From Rising Star to Renaissance Man: Melvin Jackson, Jr.

Renaissance man
noun

    a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.


You may have not recognize Melvin Jackson, Jr., but you've most likely watched him on television.  He's worked on two of the most popular shows in the last 15 years, The Wire & Everybody Hates Chris. From DC to LA and international this intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful young entrepreneur is working to establish himself as one of the greats.  With a wide range of talents encompassing stage, screen, music and so much more Melvin is definitely one to watch.  We had the chance to speak with him recently and get his thoughts on the industry, where he's come from, where's he going, life, and empowering others to their own success.


KP:  Can we officially call you an LA cat? But how involved in the society out there are you? Are you ever coming back [To DC] or is that where you are for the duration?

Melvin: I'm pretty much here. You know I've set my roots here and I've been here for all these years. But DC is always home. I'll always come to visit and support anything I have to do. But LA is home.  It's where I need to be in order to continue to build my brand and to make a splash in the water so to speak.

KP: Now I heard somewhere that you spent some time in the Middle East?

Melvin: Yeah I went over and lived in Pakistan and Turkey for about 8 and a half years total. That was definitely a great experience as a kid to have that different environment. To where I'm not just one sided and jaded as to thinking it's all about DC. You know I've lived in other countries and seeing how they live so I can really appreciate what we have.

KP: So you were a military brat?

Melvin: No my mom worked for the government. So I don't know if you would call that a government brat or what you would call it. [laughter]

KP: Just looking at the different things out there about you on the Internet it seems like you’re something of a Renaissance man. You have your hands in a little bit of everything [like] stand up, writing, and production. Where does that diversity come from?

Melvin: It's just trial and error you know? I’m the type of person… I'm very… I don't want to say daredevil, but I'm very open. To the point where I'll try something and if it ain't for me then I'll just go back and stick to my lane. If it involves entertainment it’s my lane. I've been doing entertainment for 14-15 years so anything that's entertaining I'll try to get a hold of and do it.  Like Comedy was something I always wanted to do so I decided to give it a shot.

I was scared, I was scared as hell but I decided to get up there and do it and have fun with it. So it gives me that balance that when I'm not acting I get to go up on stage. And I'm acting in a sense but I'm using what I have learned what I've been through in order to tell stories.

KP: I saw a clip of your joke about looking like Eddie Murphy. And I was sitting here looking at your headshot you look like someone but I couldn't put my finger on who it was. And then you told a joke and I was like man he nailed it on the head.

Melvin: Yeah, it's something I get all the time. It's an honor. But like I say in my joke I don't know what to do with it. I mean what do I do? I can't put it on my resume.  "What’s your special skill?" Well I look like Eddie Murphy! [Laughs]

KP: So do you think standup is you're lane going forward? Or do you still want to keep your opportunities open?

Melvin: Well definitely I'm a businessman first. I do standup because I have fun doing it, but mainly film and TV are my things. Doing standup has helped me to be a better comedic actor. I'm quicker on my feet my improv is on point. Right now because I'm a comedian it’s helped me better with my writing. When I'm writing a screenplay, writing comedy, writing my jokes. I’m a better actor when I'm doing comedic roles.  I'm able to tell stories and act out things. So everything goes hand-in-hand and it's definitely a beautiful thing. But acting is definitely something that I love first.

KP: So let's back up a little bit. How did you, a kid from DC, get into this whole acting thing and then end up all the way in LA?

Melvin: When I first moved overseas I got into music and was doing a lot of talent shows. I've always had a lot of love for dancing and music. After my first year in college I started managing artist and really taking music on as something I wanted to be part of so I went for managing artist and I was modeling at a time and I was working with an agency that had me audition for a PSA. I never had any acting experience before and I did it. And i booked the job. It was just natural talent. There are people who go to Julliard and I didn't go to school for it. It was just something God blessed me with.

So after that I just kept thinking how can I make it better and I kept doing it and the more and more I watched movies and studied it. I just got better being an actor. And then I got The Wire. That was just a door opening wide. That was my way of going to LA with something. Because it's hard to just go to LA and say oh I'm an actor. But when you go in there with a show like The Wire on your résumé, like that's big. When I got there I was there for three weeks and I said I'll give myself four weeks and if I don't book anything I'm [going to] leave. Then in the third week I got the audition for Everybody Hates Chris. I booked that and I was like cool let me stay out here a little longer to get my feet wet.

KP:  I'm sure people walk up to you all the time on the streets calling you Bernard [From The Wire].  Does it ever get old?

Melvin: Never.  It never gets old.  It's a great thing to be part of.  The show was one of my favorite shows.  So that's why I was like, "I have to get on this show no matter what!"  And, fourteen times auditioning was worth it.  Because it's a show that won't die.  They just had a marathon in December and people are watching it like they've never seen it before.  We have people coming up to us like "When are you shooting the new season of The Wire?"  It's just a great feeling [because] we're a family.  I'm just happy to be part of [such] a historic show.

KP: So do you guys keep in contact with each other?

Melvin: Yeah we pretty much keep in contact with each other.  If we haven't seen each other in a while we get together and it's like a big family reunion.  Two of my buddies from The Wire are actually in my sitcom.  It's just great that we keep in touch with each other and we see each other.  It's definitely a family.

KP:  I’ve talked to a lot of artists and so many tell me that the struggle gets the worst right before they make it. Have you experienced this? And if so did it lead to bigger things?

Melvin: Absolutely! What's so crazy is that last year I went through a very serious struggle which I was very surprised about. That it happened so far along in my career. But it just let you know that no one is exempt. I’ve had my plateaus and my highs. 2005-06 was my big years because The Wire was going on and I was going to all of these award shows. I could get in pretty much any award show during that time we were just so hot. Of course once you start not doing as much work then you start to simmer down.  When these shows are no longer on then you're hotness goes away.

Like last year I got on as part of a show that was going to be like a take on Family Matters.   I came on as an actor and then I came on [the show] as a writer and came on as a producer. And I was like "Cool! I'm about to make it!" All this money was potentially going to be thrown at me.  The show ended up not happening because of the people not being legit and not being who they said they were.  And a lot of stuff was put on me because I was the forefront of the show.  People were dealing with me like agents, managers and all these different things.  So, I had this high like I'm going to be able to employee all these people and change people's lives.  And it just didn't happen.  And I reached a point where I feared being homeless.  Money wasn't coming in and I was depending on that show to fuel a lot of things that it didn't do.  So it was [definitely] my worst point.  And then I faced my father committing suicide.

So last year was definitely a low point for me.  I'm like "Man! How do I go through this?"  But towards the end it started to pick up.  I became part of a play and some other projects came about.  Everything is a struggle and it's just how you get through that struggle to get to the top.  Now I'm in at a point where 2015 is amazing.   I'm in a sitcom that's finished, completed, it’s out and people can see it.  Things have picked up.  The opportunities are definitely coming my way and it’s a blessing.

I think I have a story that needs to be told.  I think sometimes we get caught up in the limelight and think: “This person's rich and famous.  This person is doing it.  He's on TV,” and they think we're automatically rich. I'm here to tell you the true Hollywood story that ain’t nobody really brave enough to tell you.  You're going to go through some rough times.  You're going to eat some ramen noodles even if you on TV.  You're still going to work a nine-to-five just to make sure that show don't get cancelled just so you can survive.  So the lights will be on when you come in the house.  And it's real.  I don't get caught up in this Hollywood stuff, man.  I try and be as transparent as possible and people watch you.  You want to inspire people and tell them "Hey I may be over here but I'm still going through real life situations"

KP: Do you want me to leave the suicide out of the article?

Melvin: Nah!  That's a part of my life!  I definitely have become an advocate for that.  Suicide Prevention.  That was the last person I thought would commit suicide. But when you're going through a depression and a financial situation when you're on your last legs you don't know what you might do.  So that's why I want to tell it to people before it's too late.  If you know a family member that's going through something, check on them.  Don't go about your life like everything is cool.  Because, I talked to him three hours before it happened.  I was saying like I'm going to church and I told him I loved him.  He told me he loved me and then that was it.  It's just one of those things where if I can help someone save their loved ones then I'm going to do that.  Is it painful to talk about it? Absolutely.  But it is what it is.  I can't act like it didn't happen.  It's a part of my life.  So, I talk about it like I talk about my projects because it's important.  And when people see that you're willing to talk about things and be transparent it shows them then like "Wow, this guy is something different." That's what I am.  Something different.

KP: What's next?  Do you look for a studio project? Is it all about generating your own content?

Melvin: I definitely believe that you have to create your own content because that's the only way you'll get respect.  I've gotten more respect now that I'm doing my own projects then I was before when I was saying "Hey man can I be in your project?"  It becomes begging and I don't like to beg.  I feel like my talent speaks for itself.  Whether people put me in their project or not the show's going to continue to move on.  I'm going to keep writing, I'm going to keep working with writers, keep producing and keep doing all these things that build for me and my core of people I deal with.  I think that you get more out of it.  You start being offering deals that you wouldn't imagine if you were just trying to be an actor, someone who would just take this part or that part.  But, when you are able to say "Look, I'm going to write a role for me and write a role for you." It may not be the best but you can stand by it and say, "At least I started something and it’s done it’s out there and I have something to show for it."

KP: Do you have a team that you work with or are you self-contained?

Melvin: Oh, I have a team of people.  Friends that I've known for a while.  I try and align myself with like-minded people.  People that want to go to the next level.  It's not all always about money for one it's about the creativity but it’s also about the longevity.  You can come in this business and just be about the money and do these terrible movies and get paid.  But what about the craft and the longevity?  It's like someone who makes a terrible song.  That song may do well.  That One-Hit Wonder.  But what about the longevity?  For me I'm in it for the long haul.  I don't want to just be a one-hit wonder.  A person that just does any project for the money.  I want it to be about the craft.  I want it to make me look as good as I make the project look good.

KP:  Now, you have to tell me about the taco episode of This Is My Life, Why Are You Laughing?  I must've watched it at least 4 times.  It's definitely one of those things you have to share with a friend.  Where did that come from?

Melvin:  [Laughs] There's been multiple situations where I go to get a massage and [suddenly] I have the bubble guts.  And, I have to pass gas but if I pass gas it's going to be the last massage here.  So I was just like, "What if I go get a taco burrito from my favorite spot and then go to get a massage.  Even though it didn't actually happen people are going to love this."

KP:  But when she lost her accent... [Laughter]

Melvin:  That was the actor!  That was her thing.  I was so glad she did that because that's real!  You all in there and then something happen and they turn real American real quick.

KP:  I haven't laughed like that in a while...

Melvin:  That's good, man! That's what I want.  I want to bring laughter to people.  Some of the things [on the show] really happened but some of it’s fabricated for entertainment purposes.

KP: So can we expect more episodes?

Melvin:  Definitely! I'm writing more episodes, but the thing is I want to shoot something but I want it to bring some revenue.  The first ones are cool because I put it out there so people can see what I can do.  Now it’s up to the public to put it out there so I can get it to the people I need it to get to.  So now people can be like I've got money and I want to support what you're doing.  Instead of using my own money or using someone who can't really take the loss like a bigger investor or company.  I want to be able to be like "OK, now we have a company behind me and we can really make it look even better."

One of my friends who's like a sister to me from high school this is like her 2nd project that she's taken her own money and invested.  She's just like "I believe in what you're doing take the money and go shoot." And that's pressure.  When someone gives you their money.  That's pressure to make sure that you come out with something that you can stand by.  Something where they can say now I see where my money went to.  But if you come out with some garbage then you're like "I don't know if I should have done that."  So it’s always that pressure and it teaches me how to manage other people’s money.

But you first have to learn how to manage your own money.  I went from doing a budget, to paying this person, to paying for location, to getting this or that.  It all came together but you can't cut corners when it comes to the editor.  The editor and the camera people that's where you can't corners because you want it to look right and be edited right.  So I'm definitely happy and stand by my product so it's all about moving to the next level.

KP: You're currently starring in Love Soul Deep?

Melvin:  I wouldn't say that I'm starring in it but I'm in it.  I have a guest appearance. This is the second go around [for the play] the first time I played two of the characters, and we sold out each show.  This one is bigger and better.  We've got Kenny Lattimore as our co-executive producer. We're doing about 5 shows and 120 seats so it’s a great situation.  When I first did it that was the first show i ever did.  It’s definitely a great experience.  It teaches you how to be prepared.  My lady is actually the star of the play.  So it's great to work with my [her].

KP: What's the endgame for Melvin Jackson, Jr?

Melvin: My ultimate goal is to be global.  I'm building a brand and I always want to promote my name.  It's like a product.  When you say Pepsi or Gatorade you know those products.  You know what you're getting. So when you say Melvin Jackson, Jr. you're going to get multiple things.  You're going to get an actor, a comedian, a business man, a spokes-model, writer, [and] producer.  All of these things because what I'm trying to do is to make it more than just about me.  I want to be able to change [people's] lives. I want to help people pursue their dreams.  Because, I know what it's like to feel like "I'm too old to pursue acting.  I'm too do this...I have kids."  All of these excuses that you use that end up being excuses about why you cannot.  What I want to be able to do is to employ these people and say, "Yes you can!"  If you're taking the steps to do it, and you're putting in the time then I want to help your journey.  But, you have to help yourself too.  It can't just be me handing you a job.  You have to show me that you're willing to go the extra mile.

It's funny that you ask me that because I'm doing an industry mixer where we are bringing together writers, producers, and investors.  All these people who are in the industry who are doing their own thing and I'm bringing them all together so we can build a support group.  So we can help each other together whether it be writing or producing or whatever.  So we can stop doing it separately.

When I watched Selma it lit a fire in me, because there's no unity anymore.  There were all races marching together for the same cause. So what makes us any different?  The difference is we don't have any leaders.  So, OK, I'll step out and be a leader, because I'm not a follower.  And, I'm going lead people to the Promised Land.  Which is their destiny.  What they want to do.  It's not all about money, but of course money pays bills.  So if we can incorporate whatever your dream is and make a living doing it.  Why not do it?  But, we can't do by ourselves because [there's] a lot of struggling actors that don't have the means or don't know the people.  But, if I can connect the dots and say, "Come on everybody....Lets take my expertise and your expertise and let's work together.  And, we can all have better than what we have right now."  Let's support each other because the more we support the more the circle keeps going. Because, we're now putting money back in each others pocket because we're supporting each other.

My big goal is to revolutionize the industry.  To change things that people don't like.  Make a difference.  You're tired of seeing the same old actors?  OK, we're going to bring new actors and we're going to change that.  There's nothing wrong with seeing a movie and it has the same people you saw in the last movie.  That's OK.  It means that they're [the actors] are working.  But we have to add more to that.  We have to add a new Kevin Hart.  A new Denzel and a new Will Smith.  We need to have a new Tom Cruise.  All these people we have to add.  We have to rejuvenate and bring new talent to the front.

-kp


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