For actor/singer/songwriter Bernard David Jones, his plate of talents aren’t sectioned off so that they don’t touch. Jones’ creative expressions blend together to present a resume that looks pleasing to the eye.
A Paterson, New Jersey native, Jones described his environment as one that treasured the importance of family which fostered his pursuit of an acting career. Through performance art troupes as a middle schooler to getting his degree in theater from Morehouse College, Jones was primed for the spotlight, which ultimately landed him on the recurring cast of ABC’s new comedy, The Mayor.
Created by Jeremy Bronson (The Mindy Project) and executive produced by Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs among others, the lens follows an aspiring rapper-turned-politician named Courtney Rose (Brandon Michael Hall). The young man originally had his eyes set on popularizing his rap career and decided to run for mayor of his Fort Gray hometown in order to fulfill that desire. Unbeknownst to him, his two best friends, (Jermaine Leforge, played by Jones, and T.K. Clinton played by Marcel Spears), and his mother Dina Rose (played by Yvette Nicole Brown), Rose wins office and has to find a way to make his community better while keeping up with his original dream.
For Jones, he sees some of the main character’s traits within himself, especially the art of focus. Not only does Jones act, but the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity member is also a shutterbug and applies the quality of focus from behind the camera lens onto the silver screen.
“Whatever that emotion is that you try to capture in one picture, you have to focus to get that,” he says. “I think that has translated to my acting as well, being able to focus and be in the moment of whatever the situation that my character is in. Being honest and truthful in those moments.”
Below, Jones shares how The Mayor can plant a political bug within young people of color and how he gets over the fear of creating and sharing content with the masses.
VIBE: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in acting?
Bernard D. Jones: For most young black children, you start performing in front of your family. You sing a little song or you do a little dance or you recite your Easter monologue for them, so it started, for me, with family. Then, of course, the church. For a lot of us young black performers, they start in the church and that’s when I realized I loved performing for people. That was my first major audience. Just going from there I joined a performance art troupe when I was in middle school, junior high. Then I went to a performing arts high school in New Jersey. I was able to hone the craft and learn the skill there. I received my acting degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta.
How’d you come on board to join the cast of The Mayor?
During pilot season, actors normally get a bunch of scripts to audition for all the shows. Once this script ran across my desk, I said, ‘Wow, this is amazing! This story is so important, it needs to be told.’ Most importantly we see these three young black guys who are uplifting each other, who’re relentless in their friendship for each other, and protecting each other and making sure that their best friend is set up for success. I love that about this show and how they depict the black family. For us, we see families where there’s a single mom and a son and then the friends are also like brothers, but for America to see it in such a positive light has been great.
That was one of my questions: how do the characters make this show feel relatable or realistic?
One, it’s the actors. Brandon Michael Hall is an amazing actor. Marcel [Spears] is phenomenal and Yvette [Nicole Brown] and Lea [Michele], but the thing that makes it so relatable is because it’s something that we all have experienced. We’ve been in communities where things aren’t the best and we’ve been in situations where politicians don’t necessarily look out for your best interest. To be able to show what it would look like for a young black guy to say, ‘Even though I didn’t come here with the best intentions, I wanted to get some hits on my rap album,’ but that character took on the responsibility and went for it, and wants to make his community and the constituents of that community better. I think that’s such an important thing for people to see, especially to see young black men doing that, and then to see a strong black family on television. It’s great.
Black people can headline a show! It’s been done…it’s been done WELL!
— Bernard David Jones (@BernardDJones) November 21, 2017
What gems have you picked up by working with major figures like Daveed Diggs from black-ish and previously Hamilton, or executive producer Jeremy Bronson from The Mindy Project?
I’ve learned that it’s okay to grow during a process. You may not come in knowing all of the answers, you may not be delivering this joke the best way every single time, but the growth, being able to grow into the character, making that character full-figured has been one of the things that I’ve learned because they’ve been so supportive. Jeremy has been so amazingly supportive and Daveed with music, he’s doing such an amazing job with the music. We do all of our own music. Brandon is in the studio every Saturday. I’m singing the hooks on the songs, and Marcel is doing verses. We’re very much involved with the music as well. Just getting back into the studio and being able to do that and work with Daveed has been so valuable.
I think that’s what makes the show have an upbeat aura to it. They’re using the cast’s talents outside of the lights, camera, action. Like how you mentioned that you sing a few songs within the show, you guys are really hands-on with pretty much every aspect that goes into making The Mayor.
It’s been such a collaborative effort because our show is so ensemble-based and that’s what makes the show special, is that somebody can come to the show and see a character that they relate to and you get to see that character every episode.
The Mayor has a music video for our song Right Here !!! Can you believe it!?! Check it out, and let us know what you think! It’s on YouTube! Right Here music video! https://youtu.be/edeR_nn2VtA #la #hollywood #themayor #represent #music #musicvideo #righthere #video #actor #actors #actorslife #fun #dream #dreambig #love #smile #bernarddavidjones #brandonmichealhall #leamichele #yvettenicolebrown #marcelspears
The main character in The Mayor ran for public office but ultimately to fulfill his dreams of beginning his rap career. Have you done anything out-the-box to propel your own career?
I wouldn’t necessarily say out-the-box, but one of the most challenging things I’ve done is try to create my own content. Being a creator or creative, being vulnerable and putting the message that you want the world to see out there and hoping that people like it is not crazy, but it’s definitely scary. It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve done, producing my own work.
How do you get over that fear? What mindset do you have to get in to unleash your talents?
My thing is, ‘Hey, we only have one life to live, just do it.’ And if your reason for doing it is to fulfill whatever it is that you have inside of you, you’re not going to worry about whether people will like it or not because you’re doing it for yourself and you’re doing it for those people who need it. I just say do it, we only got one life. Just go for it. You’ll succeed, you’ll fail, but that’s just life; ups and downs.
Speak on how The Mayor blends political and social issues while still being a lighthearted comedy.
What Jeremy has done which has been so brilliant is we address these issues through a non-partisan lens so we don’t have a responsibility to a Democrat or to a Republican. We just tell stories that are affecting the community, that is affecting my community, that is probably affecting people’s communities nationally. We’re able to touch on issues like that, and the writing is so good that you’ll laugh at a joke, but then maybe 10 minutes later, you’ll think, ‘Was that about gun violence?’ It makes you laugh, but if you’re really paying attention it’ll also make you think, and I think that’s how people can come and sit down and watch it and receive it a little better. Plus there’s amazing music on the show, the actors are great, so I think people are able to come and watch this lighthearted comedy that’ll make you think a little bit.
Best Comedy Series!!! Most Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series #SAG! Yyyeeeeaaa!!! Cmon #foryourconsideration!! Dreams stay coming true! Thank you God for this experience! I’m so glad I get to do this with the best cast/creatives on television and the best crew in Hollywood! We still don’t know about the extra episodes, but I do know that we’ve put out great work that I’m so proud of…#FYC #la #hollywood #hollywoodforeignpress #themayor #abc #comedy #bestcomedy #actor #actors #actorslife #bts #setlife #vote #voteforus #voting #yvettenicolebrown #brandonmichealhall #bernarddavidjones #marcelspears #leamichele #represent #goldenglobes #sagawards #hollywoodforeignpressassociation @goldenglobes @sagawards
That’s interesting you said a lot of the issues that are depicted in the show affect everyday people. There’s one episode, I think it’s Episode Two [“The Filibuster”], where you guys talk about the creative arts and how it plays a major role in young kids’ creative development. I’ve read articles, not only this year but throughout the years, where the government has threatened to cut funding to schools’ arts programs. How important are these creative outlets in today’s society?
It’s extremely important because that little weird kid that’s doing the dancing and the singing and running around the house like I was, if it weren’t for an arts program, I wouldn’t have anywhere to focus that energy or focus that ability into building a sustainable career. Kids should be able to have the option to do whatever is in their heart. My family let me do tons of things until I decided to stay on this and it’s so important in schools because it gives kids something to do. Sometimes they don’t know that that particular outlet is what they need, but once they see it and they’re around it, they feel it, it could create the next Hollywood star, director, actor, singer, you never know. It bothers me so much that they try to fight to cut the arts out. I joined this new coalition here in L.A. that protects and advocates for arts education, it’s so important. It changed my life. If I didn’t have it, I would be lost in the world because I wouldn’t be able to do anything else or want to do anything else. I’m passionate about it.
With the rave reviews that The Mayor has gotten from different media outlets—JET Magazine called it a “political sitcom for millennials”—do you think it has yet to get the shine it deserves, especially with talks of cancellation? Do you think the show has a lane to succeed in today’s society or is it ahead of its time?
I think the show definitely has a place for now. It’s been amazing having articles say how great the show is and how the politics are needed right now. It could succeed, we’re up against This Is Us [Laughs] so it’s kind of hard for a freshman comedy to come in and pull numbers from the number one show on television. That’s a little unfortunate. I wish that more people would be able to see the show, but that’s why it’s good to have things like Hulu and DVR and you can go and watch it, and people can binge to see what’s going on. I think it definitely has a place. If people gave it a chance they would really enjoy it.
I saw that you re-tweeted a statement Color of Change made that said hopefully the show inspires more young people of color to get involved with politics. Have you noticed that in any of the conversations you’ve had?
Absolutely, there was a hashtag, I think it was #IfIWereMayor, and there was this one young black girl who said the show inspired her to go into her school and try to run for SGA. She saw there was an issue in her school that she wanted to be a part of the change. I think it will inspire, to see this young black guy—a rapper—who’s being respected as the mayor, making a change and being loved by his constituents. It will really motivate some people, put a spark somewhere, especially people of color because if we’re not there trying to make a difference for the marginalized people, who’s going to do it? We have to be at the table to eat.
Have you been inspired to make a change on a local level since you’ve been working on this show?
Yes, for sure, that’s why I joined the arts advocacy group. That’s something that I’m passionate about and being a part of a fraternity, we have a little brother program where we go in and teach these young men how to tie a tie, how to balance a budget. I’ve definitely been doing my part as much as I can to affect some type of change.
The Mayor airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. EST on ABC.