Bernard David Jones
Hangin’ With the Mayor
By Jay S. Jacobs
How is this for a TV series concept? An entertainer, who has no government experience or knowledge of the job, gets elected into an important political office, just on the strength of his personality.
Come on, are people really going to buy into that? Really?
“I think we can imagine that actually happening,” Bernard David Jones said, laughing hard. “I think we can put that out there and see it actually happening.”
Jones is one of the stars of the buzzworthy new ABC sitcom The Mayor, so perhaps he knows of what he speaks. On this good-spirited and shockingly uncynical comic look at politics, a small-time rapper named Courtney Rose (Brandon Michael Hall) decides to run for Mayor, in order to boost his name recognition and download sales. While he knows little or nothing about politics, he knows about his community and his street-smart common sense help him win the election.
Therefore, Courtney throws himself into his new job, with the help of his mother (Yvette Nicole Brown of Community), his savvy political advisor (Lea Michele of Glee) and his two long-time best friends (Jones and Marcel Spears).
Jones, who has juggled careers as an actor and a singer, knew he was from the jump that he was looking at a very special project when he received the script.
“Jeremy Bronson, who is our show runner and our creator, wrote a really funny script,” Jones explained to me about a week before the series’ premiere. “At the heart of the script is this idea of love, unity, community, and family. I was just like: ‘Man, this thing is not only funny, but it’s well-written, it’s topical, it’s current, but it has heart. It has love at the core of it.’ I was like: ‘I have to be a part of this.’”
Luckily for Jones, the feeling was mutual, and he was penned in for the role of Jermaine, one of the new mayor’s best buddies.
“The thing that I love about Jermaine, and the thing that drew me to him, was that he leads with love,” Jones explained. “I do the same thing. I love people. Jermaine loves people. He loves his family. He loves his community. I was like: Wow, what a great characteristic to have in a character. As an actor, to lead from a place of love… Yes!”
Jones loves the relationship between the three guys, longtime compadres who share a history and background.
“TK and Jermaine, what they serve is that they remind Courtney of where he comes from,” Jones said. “They’ve been consistent figures in his life. They’ve been his support system, with his mother, for most of his life. They are the familiar faces that he wants to see when he goes to work every day.”
But, wait a second, a politician wouldn’t hire people with no political background, would they?
“TK and Jermaine end up serving more formal roles in the mayor’s office,” Jones said. “It’s just something about having your friends there that can help do the job, and that can support you. You can see those friendly faces when things start to go a little crazy. [Sometimes] TK and Jermaine are the cause of the craziness.”
Of course, Jermaine has some differences from Jones the man. However, those little variances just make the role even more interesting.
“He takes his job very seriously,” Jones said. “A little anal about it. I’m a little more free spirited. He’s very much like: ‘I need to get this done. This is how it needs to happen. Courtney, you need to say this. Courtney, you need to do this.’ He’s very serious about his job in the mayor’s office.”
Actually, Jones’ character of Jermaine and Spears’ character of TK are sort of like Grizz and Dot Com on 30 Rock – which is a huge compliment, by the way. They are guys who look like hangers on from the outside, but you learn they are surprisingly deep and are important in keeping Courtney grounded.
“They went to school together,” Jones explains. “They all did music together. They’ve been collaborating for years.”
It didn’t take long for the three actors to bond to the point where they felt natural as childhood buddies. The first time they met, on the first table read for the show, the guys decided to hang out afterwards.
“We went to the movies,” Jones laughed. “We put some food in a bookbag. We put soda in a bookbag. [We] snuck into a movie theater and watched Get Out together, while drinking sodas and eating food out of a bookbag. I said, ‘This is home. This is what friends did.’”
He laughed again, reminiscing on it. “The chemistry was just there from the beginning. It’s just a blessing. You pray for it, you hope for it, you hope that you really enjoy your castmates, and then when it happens it’s just amazing. I’m very, very grateful. Very blessed.”
Jones is continually impressed by his co-star Brandon Michael Hall, who has only been acting professionally for a couple of years, but has stepped up to the lead role in The Mayor with talent and confidence.
“Brandon is amazing,” Jones said. “He’s such a good leader for our show. When you just have that natural ability, and you add training to it, it’s just unstoppable. That’s what I believe that Brandon has. He just has this natural charisma about him that draws people to him, that makes people love him. And you throw Juilliard [training] on top of that… You have a phenomenal actor.
“Not only is he an actor, he’s an artist. It doesn’t just stop with learning lines and then regurgitating them. He’s an artist, so he’s also doing music, and he’s writing in journals. He’s just an artist. I really love that about him.”
Hall is not the only actor that Jones is learning from working with. He’s also thrilled to get the opportunity to work with sitcom staple Brown.
“Dina, played by the amazing Yvette Nicole Brown, serves as a mother figure in their lives as well,” Jones says.
Okay, she serves as a mother figure on the show, but how about on the set? After all, as the most veteran actor in the cast. She has a lot more TV experience than most of the cast members on the show.
“I wouldn’t say mother figure, because she’s too young for that!” Jones laughed. “Too beautiful for that. But she’s definitely taking on this mentorship role, which has been such a valuable asset to all of us.”
So how has Brown been helping her new colleagues?
“Whenever we have questions, we know that we can go to Yvette and she is going to give us the best advice that she can give us, based on her own experience,” Jones said. “She’s a well of information. And she’s willing to share. Some people have the information, but they are not willing to share. We’re her babies, she says. It’s been such a blessing just having her there, even just to teach us how to behave in this whole Hollywood world. It’s just great.”
Also familiar with playing the Hollywood game is actress and singer Lea Michele, who as the political director is playing a very different character than she did for six seasons in her breakout role as Rachel on Glee. But, truthfully, in the middle of the day does Michele periodically break into show tunes?
“I’ll catch Lea humming a little bit between takes,” Jones laughed. “I’ll be like, I hear you, Lea.”
However, when the camera turns on, she puts on her game face.
“She’s great,” Jones said. “She’s a great professional. She knows her stuff. She’s great take after take. I’ve just been watching her, taking notes, because she is so good at what she does, it’s inspiring. It’s great to be in scenes with her. We try to crack her up. We did her a couple of times, we did her. But just the professionalism when she is on set. She does a great job.”
Beyond the funny parts of The Mayor, Jones is also excited about another side of the project.
“Amazing music, which is being done by Daveed Diggs,” Jones said. “Tony Award-winning Daveed Diggs. Grammy Award-winning Daveed Diggs, of Hamilton, and his group Clipping. They are doing all the music for the show, all the scoring for the show. It’s just Bay Area hip-hop, and it’s amazing.”
This is especially exciting to Jones, because like Michele, he got his start in music.
“When I first started, I started performing, so we had to do everything. We had to do singing, we had to do dancing, and we had to do acting. I just gravitated towards singing, because growing up I was singing in the church. It just came naturally to me. I went to a performing arts school, where I majored in vocal music. I started taking drama classes while I was there, too, because I wanted to be a well-rounded performer. I just fell in love with the craft. I went to college and got my degree in acting. I just kept going from there.”
Still, the music is still close to his heart.
“I’m still working on music. I do my own music. I was able to go on tour with Lyfe Jennings for a little while. That was fun. Music is still very much a part of my life. I’m still working on music. It’s just that I’m acting as well,” Jones laughed.
Music and acting is not the end of things for him, either. He is also an accomplished photographer. While he doesn’t have as much time to devote to it as he would like, he keeps working on his photos.
“Like Brandon, I consider myself an artist,” Jones explained. “I feel like I have to be able to do multiple things, to have my hand in multiple things to fulfill the artist in me. So, I find time to do the things that I love. Even if I have to shoot out of my apartment. Most of the time I just shoot out of my apartment, I say, hey, come on over. Let’s do some shots. Keeping art artistic.”
And what does he do around home when not taking pictures?
“I have an obsession with bad TV,” Jones laughs. “I’m watching reality TV shows. I’m obsessed with shows like… not that these are bad, but… Project: Runway. I love America’s Next Top Model. I’ll be watching So You Think You Can Dance. I’m like all about those shows. People who know me are like, ‘What?!’”
Of course, he likes good TV, too, as a fan and as a creator. In recent years he’s worked on Meet the Browns and House of Payne. He also played a big role in Lisa Kudrow’s acclaimed web series Shitty Boyfriends, which co-starred Melissa Hunter, Emily Arlook (who will be on the upcoming series Grown-ish) and Sandra Oh (of Grey’s Anatomy).
“Shitty Boyfriends is about a young lady, named Amanda, who is basically looking for love,” he said. “She just keeps choosing shitty boyfriends.”
Jones enjoyed the experience, because he got to play the type of character he rarely portrays.
“I play Braden, who was one of the guys in the office. There were the three of us in the office that they work in. I was kind of a… kind of a douche,” Jones laughed. “Very different. I normally play the nice guy. I’m always nice guys, best friends, quirky friend. To be able to be the douche was so much fun.”
He also learned from his co-workers on this set.
“Sandra Oh is amazing. When I first met her I was just like, ‘Oh, you’re Sandra Oh!’ And she’s like, ‘I’m so glad that you are here.’ I could have broke down and cried right there. ‘No, you’re Sandra Oh, what do you mean?’ She was like, ‘No, I’m so happy that you’re here.’ I was just like, wow.”
Being able to work with the show producers was also a treat.
“Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky were just amazing to work with. They were super funny. They were very hands-on, which I wasn’t expecting, but it was so good to have them on set every day, pitching jokes and making sure that we had the best show that we could. Refinery 29, they did it. It’s online.”
However, now he is focused on The Mayor. He recognizes that political humor is very timely, so that is a good thing for the show. (For the record, the show was already in the works before Donald Trump became President.) Still, it is important to Jones and the Mayor team to juggle the political humor with more character and story based humor.
“We’re just dealing with issues that people have been dealing with for years, and years, and years,” Jones said. “We’re talking infrastructure. We’re talking money for kids in school. We’re talking community centers being built so that people have somewhere to go. Jobs. These are things that are consistent through our history. I don’t think it will be dated. It’s just our way of talking about it.”
One nice thing about the political leanings of the show is that they are largely optimistic and positive. In the world of The Mayor, a government official can help to make others’ lives better. This idea seems to be rare in the current political climate.
“That’s the hope,” Jones said. “When you use your power to vote for someone to get into an office that is supposed to affect change in your community, or in your country, you hope that they would step up to the plate and do so. It can be done, when the leader truly has a heart for people. Has a heart for the issues. Has a heart to change, to make their community better. When you live in the community that you’re leading, you have a different sensitivity to the issues. It can be done. We just have to use our power as voters and constituents to elect the right people.”
This kind of rosy look at an often-dirty political world makes The Mayor necessary viewing. In a world where even political series – like House of Cards, or Designated Survivor – is full of Machiavellian intrigue, this show takes a blessedly non-jaded or cynical look at government.
“The best thing is that people will see issues that they are dealing with, at their local level or at their national level, and they’ll be able to see a person who has a heart for people,” Jones said. “A person that believes in the community, and wants to see change. They will see a person who tries their very best to make that happen. I think people will really enjoy that, especially with the temperature of America right now being so hot. It’s escapism, a little bit. You can come and watch what America could be.”
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 2, 2017.
Photos © 2017. Courtesy of ABC Television. All rights reserved.