There’s a lot that should have intimidated Joseph David-Jones about his latest role in the movie Detroit. It’s based on a true story, so you want to get it right. The subject matter parallels social issues we’re still facing today, so you want to do it justice. There’s the combined pedigree behind Detroit, The Hurt Locker Oscar-winning team of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal… OK, that part may have intimidated him a little.
Lensed By: JSquared Photography
Grooming By: Melissa Walsh
Written By: Jason Bowers
But you don’t see the intimidation on the screen, which is as much a testament to Bigelow and Boal as it is to David-Jones, who managed to keep his cool even with the added pressure of needing to sing and dance as he portrayed one of the real-life members of the 60’s & 70’s singing group The Dramatics.
It’s that fearlessness that’s helped propel David-Jones on a rather rapid ascent from catalog model in Kentucky to big parts in The Divergent Series: Allegiant and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (though he may need to come up with a Plan B for his Halloween costume this year). He’s even coming off a season-long arc on the long-running series Nashville.
We talked to Joseph David-Jones about learning choreography on the fly, about his possible role in training future Detroit Police Officers, and about staying sane after crying for 7-8 hours a day.
Joseph, how did you make the decision to move into acting?
I actually got my start in modeling, just doing local campaigns and catalogs around Lexington, Kentucky, with a boutique agency called Images. After having success in smaller markets, I was encouraged to go to IMTA, an acting and modeling competition in NY. I ended up winning the title of Male Actor of the Year, signed to an agency, and moved to LA shortly after.
Who’s been your biggest cheerleader for your success?
It would have to be my parents! I know that’s probably the cliché answer, but it’s true. Dropping my entire life in Kentucky to fly out to LA, chasing a dream that so few ever succeed at was terrifying, and I know I would have never been successful without the constant support of my parents.
Your new movie Detroit is centered on the real 1967 riots that happened in the city, yet a lot of people don’t know the story. Can you give our readers a primer for the movie?
This movie is set in the midst of The Great Detroit Rebellion of ‘67, but it centers on one of the most horrific events to occur during it: the incident at the Algiers Motel. Without giving too much away, this story draws parallels between that terrible night 50 years ago and a lot of the incidents still happening today with officers killing unarmed black men and children.
In Detroit, you play one of the members of the real-life singing group The Dramatics. How do you use music to get into a character?
Music was such a monumental factor in this project, and you can’t really tell a story about Detroit without music. It’s such an important part of the culture of Detroit. For us on set, learning the songs and the performances really kept our spirits up and got us out of the sadness of a lot of the heavier things we had to do.
Can you tell us what it was like learning songs and choreography in the middle of an otherwise very intense shoot?
Honestly, it was just as intense. A lot of our scenes were given to us and learned on the day. So even though we had learned the songs beforehand, we never knew what songs we would be doing on the day of the shoot until we got there! It was so much fun to do those scenes, but they were equally intense because we never knew what to expect.
What intimidated you the most about taking this role?
Easy- the people involved in the project. When you’re filming with the two-time Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and the two-time Oscar-winning writer Mark Boal, along with a veteran production team behind them, you kind of don’t want to drop the ball.
This was obviously an emotionally taxing movie to film. How would you and the cast get through shooting without being completely drained every day?
A lot of the shooting days were tough. We would have days where we would be crying for 7-8 hours straight. Luckily, we had a strong camaraderie in the group, and having to go through so much together, we were able to keep each other’s spirits up. We also had the music to look forward to, and those scenes were so much fun to shoot, so it kept the role from weighing too heavily on us.
Detroit is obviously going to start a lot of conversations about the parallels between the 1967 riots and what is happening in the country today. Did the experience of being in the movie change your perspective in any way?
If anything, it has strengthened my perspective on our need for justice, not only in the black community, but in America as a whole. We need more police accountability. Police criminality should be treated the same as any criminality.
What was your favorite part of working on the set of Detroit?
Just that- the work. It’s rare that a film this powerful and, hopefully, impactful, falls in your lap. Being able to work with such an amazing crew and cast was one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences of my life.
You and the cast met with Detroit police to screen the film. What was their response to it?
They felt so moved by the film, and how important this story was, not just for Detroit, but for our country now. The Chief of Police even mentioned wanting to make this movie mandatory viewing for new officers on the force as a part of their training.
Music seems to be a big part of your life. In addition to playing a singer in Detroit, you also play piano and guitar and you play another singer on the show, Nashville. So what’s currently on your playlist?
Haha, there is so much randomness on my playlist, from Leon Bridges to Kendrick Lamar. I love hip-hop. I love R&B. I love oldies and Motown music. I just move to whatever moves me, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play so many musical characters in my career.
Since Ferrvor Magazine is all about men with style, sophistication, and confidence, we’d love to know what you think it means to be a gentleman.
To always be at your best, with style, with attitude, with how you engage people… To be the best you can be. Class is always the mark of a Gentleman.
If you could take home a costume from any of the characters you’ve ever played, what would you take?
Oh, easy. The Green Arrow suit from Legends of Tomorrow! I asked for that suit so many times but CW just wouldn’t budge, haha!
Your Twitter profile lists you as an actor, writer, and producer. What other job titles should be on your business card that people don’t know about yet?
All those titles are a pretty accurate representation of the work that I’m doing now and what I have coming up. Hopefully I’ll be able to add director to that list one day and step into that chair.
What’s next in this very busy year for Joseph David-Jones?
I’m waiting for a few more projects to hit theaters, Roman Israel Esq. being one of them, with Denzel Washington and Dan Gilroy. I’m still working on some other ones that I can’t wait to share. I’m also writing whenever I can, and am currently working on a screenplay of my own. I can’t wait to be able to share that as well.