to L.A. and pursue acting. I talked to my Mom and my Dad (they were like…I don’t know about this…) and saved up as much money as I could. I sold it as “I’m only going to take a year off from school,” because that’s as long as you can take off then come back and get your scholarship back.” I thought I’d defer my scholarship for one year, try it out and if I didn’t like it I’d come back, finish up, and become an engineer…but that never happened.
AMFM: So then you moved to L.A. and started going through all the audition processes?
JDJ: Yeah, luckily things started moving pretty quickly when I got out here. I ended up signing with a managing agent that I’d met at the competition and started going on auditions the next month. Within a month I’d already had my headshots and a website. In the second month I had booked a couple of commercials and some movies – “America’s Most Wanted” was my first job. (Laughing) Yeah I know, right?
Then there were a lot of commercials and straight to DVD movies. So clearly this is what I was supposed to be doing. My parents were like ‘ok, this is it,” and they got it – there wasn’t any pressure to go back to school. Luckily, the first year was awesome.
AMFM: And now you’re co-starring in “Detroit,” which is billed as one of the most terrifying events in American history, and with a great director. Then you’re going to be in Sony’s ““Roman Israel, Esq.”” with Denzel Washington.” It seems like you’re on a fast track now, how do you feel about that?
JDJ: It feels great, but it’s crazy because I’ve never stopped to take a second and think about how far I’ve come, because I’m so close to what’s happeing right now, and trying to get the next thing, and then the next thing. I haven’t had time to think about how fortunate I am, and how much work is coming.
I have these moments, like being on set with Kathryn Bigelow, or even the tests for the films, where you are outside of yourself thinking “man! This is crazy that I’m right here right now.” The first day I was meeting Denzel and I was at the table read, I was sitting next to Colin Farrell and Denzel Washington was across from me reading. There was a feeling of “how did I get here? How did I get in this room with these people reading the same script as them?” There’s been so many of those moments like that.
But when the moment ends, everything is just laser focused, and back to work. Once a job is done, I’m back to being an out-of-work actor, I have to re-focus everything I have, and normally I get back in classes – luckily everything overlaps. I’m in classes right now because I’m in-between Denzel’s “Roman Israel, Esq.” and shooting two more episodes for the Netflix series.
Right now I’m waiting to hear back from three films and two TV shows. That’s my mentality. I think it keeps me working and it keeps me progressing. I’m never like “ok, this is it, I did it!” It’s like this moment is great, and I’m enjoying this moment in this great film, but now I’m back to work, and I’m hungry to get the next thing…to work on the next project and keep growing.
AMFM: What kinds of characters are your favorite to play?
JDJ: I have dream characters, that I would love to play…I want to play the rogue cop who takes the law into his own hands, and goes off on a crazy spiral to solve a crime. That is my ideal role. I have played so many different roles, and I’ve loved all of them for different reasons.
I’ve played a superhero. That’s really fun, learning fight choreography and stunts. I’ve played a musician on “Nashville” and getting to a:) play with some of the greatest recording producers that they have down there in country music, getting to work with some legends in the game and b: combine the music with acting.
AMFM: I’ve heard your voice, it sounds fantastic. Did you ever actually consider a career in music? Would you want to pursue music independently or is it just something that you do in addition to acting.
JDJ: It’s weird, a lot of people have come to me about that. But music has been my breakaway from the industry. It’s one of the things I do to clear my head, to just mess around and play. I think if I made it something that I did for work as well, I would lose the only thing that I have that gets me out of that “I have to do this, I have to do that.” Cause acting is great, and I love it when I’m on set, but I’m very focused when it comes to acting and very very goal oriented in that avenue… and if music became work, I wouldn’t have anything. I love music, and I love playing it, but when they combine it’s great and it’s fun but If I had to get an EP out, meet up with musicians, work with songwriters, get the song right get an EP out, it might drive me crazy. People who can do both…they are amazing.
AMFM: So we can’t expect a CD out of you anytime soon?
JDJ: (Laughs) I’m still singing in “Nashville” and “Detroit” so hopefully there will be more roles that have me singing.