Orlando Jones: On The Inside

At an early age, Southern-bred actor/comedian Orlando Jones knew he had the makings of a star. He successfully transitioned from behind the scenes writing and production on popular television shows such as Roc, Martin and A Different World to becoming a highly sought after actor on the big screen.

After a two year stint on Fox’s MAD TV, Orlando went on to acquire starring roles in several movies, including Liberty Heights, Drumline, The Replacements and Biker Boyz. These roles, along with his 7-Up commercial endorsement helped catapult Jones into stardom.

Along with working on leading movie roles, he is also experimenting in the growing field of voice acting. More recently, he lent his voice to the TV series Father of the Pride and the virtual game Halo 2 as the marine Sergeant Banks. Jones also co-created, produced and voice acted for the MTV2 Sicamation animated series The Adventures of Chico and Guapo.

What doesn’t Orlando Jones do? When we caught up with the multi-talented actor to find out, we realized that between filming for several upcoming projects, producing his own animated show and playing video games, there isn’t much that Jones doesn’t do.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Your emergence into the acting scene was unconventional. What can you attribute to your success at such an early age?

Orlando Jones: I don’t really know to be honest with you. I started really young so that may be part of it. I don’t think people are really committed and know what they want to do, which is another thing. And there are sacrifices that come along with it. It’s funny; no one assumes you’re good at your job. They assume an angel just came down and smacked you on your head. And for me I grew up in South Carolina, so I really wasn’t in the mix, but I knew at a really young age what I wanted to do and the footsteps I wanted to follow in. So to some it seems like overnight success, but sh*t… to me it was a process-dealing with a lot of racism and criticism.

It was simple. I was writing sitcoms. I had an ad agency at 18 because getting these small one-line jobs in commercials wasn’t working. Essentially what happened was, having a production company like my idea then pitch it to another company and produce it. Of course I didn’t get paid, but it was cool because they were using my ideas. So my family friend incorporated me for free, and I got some calls about doing commercials. I would show them production things from other commercials and say it was my idea. Eventually I had a pretty good reel and I saw a job opening for a writing gig for A Different World, and that’s where it began. From there I went on to work on other shows like Martin, Roc, and Sinbad’s show.

AHHA: How did you get involved with MAD TV? It seems such a drastic change from moral shows like A Different World.

Orlando: It was a nightmare, I moved to New York. I had quit my job at Sinbad and moved to New York to build my career as an actor, because everyone in Los Angeles viewed me as a writer. I was predominately a Hip-Hop fan…my dad had me into jazz, but when I was nine, the Treacherous Three and them were just making the movement, so FX hired me to host a radio show. After about nine months in New York I moved back to Los Angeles to attend these cattle call auditions.

So for MAD TV, there were about 150 comedians, about 80 I knew. I went through like six auditions before I got picked for a final audition. Quincy Jones was one of the judges. He had me do some impersonations and he loved it. So Quincy pretty much gave me the job, but I wouldn’t take it unless they would let me write, since I had the experience. I left eventually because executive producers had such a problem with me because I was on the writing staff. They wanted me to give my ideas away to some white boys that would take the credit for my ideas just for me to be on your show. No, I wasn’t with it.

AHHA: What did you learn from that experience with MAD TV?

Orlando: The gig at MAD TV is what really got me my gig as an endorser for 7-Up. It was seen taboo before I did it, so I was happy about that. People didn’t know who I was, thinking I just walked up on an endorsement deal. I’m like, “Dog, do you know the struggles I went through to get here? You think they gonna give some bug-eyed Black dude from South Carolina a soft drink endorsement?”

AHHA: You recently did Wildin’ Out with Nick Cannon, whom you worked with on the film Drumline. What are your thoughts on this ‘new age’ comedy, with series like Wildin’ Out and Punk’d?

Orlando: Wildin’ Out I’m partial to, because you know I was on the first episode. Nick’s really young and he’s experimenting and that’s what he’s supposed to do. I’m happy he didn’t go the tried and true route and try to do a sitcom on NBC or something. Punk’d I see as a reality show, not really a comedy. So I can’t say that I really care either way.

The comedians I look up to, Richard Prior, etc. I don’t know where they would fit in the acting word anymore, and that’s unfortunate. Like, I love to watch Comic View because they’re doing a style all their own. And that’s what I think is so cool about it, because if you take away the place where people can just stand up and try stuff, where’s the next star coming from? Tom Hanks started off on Bosom Buddies before he was Forrest Gump. Britney Spears could not just jump her a** in that movie without paying her dues. But when you start taking away those creative avenues for comedians, it doesn’t let people evolve.

AHHA: Now, your movie career has been pretty extensive too. What has been your favorite character, of the many you’ve portrayed?

Orlando: My favorite was [the character I played in] Liberty Heights, just ’cause it was something from a different era. It was a kind of homage to like my great grandfather. So to try to play a tough guy from that era was a real challenge. My other favorite was Drumlime, because my parents went to Black colleges, I grew up in that life. I used to be on the field running through band practice as a kid. And no one had touched on it since School Daze. Black people should see and know positivity about Black Universities.

AHHA: You have a very unique voice, as I’m sure you’ve heard a million times. Do you think it was that combined with your acting ability that has helped you gain success in different areas of entertainment?

Orlando: I dont know…probably both. There was always my mom’s voice in the back of my head when I used to be like, “Yo’ ma!” And she’s like, “I’m not your ‘ma,’ I’m your mother.” Hell, I don’t really know. I never thought of it as unique until people told me it was.

AHHA: You recently wrapped up filming on your new movie, Looking for Sunday, where you play Einstein Steinsky. Tell us about this role.

Orlando: I’m basically this cat that owns a rock n roll bar, and becomes a mentor to this young kid who has gotten out of college and is still hanging around environment of college. But for him to break out of this he needs to leave his town. I play that guy who should have done that too, so he comes in and has a drink and we just rap. We have a connection, and I try to hook him up and help him out in the music industry.

AHHA: Okay. When can we expect to see it in theaters?

Orlando: I have no idea. I literally did it and flew back here for two days and went off to do Evident for five months. I just got home a week ago. It was a part of the last nine months of travel for me, which ended with Prime Evil. So I have no clue. [laughs]

AHHA: Busy man, I see. I read that you recently lent your voice to the new MTV2 series Chico and Guapo. How did you get involved with that project?

Orlando: Chico and Guapo is a show I created and financed, so it’s been my pet project for a while. I do about five voices. It’s in the Sicemation block of MTV2. The show’s actually dope. It’s set in New York and stars two Latino kids that work at a recording studio in Manhattan, owned by an Italian guy. Chico’s cousin works there as a delivery boy, but he’s a musical genius. There’s just a whole lot going on. It’s been a lot of fun. I get to play a Latino woman, an Italian dude, and a host of other unique characters.

AHHA: Sounds like an interesting show, to say the least. I’ll have to check it out. So what else can you tell me?

Orlando: [Laughs] Nothing. Nothing at all. You were mad thorough. I ain’t saying nothing else. I think I may have told you too much.

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